Interview with David Penberthy and Will Goodings, FiveAA

26 Nov 2021
Prime Minister

Host: Prime Minister, good morning to you.

Prime Minister: G’day Will, g’day Penbo.

Host: Good to have you here, PM. It feels a bit surreal because, you know, you've been, spent a lot, even though you're the leader of the nation, you've spent quite a long time this year incarcerated in the, in the Lodge and elsewhere. I don’t, I don’t mean that in a sort of ICAC sense, but you know, this week we've opened the borders here in SA.

Prime Minister: Yeah.

Host: And you would have seen all those wonderful photographs of families being reunited. 

Prime Minister: Yeah, that was a real ‘Love Actually’ moment.

Host: It was.

Prime Minister: And it's been happening all around the country. I mean, it was happening in Melbourne and and now in South Australia. Looking forward to it happening right around the country. Australia is reopening and we're already seeing the dramatic impact that’s having on the economy, and with 350,000 people in five weeks going back into work, now, that is a spring back of the economic story here in Australia. And, you know, there was, the Australian economy has been arguably one of the strongest, if not the strongest, of advanced economies coming through the pandemic. You combine that with the, one of the lowest fatality rates from COVID in the world and and now also one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, and a big shout out to South Australia, and a challenge to South Australians today - as you're waking up today, it is absolutely achievable today that that South Australia will hit 80 per cent double dose vaccinated. You’ve got about a half a per cent to go, based on the figures …

Host: One last push, folks.

Prime Minister: ... I just got it today from this morning, so you're just a half a per cent away. So, if you're in, South Australians, go out and get vaccinated today. Wake up to the news tomorrow morning that South Australia is 80 per cent vaccinated. 

Host: It is funny. If a week’s a long time in politics, then six months is an, is an eternity. I reckon it’s six months since we spoke to you, and I would admit that we, like other radio hosts that week, were slightly unpleasant and possibly even bordering on disrespectful.

Prime Minister: No, no.

Host: Well, no, it was in the, it was in, it was in …

Host: Part of the mission statement [inaudible].

Host: But it was in the back draught of the, you know, it's not a race stuff and everything else. And people felt like the whole vaccine thing was just, you know, stuck. Now, I mean, if it was a race, it feels like we might have won. 

Prime Minister: Well, I think you're right about that. And as I said, look, we had some challenges, but I said, you know, I take responsibility for fixing those challenges, and we did. And we have. And now we've gone past the United Kingdom. We've gone past so many countries in Europe. We raced past the United States, and particularly we've been able to do it for those most vulnerable in our community - our elderly. I mean, our over 70s vaccination rates is is over 96 per cent, and that means that our hospitals won't be as vulnerable to any, you know, potential outbreaks or anything like that. So, Australians have done amazingly well. When I say Australians, yeah, sure, we've done our part, and Steve Marshall has done a great job here too. But Australians have done their part, and that's what the National Plan was all about. I saw it as a deal with Australians. I said, ‘You go and do your thing and we've got to do our thing,’ and that's why I'm pleased to be here today. I wanted to be in South Australia the second I could after it opened up, because that says the National Plan is being implemented. And I want to thank Steven, Premier Marshall, for getting this National Plan happening here in South Australia.

Host: So, South Australia leading the way, unsurprisingly, everyone at home saying right now. When when's the date you've got circled or or the period, sometime probably next year, when you can reasonably think we talk about border restrictions in the, we talk about it in the past tense?

Prime Minister: Well, look, we've always just taken this one step at a time, and I would hope it would, you know, be well in the first half of, you know, in the first half of next year. And we've just opened up from the 1st of December. We're opening up to all skilled migrants, which is very important for South Australia, and to students, and they can all come from the 1st of December if they’re double vaccinated. We've opened up fully to people coming from Singapore, from the 1st of December fully from Japan and Korea, and we're looking to see what more we can add to that before the end of the year. We're obviously watching closely what's happening in Europe and North America because they're going through another wave. So, we’ve worked pretty hard, very hard to get to where we are, and we don't want to put that at risk. Now, my motto’s been, open safely so you can stay safely open. That's what the National Plan is about. I, particularly in a state like South Australia, which has been so successful in not having the COVID impacts that we've had in in the eastern states, particularly New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT, you know, we've got to be careful, but at the same time, we have to move forward. I mean, you wrote, you've written about it today, David, and it was a great piece, vintage Penbo, going back to your days at The Daily Tele. I think many more years ago ...

Host: Flattery will get you everywhere, Prime Minister.

Prime Minister: … when we first met many years ago. But you know, that is right. We've got to live with this virus and we've got to live together with this virus, too. I mean, you know, once, that's the whole point of getting everybody vaccinated. 

Host: But does it worry you then, PM, to hear Mark McGowan say yesterday, ‘Oh, we're keeping a close eye on SA.’ There’s, you know, there’s three cases, three cases, three cases since November 23. He's quite seriously raised the prospect of shutting the border to South Australia now that we've reopened. 

Prime Minister: Well, I think the experience of the rest of the country will be its own testimony. It will show, as we’re already seeing, as I said, 350,000 people getting back into work. Now, I know in the West and, you know, they've done a great job, just like here with Steven Marshall, in keeping people safe. And, you know, the Western Australian economy works, you know, different to many others. And it is an economy with a very big mining sector and and can support itself, but it can't do that forever. And I I'm quite sure that Premier McGowan understands that. But, you know, once you hit, I mean, they're not at 80 per cent yet either, they’ve still got a bit of work to do. So, when I'm asked about it that in the West, well, the first answer to that question is we've got to get to 80 per cent. And, so, let's get there in WA, let's get there in Queensland, and as South Australia can get there today, and that means you can, you can move forward, Australians can step forward and, frankly, governments can step back. 

Host: You’ve come to South Australia on a day when newspapers right around the country are telling the story, well News Limited papers the very least still, but Chinese spy ship that was in the economic zone off of Darwin, spent a bit of time in September and August off of Sydney as well, having a look at things that weren't, there was no naval operation going on, but they were clearly taking a little bit of a peak. It coincides with the Indonesian Government beginning to bristle about some of the deep sea mapping that's going on in their territorial waters. Is this, are we starting to see the sort of South China Sea style belligerence of China in our own neck of the woods?

Prime Minister: Well, they were in the economic zone and, of course, we knew who were there. I mean, they can be in those areas, just like we can be in the South China Sea. And, so, we don't make an argument about that. And, you know, that's entirely consistent with the rule of international law. But, it also does, you know, very, I think, firmly highlight the nature of what's going on in the Indo-Pacific. I mean, people aren't making this up. I mean, what is going on in the Indo-Pacific is real. It does mean that Australia has to be on its guard. It does mean that Australia has to stand up for its interests and stand up to those who want to coerce us, who want to slap unfair trade sanctions on our wine and things like that, which has an impact, particularly here in South Australia, and our Government is standing up to that. And when I was in between those long stints at the Lodge and I was meeting with others around the world at the, both when I was in Rome at the G20, but also earlier that year at the G7, the rest of the world, liberal democracies, are so proud of what Australia has done in standing up for itself. I mean, if we didn't do it, who else was going to do it? And we did stand up for it, whether it was on COVID or whether it's been on these trade issues or whether it's been on the coercion. I mean, right now, quite sadly, we're seeing a very upsetting situation up in the Solomon Islands. And yesterday we made a decision to send AFP and ADF personnel up there to get to, to restore peace and stability. But, you know what I, as difficult as that situation was, and you never take these decisions lightly because it is a dangerous situation. The Solomon Islands reached out to us first. They reached out to us as family because they trust us, and we've worked hard for that trust in the Pacific. And that's important because they're family. But it's also important because that is our region and we're standing up to secure our region with our partners, our friends, our family and allies. 

Host: Is that what you get, though, for for adopting the position of standing up, as you say, you get Chinese warships on your doorstep?

Prime Minister: Well, you've got to be who you are and you've got to stand up for what you believe in. And that honestly takes a lot of strength. It takes a lot of persistence. You've got to put up with a, with the, I remember when we first started doing this, people were accusing us of being racist. I mean, that was ridiculous. We're standing up for Australia's interests. There might be others who want to join the chorus of those who might want to attack Australia. But, as Prime Minister, that's your first duty - stand up for Australia and stand up to those who who want to coerce you.

Host: Speaking of standing up to those who want to coerce you, PM, how’s Alex Antic and the rest of the gang? Can you, can you get them all back in the tent?

Prime Minister: Yeah, look, look, there's a lot of games in Parliament this week. You guys are very familiar with all that and, you know, people get very focused on all the games. But what's important is that, as Prime Minister and as a Government, we don't get distracted by all the political theatre. I mean, there was a lot of showboating going on over the course of the last week, right across the Parliament, there were all sorts of games going on. But, you know, we were dealing with serious issues and we're dealing with serious things like we were just talking about, issues around national security and the threats that present there, dealing with the very serious issue we were doing with the Solomon Islands ...

Host: But could it affect, could it affect the, could it affect your ability to do all those things? I mean, is it that serious that it ...

Prime Minister: No, look, I was engaging, particularly with Alex, over the course of the week, obviously a Senator for South Australia. You know, the whole point of the Parliament, and this is the thing about the Liberal Party, you know, we’re, they're not a bunch of drones. They're not a bunch of, you know, just warm bodies that we move around in the Parliament. They, you know, they come to Canberra. They come to Parliament with strong views and beliefs. They listen to their community. They raise issues. And as Prime Minister, I've always sought to respect that. I might not always agree with them, but I always listen to them. And and we work through some issues this week and we've improved some things, and particularly in relation to the indemnity scheme, because on the indemnity scheme, I mean, vaccinations have gone very well here, but of course, with any vaccination program, there will be some adverse reactions that people will have. I don't mean politically, I mean physically. And we need to ensure that the the scheme that we have to support them is adequate and we've strengthened that. And I think that was a good outcome.

Host: Well, PM, we thank you for coming in today. I've got to say it feels a little bit odd and otherworldly sitting here like, you know, two feet away from each other, even the, even the nation's leaders spent a large part of 2021 locked, locked up at the Lodge.

Prime Minister: We did, looking like, looking at screens like the one you've got in here. I was, in fact, I was just on one last night with Asian and European leaders, and there we all were doing the whole Zoom thing, but it has been great getting back. I mean, Cabinet is all sitting around the one table now, and I think that's a positive thing. But it's great to be back here in South Australia. Congratulations for opening up and that one last challenge - if you haven’t been vaccinated in South Australia, get out there today. Let's wake up to the news tomorrow that 80 per cent of South Australians have been vaccinated. Well done, South Australia.

Host: Good stuff.

Prime Minister: [Inaudible] get one of those shirazes you like so much down [inaudible].

Host: Oh yeah, they’re pretty good, hard to buy a bad one here in SA.

Prime Minister: It is, it is.

Host: Dave will have some recommendations for you, don’t worry about that.

Host: I’ll write down a short list for you after the interview finishes. 

Prime Minister: Good to see you guys.

Host: Thanks.