Interview with Larry Emdur and Kylie Gillies, The Morning Show

16 Dec 2020
Prime Minister

LARRY EMDUR: Prime Minister, welcome to The Morning Show.

PRIME MINISTER: Hey Larry, hey Kylie, good to be with you.

EMDUR: We knew you’d get along at some point, welcome to the show. We know it can be complicated for people like you to be on shows like this. What you need to know is we’re not expecting you to do the Macarena at the end of the interview, so is that ok? 

PRIME MINISTER: That is welcome, particularly for your viewers.

EMDUR: It has been a tough year for all of us and for you especially, of course. Are you, like most of us, sort of crawling towards the end line? We’d love a personal answer instead of a political one but how are you feeling as the end of the year draws nigh?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, to be honest, I am feeling very thankful. Australia's management and the co-operation and the support that Australians have provided all through this year has been quite overwhelming, Larry. I mean, I have said it quite a few times now, I've never been more proud of my country than I am now. When I look at what’s happening around the world, this has been an effort from everyone. Certainly, our Government has done its job and state governments have done their job. But this has been people just dealing with the challenges of everyday that has together got us through to where we are. So we are going to have Christmas this year in Australia like few other countries. In other countries, they will be locked down and people will be separated from each other and in this country, from one end to the other, we are reunited. Australia's whole again as we come to Christmas. I am just very thankful and very grateful.

KYLIE GILLIES: What do other world leaders say to you about what we have done here?

PRIME MINISTER: They are obviously quite impressed and they ask well, how did we do it? The answer I give is pretty similar to what I just gave just then. There has been good strong health controls. Yes, we shut down the borders. Yes, that is internationally. Yes, we got our testing and tracing systems in place and they have been highly effective. I think the cooperation we have had from the public when things that have occurred with outbreaks, particularly here in New South Wales where there have been quite a few outbreaks, but they have been well contained. But the other part of it that I stressed to them is it hasn't just been about suppressing the virus where we have had great success. It is also about keeping our economy intact and Jobkeeper and JobSeeker, they have been a lifeline to this country over the last nine to 12 months. I was down in Launceston yesterday and just the number of business people, small business people that came up and said thank you to the Australian people for their support through JobKeeper that kept their employees in jobs. I was at a hydraulics company yesterday in Devonport. They had 106 employees and they did not drop one. Not one, because of JobKeeper. And there were apprentices there and it is a regional town in Australia, city in Australia, that could have been decimated by this and we are whole again still and we are looking to 2021 very optimistically.

EMDUR: If you’re talking to family and friends overseas right now, you do get the feeling we are very much the lucky country right now.

PRIME MINISTER: But we make our own luck, Larry. That’s the other point.

EMDUR: No, true, absolutely.

PRIME MINISTER: The harder you work, the luckier you get.

EMDUR: There you go. Overnight, China has defended its decision to all but ban Australian coal imports, accusing Australia of playing the victim here. Now, do we need to be anxious? I mean, we are anxious, how anxious do we need to be about our relationship with China moving forward would you say?

PRIME MINISTER: We take these issues very seriously and the Chinese Government has not confirmed to us about any official decision they have made in this area. I should stress one point, that  our biggest coal exporting country, the country that takes our exports largest on coal are actually Japan and India. So China is not our major importer when it comes to thermal or metallurgical coal. There are many other markets, South Korea is another one. But of course we take these things seriously. But if that were to be true as I said yesterday, if there was such a ban on Australian coal, then that would be in direct contravention to the World Trade Organisation rules. It would also be a complete breach of the free trade agreement. So that is very serious for Australia but it is actually bigger than that because that would be suggesting that China, if that were true, then that perception would take hold very quickly, that they wouldn't be treating those rules with the right respect. And because the World Trade Organisation’s rules are important for the trading system around the world and so I don't think it would be in China's interest, it wouldn’t be in our interest and so I think it is best for us, as we have always called for, is for leader level dialogue and for ministerial level dialogue and we have always been happy for that mature conversation. But Australia will still be Australia. Our values will still be our values. We will still continue to set our laws here about foreign investment and our critical infrastructure. We will have a free press, parliamentarians will be able to speak freely, we want to understand how to deal with world health issues. So they are clear positions Australia has always taken, including on human rights issues. But we want to see China do well economically. That’s good for Australia so the relationship has a big future if we can just focus on the things that benefit us both.

GILLIES: It is party season and everyone loves an invitation at this time of year. In the last few hours, Boris Johnson has revealed Australia has been invited to attend the G7 summit. How important is that in the current climate?

PRIME MINISTER: I think it is very important and Boris, when we spoke some months ago, indicated that to me and I made comment on it at the time and we will join together with India and South Korea as observers at the G7. That makes it three years running now that Australia has been invited to participate at the G7. First in France. It was to be in the United States and we were invited down there as well but COVID prevented that meeting and now again in the UK. This is the meeting of the world’s largest liberal market-based democracy economies. Like-minded countries, including ourselves together with India and South Korea, I think really adds to that and it is important as we come out of this COVID recession around the world, one thing that did not happen during this recession, it wasn't caused by a collapse of capitalism or any of these sorts of things. It was caused by a meteor, a metaphorical meteor in the form of COVID-19 and the way out of this is through the models that we have in countries like ours and the United Kingdom and United States and Japan and France. Liberal market based democracies. That has produced the greatest wealth I think the world has ever seen following that approach and with the right social supports that democracies like ours have. So it is good for us to get together to line up on these issues and see how we can continue to support the recovery of the world economy.

EMDUR: Yeah, that global problem-solving right now, you have to think it is more important than ever, wouldn’t you. And still overseas, there are still tens of thousands of Australians stranded abroad and they were desperately trying to get home for Christmas, desperately, and you hoped to get them home by now. What happened with that?

PRIME MINISTER: There were 26,000 that were looking to come home and I said that’s what we’d seek to get back. We've actually got 52,000 back so we have doubled it and we will more than double that by Christmas. The issue is that since then, more people have sought to come home. So we have just over 30,000 right now registered who want to get home before the end of the year. There is about another 8,000 looking to come back next year. So we have more than doubled what we had hoped to do by Christmas. There are a lot of people looking to come home. That is obviously constrained by the quarantine capacity here in Australia. We have sought to boost that, as well as running additional flights. We have set up quarantine capacity in the Northern Territory and also down in Tasmania where I was discussing that with the Premier yesterday. So we have been doing everything we can to get people home and we have more than doubled what we expected to do by this time of the year. But there are more Australians looking to come home. What that will look like in the New Year, Larry, we will have to wait and see. I think the additional people coming home, contracts are finished, workers finished, the situation particularly in the UK has deteriorated fairly significantly with COVID. But the biggest group that are looking to come home are actually out of India. Almost around about 10,000 looking to come home from India. Just under 5,000, 4,500 looking to come back from the UK and then it goes down from there. So we’re running extra flights, we have expanded quarantine capacity with the states and direct funding and involvement of the Commonwealth. We are providing tens of millions of support for people who are stuck overseas, compassionate assistance for accommodation, emergency accommodation and other needs that they have. So the Australian system is working night and day to get people home and giving them the support they have.

GILLIES: Your message to those still stuck, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: We are looking to get you home as soon as we possibly can and that is what the record shows. We know you want to come home and you have every right to come home. You are an Australian and you are my first priority in terms of people coming back into the country. Many have said to me, oh we need to let our international students come back or others come back and I said well no, they are not taking the place of Australians coming home. They are my first priority and I appreciate the cooperation I have had with the Premiers on that.

EMDUR: Now this morning, the March COVID-19 vaccine rollout strategy was revealed, so can you tell us who will get the vaccine first, and why?

PRIME MINISTER: Well the strategy is yet to be finalised and released. I should stress that. The policy is in place and that has been adopted not only as it needs to be by my Cabinet, the Federal Cabinet but also the National Cabinet. The details of the full rollout are still being worked out with the states and territories because they are our partners in the delivery of this vaccine. I mean obviously, health workers and those in those critical occupations are at the front of the queue just like we have already seen that in the United Kingdom and United States. But the details of that plan are still being worked out Larry. So we will have more to say about that as that time approaches. See Australia is in a much better position than overseas. I mean, overseas they have to do emergency authorisations of these vaccines because frankly, that is the last defence in terms of the situation they are facing. Right here in Australia, as I said, we are going to have a Christmas like few other countries are going to have with families and friends and people getting together. That's not happening overseas. And so this gives us the opportunity to ensure we get these decisions right and we learn from what is happening overseas, the Therapeutic Goods Administration when it gives it the tick, then people can get the jab, and they can be confident about getting the jab because we have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world and the reason for that is Australians have great confidence in the system we’ve built to keep them safe and to protect their health. So no one is rushing a decision and we are working consultatively to get all elements of that plan right.

GILLIES: Okay to that point, what is your plan for letting international visitors in you know, into the next year? Can you envisage an Australia that will still let people in who haven’t been vaccinated from overseas?

PRIME MINISTER: I think you will find the airlines themselves make their own decisions on that and that will be largely an international position taken by airlines and that has been the subject of discussion I have had with other global leaders in recent weeks. At this stage our focus, I mean we are not lifting the international borders at present, and we have no immediate plans to do that. We’ve obviously lifted them for New Zealand and that has gone very well. I think we are approaching almost about 10,000 people now who have come across the ditch from New Zealand and we’ve had no issues there. Didn’t expect there to be. The decision was made on a health basis and it is working very well. Pacific Islanders, there is the possibility to do that. We are already doing it with seasonal workers. With on-farm quarantine especially up there in Queensland that's working well. But we are taking this very, very cautiously, Kylie. The reason we have done so well is we have been so careful around our borders and so we will work through those issues but look, I hope that we can see international travel resume well in to next year but I am not expecting it, really, certainly not in the first quarter of next year, and in the quarter after that, a lot would have to change to see that happening in any sort of industrial scale.

EMDUR: Alright, that’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, let's talk family man ScoMo, through the pandemic I tell you what it has been tough for everyone hasn’t it? To keep all this together. We’ve still seen these great pictures of you being a normal dad at home with the kids. How important has it been for you to maintain being a father to Lily and Abbey? Because everybody has needed a guiding light to get through this and your family would be the same?

PRIME MINISTER: Regardless of what job you have, whether it is mine or yours, or yours Kylie, or anyone else's, when you are a parent that is the most important job, I think we all agree with that, and I really do appreciate the way that Australians also give me great support in that. As a family, we have had so many wonderful messages this year and we are quite overwhelmed by it I’ve got to say, the girls are great. Jen’s great. Mum’s doing well and so is my mother-in-law, we will all be together for Christmas. Right now though as we go into this, I mean obviously we are a bit concerned about things that are happening here domestically particularly with the weather events we are seeing up north. I think we had 1,600 calls to emergency services yesterday in Queensland. 1,100 in NSW. So we are keeping a close eye on that so I am staying very close to home and I will be down at the Lodge this year at Christmas with the family and we’ll take a bit of time off early in the New Year. And Michael McCormack will step up then for a week or so. We’ll be just down the South Coast of NSW. And so not too, we will be very close to home dealing with any issues that arise. We are watching those tropical cyclone and other events, this year we know with La Niña that is going to have an impact and so we have been preparing for that for many months now. But for home, look you know, a bit of time together, that is how we have all gotten through this, haven't we? Just with our family and our friends supporting each other. And I’ve been no different. My family has just been absolutely amazing and Jen is of course the rock of the whole family.

GILLIES: Is it refreshing just to be called dad when you get home? Or do they call you Prime Minister if you ask them to do their homework? 

PRIME MINISTER: I’ll tell you one thing, you might remember back earlier in the pandemic when there was that issue I think that a whole bunch of people turned u on the beach at Bondi one day and I must admit I was a bit grumpy about that because we were very worried and I said "Stop it, it's ridiculous" and Abbey said, "That's what you say to us!" They recognised that phrase. I don't tell them it is un-Australian though if it’s, if they don't do their homework. But I’ve got to say the girls did, I was really proud of them. They, like all the kids this year and particularly year 12 kids, gosh, they had it hard this year. I am so proud of our year 12 students this year. My girls did great at school this year they really tried hard and I was so thrilled when I saw their report cards and thanks to all the teachers down at their school they have been great for them so they’ve come through I thin like all kids are getting through. They are very resilient, kids. But I think like this year, they deserve maybe one extra present under the tree because they have put up with a lot just like everyone else, and a couple of special hugs. I’m certainly looking forward to my Christmas Day hugs with my family.

EMDUR: Hey, who gets the best guest suite at the Lodge? Is it mum or mother-in-law? This is an important question.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they are pretty similar I got to say. They sort of pick them themselves. Because- so I'm not getting into that.

EMDUR: Good answer.

PRIME MINISTER: Mum and Beth, they were both down for the first wave, we spent the first wave in Canberra for obvious reasons. That was where I needed to be and so all the family joined me there. The kids were doing school from there and so mum and Beth they were there. And that was great to have them there with the girls as well, with Jen. That was, they’ll just go, they can run up the stairs and pick their own rooms.

GILLIES: It’s made us realise how important family is this year hasn’t it, so important.


EMDUR: Now, before we let you go, Prime Minister we’ve been waiting to talk to you for a while and one of the things we really wanted to flash back and enjoy this moment again with you was when you went to visit our very own Glenn Wheeler, it would have been a couple of years ago now. We know you are great mates and gee we love this picture. You went round to his house to say hello. You have been mates for a long time?

PRIME MINISTER: We have and to Glenn and the whole family. I know that Glenn is not always at home now and I caught up with the news when I was down in the shire the other weekend and they are a wonderful family and Glenn has got a heart as big as the sun and it warms everybody and he is totally unfiltered. The truth was he was pretty unfiltered before, I have got to say. As you guys would know better than anyone.

EMDUR: Correct.

PRIME MINISTER: He is still full of love and he plants those big wet lips on you anytime you get within any distance, I mean I don't know how he got through COVID without sort of kissing anybody who came within any sort of measurable distance. I really hope him and the whole family have a Chrissy together, they are a wonderful family and down in our Shire community they are royalty and they are loved greatly and I reckon he’ll be watching that fight with Gal I suspect and he’ll be backing the local boy there no doubt.

EMDUR: Well he’s watching now with Michelle we know that for sure, he’s probably smooching the TV as you speak absolutely.

PRIME MINISTER: Is he? Oh great! G’day guys. Good to see you and God bless and hope you’re great. I’m sorry we usually try and have a meal with Glenn before Christmas, this year’s been really hard to organise it but I am glad they are watching and love you mate.

GILLIES: He’s been busy, we get it. So nice to talk to you, my favourite quote is, Glenn is totally unfiltered. That’s my takeaway-

EMDUR: But also was before, was before.

GILLIES: And always will be. Thank you Prime Minister.

EMDUR: Thank you Prime Minister, great chat, we appreciate it.

PRIME MINISTER: Merry Christmas guys, have a real happy new year- I think we are going to say that with feeling this year.

EMDUR: For sure. Looking forward to next year that’s for sure, thank you.