Interview with Neil Breen, 4BC

22 Jan 2021
Prime Minister

Neil Breen: The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, he joins me now. Good morning, Prime Minister.

Prime Minister: G’day Neil.

Breen: You're still in Queensland?

Prime Minister: Yeah, here in Brisbane today we’ve got National Cabinet here today and doing a few other things around Brisbane, catching up with the Premier as well after the meeting. So, yes, but it's been out, throughout Queensland over the last week, way out west, up north, and here we are in Brisbane today.

Breen: Prime Minister, I could tell from your trip around regional Queensland that over the last few days you've learnt the appetite is very small in regional Queensland for international travellers to go to mining camps to do their quarantine period?

Prime Minister: Well, I was listening to people up in Gladstone the other night, including the Labor Mayor up there. And look, I haven't seen the proposal yet, so it's a bit hard to be for or against something I haven't seen. But, you know, I'm just reflecting the concerns and the issues that were raised by the Mayor up there and many others, and Ken O’Dowd. And I think, one of the things I think needs to be worked through is that in Gladstone in particularly there’s about to go through a very significant period of maintenance in a lot of these facilities. So there'll be a lot of people coming in. And one of the reasons I think Australia and Queensland in particular has been successful through COVID economically is these big heavy industries, our mining industry, the gas industries. All of these things have been able to continue to operate and produce. Now we've got to be careful that you know how we manage the health issues around COVID that we don’t put those sorts of things at risk as well. So I'm just simply saying, look, there's a lot of questions over this. I mean, the issues been flagged in the media by the Government. We’ll look forward to seeing an actual proposal, it’s their proposal it’s not the Federal Government’s, and there are a lot of concerns being expressed up there. That's all I've said.

Breen: I think one of the issues the Government and Yvette D'Ath the health minister was just on my show and she said she was disappointed in your comments, saying that it's not a Brisbane problem, it's an Australia wide problem. But then again, Queensland as a state hasn't taken anywhere near as many international travellers as say New South Wales has?

Prime Minister: Well, they’re taking about third. But it wasn't me saying that, it was people in Gladstone saying that, so I mean,

Breen: Yes, well all they all voted for the Labor Party in droves at the last election because of the border policies, people in regional Queensland.

Prime Minister: Yeah they did so look, these are views that have been relayed to me by people in regional Queensland. And I'm simply saying if the Queensland Government if wants to proceed with this well, they're going to have to address those issues up there with the local community and I think that's important. I mean, we've addressed many of these issues, the Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner, addressed these issues up in Howard Springs but that's a different situation, again, because it's close to Darwin, a much bigger hospital, all of those issues but they were all worked through. But that's the job ahead, this is a Queensland proposal. This isn't a federal proposal, its a Queensland proposal. And I think that the locals have set out I think, some pretty fair questions that they need to have addressed.

Breen: Prime Minister, one area where everyone's going to really cooperate is the rollout of the vaccine the Pfizer vaccine could go we've heard a date of February 15 today. Are we looking at mid February for the Pfizer vaccine to roll out to the elderly and front line workers?

Prime Minister: Well, no we haven't announced any date. You know, we've talked about getting things done in mid to late February. These things you know are very conditional upon the supply arrangements coming out of Pfizer in particular. As you know though, we took the decision to manufacture the AstraZeneca vaccine here in Australia so we'd be less hostage to those international supply arrangements. So that is very dependent on those arrangements. And I know there's a lot of pressure on that group at the moment. I was speaking to a lot of European leaders at the start of this week, and there's been some pressure on the supplies there. So look, we've just got to work with that. But the vaccine strategy and the priorities and the training that needs to be put in place, the distribution system and all of this, that's all being actioned now and getting ready. The TGA has now ensured that they've got about this job, that’s the Therapeutic Goods Administration, that Professor Skerritt who runs that, he gives the ultimate tick off on these things. And if he gives it the tick then I’ll get the jab. I mean, that that works. But, you know, they've got to do all the work and they're proceeding well. They're not cutting any corners. And as we've seen from overseas, that's a very important job. You don’t rush this, and don't delay it. We haven’t delayed it. We’ve just worked quickly, and I think people can have great confidence that if Professor Skerritt and the TGA gives it the tick, then I think we can all get the jab.

Breen: So being my age, you and I we’re in the second group, we're not in the elderly, we're not a frontline worker. But it's important for the Prime Minister to set an example. Will you be one of the first to get it to show Australians your belief in its safety?

Prime Minister: Of course, I said that a fortnight ago and the Health Minister will do the same, and I'm sure the Leader of the Opposition will too. There'll be an opportunity for that as will, premiers. And I think that's a good idea. I mean, that's not  jumping the queue or anything like that. I mean, that's a pretty standard thing that leaders have done around the world.

Breen: It’s not jumping the queue, it's important.

Prime Minister: It is important for public confidence. There'll be a communications campaign as well to inform people about the vaccine and what it is and there'll be information available. I think that's very important. And that's, you know I think I mean, Australia has a very good reputation and history of having high levels of vaccination, they are not mandatory. But Australians sort of make sensible judgements about this. And I trust their judgement. And I know that they put a lot of faith in the work done by Professor Skerritt and the TGA to keep them safe.

Breen: Reading all of your language this week on different topics. You were sympathetic towards continuing JobKeeper for tourism, not so sympathetic for hospitality. Are we going to get targeted JobKeeper after March?

Prime Minister: Well, I don't know that that’s how I’d summarise what I've said. What I've simply said is that Australian taxpayers can't underwrite the Australian economy forever. And JobKeeper JobSeeker, all those big programs that we introduced back in, last year in the early part of last year they did an incredibly important job. But we were pretty clear upfront that that was not something that could be sustained forever. Now, so JobKeeper and JobSeeKer, they've been winding back now. They've gone through two changes already. And at the same time, we've seen more people get jobs. We've seen people come off JobKeeper. Over 2 million people came off it at the end of September. We saw 50,000 jobs created in December and most of those are for women actually and permanent jobs as well. So the Australian economy is getting back on its feet, but it has to get back on its own feet. But we've got other programs that are running whether it’s the the loss carry back on tax for businesses which frees up cash for them to support their employees or with the tax cuts that are already in place and legislated. There's the job hiring credit particularly for young people where we're still working to get that younger unemployment rate down. All of these programs, the HomeBuilder program I mean that has been a cracking-

Breen: That was a booming program.

Prime Minister: Exactly. That created jobs, too. So we've got to look out over this year.

Breen: Yeah.

Prime Minister: I said at the start, we can't just make the Australian economy like it was before, COVID with taxpayers money forever. You just can't do that. And we've got to be realistic about that. We've got to make the adjustments we need to make in our economy so we can be sustainable for the future. It's not free money, and while we've had to commit it, importantly and I think in a targeted, and proportionate way that's not something I think Australians understand can be done forever. We've been sensitive to particular groups, but we've also been mindful of the need to do the right thing more broadly.

Breen: Prime Minister, I know you’re busy, I’ve got to let you go, just before I do, the new President, Joe Biden. Now that he's President, when will you get, face to face meetings are pretty tough these days, but when will Australia yourself, as our Prime Minister interact with him?

Prime Minister: Well, look, I think I don't think that will be too far away. I mean, soon after the election, I mean, we were in the first group of countries that were contacted by the then President elect and so, you know we'd expect to be in contact. We've already been engaging, in these, particularly these last 24 hours, as you have to wait for that formal call to take place. They’d be very aware of Australia's importance, the United States, and the relationship, and that said it's an alliance of mates. It's been going on for a long time, but under all sorts of Presidents and Prime Ministers. And it's gone from strength to strength. I'm looking forward to working with him. He’s a person of extraordinary experience in US politics he knows the world well, knows this part of the world well and there's lots for us to do.

Breen: Prime Minister Scott Morrison, thanks for being our special guest on 4BC Breakfast. Glad you enjoyed your time in Queensland, good luck at National Cabinet today.

Prime Minister: Just before I go Neil, can I just say going into National Cabinet meeting, I mean, I'm not expecting too much there today. I mean, this meeting was set up today, you know a fortnight ago we were going into that lockdown in Brisbane.

Breen: Yeah.

Prime Minister: And I commend the Government for how they handled that. But I really want to thank people of Brisbane, the way they responded to that you know, fair minded. They got it. You know, the masks came off, I think that last night,

Breen: This morning at 1:00 AM.

Prime Minister: This morning or something. And, you know I just want to thank them. I mean, they just responded to it really well. And we've avoided a third wave, you know, by doing that here in Brisbane and elsewhere. So thank you, Brisbane.

Breen: Thank you. Thanks for coming to Queensland to what could be an election year. Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Prime Minister: 2022’s the election year, that’s when it’s due, too much to do this year. This year is about jobs, and that’s where my focus is.

Breen: and the vaccine.

Prime Minister: And the vaccine, [inaudible] jobs. Good on you mate.