Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

21 Jun 2021
Prime Minister

BEN FORDHAM: Prime Minister Scott Morrison has had a busy couple of weeks. He's been flying around the world for the G7 and other conversations as well. He's now back on home soil. He's in quarantine at the Lodge. Prime Minister Scott Morrison's on the line. PM, good morning to you. 

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Ben. 

FORDHAM: Good to be back? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, yeah, I mean, like everybody comes back, you do your two weeks quarantine. So I'll get to see Jenny and the girls in a couple of weeks. But plenty, plenty going on between now and then.

FORDHAM: There's a stack of support for Australia's position on China, a reminder that when push comes to shove, we've got lots of friends in high places. 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we do have important partners and allies, but we can't take it for granted. And that's why the meetings were critically important for Australia. And we've got to stand up for Australia. And there are a lot of countries that are prepared to stand with us when our interests are under any pressure. So it was good to join up with the G7 leaders to talk about those challenges, because really it's about liberal democracies around the world and standing up for those freedoms and ensuring that we can all sort of get on with each other and find practical ways to achieve that here in our part of the world. I mean, we want to live with everybody in our region and get on. But we've got to stand up for our values. And there are lots of countries around the world, our good friends and partners who are prepared to stand with us. 

FORDHAM: We spoke to farmers last week who were happy about the free trade deal with the UK. We're also told that you shared with other world leaders that list of complaints that China issued about Australia. Is that the case? Did you, did you share it with some of those other world leaders and what was their response? 

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, I tabled it because I thought it made the point very clearly what this was all about, because there'd been a lot of interest in the sort of pressure Australia had been under. And so that document which was released, set out very clearly what the issues were. And they all went to basically who we are as a liberal democracy. We have our own foreign investment laws, that we have our foreign interference laws that we put in place freedom of the press and parliamentarians can speak their minds and that we stand up on issues like human rights. Now, these are all issues that are held in common with all of the countries that sat around that G7 table. So I think this just served to highlight what this is really all about and why we need to be able to stand up for those things and find practical ways to work together. 

FORDHAM: We know that China didn't like you asking the question about the origins of coronavirus. And now the Wuhan lab theory is being discussed at the highest levels in Europe and America. Has your opinion firmed in any way when it comes to the question of whether it started in a lab? 

PRIME MINISTER: No, I don't know. And that's why I've always been in favour of a thorough investigation and review into the causes. But one of the other things we discussed when we were there, Ben, was not just that, which there was strong support for that, for those investigations to continue. And we'll find out what the facts are. I don't sort of have a particular view about which one it is. I'm happy for the evidence to decide that. But the other thing we talked about was the need for an early warning system. And so that in the case that where there's a contagious virus that may be in its early stages, it's important that there's an obligation to disclose that and to give a warning to other countries through the World Health Organisation. I mean, I was sitting next to the Italian Prime Minister, Mario Draghi. Now we all know the devastation that hit Italy in the early parts of the COVID-19 outbreak. And we you know, we shut our borders and we ensured that we were able to close ourselves off, but many other countries weren't able to do that. And so it's important that there's a greater transparency about all this. And that's not about politics. It's not a part about any of the issues between any countries. It's just common sense that the world should have greater protections by all of us being more transparent about if there's an issue that's running from a health perspective that can affect other countries. 

FORDHAM: Just on your trip, it is being reported this morning that your office spent weeks planning a G7 side trip to explore your convict family roots while you were arguing that Britain was too risky for Australian travellers. I'm guessing there'll be some people saying that this is double standards.

PRIME MINISTER: Oh Ben, I think that's, I wouldn't describe it like that at all. I mean, we had to land north of London as opposed to landing down there in Cornwall because of the fog. And we stopped off along the way. We had some lunch and stopped off in another location on the way and after the G7 on the way to the airport, we stopped at another place, which just happens to be where my fifth great grandfather was from. So I think it was pretty innocent. I think that's massively overstating it. 

FORDHAM: When do you reckon the rest of us are going to be able to travel? Because we know that Europe has just reopened to travellers from the US and we don't have a timeline here in Australia. We know that this Christmas is most likely off the cards, but is there also a chance that we won't be able to fly by next Christmas 2022?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, that's too far away to, I mean, I would certainly hope so, Ben, in 2022, I'd certainly hope so. And I would hope that we can do it as soon as we safely can. And what we'll be watching and what the experience of when I was there in the UK, I mean, that's a country that has I think 76 per cent of the population vaccinated, was hitting about 8000 cases today with rising hospitalisations when I was there because of the new variant. And so what that says is, is that the virus is still very dangerous and we can't come to definitive conclusions about it. In Europe and the UK, the virus is already through those countries, not like here in Australia. And so, you know, we've got to be a bit more careful that we don't let it in in the way that it is in those other countries. So we'll watch what's happening there over their summer where they are moving about. And I think we'll learn a lot from that. I mean, if it's not causing, you know, serious illnesses and rising hospitalisations, then that will be important information for our medical experts to look at and give us good advice about what that means for travel. 

FORDHAM: As I mentioned, you're in quarantine in the Lodge at the moment. You've got National Cabinet today and the states are saying they want more supply when it comes to vaccines. So when can we expect that increased supply? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we gave them all those numbers on the weekend. And General Frewen, who heads up the vaccination rollout for us,  he'll be updating the premiers and chief ministers on that today. And they're all getting additional doses. I mean, it scales up again in July when the additional Pfizer doses go out. But, you know, let's remember, 60 per cent of those aged over 70 are now had their first dose. More than 45 per cent of those over 50 have, and one in four of people aged over 16 have. So we've really been lifting the rate of vaccination, six and a half million doses already having been delivered. And when it took 45 days to do the first million, it only took 10 days to get that last million to six million doses. So a lot of progress is being made. We'll work closely with the states and territories. There's no need for argy bargy about it. We'll just get on work together, which is what I think people expect State and Commonwealth governments to do. 

FORDHAM: We're chatting to the Liberal MP Eric Abetz shortly. He's one of 15 MPs demanding action on the Port of Newcastle, which is 50 per cent leased to Chinese operators. They're worried about fee hikes hurting our coal exporters. Are you listening to those concerns? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the National Competition Council has reviewed this on many occasions, and they provide the advice about whether there's competition effects. And we've got the critical infrastructure laws that are in place that give us the power for the Home Affairs Minister to give directions to the port. And so those sort of decisions Ben have got to be made based on evidence and where there's evidence to support those actions then the government would certainly take them. 

FORDHAM: While you were away, Four Corners put together this investigation trying to link you to a bloke called Tim Stewart who's involved in the QAnon conspiracy theory. What did you make of all of that? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I thought it was, I think it was pretty ordinary. I mean, we've all got friends and we've all got acquaintances and people we know who have views that we don't share. But you know what they expect us to do just to sort of cancel people just because they have views different to ourselves? I don't support the views of QAnon. I barely even knew what it was until more recently over the last year or so. So, you know, look, if people are going to have a crack at you because of what people you know think, I think that's really starting to, you know, bit of a longbow.

FORDHAM: Out of interest, are you still close to him or have you given a little bit of fresh air there? 

PRIME MINISTER: No, look, I haven't seen Tim for some time, much closer to his wife, who you know, Jenny and I are long time friends of her, I just think it's sort of a bit ordinary to drag other people into, I mean, I'm the Prime Minister, hold me accountable for my views. For people who have known me or have been friends with me over the period of time, they're entitled to their privacy regardless if people don't agree with their views. And I certainly don't agree with Tim's views on those things at all. I mean, he's a Sharkies supporter. I agree with him on that, but not on QAnon. 

FORDHAM: PM, I'm told you don't want to talk about the leadership of the National Party today. So, you know, I'm going to ask you about it. Michael McCormack ... 

PRIME MINISTER: You ask the questions, mate. Not us. 

FORDHAM: That's right. He's been running the country while you're away. And there are some in the National Party who want him to move on. Are you happy with Michael McCormick's performance as National Party leader? 

PRIME MINISTER: Absolutely. I've got a wonderful partnership with Michael. We've worked very closely together and provided great, stable leadership for Australia. I mean, we've got a lot to do in the parliament this week. In particular, we're focused on the deregulation that we're seeking to have reduced on getting major new mining projects up over particularly in Western Australia, which Labor are opposing. He's been a key supporter of, as we've sought to, you know, get the cost of regulation down in this country so we can get jobs into this country. We've got new online safety laws we're trying to get passed this week and new telecommunications laws which support our police officers. We saw what was able to be done with Operation Ironside just recently. And these laws are exactly the sorts of laws that help them do their job. So that's the important stuff that, you know, the government is focused on this week. The Nationals will have their discussions, I'm sure, as they always do, and we'll just get on with the job. 

FORDHAM: Last time you were in quarantine, we saw you business up top, you know, the suit and tie up top and the board shorts down below. Can we give that a miss this time? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's a bit, it's a bit cooler this time around, Ben, so, no, I don't think so. 

FORDHAM: So it'll be pants on this week, is that right? 

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah. The only sort of break will take is, you know, caught you on Ninja Warrior, last night, Ben.

FORDHAM: You were watching last night?

PRIME MINISTER: I caught you last, I like that, I like that young guy from Boggabri. 

FORDHAM: Okay. Well, I'm glad that you're fitting in a little bit of downtime amongst all the other business that you're into at the moment. We wish you the best of luck today and we'll catch up again soon. 

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks Ben, it will be a very busy week. All the best.