Interview with Kim Landers, ABC AM

10 Jan 2020
Prime Minister

KIM LANDERS: Prime Minister, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning Kim.

LANDERS: As we've just heard, Canadian intelligence suggests an Iranian missile brought down the Ukrainian passenger jet. Does Australia have similar intelligence?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, we do. But it does not suggest that this was intentional. And that's why it's very important that there is full cooperation with any inquiry that is going on in relation to the tragic downing of that Ukrainian flight and 63 Canadians who are affected. I spoke to Prime Minister Trudeau about this yesterday. We're offering what support we can through our embassy in Tehran. And same, the Italian embassy is also providing a lot of support to the Canadians in that area as well.

LANDERS: You talk about support given Australia's experience with the MH 17 investigation. Will we offer to help with the investigation in that way?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, at this stage, I think we'll let those countries that are directly involved here take carriage of that. I mean, I've said to Prime Minister Trudeau, if there's anything we can do to assist then of course, we will. They have lost a large number of citizens in this terrible tragedy. And obviously it's important for the sake of their families that this matter is addressed fully. And we would expect that to occur and we'd be seeking everyone to be cooperating with that.

LANDERS: Turning to the bushfire emergency. Are you shocked by the magnitude of this disaster? And as a nation, do we need to brace ourselves for many more years of this?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, certainly I am, in terms of the shock, and I think all Australians are. I mean, the scale of what we've been seeing, as I've been relaying to international leaders, as they've called in and expressing their concern and sympathies to all Australians, that just taking them through what the scale of this has been, has been- they've been very interested to know. And it's been, it's been the length of the season, Kim, but also the fact that there's been the lack of dousing rains that is enabled, to get relief from a lot of these very large fire complexes which continue to expand. And today they threaten again in  South Australia there on Kangaroo Island as well. Of course, in New South Wales and Victoria, where there are severe to extreme fire forecasts. And so I encourage everybody to get yourself to a place of safety, listen to instructions, stay together and support each other as you've been doing so well over so many months now, and particularly, the last few weeks.

LANDERS: You've copped a lot of criticism for your initial response to this crisis. Have you taken a bit of time to reflect on your leadership and your judgment?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we've been just very focussed on delivering the response Kim, I mean, copping flak comes with the job, whether it's, you know, however it comes. And that's just part of what the job is as Prime Minister. But the other and most important part is getting your response in. This is the single largest response to a national bushfire crisis that the country has ever seen. Up to 3,000 reserves have been called out. The National Bushfire Recovery Agency established within days following that $2 billion dollars to support in initial and additional funds. Yesterday, rolling out money, which I understand hit the New South Wales bank accounts yesterday so they can move that quickly into the councils, I would hope today, which enables them to immediately respond. Health responses I'll be announcing very soon based on the decisions we made yesterday at National Security Committee. Ministers are bringing forward proposals right across the spectrum of all of their operations. Andrew Colvin is not only heading up the recovery agency, but chairing all departments secretaries as part of a Commonwealth effort to bring forward the initiatives, whether it's in agriculture, tourism, environmental restoration, immediate support needs, the defence force, of course, each and every day out there providing support that's needed in communities.

LANDERS: You're considering some sort of national inquiry. The New South Wales Rural Fire Service commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, points out that there have been reviews after every season. Would you seek the advice of fire chiefs before deciding on whether to press ahead?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's exactly what I have been saying. All I've said in response to questions when this has been put to me is that I'd be working with states and territories to find the most effective way to undertake a review of what has occurred, what the contributing factors were, what the response has been, how we can better prepare for the future. And that's simply all I've said. People have suggested royal commissions. I mean, I don't rule those sorts of things out...

LANDERS: Any states on board with that idea of a royal commission?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we haven't even commenced any discussions on that at all. And now is not the time for that. Now is the time for fighting fires and getting response in place. All I've said and I have discussed with some Premiers that at some point we're going to have to come to agreement on how we can do some of that together. And I think that's the appropriate way to do it. But I'm certainly not going to do that in isolation to the states and territories. It's my intention to work very closely with them about how we best organise that. But right now, Shane Fitzsimmons is, as he and I both know, we want him focussed on fighting fires, not what review should be and shouldn't be. And that's not a position or an issue that's being progressed at this stage.

LANDERS: On climate change, who's telling you that the target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent by 2030 is still good enough?

PRIME MINISTER: This is the commitment the government has had, outstanding for many years now. And we've had that...

LANDERS: Doesn’t the scale of the disaster require some sort of recalibration?

PRIME MINISTER:  Based on - that would reduce the fire risk in Australia?

LANDERS: That's what I'm asking you. You don't- you don't think that the scale of this disaster requires the policy to be re-examined?

PRIME MINISTER: Well of course... what it requires for us to do is to meet and beat our commitments. And that's what I've said we're going to do Kim, the suggestion that Australia, either increasing its emissions reduction targets would somehow not have resulted in these fires, I think is an absurd proposition. Let's just remind ourselves...

LANDERS: I’m asking about were there anything further need to be done though?

PRIME MINISTER: Kim, Kim, if I could just finish my answer. What I'm saying is 2020. This is when these fires are occurring, in 2020 Australia is beating its emissions targets under the Kyoto Protocol by 411 million tonnes. Now, there are very few countries that can make that claim. In fact, there are many countries that won't even meet their Kyoto targets. So if we're talking about countries that are meeting and carrying their burden right now, when these fires are burning, right now, then Australia has been meeting and beating its targets, right now and we will meet and beat our 2030 targets and our policy will continue to be progressed to meet those 2030 targets and that’s where we’re heading...

LANDERS: And I’m asking about whether there will be some revision of a target needs to be made because are you- are you saying that Australia is doing all it can and more, you're saying, to limit greenhouse gas emissions? But is there a possibility that we need to do more?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, when I talk about beating our targets, Kim, then obviously that would be the result of us being able to achieve more than what we've set out. I mean, that's what meeting and beating targets means. But what we’ll also do, Kim, is make sure that our policies are balanced and sensible. Our policies don't pursue reckless job destroying and economy destroying targets which won't reduce bushfire risk, but will take people's jobs. So we'll keep a balanced view on this and we'll keep an applied view on this. A practical view. 50 million tonnes of emissions less on average every year under our government compared to the previous government. That's what we're achieving Kim...

LANDERS: You've mentioned that the national inquiry may look at everything, including climate change. So are you leaving the door open if that national inquiry comes back and says some sort of adjustment needs to be made, some sort of recalibration, that the government would be open to taking the advice of any inquiry?

PRIME MINISTER: I've simply said that any inquiry would need to look at the full breadth of factors that are relevant. And of course, we’d review any recommendations that came from that and Kim, but the suggestion that somehow Australia's emissions reductions are directly linked to fire events in Australia. Well, that's just not true.

LANDERS: If we look beyond greenhouse gas emissions and we look at climate adaptation, for example, would you, for example, guarantee funding for the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC beyond 2021, which is when it's due to run out?

PRIME MINISTER: This is- yeah I know, which is some time away from now. And that would have been addressed in the normal course of the Budget. And these are the obvious things. I mean, these things are not under threat Kim and people running around suggesting that they are I think is not very helpful at times like this.

LANDERS: You don’t think the public opinion has changed because of this terrible summer?

PRIME MINISTER: I think the public opinion on this issue, has been heightened across a whole range of factors and climate is one. But I mean, there are a range of other things. I mean, the drought, which is not unrelated to the issues we're talking about, but the hazard reduction and how we manage that in the future, because hazard reduction has proved to be very difficult in recent times because of the drought. And so with longer fire seasons, which, you know, there's a view that those longer fire seasons will be with us, then we have to look at ways that we can reduce hazard in a way where there are more drier conditions. Now, that goes to where people build houses, that goes to how people can clear land. It goes to how we manage native vegetation. And there have been many controversial debates about that and a lot of pushback on some of those policies as well. So Kim I'm up to discuss all of those things and there's no hesitancy or pushback from the government to address any of those things. And I think we have to address them calmly and rationally and in proper context and perspective. And it's important that we maintain that balanced approach-

LANDERS: All right.

PRIME MINISTER: But right now, there's fires and they need to be addressed. Right now there are people at risk who need support, and that's where my full effort and full attention is focussed.

LANDERS: Okay. Prime Minister, thank you very much for your time this morning.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot Kim.

LANDERS: That is the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.