Interview with John Laws, 2SM

14 Jul 2021
Prime Minister

JOHN LAWS: I have the Prime Minister on the line, I trust, Prime Minister, are you there?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, g'day John. Thanks. Thanks for the opportunity. That's all correct. What you've just said, obviously, but particularly for people with so many of your listeners in rural and regional New South Wales. These are direct payments to people who have lost hours of work from next Monday, they'll be able to access those payments. So it doesn't matter that they're not in Greater Sydney, they'll be able to access payment of $600 a week if they've lost more than 20 hours of work per week because of this lockdown or eight hours and 20 hours a week, they can access a payment of $375. They get that direct from Services Australia by calling either 180 22 66 or going to the Service Australia website.

LAWS: OK, but what intrigues me, and I'm sorry to interrupt, but what does intrigue me is it's quite complicated. But given the success of JobKeeper first time around, why didn't you just bring that back again?

PRIME MINISTER: This is even more simple. We don't have to make payments to businesses that then have to go and get loans from the banks to then then pay money to their staff. If you've lost 20 hours or more, you can go direct ring that number, now. There's no red tape. And you can get that payment on Monday. For those who are already receiving those disaster payments in the Greater Sydney area, they're already getting them. It's a very quick process. When we did JobKeeper, John, we had to do it over the entire country. It turned out to be a $90 billion programme. And so that needed a very different way of delivering it. We couldn't have delivered it this way. This way we can do it direct. If you've lost hours, it doesn't matter who you work for, it doesn't matter whether you're part time, full time, casual. You can access these payments and you can get them in rural and regional New South Wales from Monday.

LAWS: OK, tell me this. What are your feelings about the New South Wales Premier and how long this lockdown may last?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's hard to know. I mean, there's been a great improvement in the course of the past five days, or more, seven days, in the compliance with the rules that were set down. There was a real problem earlier when the lockdown started that there wasn't the compliance. People were still going to each other's houses. There were family gatherings. There were parties. And this was really, really not helping the situation. Now, I think they're getting on top of that now and it'll take another week or so for those benefits to flow through. So that's why when the Premier rang me last week early on, this time last week, and indicated that this is the problem that they had and this thing was taking a turn for the worst. First of all, we put the extra doses in the New South Wales for the vaccine. But secondly, we began work on that, on the package that the Premier and I, together with the Treasurers, announced yesterday. And the other part of that package, John, is that you're right to point out that this is a much broader range of supports being provided directly by the New South Wales Government. The hospitality and payroll tax relief and rent and things like that. But there's a cash flow boost payment, now this is what we did last year as well. So for businesses up to $50 million in turnover and it's right across the state, if you've had a 30 per cent downturn in your turnover, then you can access a payment of between $1,500 and $10,000 per week. That's more than we did in the cash flow boost a year ago.

LAWS: The taxpayers are being very generous, aren't they?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they are. But at the same time, I mean, in the national interest, because of the outbreak being, you know, quite dangerous, the Delta strain, as I'm sure you've heard, is a dangerous one. And if this thing gets out of control, then that can impact on the national economy more broadly. I mean, so far, we know as a country we've saved over 30,000 lives. A million people are back in work. And that's great news. And no other country, virtually no other country, only a handful can can claim those results. But at the same time, you know, you come up against this, you've got to come up with responses quickly, which we've done. And we're trying to make this is red tape free as possible. We're doing, the Commonwealth Government, the Federal Government, are doing the direct payments to individuals. That's that 180 22 66 number I was referring to. The State Government, through Services New South Wales, will be delivering those business payments. You can register, they tell us from today, and they've told us they believe they'll be able to get payments out before the end of the month. But you can go to your bank now if you're eligible for those payments. And we spoke to the, Treasurer Frydenberg, spoke to the banks yesterday and just as it was with JobKeeper and other things, you can go to your bank, they know those payments will be coming and the banks are saying they're going to be able to, in most cases, if not all, cover the difference.

LAWS: The, Victoria, I know that you're going to run out of time in a minute, and I don't want to hold you up. The Victorian Government has reacted very strongly to the support for New South Wales. They argue that they've been left begging for scraps. Now is Daniel Andrews playing politics, or do you prefer dealing with a Liberal Government in New South Wales? Is there a problem there?

PRIME MINISTER: No, it's total politics. When Victoria was in big lockdown last year, John, you know the big second wave lockdown about four months long, we were put we were pouring in, without the Victorian Government asking, three quarters of a billion dollars every week. Three quarters of a billion every week. And we did it for months on end. In the most recent lockdown they had in Victoria, which only went for two weeks, Victoria got exactly the same thing that New South Wales got in the first two weeks. The issue in New South Wales is, it has gone on for longer. Now, if Victoria had gone on for longer, we would have worked together on this. At the time, I offered them 50 per cent cost sharing on business support. They knocked me back. I took it to the National Cabinet, sought to get support for sharing the costs on business support and they said no. But here, New South Wales was supportive of the cost sharing arrangement. So we've been able to work practically together. I work with every state government. But it's just simply not true to say. I mean, when Victoria needed the rest of Australia, the rest of Australia was there for Victoria and now New South Wales has that need. And we're doing exactly the same thing. Victorians, John, will just want New South Wales to get through this. They don't want, I'm sure see New South Wales suffering more, and certainly New South Wales people, you know, it was very hard to see what Victoria was going through and they strongly supported that support that was provided to Victorians at that time.

LAWS: The thing that bothers me, is we're one country, we're supposed to co-operate with each other and make sure that the country is right, not just state by state.

PRIME MINISTER: I agree with that. And look, there has been a bit of argy bargy with states every now and then, John. You've been covering politics a lot longer than I've been in it. And you know that the federation is a bit like that. But I've got to say, I mean, we've met 56 times, I think, something like that, sorry, 46 times or thereabouts. It's more than the states and territories and the Commonwealth had ever met together in our entire history. And so, you know, nine times out of ten, we are getting those things right. But occasionally, unfortunately, we have this sort of politicking. And I just think it's very unfortunate. Because people just want us to solve the problem and give support. The other thing we announced yesterday, John, and particularly want to say this to people in rural and regional areas, we are increasing the support for mental health support for the organisation, whether it's Kids Helpline, Lifeline, Beyondblue foundation.

LAWS: That's good.

PRIME MINISTER: We did the same thing in Victoria. And I'm really worried about Year 12 students, John. They're going through HSC. It's a stressful enough time. It's a long time ago for me, but it is a stressful time for families and to be going through lockdown and HSC. I know that's tough. So Headspace, a great organisation that's there to help people. So it wasn't just the economic support, it was the mental health support yesterday we announced and we put $12.25 million into that and the state put $5 million.

LAWS: The Australian Government is closely tracking a Chinese surveillance ship making its way towards Queensland as part of some sort of large scale military exercise. Do you trust the Chinese?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what we support is freedom of navigation in international waters ...

LAWS: No, Prime Minister, with the greatest respect to you, you didn't answer the question, do you trust the Chinese?

PRIME MINISTER: I'd only just started, John.

LAWS: Oh I see, so it's a long answer. Well, I'll wait.

PRIME MINISTER: What I'm saying is that, you know, they're allowed to be there and the law says they can be there. The law of the sea, just like the law says, we can be up in the South China Sea. And so we would just simply say that we think the same tolerances and the same appreciation of those international laws should apply. And, you know, we're wary. I've got to tell you, John, we're very wary. But you know, they're in an area where they're allowed to be and we know they're there and we're keeping a close eye on it and we know why we do.

LAWS: Okay. Well, given that answer, I would suggest that you are concerned about them being there

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we wouldn't be watching them if we weren't. Of course we watch them. We're aware of that. And they're watching us. 

LAWS: Yeah. And you don't necessarily want to talk about it.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think what's important is that everyone does their job and our agencies do their job. But my point is, is we have no objection to them being there. I mean, it's international waters. They're allowed to be there. So we don't we don't raise any issue about that, just like we don't think any issue should be raised, when whether it's us, or the Americans or the British or the French or anyone else, is sailing through the South China Sea.

LAWS: The fact that your Government has barred a Chinese company from building Australia's 5G network, that would suggest to me, and maybe I'm too cynical, that is a possibility, but that would suggest to me that you don't trust the Chinese.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, national security interests will always come first in those decisions, John and I appointed David Irvine when I wasTreasurer to head up the Foreign Investment Review Board. And David used to be our Ambassador in China, but also used to head up ASUS and he used to head up ASIO. And so these things, these issues have become matters of national security in a way that we've never seen before. And I was very aware of that more than five years ago when I was Treasurer. And I've kept a very close eye on these things, and Australians, I think, can be very assured that I'm very conscious of the tensions that are in the Indo-Pacific. I was just over, as you know, in the United Kingdom working with the other G7 leaders, and they were very interested in how Australia was faring under the pressures that have been applied to Australia. And they were very, very congratulatory about the strong stand we've taken for our sovereignty because, you know, freedom, free countries, when they stand together are always stronger.

LAWS: That's very true. Well, Prime Minister, thank you, I don't think you enjoyed that interview very much.

PRIME MINISTER: I always enjoy talking to you, John.

LAWS: Flattery will get you everywhere.


LAWS: Thank you very much, Prime Minister. And I hope we talk again soon.