Interview with Jim Wilson, 2GB

15 Apr 2021
Prime Minister

JIM WILSON: Well, the last time we spoke to the Prime Minister was January 18, that was my birthday actually. We were coming off a lovely summer holiday and all was right in the world. We were slowly getting back to some sort of normality. Well, since then, hasn't he faced a few dramas along the way? A few roadblocks. Let me list them for you. The Britney Higgins scandal, Linda Reynolds health, the allegations levelled against Christian Porter, the departure of Linda Reynolds as the Defence Minister, the departure of Christian Porter as the Attorney General, the vaccine rollout, the WA state election, Liberal wipe-out and the significant Cabinet reshuffle and now the Christine Holgate scandal. So it's been an eventful three months, to say the very least, for the Prime Minister. And he joins me live on the line from WA, Prime Minister, welcome back to Drive.

PRIME MINISTER: Oh hi Jim, nice to talk to you, you missed one.

JIM WILSON:  Which one have I missed?

PRIME MINISTER: That a hundred and eighty thousand extra people got jobs since I last spoke to you. 

JIM WILSON: Well this, I'm going to get to the unemployment figures, which are very, that is really positive news that our economy is on the right track. First though, let's talk, we haven't spoken since January 18. Let's look back in the last few months. How would you rate the performance of you and your Government?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's not for me to do that Jim. That's what the voters to decide ultimately when we go to the polls next year. We were just going to keep delivering the jobs, keep delivering the economic security, the national security that's so important and managing Australia's national interests in a very uncertain world. That's, that's our job. We've been responding to serious issues like the most devastating floods, most recently. I’m over here in Western Australia at the moment, about to head up north to the mid-north, heading to the Pilbara and then also coming back to the cyclone affected areas. Australians have been dealing with a lot. They've been dealing with COVID, they're dealing with floods. They've been dealing with cyclones. They've been getting their jobs back. That's what I'm focussed on.

 JIM WILSON: If you look back, though, on the last three months, would you admit that you would have done things differently on various, on various issues?

 PRIME MINISTER: I just let others just talk about all that politics Jim. I've got a very important job to do, focussing on the big challenges facing this country. We've had the Royal Commission Report into Aged Care. We've been working on that as we prepare for the Budget, we've got some big challenges that our country is dealing with at the moment. The media will talk about any number of issues, Jim, I'm focussed on the stuff that is making a big difference on people's daily lives.

JIM WILSON: Exciting news this afternoon for the families of our troops in Afghanistan. You've announced that we will withdraw 80 troops, the 80 remaining troops from the country by September. So exciting for the troops and also for their loved ones.

PRIME MINISTER: Well it is, but it's also a day, I think to reflect on the 41 lives that were lost in Afghanistan and the many thousands of Australians that served in Afghanistan and still carried the scars, physical and emotional, from their time of service. And I know that those 80 brave men and women who serve in our Defence Forces there in Afghanistan will be looking forward to coming home. And that comes down from a peak of around 1,500 earlier and so that has been drawing down now for some period of time and in concert with  NATO related partners. But it is an important day. It's been 20 years that we've been serving there. And we went there in the cause of freedom and the cause of liberty, particularly women and children who were so oppressed in that country. And we will still seek to support that as best as we possibly can. But today, I just find it hard to think past those 41 Australians, their families, those who served with them. And I'm just humbled by their service and deeply thankful for what they've done for their country and, and what they've done for the nation of Afghanistan.

JIM WILSON: Yeah, and the sacrifices they have made for our nation. Have you spoken to President Biden about this decision? I know he announced similar plans for US troops overnight.

PRIME MINISTER: Australia and the United States have worked closely with this on an operational level. These are matters that have been discussed between us now for some period of time. I discussed it with the former President as well. So this is the, the outworking of what has been a long term arrangement.

JIM WILSON: The other big story of the week, in recent days, has been the Senate hearing of former Australia Post boss Christine Holgate. She says she was humiliated by you and bullied by the Chair of the company over the Cartier watch debacle. I know you've said in recent days that you regret the language used at the time. You’re yet to apologise to Miss Holgate. Why won't you apologise?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh Jim, I made comments about that yesterday. I mean, that issue was about the performance of the head of a Government owned company and the handing out of what were luxury items that I didn't think was appropriate. And I still don't think it was appropriate. It was an independent report and that, there was a process put in place with the Chief Executive was asked to stand aside while that was done and  Ms Holgate decided to resign before that was concluded, they were decisions she made. It was a willing day in the Parliament that day. The Labor Party you know, they've had a bet each way on this, but the one time they were saying that position was untenable and she should resign and now they claim to be, you know, taking the opposite side. Well you know, I think what this was about is we have someone who was in a responsible position and made some decisions regarding, you know, luxury Cartier watches paid to people who had very high paying jobs and also had performance bonuses. I didn't think that was appropriate. It should have been looked at. It was the opportunity for Ms Holgate to stand to one side while that was done. And then the report would have come back and it could have been that that could have been resolved and she could have continued to serve in that role. But she chose to resign. So that's where that issue rests.

JIM WILSON: I agree with your decision to dismiss her from the top job. And I think also…

PRIME MINISTER: Jim, I didn't dismiss her from the top job. Christine Holgate resigned from the top job. All that I asked was that in that process of that review, that she stand aside while that was done.

JIM WILSON: But you thought you thought her position was untenable though, at the time?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's not what I said. I said if she wasn't prepared to stand aside, then she should go. That's very different. And, you know, she's a very experienced Chief Executive. She was in a very senior position and all of us who take on public roles and have these responsibilities, we're accountable for those things. 

JIM WILSON: But surely the board and the Chairman should be accountable as well Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the board is accountable, and the review that I put in place Jim, was looking at the board as well. That's what I said. Everybody who was involved in those decisions had to, had to, had to be looked at. And that's exactly what the Ministers put in place. 

JIM WILSON: Should the Chairman depart?

PRIME MINISTER: No, there's nothing before me to suggest for that would be necessary.

JIM WILSON: Well they signed off on it though, on the Cartier watches. It wasn't just the CEO.

PRIME MINISTER: That's not what the report found.

JIM WILSON: So you say squarely the responsibility lies with the Chief Executive, the former Chief Executive.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the Chief Executive resigned Jim. She resigned.

JIM WILSON: Do you I mean, you've said in recent days you regret your speech in Question Time last year.

PRIME MINISTER: What I said was there was there was distress that was caused and Christine has been very clear about that.

JIM WILSON: But why wouldn't you apologise for that, if you admit that you caused distress why wouldn’t you apologise to Miss Holgate?

PRIME MINISTER: Well Jim, what I made clear is that I didn't intend to cause that distress. I was, I was accused of engaging in particular behaviour, which I don’t believe I did engage in. It was a heated debate in the Parliament on that day, and there's no intention to cause distress. And so that's where I see the matter having been settled.

JIM WILSON: Are you disappointed with Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese? Are you surprised that he did he supported your position during Question Time last year about Miss Holgate all of a sudden now, though he's back flipped.

PRIME MINISTER: Well he’s each way Albo, we know that. He takes this on every position, he has a bet on a two horse race for both horses. He does this all the time. That's why you can never know. I mean, it's a difficult issue. We've been talking about Jim, in many respects, but at least people know where I stand on it. I've taken the same position on it. I'm prepared to answer questions about it. I'm very happy to do so. At the end of the day, this is about a Government owned company that, that the statement was made that they didn't believe they were dealing with taxpayers money. Well, they are dealing with taxpayers money. And as a result, I said, what I said.

JIM WILSON: Let's talk about the economy. Brilliant unemployment numbers today down to five point six per cent, a record 13 million Australians in a job. It's a really positive sign.

PRIME MINISTER: Well it is. And it's the comeback that we've said has been underway for some time now. And I'm really pleased to see that. I'm particularly pleased to see the fall that we've seen in youth unemployment. And that's now come back to 11.8%. We've got consumer confidence at the highest level we've seen in 11 years. You know, the Australian economy is coming back and we've all worked very hard to achieve that. Employers keeping people in their in their employment. We see, you know, people getting training, apprentices staying in the job. We had 100,000 people, apprentices and trainees get into an apprenticeship and traineeship in just five months. And that was after we've been able to keep all the other apprentices in their job. So we've been very, working very hard through  COVID to ensure that we can keep the economy together. So on the other side, as we start to emerge out, then we can see the sort of growth that we're now seeing, 3.1% growth in the December quarter last year. I mean, Australia has one of the most significant economic performance records during COVID of any developed country in the world. So we are leading the world out of the global pandemic and we're leading it out of the global recession. And this is a great achievement by Australians. We've played our part, but Australians importantly have played their part and we have backed them in to achieve this outcome.

JIM WILSON: Prime Minister these numbers out today of the last employment numbers to include JobKeeper which is now ended. Are you confident next month's figures will be just as good?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we'll see when those numbers come out Jim. And but what we do know is we haven't seen a surge over the course of this month in people seeking JobSeeker payments over the last, over the course of this month. We haven't seen that happen because we see that information as it comes through on a, on a regular basis with the claims that are being made for JobSeeker. But we'll just have to see. I mean taking, ending JobKeeper was important. It was a very hard decision, of course to, for the Government to commit that scale of economic support. Never seen before in this country and it was a game changer. It saved lives it saved livelihoods. As a responsible manager of the nation's finances we said at the start, you know, you can't do this forever. You cannot run the Australian economy on taxpayers money forever. You have to have the discipline when you commit to something like that. You've got to commit to following through that when you have to take it off. Now, there is the Labor Party runs around. They keep spending money forever that never stops, that never stops. And then they'd have to put taxes up to pay for it. So the discipline that we've shown was matched by the compassion and the urgency that was needed at the start when we put this measure in place, when it was so desperately needed.

JIM WILSON: A lot of our economic success hinges on the roll out of the vaccine. We understand supply issues are out of your control, but right now we're behind countries like Morocco, Barbados, Iceland, Costa Rica, Cambodia, Nepal. How frustrated are you?

PRIME MINISTER: Well Jim you leave out a couple of really important points there, because it's better than New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, France, Canada. It's on par with countries like Sweden and Germany. So, you know, I've seen a lot of this in the media. I have. And I don't think, you know, those sort of comparisons are really accurate, Jim. I mean, we've vaccinated today as a country around 1.3 million Australians, 60,000 that was vaccinated yesterday. We've been able to secure 170 million vaccines and we're producing 50 of them here, right here in Australia, one of 20 countries in the world that can produce our own vaccines. We've had a challenge from the medical advice on the AstraZeneca vaccine for those under 50. But that is a very remote risk that has been identified. So those over 50 right now, the critical need is to ensure that we get the over 70s vaccinated because they are most at risk of any outbreak that we might have from COVID-19 like we saw in Victoria where the outbreak occurred there. So I know there's been a bit of a pile on about the vaccine, but the facts are that people are getting vaccinated and we want to encourage them to get vaccinated. It's a national project that's in the national interest. And I'd be just imploring people to go and see their GP. We have over 4000 GP's around the country who are involved in this program now, and the vaccines are getting to them. They're administering those doses, but particularly if you're listening to this right now, and if you're over 70 as part of that 1B group, it's very important for your own health. The AstraZeneca vaccine is both safe and highly effective, highly effective. The Pfizer vaccine is no more effective than the AstraZeneca vaccine when it comes to preventing serious illness as a result of COVID and it's very important. So I encourage people to go and get that vaccine. I was with the President of the AMA today and he was saying exactly the same thing so follow that medical advice please we need to get you to go and get vaccinated.

JIM WILSON: A lot of calls and emails and texts we've had here on the program in recent weeks from people saying, well, the PM got the Pfizer jab. I want that one. It's incredible. Even my own mother, my mother on the Gold Coast she's 81. She's apprehensive about the AstraZeneca vaccine and wants the Pfizer vaccine. Will there be an option for people of any age to choose which vaccine they receive Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the GPs are rolling out the AstraZeneca vaccine, and the AstraZeneca vaccine is, is safe and highly effective. My mother is getting the AstraZeneca vaccine. The Health Minister got the AstraZeneca vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine I took because it was in the first doses that were delivered. We wanted to send a strong message about the importance of the vaccine, and that was the vaccine that was available at that time. The Secretary of Health got the AstraZeneca vaccine. Gladys Berejiklian, the Premier got the AstraZeneca vaccine. It is a highly effective vaccine and I would encourage people who have those concerns, including your mum, to begin in with their GP and they can talk them through all of this. This is why we're distributing the vaccine through GP's as the primary way of doing this. I mean, towards the end of this year, I think this is what we're working with the Premiers on now. And that's why I've reconvened National Cabinet to meet more frequently is to work out, particularly for the back end of the year, to ensure when we have those additional, we've got an additional 20 million Pfizer doses that goes with our existing 20 million, which are already rolling in now that if we move to a higher scale mass vaccination program, the states can gear up for that. But that'll be for people under 50 and using that Pfizer and Novavax vaccine right now, though, hurdling elderly people in the stadiums I don't think is the right way to do this.

JIM WILSON: So you don't think that you don't think the New South Wales Government and the super hub at Sydney Olympic Park, you don't think that's the right course of action that should be taken.

PRIME MINISTER: Not to those who are over 70, Jim and that's not what the Premier is suggesting either, that type of process I think we can definitely use and we'll need to scale up to use later in the year. And we're looking at the Premier's suggestion about how that might be done for bringing forward Phase 2 vaccinations for those over 50 and that would be with AstraZeneca.

JIM WILSON: Just got an email Prime Minister from Chris who says the doctor I go to tell me a couple of weeks ago that they were expecting to get 500 COVID, 500 COVID doses per week. Currently, they're getting 50 doses per fortnight and they're not guaranteed. What's, what's going wrong with the process here in the rollout?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, those doses are getting to those doctors now and those issues have been addressed for some weeks now. I just met with doctors here in Western Australia and the President of the AMA. Those doses are coming through. They get between about 50 and upwards of over a thousand. That depends on, on the various GP clinic and they all on different arrangements. If it's a smaller clinic, they have smaller doses, if it’s a larger one because we've got over 4,000 of them Jim. We're trying to do it through as many points of vaccination as possible. So I know you're going to hear the criticisms Jim. That doesn't mean that that's the universal story. Any program has its criticisms and when we hear those, we seek to address them and make sure the program works better. I think what's important Jim, is we've got to get on board here and make sure that this program works in the national interest. Plenty of people can make criticisms Jim, others have the jobs of fixing them and that's mine. 

JIM WILSON: Well, I'm looking forward to having the AstraZeneca jab. And are you, are you confident that everyone will have their first jab by the end of 2021?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I've said the other day that we can't commit to a timetable like that. I think it's, I think it's possible. Should we be able to get the mass vaccination and the doses in place for the final quarter of this year. But that will be very dependent on the ability for those mass vaccination arrangements with the states to be delivered. And that's why I'm meeting with them to see how that can be achieved. That would need to be trialled, would need to work it through. But it will be a big task. And I'm not going to say anything different to that. The difficulty we've had with the, with early on, with not getting those doses out of Europe, that was a big that was a setback, but was one we were getting on top of the advice now about what with AstraZeneca for those under 50, that is, of course, a real issue and disruptions for that element of the program that was in the second half of the year. But it's not the first time we've had to deal with problems with COVID and we've worked together to resolve them and get on top of them and get on with it. Now, I would hope we can achieve that, Jim, but I can't guarantee that and we haven't committed to that as a timetable. But when we work through that with the states and territories, we'll see how we go.

JIM WILSON: Appreciate your time as always love having a chat with you Prime Minister, and as is tradition we should end with a rugby league, something rugby league. Now, the Sharks. Now I know you love the Sharks. I feel very, very sorry for John Morris, who I think has been fairly shabbily treated with, with this process that now finds him out the door.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I felt for Bomber. I felt for John. I've been in contact with him and extended my best wishes to him and his family, he is a classy guy. You know, he's a passionate Shark himself and and, that's been a really tough ride for him. And I wish him and his family all the best. I think he's done an amazing job, you know, it’s the finals series. And, you know, he's been great with the players and he's endured a lot. And so I really do feel for him. The club's got to make their own decisions. I, I don't make those. I'm just a fan, I'm just a fan.

JIM WILSON: I know you are, you are the president of the cheer squad.

PRIME MINISTER: [Inaudible] Newcastle and the battle of the, of [inaudible].

JIM WILSON: Very good. 

PRIME MINISTER: I think that'll be exciting day. But to you Bomber mate, you are a champion and we wish you and your family all the best.

JIM WILSON: Prime Minister, thanks for your time this afternoon.


JIM WILSON: Good on you. That's the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.