Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW

12 Nov 2021
Prime Minister

NEIL MITCHELL: Prime Minister Scott Morrison, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning Neil, and I'm looking forward to being at Bert's funeral as well today and joining everyone else here in Melbourne at what is a really important event, I think, for Australians. And our hearts go out to Patty and the whole family today.

MITCHELL: Yeah, I was going to ask you, as a man who grew up in New South Wales, what was your impression? What did you know about Bert Newton?

PRIME MINISTER: The Don Lane Show, when I was a kid, when I would convince my parents to let me stay up late to watch. And it was always Bert you wanted to watch because he was just so funny and he was just so easy. And as I said when he passed, he was welcomed into our living rooms at a time when, you know, there was no streaming or watching that, it was on at 9:30. And it was that sort of thing and the family would come together and he was there with us. And they're my memories.

MITCHELL: Other business, the pandemic legislation in Victoria has caused uproar. The legal profession seems united. I mean, the claims are it could lead to government by decree. People could be detained indefinitely without charge, without right of appeal to a court. Would you try to block it?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let me make this point first. I mean, today, Australia has gone past 90 per cent, those figures have just come in this morning, over 90 per cent first dose vaccinations. In Victoria there's actually 92.6 and over 86 per cent second doses. So Australians, and particularly here in Victoria, have been keeping their side of the deal when it comes to the National Plan, which is all about opening up and for governments to be getting out of the lives of Australians. That's the direction we need to be heading in. So look I really understand why Victorians, who have gone through the worst of the pandemic, the pandemic has had its biggest blows here in Victoria and particularly in Melbourne, and at a time when everybody's now opening up and moving ahead, I can understand their frustration of, you know, where governments may be seeking to have more involvement in their lives. So at a Federal Government, at a Commonwealth Government, we're heading in the opposite direction. We're about opening up and giving people back what they've, what is theirs. And they've kept their side of the deal to ensure that they have that.

MITCHELL: So, can you do anything to dissuade or stop this undemocratic approach in Victoria?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is entirely a matter for the Victorian parliament. That's the nature of our Federation.

MITCHELL: Your Assistant Attorney General, Amanda Stoker said that you could have a look at Section 51 of the Constitution and you might be able to take action.

PRIME MINISTER: That's not my advice. My advice ...

MITCHELL: You can't do anything.

PRIME MINISTER: This is a matter for the Victorian parliament and the Victorian Government. And you know, that's the thing about the Federation. We're all responsible for the things we're responsible for and we're accountable for them. And so, you know, we take our policies to the election. I'm accountable for the decisions that we make and what we put into our parliament. And the same is true for every single Premier and Chief Minister in the country. So we've all got to be accountable for what we're doing, and the public make up their mind.

MITCHELL: Do you agree this legislation is deeply scary and undemocratic?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, as I said, I mean, we're going the opposite direction.

MITCHELL: No, I know, but what do you think of this legislation?

PRIME MINISTER: [Inaudible] trying to free up. So, you know, this is something for the Victorian people to determine and for the Victorian Government to determine. What I'm saying is that Australians have had enough of governments telling them what to do.

MITCHELL: [Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: That has been necessary for a couple of years Neil in restrictions that have been in place and we've saved over 30,000 lives, but we're coming out of that now.

MITCHELL: But surely as Prime Minister, as Prime Minister, you are really well entitled to have a view on it? Senator Stoker says deeply scary and undemocratic. Do you share those concerns?

PRIME MINISTER: I have concerns that governments are continuing to want to be involved more and more in people's lives, that's what I'm concerned about.

MITCHELL: What about this legislation, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, I'm always respectful of the Federation, Neil. I am respectful. I don't give lectures to other governments about what they should be doing.

MITCHELL: Josh Frydenberg has given a few over the years, there's been a few through this pandemic.

PRIME MINISTER: As Prime Minister, I respect the Federation. I work with all the Premiers and Chief Ministers, but the clear message about it is this – your call, your responsibility. And don't expect the Federal Government to go and argue your case when it's not a policy that we have.

MITCHELL: But would you argue the case of the people here? Because the people, I would argue, are furious about it. We know you're getting on better with Daniel Andrews, wouldn't you just raise it?

PRIME MINISTER: I think I've set out my principles pretty clearly, Neil. I've been doing it all week. I don't think government should be seeking to get more involved in people's lives.

MITCHELL: But you're not willing to criticise this legislation. You're not willing to criticise this legislation.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm not a Victorian, one, and I'm not in the Victorian Parliament and I'm not the Victorian Premier, and I'm not the Victorian Leader of the Opposition. They should all do their jobs and I'm going to keep doing mine. But my principle is very clear here. I put the National Plan in place to get Victoria to open up. And we're opening up now, which I think is fantastic. We set the benchmarks of vaccination, they're being achieved, Victoria is opening up. And frankly, I think you should be getting on with it, not seeking to put more controls on people.

MITCHELL: There's inconsistency there. You won't criticise or be involved in Victoria, but you took direct action against the Belt and Road deal we were signing with China. You were willing to get involved in Victorian politics there and stop it.

PRIME MINISTER: No, I was willing to get involved in federal politics because that was a federal issue. The government was responsible for foreign relations and that was in direct constitution to what we believe was the constitutional authority of the Federal Government. And so we stood up for what the Federal Government had actual responsibility for. So I think it's quite different.

MITCHELL: So those vaccination figures, you've just got those have you? 90 per cent first dose.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, over 90 per cent first dose, which is great news and that's an extraordinary, we're going to have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. That goes with having one of the best records in the world on saving lives, 30,000 lives, well over that have been saved in our country throughout the course of the pandemic, lowest fatality rates. And we've got one of the strongest developed economies who have been coming through the pandemic, from the pandemic recession. So those three things together, those three things together, I think, show an extraordinary performance by Australians through the pandemic. We've obviously been very pleased to take that lead role in achieving these outcomes, but it's been the Australian people who've endured some of the toughest times that they've ever known in their lives and no one has going through more than the Victorian people on that.

MITCHELL: When will the other states, sorry, Queensland and WA come into, you must be concerned that the virus is going to get in there and cause havoc because of their low vaccination rate.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, their vaccination rates to be fair, I mean, Queensland has just gone past the 80 per cent first dose mark yesterday, Western Australia we're there, South Australia is already above that. We're expecting to see the balance of those states to get 80 per cent before the end of the year. And that's the mark that the Doherty Institute has made very clear in their regular advice to the National Cabinet, to all the Premiers and Chief Ministers that that's the mark you need to achieve to be able to open safely and then stay safely open. So that's what the science says. It's also what the economics says, that once you get above 80 per cent that if you have to have restrictions beyond that point, then you're actually doing more harm to your economy than good.

MITCHELL: Prime Minister, we're talking to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, you ever told a lie in public life?

PRIME MINISTER: I don't believe I have, no.

MITCHELL: How does it feel when a former mate, Malcolm Turnbull calls you a serial liar?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, in politics people take sledges, sadly, all the time, Neil. Anyone in public life...

MITCHELL: But he's a mate, he was a friend and he's saying you have always been a liar? That must hurt.

PRIME MINISTER: Look, Neil, I've learnt in public life over a long period of time to not have a thin skin and to not get bitter, to just stay focussed on the job. You'll get slings and arrows from everywhere. You'll get, there'll be politics, you'll get them from the media, you'll get them from time to time. And if you haven't got the thick skin to deal with that, you're in the wrong job. And it's not something that distracts me. I tend not to take things personally. I think that's a good practice if you want to be in public life. Just stay focussed on the job and don't get distracted by the sledges.

MITCHELL: So have you spoken to him?


MITCHELL: Don't want to?


MITCHELL: You've got a former Prime Minister of Australia, you've got the French President both calling you a liar. And it doesn't worry you? Even politically? I mean, personally...

PRIME MINISTER: No, because I'm making the right decisions, Neil. I'm making the decision to protect Australia's national defence interests, to ensure that we got rid of and didn't proceed with a contract which wasn't going to do the right thing for Australia. I wasn't intimidated by the fact that might upset some people and ruffle some feathers. And I knew it was the right decision for Australia to work with the United States and the United Kingdom to get access to technology that only one other country has received since 1958 and to ensure that Australia had access to that. And so I was prepared to make the decisions that I had no doubt was going to draw some flak and people would disagree with it. And if you don't have the strength to do that, if you don't have the strength to deal with the sledges and other things that come your way, well you shouldn't be in this job. And I certainly, I think, got a pretty good track record of being able to cop what comes and to be able to keep focussed on the job and get things done and stand up for what I think's right.

MITCHELL: Well do you want Malcolm Turnbull out of the Liberal Party?

PRIME MINISTER: That's not a judgement for me, it's a matter for the Liberal Party and I don't see the need for that. I mean, if others do, that's fine, but it's just not something I think about, Neil. Why would I spend a second worrying about ...

MITCHELL: Well because Malcolm Turnbull has written, Malcolm Turnbull has written the Labor Party campaign strategy for the next election. All they do is here's your saying he's a liar. A serial liar. There's their advertising campaign, you must have to worry about that.

PRIME MINISTER: Neil, we've spent more time in this interview talking about it than I've spent time actually even thinking about it.

MITCHELL: Well, let's get onto something else. The US inflation figures, highest in 31 years. The US interest rates will have to go up. This has to affect Australia now, whether the Reserve moves interest rates or not, the banks will. We have to see increased interest rates in this country, do we not?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what I would say is it does highlight that we're moving into a different economic phase and the economic uncertainty that is going to come with the post-pandemic period is very real. Now what's going on in the United States is different to what's going on here. Our Reserve Bank Governor, I think, has also made that very clear. So I don't think it is a direct knock on or a direct follow on here.

But it is right to say that, and I made this point earlier this week in my speech to the Victorian Chamber of Commerce, that the changes of what's happening in the global economy means an environment in which economic management of Australia is going to be more important than ever. I mean, we've done extremely well through the pandemic to get to where we are. Next month's jobs figures, I think will look very different. I mean, the last most recent ones that came out yesterday, that was still at a time when both Victoria and New South Wales were still in heavy lockdowns. So obviously we'll see that turn around and the more recent data is demonstrating that. But you are right to say that, of course, there is uncertainty ahead when it comes to the global economy and what we're seeing with inflation and supply chain pressures and, you know, there are labour shortages now in Australia and that will put pressure on. So economic management will be more important than ever and the choices we make about that. And that's why we're for a business led growth economy, not governments being at the centre. And that's what our plans are about.

MITCHELL: But are you saying here though, the average person having just been through a couple of years of pandemic is looking at a tough economic few years?

PRIME MINISTER: Challenges are what I'd more say, Neil. I think there are great economic opportunities, too, in the years ahead. I think Australia is well positioned at a whole range of new sectors. I mean, today, making further announcements about our manufacturing plants. I mean, we've got a million people back in manufacturing jobs now. Under Labor, one in eight manufacturing jobs went. We've got those jobs back and we're growing our manufacturing sector. We've got over $30 million further investments we're making, announcing today in the food and beverage manufacturing sector, which is our biggest manufacturing employment sector. I'm catching up with the Premier later today to talk about medical manufacturing in particular here in Victoria. And that's an area which I think Victoria, and Melbourne in particular, has a real strong advantage in. We'll be talking about infrastructure and a few other things as well. But what's important is getting people into jobs and having certainty of employment, and our government has a very strong track record when it comes to getting Australians in jobs and off welfare.

MITCHELL: Well, the election is next year. You're not going any earlier, correct? It will be next year?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, I've been saying that for a year.

MITCHELL: Yeah, no, so you'll decide, what, sometime January when you're going to call it?

PRIME MINISTER: We'll decide next year.

MITCHELL: Okay. Do you believe you'll start the underdog, will you start from behind?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think that's where we are now, I think that's true. I mean, that's not uncommon for incumbent government, on more than one occasion that's been the case. And, you know, as we get closer to that time, I think people will start to frame their decision. And the point I'm making is simply this. How we secure Australia's economic recovery is the big challenge now. We've come through this pandemic. It's not over yet, but we've come through this pandemic with one of the lowest fatality rates, strongest economies and highest vaccination rates in the world, and now we've got to embrace this economic recovery. And that means shifting from the pandemic mindset where you get government at the centre telling everybody what to do. We need businesses to lead our economic growth, not governments. Governments need to support it. So whether that's investments we're making in clean energy technology or manufacturing or skills training or the digital economy. We're doing all of this as part of our economic plan. But it's also important that we get these regulations which will impede investment, and that'll enable businesses now to move ahead. That's what's going to drive our growth, not governments telling people what to do.

MITCHELL: That's going to win it for you, not climate change?

PRIME MINISTER: Well climate change, we've got, you know, a very significant commitment we've made. And I think that sets that out in terms of our, the actions we're taking there, but the way we're going to ... sorry Neil.

MITCHELL: What's going to win it for you? People driving to work now, and a lot of people are driving, what's going to convince them to vote for you? What is your winning strategy? Is it climate change? Is it more car parks, more pork barrelling? What is it?

PRIME MINISTER: I answered your question a second ago. Securing Australia's economic recovery. That is the major challenge Australians face and Australia faces coming out of this pandemic. Your job, your business, how much you're paying on your household bills, on your electricity costs, because our approach to dealing with climate change isn't about putting the cost up of your petrol or your electricity. It's about putting down the costs of the choices you want to make when it might come to other forms of things that you want to buy, what sort of car you want to buy, or whatever.

But we're not about forcing people's choices. We're about giving people their choices and not having governments tell them what to do. That is really the big difference we've seen between Labor and I think Liberals and Nationals over the course of the last couple of years. I mean, the things that have had to happen over the last couple of years, these are not things that Liberals and Nationals have, you know, instinctively moved towards. And that's why we will move as quickly away from them as we possibly can when it comes to government trying to control people's lives. It's just not what we do. And we want to get back in this country to where governments support people rather than try and control them.

MITCHELL: You mentioned discussions on medical manufacturing, is that the mRNA facility?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, we'll have a discussion about that today. I mean, there's a lot of interest in that around the country. And so I'm looking forward to the conversation with Dan about that this evening.

MITCHELL: You going to have a holiday through Christmas?

PRIME MINISTER: I will. Yes, we will take a few days. Jenny and I and the girls are looking forward to that in January and we'll just be not far away out of Sydney

MITCHELL: And have a think then about an election?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we're always thinking about the best plans for Australia, Neil, all the time. That's my 24/7 job, whatever time of the year.

MITCHELL: Just one other thing I was going to ask you, looking at the US inflation figures, fuel prices are a big part of it. Do you think $2 a litre fuel is inevitable in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: No, not necessarily. No, I don't think so. And I don't, see I don't take a view that almost anything is inevitable, Neil, and that's why economic choices that you make over energy policy is important. I mean, we were talking this week about fuel standards. Now the last election, and it's still Labor's policy, they want to have a fuel policy which actually puts up the price of fuel to try and force people to make other choices about what cars they're going to buy. Now, I think that's a good illustration of the difference between Liberals and Nationals and Labor. They want to put prices up on people to force them to make other choices. We want to grow the economy and let business run it and so Australians can make their own choices. That's what freedom is about.

MITCHELL: Thanks so much for your time. It's started, hasn't it, the election campaign.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, some people say it never ends. You know, that's the good thing about Australia. We're a liberal democracy and we love working with other liberal democracies. I particularly welcome the comments by the National Security Adviser in the United States, overnight. I think that's tremendous. Our AUKUS partnership is a strong and solid one. We work closely together with our like-minded partners here to deal and ensure we have a free and open Indo-Pacific. We're not double minded about that as Liberals and Nationals, the coalition government. We don't have an each way bet on those things. When it comes to national security, just like on the economy, I think Australians know that we've got the strength to continue to make the right decisions in both cases.

MITCHELL: Thank you so much for your time again, thank you.