Interview with Neil Breen, 4BC

12 May 2021
Prime Minister

Neil Breen: Good morning to you, Prime Minister.

Prime Minister: G’day, Neil.

Breen: I heard you’re stuck in Parliament House because Extinction Rebellion is hanging around again, those pests.

Prime Minister: No, mate, we're just hard at work here. There’s a pile of interviews we’re doing today, and I don't know what they're up to. I’m not really fussed, frankly. We've got a pandemic to fight, and that's what the Budget’s about. It's about securing Australia's economic recovery in the face of this pandemic. That's the only opposition I'm interested in.

Breen: Now, this morning I've spoken to the Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick, who was quite strong and vehement and was going off his head saying that Queensland's been ripped off. Have we been ripped off in Queensland by this Budget?

Prime Minister: No, that's rubbish. Look, I've seen this quite a bit now. They just sort of go into the political jibes and the language and all this sort of thing, and I've got no time for that because the facts are this - that under this Budget, Queenslanders will receive a higher share of infrastructure funding than actually per head of population. So it's 20.7 per cent of the Commonwealth's investment in infrastructure over the next decade is in Queensland. The share of population over the same point of time is 20.2 per cent. So, look, his facts aren't right. But really, that's not the point. The time for all of this politicking and grandstanding and carrying on and name calling that we keep seeing from the Queensland Government, it frankly is quite juvenile and we've got a pandemic to fight here. So I'm not interested in those juvenile and undergraduate games. I'm interested in continuing to fund important works. And remember, this comes on top, this comes on top of what we've already said in going 50-50 with a fair dinkum partnership to deliver an Olympics for south east Queensland. So, you know, we're stepping up here and I would just prefer to just engage, work together, rather than going on with this endless squabbling.

Breen: And there's been $5.8 billion, we've read today, has been set aside or is available if we're successful for the Olympics. Is that number correct?

Prime Minister: Well look, as we said, this is a 50-50 partnership. So, all projects, there’s scoping, there’s planning, how they'll be delivered, the contracting and all of these things will be done on a shared basis. So that's the situation. That's the set up we will put in place to make those decisions. It will be a joint partnership. It won't be one side of one government telling the other what, how it will work. It will be done together and it will be done in a disciplined and responsible way.

Breen: Prime Minister, $161 billion. That's the deficit this year. It's a lot better than the predicted $213 billion from last October. But the number that stands out to me is 2032 is the next time we can expect to see a surplus. It's a long time away, to think that we're going to be in deficit for another decade or more.

Prime Minister: Well, it's because we're dealing with a pandemic, which economically is 30 times worse than the global financial crisis. You know, I think we have to just take stock here for a second. This is a pandemic Budget. These are not usual times. We've been facing the biggest economic challenge in 75 years, and that has required the Government to step up and do what we've done. Our economic recovery plan and response has, there’s been over $300 billion. Now, that's more than all the states and territories combined in their responses, double it, and go further, and that's where the Commonwealth Government has stepped up to support Australians, whether in Queensland or anywhere else around the country, to protect those jobs, to protect those livelihoods, and to protect their health, to protect their health. I mean the underwriting that we have put in place to ensure that the actions of the Queensland Government have been able to be done without impacting on the economy, as they might have otherwise done so severely. That has ensured Queenslanders have stayed in jobs. So we'll keep working together with the Queensland Government. I’ve got a mature relationship with the Queensland Premier, and I'll continue working with Annastacia Palaszczuk to ensure that we can deliver for the health and jobs of Queenslanders. And we've got a strong investment plan there in Queensland on projects right across the state, from the north to the south. I was only up in north Queensland, central Queensland, last week. In particular, right up there in the north, what we've done for the reinsurance pool, ensured that there’ll be affordable insurance premiums in northern Queensland. The responses to drought, the resilience agency to deal with cyclones and floods. And then you come down to the tax cuts for low and middle income families to ensure that they can continue to make the decisions that they need to make to get them and their families through. Incentives for manufacturing, for small businesses, lower taxes, this is what will get us through. It's a Budget, it is a plan to secure a recovery that you cannot take for granted, and we're very focussed on fighting this pandemic and keeping Australians in jobs.

Breen: Two other things that stood out for me. One, the push to get the unemployment rate down. And you talked about a lot of those things just now - incentives for business - but a lot of traineeships and things that are going on.

Prime Minister: Yep.

Breen: Five per cent, then down to 4.5 per cent unemployment. That is a low figure. That's a, that's a bullish number.

Prime Minister: Well, it's a bold goal, and that's what we have to do. That's what our plan has to seek to achieve, because the more people we get in work, that’s fewer people on welfare, and the more people you have in work, that means you’ve got more people who are making the contribution rather than having to take one. And that's how you balance the Budget. That's how we actually got the Budget back in balance before the pandemic hit. We got people into jobs, record levels of employment before the pandemic. And now, as we're still fighting this pandemic, we've got employment levels back to above where they were. We have 13 million people who were employed before the pandemic really hit us back in March of last year. Then 900,000 Australians lost their jobs. We thought it would have been far worse. We ended up having three million Australians and more supported by JobKeeper. Now, today, there are 13.1 million Australians in work. We’re the only advanced developed economy in the world, pretty much, that can actually say that at the moment. And so that's, that's something we can't let go. It's something we can't put at risk. And that's why the Government has continued to do what works, to go even further in this Budget to secure this recovery.

Breen: It’s a very generous budget to vulnerable Australians. Obviously, there's the special women's addendum, but then there's the extra funding for the NDIS, funding for veterans affairs. It's been something the Government's been conscious of here.

Prime Minister: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you've got to guarantee the essential services Australians rely on. That is the task at every Budget. And we've got some big demands in this Budget that we've had to meet - aged care significantly, the mental health of Australians. This is big change in mental health, and we all know how successful headspace has been to support young Australians. This programme ensures that we have an extension of that, called Head to Health, which is providing those same sorts of mental health support for Australians aged over 24, and to young children as well. So this is real game changing investment in services to improve the mental health of all Australians. And that's just not a health issue, it will grow our economy for years. As Treasurer, they used to say to me quite clearly, the Productivity Commission, if you want to boost productivity in this country so Australians can earn more, you’ve got to invest in mental health. We've doubled our investment in mental health.

Breen: There's some predictions in the Budget. The national border could reopen in the middle of 2022, later in 2022. That's a debate that could be had later. But Australians will be fully vaccinated by the end of this year. Would it help if Queensland put a mass vaccination hub or two online? Would that help with that goal?

Prime Minister: Well, we'll see where we get to by the end of this year. I mean, these aren't Government commitments. There’s some assumptions that are being made around first doses and things like that. But whether we get there, well, we've got still a lot of work to do. But what I'm pleased about is that, you know, we're getting through this task. From next Monday, those over 50 could go to their GP and they can get their vaccination. We’ll soon hit three million people having been vaccinated in Australia. More than 10 percent of the eligible adult population has already been vaccinated, around a  third of those aged over 70. And so the states, you know, over this last month and a bit, we've been working together, as I pulled the National Cabinet back together, to that operational footing. We put those new plans in place. We brought forward the vaccination programme. States are doing more and, and I believe Queensland will do more as well. This is a task we all have to get through. But I’ve got to tell you, the thing that'll actually impact more on this Budget and our economic recovery. We do need to keep those international borders shut and it'll be a step by step gradual process of getting people back into this country over time. But we cannot allow COVID to get back into this country, because once it's in, you can't get it out. And the strains that are coming through, the new strains, the pandemic is more severe and ravaging today than it was a year ago. So we do need to keep those protections on our borders in place, but we need to keep Australia open within those borders. That's what keeps jobs in place, particularly in Queensland in the travel and the tourism sector. So we need to keep working together to ensure we keep Australia as open internally as we possibly can.

Breen: Prime Minister Scott Morrison, thanks for your time this morning on 4BC Breakfast.

Prime Minister: Thanks a lot, Breeny. Cheers mate.