Interview with Mark Levy, 2GB

05 Jan 2021
Prime Minister

MARK LEVY: I'm pleased to say Scott Morrison joins us on the line right now. Prime Minister, good morning.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, g’day Mark from down here in Canberra.
LEVY: Lovely to talk to you as always. I was only thinking this morning, last time I saw you, we were down on the south coast enjoying a holiday. And since then, mate, we've been through drought, floods, bushfires, this pandemic. I'll tell you one thing, the resilience of this country, it's something else, isn't it?
PRIME MINISTER: It is amazing and that has been the secret ingredient to Australia's success, I think. I think people have worked together well and there's been an enormous amount of spirit and tenacity, but it's been the way that Australians have pushed through. Sure, it's been it's been incredibly difficult. There's no doubt about that and there's been terrible loss for people all around the country, and that continues. But people just keep pushing through. They keep looking forward and we’ve got to just keep that optimistic spirit that has served us so well for so long.
LEVY: There's a lot of people holding out hope for the vaccine. That's hopefully not too far away. We're told today the Therapeutic Goods Administration is waiting on this important paperwork and data to be handed over in relation to the AstraZeneca vaccine. Has this delay put us put us back, so to speak, as far as the early rollout, or is March still on track?
PRIME MINISTER: No, we're still on track and we're working through the break and our health officials are here in Canberra and the Health Minister, Greg Hunt and I, we're all just working through those issues, particularly further again this week and will be in the weeks ahead. And we've got to get it safe and we've got to get it right. We're not in a situation like the UK is, they had 58,000 cases yesterday. I mean, that is just mind blowing when you think about it. Israel has been in a catastrophic state with where the virus has got to there, as well as across Europe and the United States. So, you know, they're in a position where they have to do emergency vaccine vaccinations in those places. In Australia, as you said in your intro, that's not our situation. So we can't cut corners on the vaccine. It has to be rolled out properly in an orderly way and that's what we'll be working hard to achieve. And we've got our best people working on it and they're working on it right now.
LEVY: Can I ask you about the comments from Anthony Albanese? Now, I'm assuming that you keep the Labor Party across all of the details here. Mr Albanese, in the last 24 hours and has done over a number of weeks now, has accused you of dropping the ball on the vaccine. Is that fair? Is he across the details?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, no, it's quite an uninformed view. I mean, they were offered a briefing in December which wasn't taken up. I think the last briefing the shadow health minister had was in November. And Mr Albanese, I mean, I talk to the Chief Medical Officer every day and, I mean, he hasn’t. So what's informing his views is only for him to explain, because he certainly hasn't been sitting down with our officials who are running this process. And that's who is running this process, by the way, medical professionals who are working to pull together all the information they need to make the right decision on the vaccine and once you get the tick off from the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which has a very rigorous process, then a key thing that has to happen after that is you've got to go then and test the batches of the vaccines that are distributed across the country. I mean, we just don't, you know, tick it off and then take a wild guess at what people then put in people's arms. I mean, there are further testing that takes place after the TGA approval and that has to be done properly. I mean, the Pfizer vaccine, for example, has to be transferred at minus 70 degrees and so the logistics and distribution issues that have been worked through with Pfizer themselves and so there's a lot of work that's being done. But what's important, because Australians rightly want the vaccine to be safe and they want it to be timely, and that's what we're working to deliver with the we believe, the best people in the world to do that, which are our vaccination experts. I mean, Australia has one of the highest rates of vaccination in the world because people have confidence in the system. So I'm not going to shortcut that system. And if people want to focus on, you know, trying to stir up political issues, that says more about them than me.
LEVY: What about the borders, Prime Minister, it's obviously a hot topic for our listeners on 2GB in Sydney and 4BC in Brisbane. You've called on us as early as New Year's Day to unite as a nation as we sing about being one and free. But I've heard from so many listeners who feel anything but one or free because of these border closures. Now, I don't know what you can do constitutionally, whether you can do anything, but surely you would concede we desperately need a national approach instead of allowing the premiers and chief ministers to what appears to be run their own race?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's what the Constitution enables them to do. Should be very clear about that. The Federal Government does not have the powers to direct state authorities on border issues when it comes to public health controls. They have complete authority over public health and where they put those arrangements in place for public health reasons, then they have complete authority over those things. The other thing I don't want, Mark, is a lowest common denominator, which means there'd be more border restrictions, not less. And so I don't want states like New South Wales having to, you know, take a different approach, which would see the more closed up than they, you know, then is there their willingness to do, which is to, you know, keep the show on the road, which I think they've done a fantastic job doing, and manage the virus as they are.
LEVY: Do you understand the frustration out there though, Prime Minister?
PRIME MINISTER: Of course, there is terrible frustration and that goes along with having a global pandemic. But if you want to have a look at frustration, go to the United Kingdom, go to Europe, go to the United States, and you'll see frustration there. These are health issues and it's difficult in a pandemic. But this is why I say I think the overwhelming majority of Australians, despite those frustrations and, you know, we share them. I mean, right now, Mark, I'm speaking to you from Canberra. Half of my family has gone back to Sydney. But I have to remain here because if I go to Sydney, I can't come back to Canberra. So it affects everybody. I'm not saying my situation is the same as many others, particularly those Victorians trying to get back into Victoria. But these are frustrations that go along with a pandemic. I would love it if there was a hotspot approach followed right across the country. Right now, Queensland is following that approach in relation to New South Wales. That's a bit of a change from what we saw last year. So they're only looking at people coming from Sydney. That's the same for Tasmania. That's the same for Northern Territory. That's the same for the ACT. WA, Victoria and South Australia are taking a different approach. So I'm trying to actually lift it up, not dumb it down, because if you take it down the other way, we'll just have more restrictions. And that's not what that's not what we want.
LEVY: And that's fair enough. I take it from your comments there that you're stranded in Canberra at the moment where you're running the country, obviously, but you won’t be, because you and I buy sporting fans, you would no doubt love to be at the SCG to support the pink Test and the McGrath Foundation. We're going to have a capped crowd of 12,000. Are you concerned with a large gathering of people at one of these major sporting events?
PRIME MINISTER: I spoke to the Acting Premier yesterday and I was talking to Gladys last week before she went on leave. And, look, they've been working this through and they've made some sensible decisions based on the medical advice. I think it's great the Test is going ahead. I think it's great that it'll be played in front of people. It's been done in a safe way, and they've got a good plan to deal with that based on the medical advice. And I'm sure Tim Paine and the boys are going to come back strongly and looking forward to that and I'm sure Justin Langer has got them all ready and primed to go. So, I mean, there's been a bit of toing and framing on that over the last little while. So hopefully that will settle down and they can just play some great cricket and I'll be doing it, I'll see it here in the corner with a screen, perhaps while doing other things.
LEVY: Let's touch on a couple of quick ones if we can. We spoke earlier about Anthony Albanese's comments. He's also claiming the reduction in JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments is a premature withdrawal of support for Australians. But the point I've been making on the on Ray’s programme, Mr Morrison, is that the Government can't keep handing out money while we're seeing people get back into the workforce.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we said it was a temporary, targeted and proportionate measure to get Australians through the worst of this crisis and that's exactly what it's done. I mean, we have supported the Australian economy, as Australians now to the tune of some $77 billion alone with JobKeeper. That's what's gone out the door already and it's still running out till the end of March. And the number of business owners that have stopped me and my colleagues in the street and said that was a life saver for my employees, that kept my business alive and that has continued. We've already gone through one change at the end of September and then subsequent to that, we've seen hundreds of thousands of jobs created. And so the economy is regearing. It's gearing back up again. It's finding its own feet again. And we've got to be careful that the important supports that we put in place during the worst of the pandemic then don't hold back the business led recovery on the other side. I mean, we had 450,000 businesses after the change we made in September when everyone predicted the same thing, they said there'd be all the calamity that would follow and there'd be a cliff. And at the same things they're all saying now, they said that would happen at the end of September. What happened? 450,000 businesses graduated off JobKeeper. They didn't need it anymore. More than two million Australians who were reliant on a taxpayer-funded income support payment in JobKeeper no longer needed it, they were able to be supported by their employers. So the economy is building up again and we have to wean it off these emergency supports. It's like coming out of the ICU into the ward and then becoming an outpatient for the economy. And that's the phases we're moving through. But, you know, we've seen this from the Opposition all last year, Mark. They say they support the measures on the pandemic, but then they bag them at the same time. I mean, has a bet on a win in a place in a two horse race every single time, there's no doubt why they call him each way Albo.
LEVY: Well, there's been plenty of commentary around a few international issues, China being one. I do need to ask you as well about Julian Assange, whose extradition to the United States has been struck down in the UK. You've said before that we won't be giving any special treatment to the WikiLeaks founder. But given the decision is based on mental health grounds and he's an Australian, what's your response to the decision overnight?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, the justice system is making its way and we're not a party to that. And like any Australian, they're offered consular support and should, you know, the appeal fail, obviously he would be able to return to Australia like any other Australian. So that consular support is continues to be offered and that's the situation as we understand it right now. So, yes, it's just a straightforward process of the legal system in the UK working its way through.
LEVY: And one last one, I know you're a footy fan. You love your Sharkys. What are the chances of us watching some finals footy in September, October and also a federal election?
PRIME MINISTER: The election is not due to 2022 and I've got to say, well, I'm hoping that the Sharks, particularly with some of the new players coming through this year. I see they're training hard over the summer. I follow them on the Facebook group and I see they're working pretty hard. But look, you know, the election is due in 2022. This year, Mark, we've got a lot to focus on and I'm focused on the pandemic and continuing to get us through that together and together is the key point there, despite the disagreements that occur between states. I mean, overwhelmingly, people are working together. We've got to get the economy back up and get those jobs, 80 per cent of the jobs have come back, over 700,000. And we need to keep those businesses going forward and get through that process. But there's a lot of other things going on. You know, we've got to work through the aged care challenges this next year. Mental health has been a big priority for us. And that safety online programme, you know, taking on the trolls and making sure the big internet companies do the right thing by people and protect our kids. And, you know, there's a lot of work to do this year, and that's where my focus is, mate.
LEVY: Prime Minister, as a fellow resident of the Shire these days, it's always good to talk to you. Thanks for joining us on the Ray Hadley Morning Show.
PRIME MINISTER: No worries, Mark, perhaps we'll catch up down at Shoalhaven Heads at some point in the future, who knows.
LEVY: I think there’s a cold beer waiting for you. Thanks very much.