Interview with Karl Stefanovic, Today Show

12 May 2021
Prime Minister

KARL STEFANOVIC: PM, good morning to you.

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Karl.

STEFANOVIC: You must be pretty pleased with the reaction. The only thing missing was the steak knives.

PRIME MINISTER: What's important is to understand there is a pandemic raging and this is our second pandemic Budget and what the Budget is is a plan to secure Australia's recovery. That recovery can't be taken for granted, Karl. As you know Australians, we are living in this country like virtually nowhere else in the world and that has been hard won and we need to ensure we continue to hold on to these gains and we build on them. What we're doing is working, more people in work today than there was before the pandemic, and we have avoided the absolute terrible tragedy that we have seen in so many other parts of the world. You know, if we had the average of what OECD countries, countries like ours, experienced with the fatality rate from COVID, more than 30,000 Australians would have perished during this crisis. So Australians have achieved a lot, but this Budget is about the plan to secure that recovery because, as we have seen in Europe, they're going into a double-dip recession. We need to avoid that outcome, we need to keep doing what is working and keep pressing ahead.

STEFANOVIC: It was Gough Whitlamesque though, wasn't it?

PRIME MINISTER: It's about a pandemic, that is what it is about. In a pandemic you have to do what you need to do to save lives and save livelihoods. That's what it is about. That is the enemy here. That is the opposition I'm focussed on. It's the pandemic. Because that is what will rob Australians of their health, it’s what will rob Australians of their jobs and livelihoods and what we're achieving here as Australians together is quite unique and this Budget is about continuing to secure that because it is the Federal Government that needs to step up in these circumstances and lean in to ensure that we can provide Australians with that security and that confidence which we are seeing.

STEFANOVIC: You went especially hard at Labor and accused them of spending like drunken sailors during the global financial crisis. Your Government has a record debt almost five times that size. It is hard to imagine a Budget further from the Coalition heartland.

PRIME MINISTER: 30 times worse, that's what this pandemic is compared to the global financial crisis, Karl. When you're faced looking into the abyss as we were this time last year, when we launched JobKeeper just over a year ago and put it into place, the biggest single intervention we have seen from a government, that together backed Australians to get where we are now and there's a long way still to go, I just don't think the situations are comparable. In a pandemic there is no politics, there is just a virus that is looking to take your health and to take your livelihood and this Budget is a plan to ensure we secure that recovery that has been so hard fought for in this country and I'm going to make sure that we keep it. I'm going to make sure we keep making those gains. So last night we did what we had to do to secure that recovery.

STEFANOVIC: You're not at all worried about the size and magnitude of that debt?

PRIME MINISTER: Of course I am, Karl, but I don't do it lightly and it's why we did the hard work before the pandemic to get the Budget back into balance so we could respond in the way we have. This pandemic is 30 times worse globally, economically, than the global financial crisis. That is how serious it is and it is still raging now. Just because we can put 100,000 people at the G in Melbourne for a football game does not mean this is over. We are seeing it already having ravaged the developed world and now it is ravaging the developing world. As we were talking about last week when I was up in Rockhampton, this virus is not over and Australians, we can't be complacent, the Government is not being complacent, this budget shows we are not being complacent because we are not being complacent because we are continuing to lean in, to protect lives and to protect livelihoods to ensure that we can maintain the gains and keep surging forward doing what works.

STEFANOVIC: But your party, Coalition, prides itself on being economically more conservative. When will you deliver a surplus next?

PRIME MINISTER: There's not one scheduled and foreseeable within the next decade because of the significant investments we've had to take. This wasn't a choice, this is something we had to do.

STEFANOVIC: That’s a huge philosophical shift, though.

PRIME MINISTER: John Howard reminded Josh Frydenberg and I constantly... It has nothing to do with philosophy, it has to do with a pandemic, Karl. If Australia didn't take the actions, as John Howard told me himself, there's no politics or ideology in a pandemic, there is just government needing to do what we need to do to save lives and livelihoods and that's what we've done. Couldn't care less about the politics. I care a lot about people's jobs, I care a lot about their health and doing what is necessary. The only opponent I have got right now is the pandemic. That's the opponent I'm focused on. That is the fight Australia is in and as Australia's Prime Minister, that is the fight I'm focused on.

STEFANOVIC: You do care about being re-elected though again. You've left $10 billion for an election splash.

PRIME MINISTER: No, what we've done is kept things in reserve over the course of the balance of this year to keep fighting this pandemic. That's what we're doing, Karl. That's what we're doing. See, Australians like me, we're focused on ensuring we come through this. Nothing else matters. The thing that matters is family's jobs, family's health and, in particular, in this Budget, focusing on important needs they have in mental health and aged care and disability services. But none of that can be funded unless you continue to strengthen your economy and this Budget leans in to strengthening the economy with focus on skills, on manufacturing, on innovation, on the digital economy, on infrastructure, lower taxes, tax incentives for people to invest in their businesses and keep people employed. The reason the Budget is $50 billion better than it was when we were here in October of last year is because more Australians are in work today than we'd anticipated. Since the last Budget, half a million Australians have got back into jobs. From December of last year, there's 200,000 more jobs than we anticipated even at that time. What we're doing is working and that's why we need to secure the recovery with this plan to ensure that we can keep forging ahead and maintaining and extending on what we've gained in the country.

STEFANOVIC: Vaccinations are important and that has been slow. Quarantine is a huge issue with state governments crying for help yet there is no funding for federal facilities. We have flights arriving from India at week's end. You don't think we need those facilities up and running?

PRIME MINISTER: We do have federal facilities. We have got half a billion dollars in federal facilities which we have expanded from 850 capacity to 2,000 this month in Darwin which is where we are bringing those repatriation flights. So we are doing that and we are working with the Victorian Government on what I think is a very comprehensive proposal there as well. So no, I don't accept we are not funding those and I don't accept we are not acting on those and I don't accept we are not working with the states and territories because we are doing all three things.

STEFANOVIC: We have had more breaches in hotel quarantine. I think people want to see more done in that regard.

PRIME MINISTER: That's why we're working with the Victorian Government, that is why we have upgraded the facility at Howard Springs. But let me remind people when it comes to quarantine, that is only one ring of containment. It doesn't matter where the facility is or who is running it, there will be breaches in quarantine. Our quarantine system has a 99.99 per cent effectiveness rate, with Howard Springs it's 100 per cent. But it's the containment beyond that, the testing and the tracing. That is where NSW in particular has been so successful, but so have other states, Queensland, Western Australia and I believe we will see the same thing in Victoria now as their systems have improved greatly from when we had the second wave. We need to keep COVID out of the country as much as we possibly can because that is also supporting our economic recovery. The borders for now, of course they have to remain closed. The pandemic is raging around the world. The idea that we could open Australia up in that environment is not responsible, it's not sensible. But you made a point earlier about responsible decisions, Karl. We put JobKeeper in and we also decided to take JobKeeper off. Now, that was a decision that was criticised by our opponents, by others who said it should stay in, but we knew you put the measure in place, it's targeted, proportionate, you have a clear exit strategy and that is how we are running the finances, even in the midst of what has been a very big Budget, we also know how to that responsibly and in a very targeted way.

STEFANOVIC: It is a very big Budget. Josh Frydenberg had a very big smile on his face this morning. I thought you might be happier this morning, PM. Everything Ok?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm fine, mate. I appreciate the care and concern. I've got to tell you, Karl, the reason is this. I know, look, budgets are big events and that's all fine, but I just know the fight we're in and the fight we're in, and me as Prime Minister I'm in, is to be protecting Australians at this incredibly difficult time. I am very cognisant of how big those challenges are. It is with me every second of every day. That's where my focus Australians can be assured of will remain. Every single day I'm going to fight this virus to protect lives and livelihoods.

STEFANOVIC: And that's why you won't go to an early election?

PRIME MINISTER: The election is next year, mate. The election is next year. I've said that. I can't control every circumstance in Australian politics, but what I can do is stay focused on the fight that matters and that's the pandemic and securing health and livelihoods of Australians.

STEFANOVIC: Thanks, PM. Appreciate your time today.