Interview with Heidi Murphy, 3AW

10 Jan 2020
Prime Minister

HEIDI MURPHY: Good morning, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Heidi.

MURPHY: I'll get to the issue of fires in a moment. I do want to start with the Iran US conflict first, though. What is your message to Australian troops? What is your feeling about our safety, the safety of any of our people in that area?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, my first message always to our troops, wherever they're serving, is thank you for your service and for your dedication. That's whether they're serving over in Iraq, as we have many there doing that now and have been for some time, or out there and about in Australia at the moment as part of the deployment, the largest ever deployment we've seen a response to a bushfire disaster in Australia for the defence forces. But secondly, all of their commanders, the chief of defence forces, are very focussed on their safety and we are relieved that after the events of the other day that all of our personnel were safe and they remain safe. And that remains the highest priority for protecting, defending our people there. They continue on with the task and the mission that they have, that they're committed to and Australia has been committed to as part of a coalition for some time now. And we're working closely with our coalition partners, the United States, Canada, New Zealand and others to ensure that we continue to safely pursue this important mission.

MURPHY: Does that mean you're not concerned that this will escalate further, that we could end up at war?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, look, I think that is getting well ahead of events and it's not helpful to speculate. What's helpful to do is constantly observe and monitor the situation, get the best possible intelligence and information, and work closely with our coalition partners, which is what we're doing. The National Security Committee of Cabinet has been meeting regularly on this issue, as well as the bushfire issue. And we are very focused on the welfare and well-being of our servicemen and women and diplomatic personnel who are in Baghdad and the appropriate arrangements have been put in place for their protection as well.

MURPHY: Do we stand with Donald Trump when it comes to policy on Iran?

PRIME MINISTER: Australia and the United States and Canada and the United Kingdom, France, New Zealand, we are all part of this coalition standing together with the mission that we have agreed and committed ourselves to in Iraq to counter Daesh. Let's not forget it is Daesh, that is the terrorist organization that has sought to wreak havoc on so many parts of the world, including in Australia. And so that mission remains very important.

MURPHY: You've had a conversation with the Canadian prime minister in recent hours?

PRIME MINISTER: I spoke to him yesterday. I spoke to New Zealand Prime Minister yesterday about both of these issues and, obviously, I spoke to the Canadian Prime Minister about the terrible loss of their 63 citizens on board the Ukrainian flight out of Tehran and I expressed our sympathies, but also our willingness to support them in any way we can. We have an embassy there and they're getting support from other partners as well to assist families. It's important that a full investigation is done there, that every effort is made to recover that black box and to ensure that that's part of a very transparent inquiry and review of that horrible event.

MURPHY: Is Iran a danger to the world?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, Iran… all of the nations which I've spoken of have had real concerns about nuclear proliferation and many activities that have been occurring and we've been addressing those with our partners in that part of the world for some time. So I think that those issues are well understood.

MURPHY: To the bushfires, Prime Minister, there will be an economic toll that this takes for a very long time. How many... how long do you think it will take the country to recover?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let's just go back to Black Saturday, you know, a decade ago and when I sat in the memorial, the 10 year anniversary of that, those horrendous events that we listened to the stories of recovery and it took many, many years. The devastation that was inflicted on towns like Kinglake and others required a complete rebuilding and it wasn't just the buildings that needed to be restored. It was people's lives. It was people's wellbeing and the trauma that that impacted. It was the recovery of habitat. It was the recovery of entire communities and environments and we are we faced with the same challenge here. And the real truth is that we're not through this yet. Even today as we know it, particularly in Victoria, but also in New South Wales and, of course, over in South Australia, we're facing very extreme conditions and there are many months to go in places like Tasmania as well, where the season is usually stronger towards the latter in the summer. We still face real threats in the weeks and months ahead. So this is why we've deployed the biggest ever federal response to a national bushfire disaster the country has ever seen. 3,000 call out of reservists. It's never been done before. A National Bushfire Recovery Agency established, being led by former AFP commissioner Andrew Colvin. $2 billion in additional support going into rebuilding communities and businesses and people’s lives, focusing on agriculture, tourism, the environment, small businesses and the direct assistance we announced yesterday for council areas, including in East Gippsland and other council areas affected.

MURPHY: Given that this does appear to be the new normal, the early start to a fire season, a ferocious fire season, a very long fire season and affecting so many different parts of the country at once, is it the new normal that will see things like reservists being called out every year? Is there an argument to set up some sort of permanent mechanism so, I don't know, mid-November, December 1, arrangements kick into place, mechanisms kick into place?

PRIME MINISTER: Heidi, I think there are very good points and they’re obviously ones that will be considered very carefully. I mean, we stood this up last Saturday. We had it moving several days before we'd actually run a trial process for the call out back in November to ensure that we were in a position to be able to roll that out should that become necessary. And it did become necessary. I mean, the scale of these fires going across two very large jurisdictions reached an unprecedented level and that required an unprecedented response at that time and one was delivered and delivered very quickly. And I think Australians have seen each night in the reports of where our defence forces and other support has been providing everything, I mean, even the last day or so, there's been the emergency fodder drops that have been happening in the southeast part of Victoria. There have been pre-emptive drops of supplies through the Chinook helicopters. A lot of those parts in that part of the state can become very isolated. They've been able to reconnect some of those more recently, but fires could see them isolated again and so that's why defence have been supplying those communities to ensure that they're done in advance if the worst were to happen. There is also excellent work being done now through the engineering teams to reopen roads and I know there is a lot of concern amongst your listeners about those roads. And it's important to remember that it's not just about clearing the debris off the road. It's also about securing the tree lines and the other hazards that could potentially compromise those roads.

MURPHY: And fixing the road infrastructure. So it could be looked at, some sort of permanent or regular annual Commonwealth response?

PRIME MINISTER: We'll be looking at everything, Heidi, I can assure you and I mean, now is the time to focus on the response and the fires there in front of us. And I've been working closely with the states and territories, with Premier Andrews and Andrew Crisp who I think is doing an outstanding job, by the way. I've met with him and my team has been working with him closely. I mean, I think the leadership, both particularly at both government and agency level in Victoria has been very strong and we've been very pleased to be working well with them. As you know, the biggest ever maritime evacuation to a natural disaster, which we've seen since Cyclone Tracy occurred off out of Mallacoota. About 1,400 people by sea.

MURPHY: It’s been an extraordinary effort.

PRIME MINISTER: And with a Spartan aircraft complementing that and the rotary wing support. I mean, that has been quite an effort and I want to thank the people who participated in that as being evacuated for the way they went about that. I mean, of course, you get misinformation. I mean, the other day they were saying that, you know, children under five weren't allowed to come on the evacuation operation. There was just simply not true.

MURPHY: I think that's what people were told locally and on the first day that’s what people were told.

PRIME MINISTER: No, sorry, that’s not. I checked that with Defence.

MURPHY: Oh, right.

PRIME MINISTER: We had children on board. There were pregnant women on board there. So there can be misinformation that gets out there.

MURPHY: Certainly can be. I know you don't have heaps long but I’ll go through a couple of things quickly if I can. Royal Commission, do we need one or no into the fires?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, I've said simply in response to questions on this - and I've said this now for some weeks - that I'll be engaging with states and territories about this and what's the best way to proceed with that. The overwhelming majority of issues that are both contributing to these events, plus the response that is overwhelmingly deployed by state governments and then preparations are run by state governments. So obviously, there's an enormous state jurisdiction in all of this and I'll consult with those state colleagues. I think the feedback I'm getting is there is an appetite for an overarching inquiry that brings all of these elements together and that is comprehensive. I think we'll work through those issues and make sure we learn the lessons as we always do and reflect on how the lessons of previous events have been applied.

MURPHY: You've been getting a lot of feedback on the issue of climate change also.


MURPHY: Will you have more to say?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we'll continue to meet and beat our climate targets. I should remind you that this year, the very year in which these fires are occurring and, you know, climate change is a global phenomenon, Australia is beating the emissions target reduction targets that we committed to Kyoto.

MURPHY: But is it enough?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, right now I'm talking about, these events are occurring right now, Heidi. And when you look at what Australia has achieved to date, we are beating the targets right now by 411 million tonnes. Now, there are many other countries that have similar economies to Australia who are not achieving that. So what I don't accept is that Australia, as we speak right now with these actions, means that we're ahead of what we committed to do. And it's my plan to ensure we're ahead of what we've committed to do in the future as well.

MURPHY: Some protesters will be taking to the streets this afternoon saying you've not done anywhere near enough and they want you sacked.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, people will take political opportunities during things like this, and that's for them to explain. I'm just focused on what people need here and now. There's been plenty of that and I think Australians can see through that.

MURPHY: Two more very quick things. There's talk of Australia Day fireworks needing to be cancelled. I know the Commonwealth has weighed in on some council issues around Australia Day, citizenship ceremonies, dress codes, that sort of things. Do you have a view on whether fireworks should go ahead on Australia Day?

PRIME MINISTER: Those decisions we've made on the basis of fire authorities dealing directly with local governments.

MURPHY: All right. And is it appropriate to shame small businesses, shame high -profile Australians who aren't making a big deal of whether they've donated or not to the bushfire crisis?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm just simply grateful for those who have. And I think it's great whether it's the Packer family, whether it's the Pratt family, whether it's the Forrest family or the Moran family who have been making contributions. Whether it's the, you know, the Smiths or the or the Joneses or the Amans or whoever who are making donations - thank you. My only message to Australians who are providing support is thank you. And I echo what the Premier said the other day, I've been making similar comments in other parts of the country. The best way to assist with this effort is through donations and doing that through the registered charities. Obviously, that is the most effective way to do that. I know in some of the private and other fundraising activities they are channelling that support, which they've been successfully able to raise, I think, into those official charitable causes. And we thank them for that. Thank you, Australia. Thank you, Victorians, for your tremendous generosity. Let's focus on the things that are bringing us together. That's what I think.

MURPHY: Thank you very much for your time. Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison.