Interview with Jim Wilson, 2GB

06 Jul 2020
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Well, welcome to you too, Jim. It's good to be on your programme and congratulations and I hope the listeners are enjoying it. I have every reason to believe that they should. 

JIM WILSON: Oh very kind. Thank you, Prime Minister. Now we heard from Premier Gladys Berejiklian earlier in the programme, should’ve the border between New South Wales and Victoria been closed weeks ago?

PRIME MINISTER: No, and that certainly wasn't the advice at the time. I mean, the cases have escalated significantly now and over the weekend. And I was- spoke to the Premier, both Premiers this morning. And then we had a three way hook up earlier this morning as well to discuss the issue and agreed that now is the time for Victoria to isolate itself from the rest of the country. I mean, what's different here, Jim, and this isn’t other states closing their borders to Victoria. This is Victoria understanding the need to contain an outbreak which they've been seeking to do in the western and northern suburbs of Melbourne, that is now extended to the whole state. And that is necessitated by the growth in community transmission in those cases. And it's regrettable that this has been necessary. We're one country and that's important and it's important for our economy. But so is maintaining our strong health performance through COVID, all of the other states and territories, seven of them, have virtually no community transmission, if any. And so it's important just to put that protection in place for the time that is needed. 

WILSON: Are you expecting some teething problems and confusion the next 48 hours at that border with New South Wales and Victoria? 

PRIME MINISTER: Sure, that'd be natural. But we would ask people just to be patient as those systems get in place. I mean, borders, last time the border was closed, I think between New South Wales and Victoria was probably over 100 years ago. So, I mean, I think people will be understanding of that and there'll be sensible arrangements put in place to deal with that. Essential workers, those sorts of things, health workers, you've got a single health system operating across Albury-Wodonga, for example. They’re issues that the Premiers and I spoke about this morning, and that will be sorted out with people just showing the normal patience that would be needed at a time like this.

WILSON:  Prime Minister, a 20th straight day of double digit figures in Victoria. Why won't the Andrews Government accept the free offer for military help in the crisis? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the offer stands and the Premier will call on it when he thinks he believes he needs it, at the moment we've got 200 ADF people down there already, they’re medical personnel. We've got 800 Commonwealth public servants who are down there supporting the effort. We're funding 28 GP respiratory clinics they’ve assessed over 62,000 people and conducted almost 55,000 tests. So the Commonwealth is, I can tell you, is pretty heavily involved in supporting the Andrews government and what they're doing to contain this outbreak. It is obviously a state responsibility to do just that. And we'll give them every support we can. We're also supporting some contingency work with the Australian Federal Police. And there are some high level sort of logistical planners and others from the ADF who are going down there as well. We've also ensured that there are no flights going into Melbourne, which is very important. And so passengers who are looking to come back to Australia, to Melbourne, will have to give themselves on a flight somewhere else that will not be New South Wales, because we've also capped that, New South Wales has done more than its fair share of heavy lifting in receiving those international flights. And that's a commitment I gave Premier Berejiklian last week. 

WILSON: You can understand the criticism of the Victorian government? I mean, Victoria is more than 97 per cent of the country's active cases. And I know, I know you don't want to start finger pointing, but they really haven't covered themselves in glory. I mean, particularly when they have some of the country's toughest restrictions when all this started?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you know, Jim, as Prime Minister, it's my job to support the various governments around the country get on top of these things where they happen, others will run commentaries on all that. My focus is just on trying to get the problem sorted and supporting the Victorian government to achieve that, to work with Premier Andrews, who I have worked closely with ever since being in this job and prior actually as a Treasurer. So they've got their hands full down there. And so what they don't need is any sort of commentary from me. What they need is support from me for the initiatives they're taking. And, and we've got a lot of work to do.

WILSON: Something like more than 10,000 people in those hotspot areas in Victoria and Melbourne who've refused testing for COVID. I mean, surely there needs to be legislation in the Victorian Parliament if they don't agree to be tested, there has to be penalties?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's my view. And the Commonwealth has no power over those things. That's purely a state matter. And they've got legislation down there which allows for that to be the case. So, I mean, that's really a matter for Victorians. They've decided that through their parliament that that's how they want their laws written and if they feel differently about that well, I'm sure they'll find a way to express that. 

WILSON: But you think there should be penalties if they don’t undergo the tests?

PRIME MINISTER: Well my preference is that people do the right thing Jim. I mean, that's what you'd hope people would do. But there is a you know, there is a health pandemic here. And our preference is for people to follow those instructions. And we’ve also put in place less invasive testing using saliva testing down there, which was developed by the Doherty Institute. Now, that is particularly helpful if you're dealing with young kids, the elderly, people with disabilities for which the nasal and throat tests can be quite invasive and quite difficult for some of those particularly younger and those who are infirmed. But for everyone else. I mean, it's a test that you should be taking and you're looking after your own health, your family's health and your neighbour's health. So I think it's a pretty reasonable thing for the government to ask of people to do and people should comply. 

WILSON: It's a tough one. How long are you expecting the borders to be shut for? 

PRIME MINISTER: I can't say at the moment, and I hope it's not for too long because it obviously has an economic impact and people's jobs are at risk by this, but they're equally at risk if the outbreak goes further than it is now. But let's just sort of get a bit in perspective. I mean, we've got an annual case growth nationally now, which is at 1.7. It's about 5 per cent in Victoria. I mean, countries around the world would dream for those numbers. And I'm not seeking to lessen the issue Jim, I think it's a very serious issue and we're treating it seriously. But we also have to, I think, get it in perspective for the rest of the country doing incredibly well. And the nation's efforts have been focussed on Victoria to support them get on top of this. And so as each day passes, I would hope we'd see an improvement and all of that resource, all of that testing, all of that tracing. I mean, we've got people in New South Wales on the phone tracing cases down to Victoria. We got tests from Victorians being processed over in South Australia and Tasmania and all the other parts of the country. We've got health officers down from Queensland, offers from Western Australia. So everybody's working together. I think that's the key. We knew there would be outbreaks Jim. We knew that, now this one is getting above where I think we would like it to be. Well, we wouldn’t like it to be anywhere, to be honest. But, I mean, it is serious. But also, I mean, every resource and focus has been brought to bear to deal with it. 

WILSON: In light of that, should JobKeeper continue beyond September then? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we'll be making those announcements very soon. We’ve got the economic statement coming up in just about two weeks’ time and so we've been working towards that date and we've always said that there needs to be a further phase of support that goes past the end of September and there's a lot of moving parts in all that and so we're still working through those. I mean, the Treasurer and I had another meeting with our Budget Committee today to work through those details. I mean, you've got the JobSeeker programme, you've got the JobKeeper programme, you've got other supports that are in there and they all intermesh. So you don't make these decisions lightly. We're going through on JobKeeper alone about $11 billion a month and so that is an enormous outlay for taxpayers right across the country. And we've always said we want to make sure it's targeted, supporting and JobKeeper so far has been arguably one of the world's most successful income support programmes during the global recession. 

WILSON: So it could be financial assistance packages of some description for those doing it really tough beyond September?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we've always indicated that there'd be a further phase. It’s just the scale of it and how it's targeted is what we've been working through.

WILSON: Eden-Monaro, are you willing to concede defeat at this point? 

PRIME MINISTER: There's still a few more votes to count down there, Jim, and the postal votes still coming in. There are several thousand issued beyond what had been received by polling day. But I've got to say, I mean, of all the parties represented in the Parliament, the Liberal Party was the only one who got a swing to it on the primary and on the two party preferred. That's only happened 15 times out of the last 100 byelections. So that is a performance that, you know, for those who believed that there would be strong protest against the government, well, there wasn't a protest vote against the government on the weekend, we were the only party that actually had a swing to us and we've gone very close. We'll be a few hundred votes in it. And to have a swing to the government in a byelection in a seat that we don't hold, I mean, the government hasn't hasn't won one like that for 100 years. So as far as where the bar was set, this is in more than the top quartile, it's gunning for a finals place. 

WILSON: We're in a very, very delicate financial situation and environment. Mathias Cormann, his decision to retire. He's a safe pair of hands. He's the longest serving Finance Minister. He served under three governments. How disappointed are you that you are losing him at such a delicate economic time? 

PRIME MINISTER: Mathias and I came to the Parliament in the same year and we've known each other a long time. We're good friends and we've worked through six budgets together, both as Treasurer and Prime Minister and prior to that, when I was Social Services Minister, when I first went on the Budget Committee, the Expenditure Review Committee. So we've worked together probably more closely than any two members of this Government. And so he's been a great partner in the work that we've done and he was critical to the work we did in the Budget to get it back to balance,  now, prior to this pandemic, now, the fact that we've been able to respond the way we have, both on as you mentioned before, JobKeeper, but all the other supports we've put in place, the supports for the entertainment industry, the home building industry, the work we have done to support our health system. All of that was made possible because we've got ourselves in such a better and stable position before this all hit. So, of course, he's been critical there. He's been critical up in the Senate with the important legislation we've been able to pass. The tax cut to cut people's taxes and to guarantee essential services, as well as ensuring that we can continue to improve the Budget. And as a Western Australian, you won't find more a passionate one. He might have been born in Belgium, but I can tell you, his blood bleeds as strong as any other Western Australian. He is has patriotic zeal, not just for his own country, but for his adopted state, too. 

WILSON: We mentioned earlier in the programme about TikTok and security concerns. Are you a TikTok family, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: No, no. I had no idea what it was, actually, until those TikTok memes started with that stuff with Andrew Probyn and Katharine Murphy, which I think Guy Sebastian started.

WILSON: Are you concerned, though, for younger people in particular, 1.6 million Australians are using it. I mean, are you concerned about the security risk around TikTok? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there's a range of these social media platforms, and this one obviously has that link, there’s WeChat there’s a range of others as well. And people have to be very conscious of what they're signing on to. I mean, I found it a bit passing strange that when we put the COVIDSafe app out there, which has about six and a half million downloads now, and people were talking about privacy on that. Now, that is one of if not the most secure COVID-related app anywhere in the world and actually one of the most, if not the most successful. And people were worried about privacy on that. But they'll load their dance moves up on TikTok in the afternoon. So I think people have to be quite conscious in this digital age that all of these platforms, they all go back to places and people are knowingly handing over their data and their information and all of these things. And they're doing it by permission. It's a free country. You can do that if you like. But I think it's right for people to have an increased awareness of where these platforms originate and the risk they present. 

WILSON: Prime Minister, we do appreciate your time on a very, very busy day. And isn't it good that you've come to me on the first day in the chair and Drive and the Sharkies have gone back to back? 

PRIME MINISTER: Look, I was being kind, Jimmy. I know they're your team, the Titans, but seven tries on the weekend, you've got me going now. I was really impressed with Andrew Fifita on the weekend. I thought that's his best game this season and he was back in barnstorming form. So it was great to see him come off the bench and had a huge impact. Johnson's really hitting his straps and Chad Townsend. Mate, look, you won’t stop me now. We are a try scoring factory down there at Shark Park - even though we’re not playing at Shark Park this year.

WILSON: It’s 26 past 5, everyone, the Prime Minister’s actually hosting Wide World of Sports after six o'clock. He's delighted with the Sharkies. Up Up Cronulla. Thank you, Prime Minister. 

PRIME MINISTER: Absolutely. Good on you, Jim, all the best for the programme. 

WILSON: Good on you, mate. Thank you. Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison on 2GB 873.