Interview with Deborah Knight, Today Show

07 Dec 2018
Prime Minister
Border protection; encryption legislation, Liberal Party.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Scott Morrison joins us now. Prime Minister, good morning to you.


KNIGHT: There wasn't much festive cheer among politicians when you wrapped things up yesterday. It felt again like the focus was more on tactics and point-scoring than actually getting things done.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, something very important did get done. As you said, the encryption bill passed yesterday. This was very important legislation to give police and security agencies the ability to get into encrypted communications. Things like WhatsApp, things like that which are used by terrorists and organised criminals and indeed paedophile rings to do their evil work. So I was very, very determined to make sure that was passed yesterday and Labor had to be dragged to the table. I'm pleased they finally were there and I’m pleased we were able to get those bills passed and they backed down and backed the Government’s laws.

KNIGHT: Well the cyber laws passed but you did leave a lot of unfinished business. Why didn't you extend the sitting time of the House beyond the 5pm knock-off to deal with the asylum seeker issue?

PRIME MINISTER: Because that was not a bill and they were not changes the government was prepared to accept because it is watering down Australia's border protection. I mean, yesterday Labor and the Greens combined together in the Senate to vote to abolish off-shore processing as we know it. That would be a great risk to Australia's borders. There is no way the Government is going to give any aid or comfort to that. I mean, in the last three months we got over 100 children off Nauru. There is less than 10 there and there will be only about six in the weeks ahead, and there have some specific circumstances relating to them. Labor was trying to bring people from Manus Island, not families, not mums and dads, not kids. They were trying to bring in, in one case, 150 people who haven't even been found to be refugees and turn our off-shore processing into a transit lounge. It is showing Labor's true colours on border protection. They never believed it. They just say they do. That's why they can't be trusted on it.

KNIGHT: Isn't the reality though that you did face the first defeat of Government legislation in the House in 90 years. You were just avoiding humiliation here weren't you?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I mean Labor were saying that and a lot of people down here were saying that. They are always cocky about these things, they’ve been cocky about a lot of things over the past fortnight. Apparently there were all sorts of bills and all sorts of motions that were going to pass but none of it happened. The Government was able to confidently maintain its position in the House of Representatives as we have for the last three months. So all the doomsday scenarios that were put about by the Labor Party to undermine confidence, they were all proven to be false and Labor failed on every occasion and the Government prevailed. And we have got on with the job of running a strong economy and keeping Australians safe. That's what we will continue to do next year.

KNIGHT: And in the meantime though there are people's lives here hanging in the balance. We have sick asylum-seekers on Nauru and Manus Island, children. What will happen to them if they need medical evacuation between now and when Parliament resumes?

PRIME MINISTER: That is simply not true. All the children who have had medical-related issues for transfers have been transferred. 100 children have come off Nauru in the last three months. The Labor Party are putting this about. It is just simply not true. When it comes to the others on Manus or Nauru, we have doctors, we have medical staff in place. And where these issues are raised, transfers do take place. In some places people are transferred to Taiwan or Port Moresby for medical treatment and they receive it. So what is being put forward by the Labor Party and the Greens is an attempt to end off-shore processing as we know it, and that puts the boats back on. That means we go back to the horror we saw before we came to Government that our policies, combined temporary protection visas, off-shore processing and turning boats back where it is safe to do so. That’s what stops the boats and keeps them stopped. Labor is opposed to temporary protection visas, they will roll that back. And now they are now opposed to offshore processing, they confirmed that yesterday. They are a risk to our borders.

KNIGHT: Prime Minister, you have though just delayed the inevitable here, haven’t you? When Parliament does resume you won't have a majority. It is simply a case of if the bill didn't pass yesterday it is not going to pass again when you resume simply because of the numbers.

PRIME MINISTER: Well I'm sorry, you must know the Parliament better than I do.

KNIGHT: I can see the numbers and you don't have a majority.

PRIME MINISTER: No, but nor have we had for the last three months yet we continue to pass legislation, we continue to ensure we maintain the passage of matters through the House. There are a lot of big claims being made here by the Labor Party and commentators and so far none of them have come true. None of them have come true and we will continue to work amicably and professionally with the Parliament to ensure that the Government is able to get on with our agenda, which is to make our economy stronger and keep Australians safe. That's what we are doing. All the big stories that say it is all falling over, that's not true because it hasn't happened.

KNIGHT: One of the big claims made by Labor yesterday in the wake of your very fiery press conference yesterday, you did launch a pretty scathing attack on Bill Shorten. They claimed you are looking desperate. Are you desperate?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I was very determined that I wasn't going to let the Labor Party  undermine our border protection laws and play politics with national security and not pass a bill that will give police the powers to ensure paedophiles and terrorists and organised criminals could get away with using encrypted communications. So yeah, I was pretty determined yesterday and I do think Bill Shorten is a threat when it comes to our national security because he has to be dragged kicking and screaming every single time you try and get these things done. You don't try and play politics with these things and yesterday that's exactly what they were doing. I'm pleased we were able to stare them down and ensure that the passage of the Bill was achieved.

KNIGHT: Now in other news, Barnaby Joyce has made a call for the end to the parliamentary ban on spouses of MPs working in their partner’s office. Do you think you’ll overturn that, is it a good idea?

PRIME MINISTER: No, we won't be changing that.

KNIGHT: No changes? Because it is tough for politicians isn’t it, when you are away from your loved ones.


KNIGHT: But you are sticking to that ruling?

PRIME MINISTER: That's right.

KNIGHT: Ok. Now earlier this week you overhauled Liberal Party rules to make it harder for an elected PM to be turfed out from the top job. You consulted with former leaders John Howard and Tony Abbott on this one. Why not Malcolm Turnbull?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I consulted with Tony. He is a member of the Parliamentary Party. As you know Malcolm is no longer a member of the Parliamentary Party. He decided to leave and he said he was getting out of partisan politics. I'm respecting that decision he made. John Howard is the greatest living Prime Minister and certainly from the Liberal Party's point of view, and I would say more generally. But John is someone who has always been an esteemed elder of our Party and someone I have often looked to in these types of things. So he stands alone when it comes to the Liberal Party.

KNIGHT: Well Malcolm Turnbull said he was going to get out of partisan politics but he doesn't seem to be doing that. He is really speaking out against the Party. It is causing enormous damage to you and your chances of re-election. Is it safe to say he is not on your Christmas gift list?

PRIME MINISTER: I wish him a very Merry Christmas, and Lucy and all the family. I will leave those things up to him. I will always treat former prime ministers from whatever party with the respect and courtesy that they have earned and deserve.

KNIGHT: Well we wish you are your family a very Merry Christmas and a nice break I suppose from the bitterness of Parliament. So thank you very much for your time again this morning Scott Morrison.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks Deb, and can I just say to everyone stay safe over Christmas. We are going into a very dangerous bushfire season this year. So please take the opportunity to talk about your own plans and how you deal with the issues if you find yourself in that position. All the authorities will be out there working closely together, the plans are in place. But we know what it can be like over summer and this year is going to be particularly tough. Stay together and say safe. God bless and have a very happy Christmas.

KNIGHT:  Good on you. Thank you again for your time.