Interview with Michael Bailey, 4RO

04 May 2021
Prime Minister

Michael Bailey: You're at Beef Week! Mate, do you like the camper chair?

PRIME MINISTER: I do, I do. I think I might switch my chair arrangements back in the office. This one's pretty good, put this one in the corner. A chill chair.

Bailey: That is fantastic. Now I believe you went to a big function last night - at beef?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, well Beef Week here, it's just great to see a celebration of the industry and what they've achieved, particularly over this last 18 months, which has been very tough right across, particularly right across Queensland, but right across the country. And to see people honoured there for their contributions to the industry and to be part of that and for me to be able to say thank you to the livestock industry, the beef industry, for what they've done for the country over this last 18 months, in particular, I was very pleased to be able to do that. They've kept the country going.

Bailey: Now, what about the biosecurity announcement? This is really big news.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it is. I mean, when people think about border security, they often think about programs on television or stopping boats and doing things like that. And of course, that's all part of it. But a huge part of border security is, of course, the protection against pests and viruses and diseases that can wipe out our agricultural producers. In next week's Budget, we’ll have $370 million going into strengthening that ring of containment for our biosecurity. And that's everything from 3D X-ray scanners, pre-screening, additional research preparedness between state and federal governments, it's a very big package of measures which David Littleproud, the Ag Minister, has brought together. We know that you need a strong platform of biosecurity to ensure the future of agricultural exporters and there is targeted money in there for things like African swine flu and combating that. Those producers will know the risks of that very much, particularly up here in Queensland.

Bailey: It’s a wild world out there.

PRIME MINISTER: It is. And so I just want to reassure everybody in our agricultural communities that when I think about border protection, I think as much about pests and weeds and viruses and these sorts of things as I do about the many other important other national security issues. And so it's an important package to underwrite our future export performance and the jobs and livelihoods of Australians right across our producing communities.

Bailey: The Budget that's coming down is going to be kind to us?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think I've just indicated one area in particular where it's being kind, but it's not about being kind, it's a wise investment. The agricultural industries of Australia, like the resource industries of Australia, I know there will be many listening to this broadcast who work in our resources industry, our combined regional Australia has been carrying Australia through the last 18 months as our cities have been locked up and locked down. It's been those in regional Australia have been going out there, going to work, finding the markets, putting the innovation in place, working through the challenges of a COVID economy. We had over $600 million, or thereabouts, in our international freight assistance package, which has ensured that regional Australia has remained connected up to international markets. Michael McCormack, the Deputy Prime Minister, put that in place and that's been supporting our producers all through the pandemic and will continue to.

Bailey: I believe our Deputy Prime Minister will be in Gladstone today?

PRIME MINISTER: The Big Mac will be here.

Bailey: Yes.

PRIME MINISTER: That's what I hear, too. I think we'll slightly cross paths, perhaps, but he has been a great champion of keeping Australia as open as we can, particularly in the transport sector. Over the past year, we've had borders going up and down. I know the frustrations that's caused for people. But the transport code he was able to negotiate and put in place with the states and territories kept those trucks moving and as simply as they possibly could in what was a very challenging environment. So right across regional Australia, the government has been very focused on ensuring that people could continue to do business, keep producing, keep exporting. And now as we're building on the announcements in last year's Budget, where there was also a big, strong biosecurity effort, and that's been always at the top of David Littleproud's list, my Agriculture Minister, he's doing a great job understanding the priority of the safety of our borders for agriculture.

Bailey: COVID-19 still persists - locking down India. And how are people supposed to survive if they can't fly back? I mean, they've gone over for a reason like, you know, dad's dying or there’s a festival or whatever. They've got X, Y, Z, and all of a sudden, bingo, they can't come in for a month or two.

PRIME MINISTER: It’s for two weeks, it’s until the 15th of May.

Bailey: And that's guaranteed.

PRIME MINISTER: That's when the order is signed to, we will review it before then.

Bailey: I mean, but it could drag on, just for that little bit longer, but we hope not?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I don’t want to presuppose that. But already we're making good progress. What this does, we saw a significant increase, one in eight in our most recent charter flights that came through had the virus. Now, what we're seeing in India is just a terrible humanitarian catastrophe. And what we don't want to see, obviously, is Australia's situation deteriorate. We've done very well to get this far and that means on occasions like this, we have to take temporary decisions which protect the broader Australian community. We don't want a third wave. But we also want to be able to bring back people safely and what this pause does for a couple of weeks is ensures that we can make sure our quarantine facilities are set and ready for that. We’ve got the testing regime in place for when people are getting on flights. See, because the problem is, yes, there's just an explosion of the virus in India. But what we've seen is an increase in the rate of infection of people coming in planes much higher than we saw from other countries.

Bailey: Oh, okay.

PRIME MINISTER: And this is putting a lot of stress on the system. So we've got to just redouble our efforts on the testing for people coming on the planes. And so when those repatriation flights resume, we can get more people coming back safely. And we already have 20,000 people back from India through repatriation flights and facilitated flights. We've been extending that support. I want to keep doing that. But to do that, we need to put this temporary pause in place to ensure that we’re set up to achieve that.

Bailey: Small business and large business? They seem to be pretty happy? The only thing they're moaning about is they can't get staff.

PRIME MINISTER: That is the biggest challenge, I think, right across the country. And I think that's particularly the case in regional Australia, in the Ag sector, in the hospitality sector. We've got real workforce challenges. And a big part of that is because we don't have the backpackers in Australia at the moment. Those who were here at the start are still here and we're looking at constructive ways that we might be able to assist that challenge with the workforce, with those who are already in Australia. I was in Darwin last week. Same problem, same set of challenges. It's more pronounced in northern Australia. But that's not to say it's not a problem even in our major cities at the moment.

Bailey: It’s happening here in Rockhampton, I can tell you now. Look, I've just been given the wind up. Everyone's saying, ‘come on, come on, come on’ - the travelling roadshow.

PRIME MINISTER: I’m comfy in this chair! We should tell them settle in.

Bailey: I know [inaudible]. You can take the chair.

PRIME MINISTER: I can call Beef Week for the day.

Bailey: One final comment from you. Give us some inspiration before I let you go, before the other people, you know, go, ‘come on, come on’.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I've got to say, the best inspiration is what I've seen Australians achieve over the past 18 months. And that was on display last night. So, frankly, I'm gaining inspiration from people I'm meeting here, from what they've done. They're the inspiration. Australians always inspire each other, and no one in this country needs greater inspiration than the Australians standing next to them.

Bailey: Fantastic. Prime Minister, thank you very much for being on 994RO and ScoMo I do believe you're about to join our good friends at Kix FM.


Bailey: Right across the nation, which is absolutely fantastic part of the team and once again, thank you.

PRIME MINISTER: Great to see you. Can I take the chair?

Bailey: Mate, you can take the chair. I'm sure, and will someone please take the chair up to Kix. The Prime Minister is very happy. I think you may need a hand right? Are you right? Okay then cause it's a long way down. Mate, thank you very much. Take it nice and easy.