Interview with Jim Wilson, 2GB

18 Jan 2021
Prime Minister

JIM WILSON: And the Prime Minister is on the line right now. Welcome to Drive Prime Minister. 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, happy birthday Jimmy.

WILSON: Good on you. Thanks very much PM. I've had a very nice day. The messages have been terrific, and in the world's best city, it's the world's best day. The weather is just absolutely magnificent. 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I hope you get- there's a few more runs for your birthday mate, we need to score a bit more before the end of this session, I think. 

WILSON: Yeah, I wouldn't mind like 350, 350 plus. But at the moment, an overall lead of 276. How- did you get to have a time away? Did you have a break with Jenny and the kids?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah we did, they're still away but I've come back to work and, but we, we got down the South Coast of New South Wales. I like to get down there. And g’day to everyone down at Shoalhaven Heads. They’re wonderful, wonderful people, very kind to us when we come down there. A bit of bodysurfing and that sort of thing, and a great time with the girls and Jen, so it was a good break, but very much now back and and very focussed on this is going to be a big year and a lot of challenges this year. 

WILSON: Yeah it will be as we, as we have obviously had big challenges in 2020. Let's get down to business, borders. You have a National Cabinet this week, would you be encouraging all states and territories to reopen their borders? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I always encourage them to act on the medical advice and we don't have any- all the hotspot definitions have been lifted at a Commonwealth level that was done on the weekend. So, you know, the states really have to look at their own situation and they make those calls, as you know. But it's always important, I like to keep things as open as possible. But at the end of the day, the state Premiers are the ones who are responsible for public health in their states. I've encouraged them always to take that approach as I did at the last meeting and then, we'll do at this one as well. I mean, also to get some greater transparency and and and predictability about what happens, because it's not just when a border might come in, but it's the disruption that the process by which a border is put in place is, that that can cause you know great, great inconvenience. And you've got to try and minimise that wherever possible. 

WILSON: Do you feel like that some of the responses or reactions from some of the states has been knee jerk as far as just when we look like we're reopening for business, so to speak, they slam shut the door? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's an uncertain environment Jim and nothing's aided by me engaging in a sort of a public commentary on these things. I mean, everyone's got to, everyone's got their responsibilities, they've all got decisions they've got to make and they've all got to make them and be accountable for them. What I encourage them to do is try and harmonise them as best as we possibly can. I've always been a big fan of the way the Northern Territory has run their arrangement up there. They- things come on to hotspots and they come off as quickly as they've come on. And they've done very well up there. And New South Wales has obviously done a fantastic job in both keeping the state as open as possible while dealing with the many challenges of the outbreaks they've had. Now, you know, I don't want to count any chickens before they hatch, but so far, after what has been some very big challenges to our system over the last month, I mean, we've so far avoided this third wave. I mean, we've got over 2 million people who lost their lives to COVID around the world. But here in Australia, while we've had, you know, terrible losses of over 900 people, I mean that is what is being lost in a day in many- many countries overseas now. So, you know, I know that the disruptions that come from borders and some of the restrictions that are in place, it causes great frustration and inconvenience to people. But when you stand back and you look at how Australia is performing against the rest of the world, then I'd much rather be here than anywhere else. 

WILSON: But shouldn’t the other states that have, as I said I'm saying this, the knee jerk reactions you take a look at New South Wales, who have been absolutely world class as far as getting on with business and managing to get on with life with the virus?

PRIME MINISTER: Well all the states are different Jim, I think it's, they’ve all got different circumstances. I mean Western Australia doesn't really have border towns and so the impact there, while it's difficult for people to get in and out of the state for leisure purposes and things like that, you compare that to, say, New South Wales and Queensland, or New South Wales and Victoria, where there's an enormous amount of movement. People live on these borders. So the way borders impact is different from state to state, you take a city like New South Wales- like Sydney and within New South Wales, it's our biggest state. I mean, we've got to keep it open. If New South Wales can't stay open then the national economy will be severely impacted. Similar is true for Victoria and then Queensland but I mean New South Wales is that is the largest state. And I think the approach they've taken there has been good both to the economy, but also have- they've taken, they've had the strongest capacity to deal with outbreaks. And there's been a lot of patience, though, from the people of Sydney. I mean, I haven't been back in Sydney, Jim, oh for over a month because if I go back to Sydney then I, at the moment I, there are a number of places I can’t also go around the country. So I've been in the ACT. And, you know, that's just part of living with this virus for now and hopefully as the year progresses and as the vaccine rolls out, that won't immediately change everything. But over time, that will build up. And as the year progresses, we'll hopefully be in an even stronger position. And states won't feel the need to react in the ways that they sometimes have. But take the most recent Queensland shutdown that we had for those few days. I strongly supported that because that was dealing with a new circumstance. We had a new strain of the virus. We didn't know how it was going to operate and how quickly it was going to move. We knew it was going to move a lot faster than elsewhere. And we knew we had to give our contact tracers the time to get on top of it quickly. Now, it turns out that, you know, we got on top of that and there wasn't a further spread and they did a great job up there. And that was a clear case of being safe than sorry, I suppose. So what all this means Jim is you just got to deal with what's in front of you and make the best calls you can. That's how we've got through it. 

WILSON: There's been a lot of backlash, a lot of talk from the community over allowing hundreds of tennis players, personal trainers, coaches, other members flying to Melbourne and Adelaide for the Australian Open to prepare, yet thousands of Aussies are still stranded overseas or stranded interstate. It reeks of sort of double standards, it’s out of whack, isn't it? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I can certainly tell you that no one is being prevented from coming home from overseas because of the Australian Open. That's not happening. 

WILSON: But the tennis players, the world's best tennis players are getting sort of sort of a priority, if you'd like, and privileges, whereas there are a number of Aussies, not just Victorians, who are who are still- thousands in fact, who are still stranded overseas?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I'll come to those who are still overseas, but I can tell you that there's been no allowances made that would enable people who are waiting to get here from overseas. Their places are not being taken by tennis players, I can tell you that. But there is the issue that you highlight of people trying to get back into Victoria now, and that's why I say to the premiers and again, it's just not my job, I think, to be critical of other premiers or other jurisdictions. And frankly it doesn't help when, you know, there's that discussion that happens between the various premiers because the people want to see us working together and that's what happens by and large, most of the time, if not all of the time. But when premiers make decisions about borders and things like that, then equally they're accountable for those and explaining to those who can't get back into Victoria how that all works and how they've made those decisions. So I'll leave that to them to explain. But, you know, this is the thing with the pandemic, Jim. It's not easy, lots of issues present and it becomes very complicated and you get things that frustrate people. That's true. But I tell you what's more frustrating, what's happening in the UK and the United States and France and Italy and Germany, even now, all across all, I've got a meeting with a number of these European leaders tonight, catching up with them about where they're up with the vaccine and and how they're progressing over there. Israel will be on that call as well. They've done very well with their vaccine. So we're learning a lot from what's happening overseas. But Australia is well out ahead with just a very small handful of countries for people to be living the way we are in Australia right now.

WILSON: We are well ahead. But I'm not comfortable with the fact that there are tennis players and support staff coming from COVID hot spots from around the world, in particular the US and also Europe. Why didn’t the Australian Open tennis officials do what the Australian Grand Prix has done and simply postpone until later in the year?

PRIME MINISTER: I think they’re very different events, Jim, to be fair, and the way that both of those events were looking to engage with the Victorian government and the sort of the sort of arrangements that were being asked of by the Grand Prix were unacceptable and so it was put back. The arrangements that the Victorian government were prepared to accept were agreed and they were laid out. So I think it's just time people follow the rules, do their quarantine, play tennis. They’ll get paid well for it and I'm sure they'll put on a great spectacle and the Australian Open will go ahead. I mean, this is one of those things. You’re trying to keep the balance of keeping things going forward as normal as you can, but it obviously has to happen under some rather extraordinary rules and arrangements.

WILSON: How are we tracking when it comes to a coronavirus vaccine? The Pfizer vaccine is set to be approved this month and handed out from next month. But there are questions being asked over these 30 deaths in Norway. 

PRIME MINISTER: I think this just highlights why we've been prudent. I mean, there's been no delays. We've been moving as quickly as we possibly can. But equally, there's been no rush. There's been no corners cut. I mean, all the processes and examinations are being done and that's what's happening right now. And we've been getting the information from across all those countries where vaccinations have commenced and we're learning from the things that they're doing now. These cases in Norway, they're distressing. But in terms of the total volume of vaccinations that have been provided and those who have been provided with them who have sadly passed away, they are very aged people, and they were in the last phases of life and very frail, and this can happen with these vaccinations. We know that. And that's why it's important that we’re just very careful. People know my view on the vaccine has always been safety first, health first. Let's make sure they're right. Let's make sure all the I's are dotted and all the T's are crossed. Then we can give the tick and then people can safely get the jab. And that's the way we have to do it patiently but as expeditiously as we as we responsibly can. 

WILSON: OK, I’ve got to ask you about the inauguration of President elect Joe Biden. Have you spoken to him recently? 

PRIME MINISTER: I spoke to him not long after the election after he, you know, clearly won the election. And we had a very good conversation at that time. But then there are a whole series of protocols you observe and you need to wait until people are formally sworn in. But we've been doing a lot of work behind the scenes there as a Government and there's been a lot of engagement with other countries around these issues with whom we share similar interests and we wish them all the best. America's going through a very terrible time at the moment, but looking forward to, you know, the country uniting and moving on from these terrible, these terrible last few months and particularly these last few weeks. But, you know, America is an amazing country, they'll bounce back. I believe they'll come together again and again. America is very important to Australia and very important to this part of the world and it's very important that we see them come together in that way and we'll be doing everything we can to support that and encourage that outcome. 

WILSON: How would you describe the actions of behaviour of Donald Trump in recent weeks, in particular, because you are close friends with the President? 

PRIME MINISTER: Look, I've worked closely with the President, as you would expect me to. I didn't know the President before I was Prime Minister in any way. I've worked with others in the Administration. I think the events that we've seen in the United States have been, as I said before I went on leave, I think they’re deeply distressing and I think, you know, the actions have been very disappointing. I join with other leaders who have said what they've said. But, look, it's important, Jim, I mean, this is American politics. It's not Australian politics. 

WILSON: But were disappointed with the actions of the President? That’s what I’m asking.

PRIME MINISTER: I just said, I’ve echoed the comments of other leaders about those things. I think it was disappointing, very disappointing that things were allowed to get to that to that stage and, you know, the things that were said that encouraged others to come to the Capitol and engage in that way were incredibly disappointing, very disappointing. And the outcomes were terrible. But I think what's more important now is not for me to be providing lectures to anybody. That's not my job. It's for the American people now to come together behind their elected President and to come together and go forward in the way that we would hope they would as a close friend and a very strong ally. And I look working very closely with President Biden and his whole team. 

WILSON: That inauguration is later this week. Prime Minister, always good chatting. A belated happy New Year to you, Jenny, and the family. And I appreciate your time, as always. And hopefully the Aussies can get that good lead of 350. It’s the first time we’ve probably chatted that we haven't finished on Cronulla or something Sharks leaning. 

PRIME MINISTER: I’m looking forward to the start of the season. There's no doubt about that. I've been checking the Sharks site, their app, to check and see who is coming through in training. I actually bumped into the Sharks President while I was on leave and we had a chat about a few things. So looking forward to the season. 

WILSON: Good on you. Appreciate your time. And again, a belated happy New Year. And as I said, my first show back, my birthday, I'm speaking to the Prime Minister. I couldn't be more happier. 

PRIME MINISTER: Happy birthday, Jim.

WILSON: Good on you mate. Thanks very much. That's the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.