Interview with Leon Byner, FiveAA

01 Oct 2020
Prime Minister

Leon Byner: Prime Minister, good to talk to you.

Prime Minister: G’day, Leon. It was great to be back in Adelaide the other day. It was a beautiful day.

Byner: Yes, it was. And we're getting the same weather today. Look, I want to ask you about your $1.5 billion in revitalising manufacturing. What have you got in mind to manufacture in SA?

Prime Minister: Well, there's already a lot being made in South Australia. Of course, there's the defence shipbuilding programs, which I was down there seeing at Osborne the other day. I've been out to Bickford's also down there. I mean, they're out there are very important food and beverage manufacturer and food and beverages is one of the key sectors that we've identified as a priority. There's the space industry. The National Space Agency is based there and in South Australia. And then you've got, you know, we all know the great success of Clipsal in South Australia. But then you've got companies like Supashock who are an Adelaide based design and manufacturing firm, focusing on suspension systems. And that delivers unprecedented levels of performance and safety and reliability for vehicles in those sorts of environments. So they are very technologically based manufacturers. So Australia not only makes things, but makes things that are very tricky to produce and require a lot of skill, a lot of high-end design and engineering and this is where our advanced manufacturing capabilities can really move forward. But we have to achieve scale. But you can't achieve this unless you're getting the fundamentals right and the fundamentals right are things like affordable and reliable energy. It's about having the right industrial relations systems. It's ensuring that you're cutting red tape for approvals processes and all those sorts of things. You've got to get the right skills training in place. It was exciting to be with Premier Marshall on the weekend, and we were talking about just how many more people were getting into training in South Australia and training that is giving them the skills that these manufacturers and businesses will need. So you've got to get all that right and then you've got to get the scale and then you've got to deal with areas of what we call as a sovereign supply chain viability. And that's in critical areas that we've learnt during COVID that supply chains, if they get disrupted, there are still things we have to very much do here.

Byner: Are we going to be able to sort out this industrial problem we've got on the wharf? We've got a whole lot of ships holding stock that is causing a few issues. I know that you've suggested that unless an agreement is reached, you might call in the ADF. What's the latest?

Prime Minister: Well, a) I haven't said that. I mean, others have suggested that I've been keeping my own counsel on those things with the Attorney, but I certainly want to see it resolved and it's not resolved yet. And the clock is ticking on this because it is holding back important supplies to Australia. I mean, I think the average wage of those working on the wharf support body is about $175,000 or thereabouts and for those in other jobs, it's a bit less than that. I mean, they were looking for six per cent increases year on year. We're in the middle of a recession, a COVID recession, and to slow down work on the wharves to delay, we've got 38 ships out there off the Australian coast, about 90,000 containers. There'll be others on ports and other parts around the world with medical supplies and other things that are looking to get into that queue. So it does need to be resolved. We've made that very clear. My first step is to see it resolved through the parties. But I…they need to get a wriggle on.

Byner: I want to ask about incentives to get people to work because we've got this really odd situation where there are likely to be about a million people or more looking for work or unemployed. And yet a lot of bosses can't fill jobs that are good paying jobs.

Prime Minister: That's true. We've heard the same thing. I mean, the JobSeeker arrangements have been changed basically as of this week, towards the end of last week. And that means that people can now earn $300 a fortnight and that won't affect their payments under JobSeeker. Their JobSeeker payments, the COVID supplement has been reduced by that $300 amount. And so that means people can go out and work in the horticultural industry or other places which are particularly desperate for workers at the moment and that won't affect otherwise what they would be receiving. And that's a positive thing. We're also extending out what we're doing with the seasonal labour programme to support those horticultural agricultural sectors. I mean, finally, in parts of the country, we've had some rain and they're having a much better season this year than they've had in many years. We don't want to see that spoiled by not being able to get people on the farm to be able to do the work.

Byner: Do you see that we're going to open up more borders shortly? Because I know there's been a lot of discussion about a travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia. What's the latest on this?

Prime Minister: I think we'll be able to move on that very soon. It's more likely in the first instance to be a one way bubble i.e. New Zealanders being able to travel to Australia. That's good for Australian tourism. I would see South Australia, along with New South Wales, in the front end of that arrangement because they've taken their borders down. And what that will do is not only bring much needed tourism dollars into both of those states but because there'd be no requirement to quarantine because New Zealand's COVID performance is as strong as what it is in South Australia and indeed in New South Wales. And so that would take a lot of pressure off at the airports for hotel quarantine, which frees up more places for Australians to come home. Now, for states that still have borders up and are insisting on quarantine for, say, people from Sydney to travel to Brisbane or to other places, then we can't have, you know, more New Zealand tourists coming and taking up those quarantine places in those states. We need those for Australians coming home. So South Australia and New South Wales will be the first to benefit from that arrangement and it's not too far away.

Byner: Now, you will no doubt be aware that in South Australia we've had a memo sent out from the health bureaucracy that public hospital surgeons should say no to old patients and those with multiple medical conditions. What do you think of that?

Prime Minister: Well, I hope it is a very carelessly worded memo. That's what I hope it is. I've actually sort of had a touch base with the Premier this morning, and I'm sure that's his view as well. I mean, of course, clinicians have to exercise their duty of care regardless of a person's age or their circumstances or anything like that. And I have no doubt, Leon, that that's what clinicians would do. So my hope that is just a poorly worded memo and because that would, I'm sure, if that was what it was trying to say, that would be very much, I think, opposed by the medical profession itself, rightly, as clinicians. And it doesn't matter where you are in Australia, what age you are, you deserve the best possible medical care and treatment and every single life is precious.

Byner: Would you not agree that the people who should make those clinical decisions are the clinicians, not public servants?

Prime Minister: Of course. Absolutely. Absolutely.

Byner: I just wanted to get a clarification because I'll give you an example. Bob Parr OAM says ‘I am old with multiple issues. Thankfully, the medical profession have given me several chances to still be here and contribute to society.’

Prime Minister: Yeah and that's great. And look, I know from the contact I've had with Premier Marshall this morning that he has that same view. This is a decision for clinicians. Your doctor, your specialist.

Byner: Now, I want to ask you quickly about, I know you're not going to drop the Budget on us this morning, but in SA, though, we've got a special issue where our unemployment rate is even above Victoria that's virtually been shut down in terms of jobs. So is there anything that we might look forward to in the Budget soon that will help us in that space?

Prime Minister: Well, look, I'll leave those announcements to Budget night, Leon. But what I can say is that in South Australia, since the COVID crisis has hit, I think it's 69 per cent of the jobs that were lost have come back. That is a great credit, I think, to the economic plan and strategy being followed by the South Australian Government and that's tremendous to see. There's still more work to be done there. But we've already got the big infrastructure projects underway. You know, the north-south interconnector, six lanes there, just going out to Osborne and seeing, that has been done in just two years, what's been achieved at Osborne. It is now the most modern, technologically advanced shipyard in the world and it's about to get going now and building those nine frigates, $45 billion worth into the future. And to meet the young apprentices and trainees who are out there on the weekend. I mean, they are looking at jobs for decades. Their kids are going to have jobs at that shipyard and that's a tremendous thing. So there is a huge investment going into South Australia, but not just that. In the tourism sector as well. Simon Birmingham made those announcements on the weekend. It was good to be down there at the Adelaide Zoo. My daughter loves quokkas and she got to cuddle a quokka. She is still over the moon about that. So thanks, everyone, down at the Adelaide Zoo.

Byner: What's your favourite?

Prime Minister: Mine? Look, I am a big fan of koalas, I've got to say. I love koalas. And I like it that they get a bit, get the irritates a bit too. I find that quite funny.

Byner: Gives you an excuse not to have to pick them up.

Prime Minister: Yeah, I think that's true.

BYNER: Prime Minister, thank you for coming on this morning. And we'll certainly keep well in touch.