Interview with Mark Riley, Weekend Sunrise

26 Sep 2021
Prime Minister

MARK RILEY: Prime Minister, welcome to Weekend Sunrise.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks Mark, great to be with you.

RILEY: Extraordinary few days, you've really repositioned Australia in the global world order. We're now firmly in the middle of this democratic line across the Indo-Pacific. But you did say in this clash, definitional clash, between the US and China, we didn't need to pick sides, but we have now, haven't we? We are firmly all the way with USA.

PRIME MINISTER: Australia has a great reputation, particularly with our friends, and we have that reputation built on standing up for who we are and our values. And we'll always do that. And with countries that share a view on the world, whether it be Japan or India and of course the United States, the Quad countries, which is why we're here, for the meeting of the Quad, which is like minded democracies who live in the Indo-Pacific. That part of the world is defining the future. And we need to ensure that we can keep Australians safe and secure in what is a rapidly changing part of the world.

RILEY: Common objectives, peace and security.


RILEY: But we've picked our team.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we've always been with the United States as friends and partners. We've always been loyal to those who shared the principles and beliefs and liberties and democracy. That's not new. And what we don't want to choose, though, is a future in the Indo-Pacific, which is binary. We don't want to choose that. There shouldn't be sides. What there should be is a free and open Indo-Pacific. And that's what Australia is seeking to do. That's what United States is seeking to do. That's why we're working together. We want the world and particularly the part of the world we live in, to be safe and secure for everybody, free of coercion, free of all of these things. And that's our goal.

RILEY: OK. Joe Biden, very different character to the last President you met here. [inaudible]. His detractors say he's sleepy and some people suggest that he's a bit dottery, almost senile. But you saw a very different person?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh no, he's sharp on the issues. And he understands the part of the world we live in. And he has a deep appreciation of Australians. He's a Democratic President, I'm a Liberal Prime Minister. But that's the nature of our partnership, our friendship with the United States. There's no politics, there's no partisanship. There's no red or blue team in our partnership. What there is, is two partners who just are all about helping each other, standing by each other for the beliefs and values that we share. But no, he understands that. He's got a lot of experience in this town in particular, and he gets, I believe, the real challenges in where we live.

RILEY: Climate change. The other big issue at the Quad. 14 years since John Howard promised an ETS, here we are at a moment where perhaps Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister, might negotiate a sustainable climate policy, finally net zero by 2050. Is that going to happen?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, as I already said at the start of the year, we said we need to get to net zero, and we've been working on a plan of how we can achieve that. What I've been working to do is to bring my government together to get a plan that we can take to the Australian people and show to the Australian people, to say we can deal with this, we can do this, but we can do it without having to tax people. We can do it without having to shut down our industries and regions. My task has been to bring my government together on this issue and to focus on how we can get it done.

RILEY: Are you close now?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, I think we ...

RILEY: The Nationals are saying the right things.

PRIME MINISTER: I think the whole team is focused on the goal and how we can achieve it. So I'm not going to get ahead of that discussion, I don't get of these things, Mark. I'm a patient person when it comes to getting things right. And the same was true on AUKUS. I mean, this took a long time, but you've got to just work on bringing people together, agreeing the goal. I've listened carefully, I've been in the parliament some time now. I came into the parliament in 2007. And this has been an issue that has been in Australian politics for a long time.

RILEY: And it's knocked off six prime ministers.

PRIME MINISTER: And I'm keen to ensure that I bring people together on this, so Australians can have confidence we're dealing with climate change, that we care deeply about their concerns about what the change means for them.

RILEY: OK. Being here. It's pretty open, people are going about their lives reasonably normally. Must be encouraging, this is what life is like beyond lockdown. There's no lockdown here. Is this what Australians can look forward to?

PRIME MINISTER: I think so and more, actually, because Australia will go into living with the virus when we hit those 70 and 80 per cent vaccination rates. Even though I know we've had those high case numbers in Sydney and Melbourne - compared to here, I mean, sadly, here in the United States, more lives have been lost in one day than we have had over our entire experience on the pandemic. When I say that here in the United States, people can barely believe it. And so we've been very successful saving lives, but we've also got to give people their lives back. And I think that's what Australians want. We have that arrangement with them, get yourself vaccinated and we can ensure that Australia can go forward and not be held back by the strong controls we've had to live with. But they've got a used by date on them.

RILEY: So on that, this is the second Christmas we're going into, where you've promised that Australian families would be together. It seems like the Premier of Queensland and Western Australia might have different plans.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, once you get to 80 per cent of your population that's vaccinated, well, it's very clear. I can't see any reason why Australians should be kept from each other. And so that puts a heavy, heavy responsibility on those who would seek to prevent that from happening. The federal government can do what it can do. We've been getting people vaccinated, you know, by the middle of next month and perhaps earlier, we will have ensured there is enough vaccines that everybody who wanted to have it, can have it. Now, it'll still keep rising over October and November. But, you know, you get to that point. If you've chosen not to get vaccinated, that's your choice. That's fair enough. But should that choice hold back the rest of the country from going forward engaging with those who are overseas, family members that are in India and other places who just want to come home?

RILEY: Those people who are not vaccinated once we open up, you're on your own?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, once we get to 80 per cent and the fact is that everybody has had the chance to get vaccinated by that point. Well, you know, we each have a personal responsibility for looking after our own health. And so it's important that we do move forward. We can't stay in second gear. We've got to get to top gear in living with the virus. And that's where we need to be. We've done remarkably well with our economy through the pandemic and saving people's lives. But we must go into the next chapter.

RILEY: But if we're in any gear and we can't go across the border into Queensland and see our family, what's the point?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think that puts the big challenge on the premiers. I mean, they've had the power to do what they've been doing. They're not new powers. They've always had them. But there comes a time when you've got to honour the arrangement you've made with the Australian people, and that is when you get to 80 per cent vaccination, it's very clear that you can start opening up. It means, it's not carte blanche. Of course, there are sensible, common sense things we'll still need to do to live with the virus, just like people are here. There's not no controls. Of course, there is common sense things that we will do, there'll be the QR code log ins and all that sort of stuff, wearing masks perhaps occasionally in particular settings. But, you know, comes a time when you just got to move on and get on with it.

RILEY: So what's your message to Premiers Palaszczuk and to Premier McGowan? Is it just let people open up, open your borders and let families reunite?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, my message is more to Australians that what I'd like them to have for Christmas is their lives back. And that's within the gift of governments. And that's a gift I'd like to see us give them.

RILEY: Prime Minister, thanks for your time.