Interview with David Koch and Sam Armytage, Sunrise

20 Jan 2020
Prime Minister

DAVID KOCH: Prime Minister Scott Morrison joins us now live. Prime Minister, thank you for joining us. Happy New Year. You’ve been keeping a bit of a low profile on this. Do you stand by Bridget McKenzie or should she step down? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I continue to support the Minister but I also take very seriously the Auditor General's report that was handed down and we're acting on the recommendations that have come forward and particularly to move quickly with the Attorney-General to clarify some of the legal issues that were raised in that report. But let me say this, this program was delivering funding to community organisations all around the country. Community organisations that have been raising money at their own barbecues for many, many years to get this support in place. And every single one of the projects that was approved was eligible. Every single rule was followed in relation to the program. And so getting that support to those community groups, which is what that program was all about. I know it- whether for my electorate, the Leader of the Opposition’s electorate, electorates right across the country. This was about ensuring that girls didn't have to change behind the sheds, they could actually have a changing room in the shed. That's what the program is about. And I think it's important to, yes, acknowledge the issues in the Auditor General's report. But I think we also have to remember this program was about supporting local communities who were supporting themselves, fundraising much of the money to support the grants that were made. 

SAM ARMYTAGE: Did they specifically go to marginal seats? Do you have that? I mean, you admit questions are being raised here and you acknowledged that that could be, there could be a concern. Were they targeted to marginal seats?

PRIME MINISTER: They went to seats right across the country. I mean, they went to Anthony Albanese’s seat. They went to my seat. They went to Labor seats, they went to Coalition seats. They went to what were independent seats. They went right across the board. And the rules show that the decision maker at the end of the day would be the Minister and the rules were followed. But look, we're looking closely at the lessons from the report, but importantly, the recommendations that were put forward by the auditor general and I’m pursuing that, there are many things going on at the moment, as you know, David and Sam, and we're focussing on the bushfires and on the drought. And now, of course, we've got rain events as well. And it's about a year since those terrible floods up there in north Queensland and I haven't forgotten them either. 

KOCH: Ok. So you want to object to a Senate inquiry delving into this a bit more carefully?

PRIME MINISTER: That’s a matter for the Senate, and I’ll leave that to the Senate. They're their own, Senators are masters of their own...

KOCH: But you’re, you’re saying, but you've got people in the Senate too. Um so but you're saying further inquiries need to be made. You're making those inquiries, it’s serious that the Auditor General did bring this up?

PRIME MINISTER: We're following through on the Auditor General's recommendations. That's what I've said.

ARMYTAGE: Ok because this is going to take up a lot of oxygen in the news cycle, Prime Minister, as you can imagine. Do you want to hit this on the head as fast as you can? So, as you say, you can get back to dealing with this bushfire crisis and rolling out these grants that have been handed out to these devastated communities?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's what I am focussed on. So I'm totally focussed on that. Today, we'll be announcing $50,000 dollar grants for small businesses who have been impacted directly by the bushfire crisis that we've seen across the country. On top of that, relief on their BAS, on their pay as you go, that means for those businesses..

KOCH: What does, what is, what does that mean- are you going to give them 50 grand?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, $50,000 dollar grants, up until now, there's been $15,000 dollar grants in New South Wales. We are increasing that to $50,000 dollars. Now that's to help them with repairs and the clean up and these sorts of things, in their proper- in their businesses, to give them that support. But on top of that, David, and you'd know this. We're offering zero interest loans for two years of up to $500,000 dollars for working capital for people- for businesses to get back on their feet. And then for eight years beyond that, at concessional rate of what would be around on current bond rates, about 0.6 per cent on the concession. So in the first two years alone, if you were taking a loan of $500,000, that would be over a $100,000 dollars in saved interest costs. So you've got nothing to pay for that first two years. The principal doesn't accrue. You can just get your business up and running because we're also working to bring the business back to these towns. Yesterday we announced a $76 million dollar tourism package to get people travelling, not just from overseas, but certainly within Australia and the recovery work that's going to happen in all of these towns. The rebuilding of the fences we've committed to fund, it will be over 100 million dollars in costs from the Commonwealth alone to site clear and clean up every single residence and every single business that has been destroyed by these fires. Now, if you've got insurance, that means it's going to go a lot further. And if you don't, at least you don't have what could be $50,000 dollars of costs to clear your site…

KOCH: How do people apply for that? Who do- who do they talk to to get some of that? 

PRIME MINISTER: They go through the state government run organization- Services New South Wales and similar organisations in Victoria and Queensland. The states actually run these grant programs. We pay for them and they do the assessments. They've got the skilled assessors and so they'll be working quickly, the states, to put those arrangements in place. They already have them for the $15,000 dollar grants. So it's a matter of them now having the ability to scale that up to $50,000 for those who are directly impacted. 

ARMYTAGE: Ok. Prime Minister while we've got you, let's look at Australia Day on Sunday. A new survey has found 71 per cent of Aussies want the day to continue to be celebrated on January 26. That is 71 per cent of us, down a little bit from 75 per cent on last year's poll. Do you think Australia Day should remain on January 26? No one seems to be talking about it this year. We must have something else to talk about. 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we do have something else to talk about. And it's people affected by bushfires and on Australia Day, tell you what I’m going to be doing, I’m going to be saying thank you to every single volunteer that has supported everybody through this terrible crisis. But not just this one, but all the crises of weather and disaster that we face in this country. I’ve seen the best of Australians, and that’s what I want to celebrate.

ARMYTAGE: So - then Prime Minister you think the day should stay? Should it stay?

PRIME MINISTER: Well of course I do, I mean it’s not even a debate we’re having at the moment so I don’t really want to be distracted by that debate, on Australia Day it’s a time to I think, say thanks to all those volunteers, particularly those volunteer bushfire fighters. When we remember Andrew O’Dwyer in particular, Geoff Keaton and Sam McPaul, as Jenny and I were at Sam's funeral on Friday in Albury - sorry in Holbrook. It was just heartbreaking. And I've just got nothing but a heart full of thanks. 

KOCH: Yeah, well said. Prime Minister, thanks for joining us. 

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot.