Interview with John MacKenzie, 4CA Cairns

22 Jan 2019
Prime Minister

JOHN MACKENZIE: Scott Morrison, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER: Great to be with you John, I’ve always enjoyed coming in to be on your program. I remember once I called into you from Christmas Island on one occasion.

MACKENZIE: Well you just reminded me it goes back to 2005.

PRIME MINISTER: Correct, yes.

MACKENZIE: When you were just out of school.


PRIME MINISTER: I was a little bit out of there I’ve got to say but mate, it’s good to be back here with you.

MACKENZIE: Before we doing anything seriously, you went to Hemingway’s. Tell me, you went down there to have a few drinks with people down at Hemingway’s?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah we had a Politics in the Pub last night and then sort of moved more generally. This is the great thing about Cairns and about tourism in Cairns; it’s constantly reinventing the place. The city experience, the town experience here just gets better and better. Hemingway’s is just another example of that. But know you’ve got the cultural performing arts centre, you’ve got the new Aquarium. These are things that we’ve supported as a Government and Entschy in particular. I mean, Entschy goes all the way back to the boardwalk. It’s being redeveloped now because it’s been around for so long. But the constant reinvention of Cairns is the key to its success and Hemingway’s I think was a great example of that. Private investment, coming and reimagining a whole new part of that riverfront area. I met people, locals, people from other states, international visitors. Tremendous, great stuff.

MACKENZIE: Please tell everybody. By the way, do you keep your finger on the pulse of tourism? I mean, you were involved up to your neck for years?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah I do because I know how important it is obviously to the country, particularly in regional areas. I’ve got to say, that’s one of the things that - I mean, Labor are proposing to get rid of the second year backpacker visa, if they’re elected. Now, I want Australians in Australian jobs, we all want that and that’s true. But you know, in places like Cairns we understand that that doesn’t always happen. If you don’t have the backpackers coming and being able to work in regional areas, whether it’s in the ag sector or the hospitality sector, particularly when you get further away out of Sydney and Melbourne, well that will have a devastating impact on the regional economy here. That’s lifeblood stuff.

So if you want a job in Cairns, you do not want to see that policy come to light with the election of a Labor government.

MACKENZIE: Now we’ve got to get stuck into some of the matters of the day and of course there’s $60 million you’re pledging to build this so-called Cairns Tropical Enterprise Centre. We’re talking about tertiary hospital status. Talk to me about the benefits that can accrue from that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well 150 beds at Cairns hospital for a start. You know that means you won’t have to go south to get treatment and this is important. This is recognising the real status and needs of the local Cairns community in terms of the health services they expect and should get and will get under this plan. It’s being paid for, not with higher taxes, it’s being paid for by running a stronger economy. I know that others are proposing the same thing, but you know, they’re going to charge you for the privilege, some $200 billion in higher taxes over the next decade. So we don’t think that’s a good idea for the economy. We think you should be able to support these things by good, strong economic management and we see that here in Cairns and far north Queensland.

We’ve seen the youth unemployment rate here fall from 28 per cent to 15.6 per cent since the last election. That’s what happens when you run a strong economy. So the hospital project is very important for the local health needs but the other thing is this; Cairns is a tropical capital and not just for Australia but for our region. The tropical capital status extends not just from a tourism point of view but an economic point of view, a health and medicine point of view. I was out there at JCU yesterday, talking to the scientists cracking everything from dengue fever to tuberculosis. Also a really important project they’re running on Malaria and there were scientists there from Sri Lanka, from Germany and we’re bringing the world’s best here to study these things. That is going to be a real hub and so we’re excited about the 150 beds, but we’re also excited about what’s being built in terms of the health and medical research status of Cairns as a tropical centre for excellence in medicine.

MACKENZIE: Do you know what we’re excited about up here? It’s the 48 day party to celebrate the 250th anniversary of James Cook and the Endeavour. Let me just read this from the Cairns post today, a likeness of the; “little old man whose gift of a broken spear to Captain Cook is considered Australia’s first act of reconciliation.” That’s going to be cast in bronze, that’s part of the $5.75 million infrastructure commitment to Cooktown from the Federal Government. They say you’re going to visit today, we know all about that.


MACKENZIE: A whole lot of people, including myself, didn’t know the ins and outs of that first - not confrontation - it was a genuine expression of getting on together. It goes back 250 years, it’s a great story.

PRIME MINISTER: It is a great story and these are the stories we’re looking to be told with this re-enactment of that voyage. So yes, we’re putting around $5.5 million dollars in a lot of those projects which we’ve talked about, the Botanical Gardens in particular the initiative you’ve just mentioned. But 39 stops along the Australian east coast, that is going to be an opportunity for people to come, for tourists and it’s going to support local tourist industries and it’s also going to create the opportunity to refresh a lot of stories, things that people didn’t know, as you say.

So when Cook went into Cooktown - this is what Entschy tells me – Entschy tells me that the whole shipwreck thing was just an excuse, because they just wanted to come to North Queensland and go to Cooktown.

MACKENZIE: Yeah, yeah.


PRIME MINISTER: The historical record may say something different. But that was the most perilous part of Cook’s voyage, what happened there and their ability to be able to engage with local Indigenous peoples and have those stories was no doubt key to their survival at that time.

So I think it is a wonderful story. The view from the ship, the view from the shore, that’s what that re-enactment is all about. Telling Australian stories, engaging Australians, promoting tourism and it being a togetherness, I think, voyage.

MACKENZIE: Do you know - I don’t know how old you were in 1988 - but when the big event, the ships around Australia, those beautiful sails when they came into the inlet the place was chock-a-block. So many people remember that day. There’s another voyage this time, it’s the replica Endeavour around the country, the voyage around the country, tell us about that?

PRIME MINISTER: As I was just mentioning, it’s 39 stops and we’re looking forward to that program and we’ve ensured it can go the full distance. It’s an opportunity for people to come along to each of those little towns and each of those ports. The National Maritime Museum is running this and who actually was responsible for the replica, I have been on the replica of the Endeavour because my electorate down in southern Sydney, Kurnell was the first place they stopped. The skipper for many years - I think he still is - he’s a local from Kurnell. The vessel itself is quite amazing when you wander around it and see what they actually crammed in there. I mean, Banks had the place stuffed full of botanical specimens and he had a few dogs on there and a few other things too. How they all squeezed in there, who knows.

But the thing about Cook is, I think we need to rediscover him a bit. Because he gets a bit of a bad show from some of those who like to trash our history.

MACKENZIE: Yes, very fashionable now.

PRIME MINISTER: Very trendy to talk down James Cook and all that sort of stuff. But this guy was an enlightened man for his generation and his time. He was a scientist above anything else and he was fascinated with his engagement with the Indigenous peoples, whether it’s in Australia or whether it was in New Zealand or whether it was across the Pacific. Being able to tell the stories of how he was seeking to find understanding I think, is very important. I mean, it was a long time ago, 250 years ago and those people who want to try to judge people for what they did 250 years ago, you know I think that’s a bit harsh. I think you’ve got to try and look at him in the context of his time.

MACKENZIE: Let’s go to a couple of serious matters now. Last time you were up here we had that incursion there up at the Daintree, people trying to get into Australia, the boat sank, you know the story. It’s a sensitive matter up here. We’re closer to the coalface that Sydney and Melbourne. So now we’re hearing about, well, the possibility of these people smugglers getting active again in Indonesia and Malaysia. Once again the commitment to keep our borders safe up here in the north?

PRIME MINISTER: Nothing will change under our Government because we know what we’re doing works. I know because I designed it and we put it in place. It was hard going, particularly over those first six months when we stopped the boats and what Bill Shorten and Labor don’t understand is how these things all work together.

See, they voted in the Parliament last year to basically get rid of offshore processing as we know it. They don’t even understand what they’ve done, they don’t even understand the implications. On top of that, they’re also going to abolish temporary protection visas. Now that’s two planks of the three plank strategy which stopped the boats and they have no appreciation of the impact that will have. There are over 10,000 people in Indonesia who will get on boats if they get the green light from the election of a Labor Government. Whether it’s here on the North Coast, north Queensland or across the top or out towards Christmas Island, that threat is ever present. We have held that line for the last five years and we must continue to hold that line. You’ve got to have the ticker and you’ve got to have the resolve to do it.

Kevin Rudd said he would turn back boats and what happened with that? The day, I remember it, it was 4 August 2008, the Labor Party abolished Temporary Protection Visas that were put in place by the Howard Government. That’s what started the madness.

MACKENZIE: I want to take you to another matter basically it’s self-interest, but we are talking about the future of our port at Trinity Inlet. Now there has been a lot of talk about the expansion of Naval Facilities up there at Manus Island. You, the last week or so have been reported talking about bolstering our influence, if you like, out in the Pacific with the incursion more and more of Chinese interest there. Now talk to me about the potential, if indeed you’re going to be bolstering facilities up here, like naval facilities, will there be benefits for our port? Warren Entsch has been talking for some years now about the need for special facilities to be included here. We have been fighting for years to get a fair go as far as the future expansion where our port is concerned. What could be in store given the prospect of the expansion up at Manus, the need to support that and to support what you believe now is the need to bolster our influence out in the Pacific?

PRIME MINISTER: Sure, well, we have declared it a strategic port. That’s been done by Home Affairs and by Defence and I mentioned before about Cairns being a tropical capital - it’s a Pacific capital too for Australia’s engagement with the region. We’ll have the four Offshore Patrol Boats which will be serviced out of Cairns and while there is no current plans in front of us, proposals re: upgrading of some of that infrastructure, those issues will undoubtedly have to be dealt with. I think there is opportunity for private investment in that as well, because you create the critical mass once you once you have Offshore Patrol Boats being serviced out of here, that creates the capacity for marine-based industry to do even more. So we want to see the combination of those events between ourselves, the State Government and of course the private sector as well. So whether that’s in fisheries or whether that’s in other areas, we will see an expanded capability here, for Cairns to be a Pacific capital of Australia, a tropical capital of Australia.

Because I was in Vanuatu last week with Jenny and in Fiji and this is very important to our engagement with the Pacific. This is our part of the world. This is where we live. This is where we have those relationships and we have stepped up there and that has been incredibly well-received in the Pacific.

We have completely re-orientated our foreign aid programme and so we have been pulling money out of other places so we can invest it in our neighbours and our friends and our family. Vuvale is the word in Fijian, which some of your listeners I’m sure from Pacific extraction will know exactly what that means; it means family. It’s whanau in Polynesian, in Maori, and these are words that encapsulate the new relationship we’re having with the Pacific. While we have continued to invest in the Pacific, what we needed to step up is in our respect  and our engagement and that’s what I am doing. We have got a new head of an Office of the Pacific in the Department of Foreign Affairs, a fella called Ewen McDonald who has a long history in the region. He is coordinating our engagements right across everything from our cultural engagements - like rugby league and rugby union and netball and sports and all of those things because there are huge engagements between our sporting communities - but also right across to our defence and strategic operations. We just turned the sod on the Blackrock facility in Fiji which is training peacekeepers and humanitarian assistance for their defence forces and others in the region. So that is an exciting project, but it can all centre here. It can all centre here just like it can at JCU and the wonderful work they are doing on tropical medicine and tropical health.

MACKENZIE: You used this term “strategic port status” I don’t know if it is going to be strong enough to unshackle the restraints on our need long term for dredging work. Now there is a smaller project underway at the moment, it’s about say a million cubic metres, a lot of people say we need a project of four and a half million cubic metres which was planned several years ago, but we have had our future there undermined. This “strategic port status” I think will not unshackle those restraints?

PRIME MINISTER: At the end of the day those calls will be made primarily made by State Government. Obviously the Commonwealth can’t just go in and override those decisions made by the State and this is why it does have to be a partnership. We see it as a strategic port, as a port of national significance in that context and you’re right John, it’s linked between here and the Pacific as a key part of why we believe that is so strategic.  

MACKENZIE: Look we are miles ahead of time, we’ve still got a few minutes time so if you are at home listening this and you want to talk about boarder security or you want to talk about the about the Port,you if want can to ring through and talk with our Prime Minister directly, he hasn’t got a long time so it you want to have a chat get on the blower immediately.


MACKENZIE: Can I take you to page one - and I know this is a sensitive matter, I know that, but let’s go to page one of the Australian. “Scott Morrison has urged the Indonesian President to show great respect to Australia in dealing with Abu Bakar Bashir the terrorist,” as survivors of the 2002 Bali bombings describe being quote, “disappointed and numb at the pending release of the spiritual leader of the Islamist group that killed 88 Australians.” I want you to have a listen to this, this came through on my program yesterday from a victim of the Bali bombing. I understand he lives in Perth.

NEWS BROADCAST - RECORDING: Peter Hughes is a survivor of the 2002 attack and says he is angry at the early release.

PETER HUGHES – RECORDING: He just hates Westerners. He just hates the way we are and he just loves the fact that they killed so many people and he was involved. 

MACKENZIE: Now you have expressed already, can I say, disappointment in the release, the early release of Abu Bakar Bashir. What can you convey to the Indonesian leadership about our feelings on this sensitive matter here in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: First of all I want to assure all Australians that I have already conveyed directly, at the highest level, our strong views on this topic and the fact that Abu Bakar Bashir was convicted of crimes under the Indonesian justice system. It’s their justice system and they run it and so there are calls they have to make there. But 88 Australians were killed. This is an issue of very great significance to Australia, that has been conveyed. It was also Indonesians who were killed. I mean Abu Bakar Bashir is a threat to Indonesians as well as Australians and we have a counter-terrorism partnership with Indonesia and it is designed precisely to counteract the influences of radical Islamic clerics. So we are working very closely with the Indonesian Government at the moment and I appreciate that opportunity. We are heavily engaged, both myself directly as well as through our Head of Mission in Indonesia.

Two things are important; one is that respect must be shown for the lives of those who were lost.


PRIME MINISTER: And it’s important that this character doesn’t get the opportunity to go and spread and incite hatred if under their system - and it’s their system - he were to be released. I would obviously be very disappointed about that, like other Australians would and would register that disappointment and quite strong feelings about that. But we don’t want this character able go out there and incite the killings of Australians and Indonesians preaching a doctrine of hate.

MACKENZIE: Now this is a matter of some celebration up here I would imagine, this is from today’s Courier Mail the rate heart disease and premature death in North Queensland will be targeted under a $12 million Federal Government plan to send cardiology clinics to the bush. This is Greg Hunt, he’s revealing an extra mobile cardiac bus. More services are going to be sent to patients to ensure quicker intervention would save busy parents and workers from travelling to cities for timely care. This is part of a bid to help reverse the shocking health outcomes for regional and remote Queensland.

PRIME MINSITER: This is so important to rural and regional communities. Whether it’s this issue, whether it comes to cardiac conditions or frankly on mental health. One of the things I announced last year was over $50 million extra for Headspace and that was to provide and deliver remote mental health services to young people using digital and other online platforms.

Getting services to where people are, is becoming more possible though a lot of this technology. We were just talking about that JCU yesterday where that technology can be used to make diagnosis for people with tropical diseases, who you are unable to get to simply because their remote location or weather conditions. So we are making great strides here and I commend Greg Hunt on this initiative.

Sadly the state Government wouldn’t put a dime into this, they just completely rejected it. I mean this is part of the problem. We put $39 million, just in the last year, extra into the Cairns Hospital. On top of that, we’ve got the announcement which I’ve already mentioned, of $60 million. So, we’re getting on with and doing things, but I’ll tell you one thing I want do John; that is I’m not going to put taxes up on all Australians to pay for state governments who don’t know how to manage money. Whether it’s here with the Labor government in Queensland, we’re not going to just throw money at them so they can be absolved of their own funding responsibilities whether it’s for emergency departments or anything like that. That’s their responsibility. That’s why you pay state taxes, to fund those services. But also in the Northern Territory, you’ve seen the basket case of fiscal mismanagement there.

So we’re not going to use higher taxes on all Australians just because Labor can’t manage money.

MACKENZIE: Look I’m glad you agreed to take a couple of calls, but we have to snappy or your staff will start waving at me and winding us up. We had John on the line, he’s not there yet. We’ve got Linda on the line. Linda, you’re talking to the Prime Minister Scott Morrison.


CALLER – LINDA: Good morning, good morning. One of the biggest issues that we’re facing in north Queensland and actually most of the northern part of Australia is insurance. You know it’s just crippling us here and we’ve been hearing about Senate inquiries and all sorts of inquiries, but there’s been no actual result. The flow-on effect is that our economy is going nowhere, it’s been going nowhere since the GFC which is a decade now.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah well there’s a couple of issues there. One of the issues Warren has raised with me about that is obviously the lack of competition. That’s a big problem. The other part of it is, as I understand it, the state strata laws prevent sometimes the type of insurance that you can get which would lead to a lower premium. He’s been raising that issue, which I think is very practical, I think the Assistant Treasurer Stuart Robert has been tasked and he’s been working on this with Warren and a lot of the north Queensland MPs, Matt Canavan and others, right now. I’ve got to say there is no simple solution, I mean when you’re in tropical, remote parts of the country, they’re obviously more exposed to more extreme weather events. That obviously has implications for how insurance is delivered and provided on a costly basis but I think you’re right about it, we’ve got to keep working on it in practical ways. But a bit more competition as Warren often says, would certainly be a good thing.

CALLER – LINDA: Yeah the problem is, if we had the economy that was going and that we had jobs and we could create an income for ourselves, the problem itself we could almost manage. But the problem is because the economy has ground to a halt, you know, we hear constantly that we’re going to move a government department here or we’re going to dredge the channel, we’ve got this project that’s going to start, we’re going to have a tourism hub, we’re going to have all of this. We’ve been hearing it for so long but nothing has really happened. And you know, Cairns is the most beautiful place in the world to live, we’re so blessed to live here, but we have to make money.

PRIME MINISTER: Sure and that’s why I’m pleased that the youth unemployment rate here has fallen from 28 per cent to 15.6 per cent, just since the last election. The investments we’re making, whether it’s in JCU for their Innovation Hub, that’s already happening, that contract is secured, that funding is flowing. The $60 million we’ve just announced for the Tropical Enterprise Centre, that’s an important investment in jobs and the future of Cairns. There’s the investment that we put into the Aquarium as well as the Cultural Centre, there’s the road investments we’re making. I mean all of this and unemployment has been falling here in Cairns. That’s a good thing and it’s pleasing to see the Japanese market turning around a bit for local tourism, I’m pleased to see that the Chinese market has remained strong. You’ve got some very big investments now, coming in here from a very large international investor, three big projects happening here in Cairns. So you’re right - a strong economy is what is needed and that’s what we’re focused on.

MACKENZIE: Linda we’ve got to move on because we’ve got almost no time, we’ve got Phil on the line. Phil, you’re talking to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

CALLER – PHIL: Hello Scott and thank you for giving the time to me. I prefer to call you Scott and ScoMo just by the way.

PRIME MINISTER: Whatever you like.

CALLER – PHIL: I’ve been a follower, I’m not ashamed to say, I’m proud of the fact that I’ve followed the Liberals for a long time. I’ve always believed in your belief - that a bloke should go out and work hard and you’ll probably get reward for working hard. What really annoys me though, is the fact that – I read an article in the paper about eight months ago called ‘the underbelly of business’. Now fair enough, I believe what you believe, that every business is the backbone of Australia, that they hold the place alive and we’ve got to help them survive and promote them and give what we can to them. But if you’d read that article, you would have seen that there are a lot of businesses – and John Howard’s ideals were “work hard and provide money for your retirement,” and that’s what I’ve done – except superannuation has been made a lark of. When the small businesses – and there’s a hell of a lot of them, a lot – what Bill Shorten promises to do is tighten up on these businesses that aren’t paying their superannuation. They’re forgoing their superannuation funds, they’re using loopholes and saying: “I’m doing everything legally.” But they’re running people back tens of thousands of dollars. People are actually getting sick. They’re dying and the money is still owing to them.


CALLER – PHILE: It’s just not fair.

PRIME MINISTER: Well two points on that, we’ve been taking action on that very point to ensure that these companies do pay their superannuation. We’ve been cracking down on that. But the other thing in terms of those self-funded retirees in particular, but all retirees including some pensioners - Labor’s plan is to strip you of your rebate for your franking credits, your dividend imputation. Where you get those imputation credits each year, whether you’ve got shares in the Commonwealth Bank, QANTAS or any of these other places, I know how important that is to the income of retired Australians. And those incomes will be hit hard by Bill Shorten’s retirees tax. It’s to the tune of thousands and there will be many people listening here who know that when Bill’s Tax Bus comes around, they will want to know; “Why are they going to be taxed more by Bill Shorten on their retirement savings?”

MACKENZIE: We’ve got to move on because we’ve got little time and the queue starts at Mount Isa, we’ve got John on the line. John you’re talking to Scott Morrison.

CALLER – JOHN: Good morning John, good morning Scott.


MACKENZIE: Try to be brief.

CALLER – JOHN: I’ll make it brief. We’ve been over-promised to buggery by Warren Entsch and there hasn’t been too much achieved, I’m not real happy with him, two things but – they’re probably ways to sort everyone’s worries; the flag, mate. I’d love to see someone introduce legislation to protect it from Indigenous and any other person who destroys it, urinates on it and burns it and all the rest of it. That’s one thing I’d like to see done. Is there any chance of you doing that?

PRIME MINISTER: First of all, on Warren, over his time here Warren has brought about $4 billion worth of public investments here into Leichhardt, the most recent being the one I’ve just announced yesterday. There’s the $10 million I announced when I was back here last November, there’s the Aquarium, there’s the Cultural Centre, it even goes back to the original boardwalk. I mean this is a bloke who has just been delivering and delivering and delivering, so with respect John, I can’t agree with your assessment. Warren Entsch has been one of the biggest deliverers of any local member anywhere in the country and he’s got a big passion to keep going too. That’s why I’m backing him so strongly. On the flag, I mean it’s the same reason that I feel so strongly about citizenship ceremonies or the way people conduct themselves; we’ve got to protect and respect our institutions. Whether it’s the flag, whether it’s citizenship, these are serious, serious things for Australia and you’ll always have my commitment to ensure that those institutions, whether its our flag, our system of government, our citizenship, these things should mean something and should never be treated with disrespect.

MACKENZIE: John, we’ve got to move on I’m sorry, we’re right down on time. Scott just before you go – I’m getting dirty looks from your staff out there – this just got handed to me and it’s under the heading “Voters fund north Queensland fight against Medicare Centrelink privatization,” this is CPSU Queensland Assistant Regional Secretary Amy Smith: “We know that people living across north Queensland hugely value their local Medicare and Centrelink services and the decent quality jobs that exist to provide those essential services. That’s why ads are so important,” advertising, “to ensure voters are aware that these services and jobs are under threat from privatization and labour hire”?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what a load of rubbish. I mean these are unions using union-members fees to promote Bill Shorten.  I mean if it’s not bad enough Bill Shorten wants to put his hand in your own pocket to rip more taxes out, the unions -  and militant unions, we had a whole bunch of those thugs out there yesterday at JCU, carrying on and screaming and shouting like they do all the time, I mean that’s no way to engage in any sort of civilized debate. But these union officials are using your union dues to go around pushing the Labor Party agenda. These are the facts; we have never had bulk-billing rates at the level we have them now. Medicare has been more secure and more guaranteed under our Government than ever before, including here in north Queensland, where bulk-billing rates are not only higher than the national average, they’re higher than the Queensland average. So, bulk-billing has been secure, $39 million extra into our local hospitals here in Cairns and the state Labor Government cut $600,000. You’ll find similar stories down in Hervey Bay, in Gladstone. I note that Bill Shorten is down in Gladstone today, he’s going to make some announcement down there, the only thing people in Gladstone need to know and north Queensland, is that Bill Shorten’s reckless energy targets on emissions is going to wipe out the Boyne aluminium smelter. That’s 1,000 jobs gone Bill. 1,000 jobs gone, on the basis of a vapor of a promise from a bloke that can’t run an economy. Give me a break.

MACKENZIE: Your staff are on the verge of mutiny here so I’m going to let you go.


PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’ve got to get up to Cooktown.

MACKENZIE: Well exactly!

PRIME MINISTER: I’m looking forward to that.

MACKENZIE: Have you met Peter Scott up there?

PRIME MINISTER: Not yet, looking forward to it.

MACKENZIE: He’s doing a wonderful job and the other thing I’d love you to do up there if you get half an hour, go to the museum. It is such an eye-opener and you will just love what is on offer up there. You’ll be looking forward to that 48 day celebration next year.


MACKENZIE: Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia, thank you for your time in studio today.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks John, great to be here with you.