Interview with David Koch, Sunrise

04 May 2021
Prime Minister

DAVID KOCH: Scott Morrison joins me live from Rockhampton in Queensland. Prime Minister, morning to you. Will the India flight ban be lifted on May 15? And are you considering repatriation flights from India?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, certainly and that's exactly why we put this temporary pause in place, David. What we've done is when the order was signed by the Health Minister, it took us through to the 15th of May. It's a temporary pause to ensure that we can have our quarantine facilities, where we had in one of them - we've had an increase from around 10 per cent of the cases to over 50 per cent, 57 per cent or thereabouts, one in eight people that were coming in in the most recent repatriation flights were infected with COVID. And so this was escalating quickly and we needed to take action to ensure that we could get the system back into a place within that fortnight so we could get those repatriation flights running again. We've already brought back some 20,000 Australians in India who are registered through our consulates and embassy, our High Commission there, and this enables us to get back on that program and get more people home but to do it safely, Kochie, we can't have a third wave here in Australia, and that means you've got to take some tough decisions in order to protect Australia, but also to ensure that we can get those repatriation flights running safely again.

KOCH: But you didn't stop Australians coming back from say the UK or America, and on a proportional basis, the infection rate in India isn't as high as the UK and America at their peak and as a result, you're being accused of being a racist. Is that fair, is that a bit rough?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it is. Because the same accusation was made against me when I shut the borders to mainland China. And we all know the wisdom of that decision, particularly in hindsight. We knew it in foresight. And it's not true to say that the infection rate is the same because the infection rate that matters, David, is the infection rate of people who are coming in on the actual planes into our quarantine. And that is much higher, much higher and was accelerating. And it was over 80 people alone in the Northern Territory facility. Now, that is our national resilience facility. That is the facility we established after the review into the quarantine by the Commonwealth Government. It is an investment of around half a billion dollars, that number of places in that facility is going to 2,000 this month. I was just there last week. This enables us to get the number of case numbers there down so we can start bringing those repatriation flights out again. And so that's the urgency here. We needed to take a pause to make sure we would put Australia in a stronger position to bring people safely home. But there's another important point on this, David, and that is that we were going to have people who had been in India within 14 days coming to Australia through third countries, through Doha or Dubai. Now, the alternative to pausing these flights with these strong controls was to stop those flights coming as well. And that means hundreds, if not thousands of Australians trying to get through those other ports would have also been cut off. So this was the sensible, practical, proportionate decision to protect Australia, set us up to be able to take more people back and repatriation flights from India and also keep other Australians coming home – a difficult decision, but we've had to make plenty of them during COVID to keep Australia safe.

KOCH: No, you make a really good point there. Hey, what do you say to our Australian cricketers and cricket commentators who have chased the big bucks in the IPL in India and are now caught there and Michael Slater saying it's a disgrace, and PM, you've got blood on your hands?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I just ask them, like the many Australians who are in India at present, to be patient and understanding. Now, that's what I'd ask. I’d just ask them to be patient like everyone else, and I should stress, David, that it's a 14 day pause, as I've said, but also if people have been in other places outside of India for 14 days, then they can return home at the moment. So this is a two week pause. This is not a permanent pause. This is not a four month lockdown. What we are seeking to do here is ensure that Australia doesn't get a third wave of COVID across the country and that would, you know, damage our economy, damage interests, and as we saw in Victoria with the second wave, we saw hundreds of people who were fatalities of that second wave. That's what we're trying to avoid here. None of the decisions are always, you know, that easy, but you've got to be able to make them based on the best possible advice. The decision was recommended by our Chief Medical Officer very clearly that it was proportionate to the risk that we were seeing.

KOCH: Right. Okay, onto another issue while we've got you. Your Government is seeking security advice on that controversial 99 year lease of the Port of Darwin to a Chinese owned company. Are you willing to tear up that arrangement, that agreement? And if so, are you concerned how China will react? And also other overseas investors? We rely on overseas investment who see us as having a very low sovereign risk.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we'll just take this one step at a time. And I'm not presuming anything that would be advised to us by defence and security agencies. We will, we will receive their advice in due course, and I'm sure they will present many options, as they always do, about how you can best manage what they might recommend. So I'm not jumping to the next step here, David. I mean, this is a matter for our security defence agencies to advise if there's been any change in the security status of those port arrangements. I should stress, it's not the entire port area of Darwin. I think sometimes, I was up in Darwin just last week and it is one section - it's not where our military and defence facilities are, that's in another area. And so the Defence Department will give us that advice and we'll consider it soberly and thinking through all the other potential implications here and as always, make a sound judgement.

KOCH: Okay, you're announcing a new biosecurity plan today to help strengthen Australia's agricultural sector. You're in the beef capital of Australia, at Rocky today, with what is it auction day up there? What does the plan include?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's $370 million and it does a range of things. It's another ring of containment. In particular, it provides funding to deal with African swine flu. And we're seeing that just outside of Australia's borders now. It is ensuring that we have a national preparedness right across the country to ensure that we can deal with outbreaks, because that is a state-federal partnership. I mean, border security isn't just about ensuring the national security of our borders, but these pests that can come into the country, the diseases that can come into the country and wipe out entire industries, particularly like the beef industry here, and its beef capital here in Rockhampton. It's been great to be here with them. This puts greater protection on our border to keep these diseases and pests out, both for our crops, as well as for our livestock industry. But in particular, there's work being done here to ensure that we're protecting against African swine flu. I know that's a very big cause of concern across the Ag sector. And this means that we're stepping up to that. And it sounds like the announcement is getting plenty of great support from the other participants here at Beef Week at the moment.

KOCH: I love it. It's really added the sound effects today.

PRIME MINISTER: … The Brahmans love it, David. The Brahmans love this policy …

KOCH: Just quickly, I know you've got to go, Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles says he stuttered and didn't insult you during a Labour Day speech yesterday. Let's have a quick listen …

Are you insulted? Was it a slip of the tongue? Or deliberate headline grabbing, do you reckon?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, look, this bloke has got a bit of form. I'll let him defend his own thing, he should sort of step up to the responsibility of his position. But just for the record, I was at home watching ‘Shrek the Musical’ with my daughter. There was no events that night. So, you know, he can't even get that bit right.

KOCH: Okay. Prime Minister, appreciate your time. Thank you.