Interview with Oliver Peterson, 6PR Perth

15 Apr 2021
Prime Minister

OLIVER PETERSON: Australia's Scott Morrison has returned to our state, Prime Minister, welcome to Perth Live and welcome back to WA.

PRIME MINISTER: It's great to be back. I’ve been looking forward to it for some time and great to be able to come here and say thank you to Western Australians for the amazing job that they have done over the past year and more.

OLIVER PETERSON: Some people might have wondered if you've forgotten where the place is because it's five hundred and thirty seven days between visits. You might excuse me for asking this Prime Minister, but where the bloody hell are ya?

PRIME MINISTER: A few people have asked that question in that sort of humorous way, but as people know the last year and a half has been a very big challenge in this country. Before we went into COVID, we were dealing with bushfires on the East Coast and that was going back as far as September and 2019. They came up in Queensland and we moved from that into some important international events up in Thailand as part of our international responsibilities and then through the bushfires. And then we were into COVID, Western Australians needed me to be at the helm. And that helm was in Canberra. And that's where I was. That's where I was very focussed.

OLIVER PETERSON: And we understand all of that. But since you lost here, your state colleagues, they've been decapitated. Prime Minister, you’ve got just two members in that lower house. Why didn't you campaign with the then leader, Zak Kirkup?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, I was just very focussed on the national challenges I had. I mean, those opportunities don't always extend to me. And I was travelling in various parts of the country at the time, which prevented, on some occasions, from being able to still get to Western Australia because of the restrictions that, you know, as Prime Minister, I've got to put that job first and that's where I had my attention focused on. And that's what Western Australians depend on me to do.

OLIVER PETERSON: They do. But now your party doesn't have the same boots on the ground to help you campaign at the federal election. Are you worried with the popularity of Premier Mark McGowan that will be used as a weapon by Anthony Albanese and co. to help defeat you and Labor become the next government of Australia

PRIME MINISTER: The Premier and I, Mark McGowan and I, have a very good working relationship with each other. At the last state election, I think there was a recognition of the strong leadership he's played through October, but he would be the first to know that wasn’t alone. I mean, the Federal Government and our support through JobKeeper and JobSeeker and the cash flow bonus, all of this was almost a billion dollars every month, which was underwriting the actions the State Government were taking, working in concert with them. We did this together. We kept Western Australia safe together. And I think his leadership was recognised there at the last state election. And equally, the Federal Government did more than its fair share there as well. And when you add up everything that all the state governments together combined have invested in Australia over the last year through COVID, double it and add some more. And that's what the Commonwealth Government was doing. We wrote the cheques. We underwrite the economic performance of the state to ensure that the state governments do the important work they were doing as part of the COVID response, it was a team effort.

OLIVER PETERSON: Does it make it harder, though? You've lost your chief liberal in Western Australia, Mathias Cormann. You've had to demote Christian Porter and Linda Reynolds. Does it make your job that little bit harder back here in the West?

PRIME MINISTER: Western Australians, I think, are very sensible. And they understand the importance of a strong economy. They understand the importance of lower taxes. They understand the importance of the national security challenges we face. And they understand that my Government is one that is very focused on those. I mean, today we've seen with the most recent employment figures, finally, there are now more people employed in Western Australia than there were at the start of the COVID outbreak. That's been the case across the country for a month now. And the record economic return that we're seen coming out of this COVID-19 pandemic has been significantly due to the economic policies and supports we put in place. And I think Western Australians understand that, they don't want to pay higher taxes. They don't want to, I think, support policies that would weaken our national security. And not show the strength that is needed in what are very uncertain international times.

OLIVER PETERSON: You talk about those unemployment numbers being down today nationally, 5.6 per cent. The job vacancies, though, they're very high. So there are more jobs available. They may not be the jobs that people necessarily want. How do you convince Australians and West Australians to take them?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think the opportunities are tremendous. I mean, while I've been here, particularly last few days, one of the things I focussed on are the enormous training opportunities. I was over with BHP. I'm now heading up to Fortescue in the Pilbara where we're seeing a lot of opportunities. You're right. The fact that there are job vacancies means that our economy is coming back on again strongly. And that's something I think that's good for all Australians. Now, we've got to get Australians trained for those jobs. And that's why we put, through the course of the COVID pandemic, an extra billion dollars together with the states to get some more than 300,000 training places across the country to get people skilled and ready for those jobs. On top of that, there was an extra 30,000 university places we put in this year to get people with the right skills to fill those jobs into the future. So we're investing in the training and the skills, the apprenticeships. We saw 100,000 apprenticeships put on in the space of just five months because of the work we've done as part of our apprenticeship boosting policies. So training and skills is a key part of getting people into those available jobs, that's what the businesses need and here in Western Australia we're seeing the economy coming back well and that's exactly what our policies were designed to do to keep it going. You've got to keep that investment and skills up. You've got to keep the taxes low. And that's what our Government is doing.

OLIVER PETERSON: It doesn't solve the problem overnight, though. Lots of industries are calling for restrictions on overseas workers to be relaxed. Is it something that you are considering?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we have relaxed the restrictions for those who are already in Australia. And obviously there are restraints in terms of the international borders. And I don't think anyone here in Western Australia, certainly not the Premier, is asking for those international borders to be lifted at this stage. That would be a very unwise decision. But we are still enabling very highly critical skilled workers to be able to come into the country. And that's important for the resources sector here in Western Australia. We've been doing that all through COVID, and I think the resources sector in particular have done an excellent job in keeping those mining operations running. That's been important not just to the Western Australian economy, but to the national economy. It's one of the reasons why I agreed ultimately with the Premier here in Western Australia about how he was running the borders in Western Australia. It was important, particularly during the most difficult phase of the COVID  pandemic, that we kept those mines safe.

OLIVER PETERSON: The WA Government denied the approval for a charter plane to foreign Vanuatu workers landing next month because they say the hotel quarantine system is at capacity. What's the plan, Prime Minister? How long are these restrictions going to be in place? Because we could be in this state of flux for years to come?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's a question to the Premier, because they're the ones who've said no. I mean, what we've got in other states, in Queensland, for example, the Queensland Government put in place an excellent scheme for on-farm quarantine and that's been taken up there. So these models are available and that state governments need to look at those carefully and work with their local industry, I think to deliver those outcomes, they’re responsibilities of the states, we can facilitate those Pacific workers and seasonal workers coming in. But we need the state governments to be able to put in place the health arrangements and support those health arrangements. That will be very practical. Other states are doing it, and I'm sure the Premier would look at those arrangements in a constructive way.

OLIVER PETERSON: On the COVID-19 vaccination, can you clear up with the Health Minister, Greg Hunt, said earlier this week around the jab and our borders? What's the plan, Prime Minister, for the vaccination rollout and getting to a position where people can either leave the country or come into Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, right now, the key thing we're working on, obviously, is vaccinating the most vulnerable parts of our population. Now, what is the case, is that Australia's vaccination programme at this stage of its rollout is on par with countries like Germany. It's better than France, it's better than Sweden. That's better than New Zealand, Canada, Japan, South Korea. So while it's not the same as what you're seeing in the UK and in the United States, they are countries where they are operating in complete emergency crisis mode. And that's not what's happening here in Australia. And so their situation, I think, is very different. So our goal right now, we’re working very steadily towards achieving, is ensuring that we get particularly our most vulnerable vaccinated. Because if there were an outbreak in Australia, like we saw in Victoria, it is the elderly who are the most at risk. And that's where we would see fatalities. And we're doing everything we can to avoid that. But from there, what I'd like to see happen next, and this is what I've tasked the medical experts with, is ensuring that we can know when an Australian is vaccinated here with their two doses, is able to travel overseas and return without having to go through hotel quarantine. Now, I think we're still some time away from that. The states, at this stage, I'm sure wouldn't be agreeing to relaxing those hotel quarantine arrangements for those circumstances at this point in time. But what we need to know from the health advisers is what does make that safe and what does make that possible. So they're the questions we're asking at the moment and we're seeking to get answers to. The point I'd make about the opening of international borders is this. Vaccinations are not a silver bullet. We've never said they are. And if we were to lift the international borders, then no doubt, and I was talking to the head of the AMA about this today, we would see an increase in the number of case numbers. So Australians have become very used to the fact, particularly here in Western Australia, of having zero case numbers and zero community transmission. If we were to lift the borders and people to come, then you would see those cases increase and Australians would have to become used to dealing with 1,000 cases a week or more. Now, it is true that our most vulnerable populations would be vaccinated, but I don't think Australians, particularly Western Australians, would welcome restrictions and closures and border shutting and all of those things, again, out of states concerned about the rising numbers of case numbers. So there needs to be, everyone needs to get on the same page with that. And so they’re the important threshold issues we've got to work together through as a National Cabinet. And that's why I'm calling them back together again to work on that same operational tempo that we were during the pandemic, because these are the challenges we need to solve together now.

OLIVER PETERSON: So do we basically need to get to a certain point where everybody in the world who can be vaccinated is vaccinated?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's a moving situation. We can't control what's happening in the rest of the world. We just have to understand what's happening there. There are high risk countries, there are lower risk countries. We're already open to New Zealand. I think I can see a future where we could be in a similar arrangement with Singapore and we're working on that now. Other Pacific countries, that's possible. But when you're talking about countries, you know, for example, like Indonesia or India or Papua New Guinea or countries where we know that the virus is in a very strong form, including in Europe and even still the United Kingdom, the United States. You know, Australians, I don't think would welcome the incursion of the virus into the country. So we have to weigh all of that up.

OLIVER PETERSON: Prime Minister, you confirmed the last Australian troops will be leaving Afghanistan in September. Has it all been worth it?

PRIME MINISTER: Freedom's always worth it. It's always worth it. And that's what our servicemen and women have always put on the uniform to achieve. And I'm very proud of all of their service. I'm proud, particularly and unspeakably sorrowful about the 41 Australians that we lost in Afghanistan. I paid honour to them today, as I read out each of their names, I thought that was incredibly important. They sacrificed more than any of us can possibly imagine, and I'm just deeply grateful to them and my thoughts and prayers are with their families and their friends and those who served with them.

OLIVER PETERSON: Prime Minister, appreciate your time. You enjoy your trip up north and the footy tomorrow night.

PRIME MINISTER: I'm looking forward to that as well. I look forward to getting back again soon. Thanks very much.

OLIVER PETERSON: Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia.