Interview with Paul Murray, Sky News

Transcript
22 Apr 2020
Prime Minister
E&OE

PRIME MINISTER: G’day Paul, how are you mate?

PAUL MURRAY: Very good. Now, a few weeks ago, you told the nation that Jenny bought an awful lot of puzzles and I just wanted to check in, has she done them all? And what are some of the small, or silly, or simply very normal things that you’re doing to get the Morrison family through this?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, no they're not finished yet, but they're making great progress and they were a good purchase, and friends of ours have also taken up this hobby and they’re sending us, we're getting lots of pictures from friends doing puzzles, which it is nice to see people are taking up the the option. But no, look, we've done things like, you know, Jenny was doing veggie gardens with the girls and they're doing lots of drawings and, of course, a few weeks ago when before holidays, obviously, they had their school online and those sorts of things. But, you know, you get together as a family and you talk about things that are going on. We're looking forward to Anzac Day and while I'll be, of course, be at the commemorative service, the Dawn Service there at 5:30 down at the War Memorial, Jen and I, I mean our kids will be out there lighting up the dawn like everyone else at 6:00. And I think that's a really good initiative, the way to bring everyone together on Anzac Day. I mean, it will be different. Of course it will be different. But what matters won’t have changed, and that is to honour and remember the sacrifice and service. And it will be, I think, a very moving time. I think we'll draw a lot of strength from it. But, you know, getting together as a family is very important at any time, and particularly during times like this and like any other family, that's exactly what we're doing. My daughter and I, we've been watching a few Star Wars films on the weekend and I've been introducing her to that series and that's been a lot of fun.

MURRAY: You spoke to President Trump today, did he ask many about what we’re doing in Australia, because obviously our situation is much better than theirs.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, look, he did, and he was very interested. He always is when we speak about what's happening in Australia and I welcome that and he had noticed that we were doing particularly well and we talked about what was happening here. One of the things we discussed in particular was the fact that we both made the decision at about the same time to ensure that we blocked off those incoming visits from China, mainland China. That was quite critical in our story and in those early weeks. I mean, we only had one case at the time, I think, when we made that decision and the United States did the same thing. And what that meant was, particularly through our Chinese Australian communities and they went into self isolation when those Australian residents and citizens came home, and that ensured that we pretty much prevented that first wave. Now, that didn't occur in Europe and what's happening in Europe is just heartbreaking. And those flights were going into all of those countries, including in the UK and we've seen what's happened. So we reflected on that experience. I mean, about half of the States, the President told me, have a low level of coronavirus infection. But the other half, of course, particularly in the tri-state area around Chicago and so on, they've got some very, very, very difficult challenges there. So we're able to share those experiences and he was pretty impressed with what Australia's doing, I’ve got to say.

MURRAY: You also spoke to Bill Gates, was he offering advice, asking questions or telling you to lay off the WHO?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, look, Bill and I, I think, shared a view on the WHO. And that is on the ground, they do some very effective work. And look, I think that position is understood more broadly too, including the United States. And so obviously we will continue to support them, but they run a lot of vaccination research programs and I was talking to Bill and he was asking us about what we're doing on the vaccination research side of things and so I could obviously talk about the work that was been done at UQ and the CSIRO and the Doherty Institute and Australia's got a very strong story to tell there and the tens of millions we're putting into vaccine research and being part of other global efforts. I mean, his Foundation is doing a lot really good work on identifying those that have a pretty reasonable likelihood of being able to make the most progress and we're happy to support those international initiatives as well. We're all trying to find that vaccine, and that's the thing that ultimately deals with this thing. In the meantime, we've got to deal with keeping it under control, which I mean, today, four cases. That's an extraordinary achievement for Australia. We're making great progress on keeping that number below 1, the Reff, which is the key indicator, and we keep that going, we're on the road back.

MURRAY: It’s the new curve. Now about the World Health Organisation, you’ve been very clear about some of their limitations here but you’re also trying to lead an international consensus about the where to from here. I saw today there was a suggestion that you believe that the World Health Organisation should have a power that other UN organisations have, essentially to be like weapons inspectors where it’s not an option whether they’re able to enter a country at a time like this. Do you think that’s where we need to go?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, a couple of points. The first one, when I've had these discussions with other leaders, there's a clear view that we need to have a transparent and independent process to look at what's gone on here. And importantly, even more importantly, what are the things that need to change and one doesn't necessarily have to follow the other. I mean, it could take some time to get that independent process to look at the origins of this and how it occurred and the lessons to be learned. But I do think there are immediately things that can improve. And that is, I mean, one of the things that would have been very helpful to the rest of the world is if there wasn't any delay and if there was the ability to get this information very early on that could have alerted the rest of the world to the greater risk that was occurring there. It did take a while. And I don't make that comment to be critical. It's just an observation, and I personally think it would be very helpful that in circumstances, and it wouldn’t matter if it was in Australia, if it was in South America, if it was in Southeast Asia or Africa or China or anywhere else, in Europe. That if there is a virus of this nature that is believed to be of pandemic potential and very dangerous to the world, well we need to know what's going on and fast, very fast and if we have that ability, that could have potentially saved thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of lives. And we need to have that sort of ability and so that's why yeah I am an advocate of that case. Now, the other countries as yet, they won’t have formed a view on my specific proposals. But the broader area of cooperation, independent, transparent, getting to the heart of what's happened here so we can learn the lessons, that's incredibly important. I mean, after the Ebola episode, the WHO had an independent review of all that, they had a whole series of recommendations about what should change and nothing was changed. And I don't think we can have a repeat of that exercise and so like-minded countries like France and ourselves and Germany and I'm sure, as yet, when I next get to speak to Boris in the UK and Canada and the United States and so many, we have a lot in common here. And we need to ensure there's transparency, that there is independence and getting to the bottom of these things and getting world global organisations, which have their place, they can do really good work. But they've got to be able to do that without, you know, being fettered in any way in the way they find out what's going on so the rest of us can take action.

MURRAY: Do you care if we offend China at all at the moment?

PRIME MINISTER: It's not about that. I mean, it's about knowing what happened and it's about ensuring the public health and I would hope that they would share that view. I mean, I have no reason to think why they wouldn't and that's why it's important. We need to have the information and we need to have the transparency. Public health trumps everything else. That's incredibly important. We believe that as Australians, we would, of course, share this information, as you would expect us to do. I think that's an obligation on all countries.

MURRAY: President Trump has paused immigration to the United States for the next 60 days, one exception is going to be the agricultural sector to make sure that they can continue to work. Have we done the same in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we've already cut the permanent immigration rate back to 160,000, we've put a cap on that. We'd done that before we went in to the COVID crisis. And then on top of that, I mean, obviously people can't come here, whether on those temporary work visas and all of those other arrangements, if they're backpackers here, if they've got work and particularly in the ag sectors where they're needed, or they’re health workers or things like that, well fine. But otherwise, I've been fairly clear that it's time to make your way home in those areas and obviously permanent migration requires a lot of health checks and tests that just aren’t happening. So practically we're effectively in the same position.

MURRAY: Now, I know it feels like there are 25 million kids in the back of the car saying are we there yet, are we there yet?

PRIME MINISTER:  It's a bit like that.

MURRAY: But I wanted to ask you, on the way into this, the health advice was clearly the predominant advice that was needed to make decisions. We’re now, seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, who knows how long that is, but are we starting to move now that the information that is going into National Cabinet is more about the economic advice, more about the recovery, than the health advice?

PRIME MINISTER: What I'd say, Paul, is it was always about the economic advice and the health advice. That has always been my approach. Not at any stage were we not conscious of the economic issues that were at stake here and that's why we were so careful and we were so cautious. And so we were getting both sets of advice all the time and we will continue to do that because you go about this on those two fronts. I remember I was being criticised early on for putting too much emphasis on the economic issues and that apparently we shouldn't be considering the economic issues in the same context. I disagreed with that view. I said we had to fight this on both fronts and we continue to and the frustration and what makes this challenge so difficult is that sometimes, oftentimes, the economic measures you take can threaten the health outcomes and vice versa. So that's why, you know, I don't want to keep a restriction in place a second longer than we have to. And in encouraging states to take a similar view, we want to be able to get our economies back up and operating safely in a COVID safe environment, which means that the economy can support people's incomes. I mean, we've processed and this is a, look, it's a great compliment to the people over at government services at Centrelink that they've been able to achieve this. But it breaks my heart that I've had to. We’ve had 550,000 people, Paul, that we've processed for JobSeeker claims in the last five or six weeks. The fact that is that is what we do in a year. And so, amazing work by those public officials who have been over there burning the midnight oil to get this done. It's been a Herculean effort, but it breaks my heart that half a million Australians and there'll be much more too that will be going on and seeking that income support through the JobSeeker program. As you know, about, almost six million, over five million Australians will be getting support through JobKeeper. I want the economy to support people's incomes, not welfare, and now there will always, sadly, be those who will need that support through our social safety net. And I've heard you say many times on your program, we should be proud of the fact that we're a country that has a comprehensive social safety net. We should be very proud of that and that is made possible by having a strong economy and I want to ensure that we get back to that position as quickly as possible. So it's the economy that has people in jobs, that means people could open their businesses again. I want to see kids back at school and people back at work and we want that to happen as soon as that can happen, because that's how this show should be run.

MURRAY: So, obviously the people watching right now, they see about 3,000 cases of COVID, 97 per cent mild, fewer than 50 people in ICU, it is now very close to 40 right now. But the numbers that you just said, about those hundreds of thousands of people who have lost a job, if there are two people arguing on a table, at one point, the 500,000 has to take precedence, doesn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let's just understand and remind ourselves of what's happened in other places. Look what's happened in Singapore. Everyone thought Singapore had it under control but now they have more cases than we do. This thing can move like rapid fire. It writes its own rules. We don't get to tell it what to do. We have to be able to manage it and stay on top of it. That's why I'm saying three things we need to do in order to be able to get back to where we want to be. We need to have more comprehensive testing and that is happening. We are making good progress on that. We have one of the most sophisticated and comprehensive testing programs of anywhere in the world. Secondly, we've got to industrialise how we do this contact tracing and soon we will be launching that app, which will help all Australians keep themselves safe and keep their community safe and help us get our economy back where it needs to get to. And we put in all the protections. No Commonwealth Government department agency, no one, me, nobody, can get access to that information. Locked in an encrypted data store. The only person that can access the information will be the public health officer in a state health department that is ringing the person who has coronavirus and they're asked to unlock the data, which means they can contact the people they've been in contact with to help save them and others around them. That's what it does. It's a public health initiative. That's what it is and that's why it's so necessary. And the third thing is what we've seen, particularly most recently in north west Tasmania but in other places, where you will get outbreaks and when you open up your economy again, yes, we'll get outbreaks and we will get more cases. And that means that we just have to be careful about how we stay on top of that and we don't allow it to run away from us. So not easy. But that's where we want to go, that's where we are going to go, and as successful as we've been on the way in, I intend to be as successful on the way out.

MURRAY: Could be three weeks, could be three months, what is the restriction that you are most looking forward to standing at the podium and saying Australia, we are lifting. Is it funerals, is it weddings, is it that backyard barbeque?

PRIME MINISTER: All of the above, but the thing I'm most keen on to see happening as quickly as possible is I want to see kids back in school. I want to see kids back at school and I think when we can achieve that and go into classrooms and learning again, that is something I'm very much looking forward to and we're making a lot of progress towards that. It was great to make the announcement yesterday that we're opening up elective surgery again, this is happening now. I mean, when I was asked about have we reached a turning point, you know, was there going to be a turning point in the future? We've already reached it. We're already on the way back and more and more things will be rolled out in the weeks and months ahead and we've got to where we are quicker than we thought we would and I'm hoping we're able to get to where we want to be quicker than we might have originally estimated. But we've got to take that day by day and we can't get impatient about it. Impatience on these things could lead to an even worse situation, which would mean you'd have to lock down again, and if you had to do that, then the economic pain would be worse, and that's what I'm also trying to avoid. You know, in so many areas, I think I mentioned this to you last time we spoke, you know, one of the great successes, I think, of government has been the way that we've been able to deter terrorist attacks in this country and often cases it's the amazing work that our people do in counterterrorism that people never know about. You don't know what was stopped. And the same is true here. Look overseas. Look at the absolute devastation that has been occurring in other places. That, to date, has not happened here and so let's make sure that remains the case by being patient, by being applied, by being disciplined as we have been. I'm so keen to get us back to a place where our economy is supporting Australians again. That's where we want to be. That's who we want to be.

MURRAY: Ok, three last questions, speed round time. The National Cabinet has been such a wonderful success, I know you want to keep it around for a little while longer because if nothing else, the familiarity, the interaction, all really important, right? For all of the things that you want to do, like the economic surge where it is business at the heart of things, not government, is that process going to inform us? The cooperation, do you think we’re going to be able to keep that up when a form of politics goes back to normal when it is team red, team blue again?

PRIME MINISTER: I certainly hope so. I think it's important that we, as we get to that recovery phase and we prepare for that as we work towards the Budget later this year. I mean, there are many things we can do at the federal level, but there are many, many things that can be done at a state and territory level as well. And I know they want to see their economies bounce back as well and so I would hope that we'd be able to keep that going to get some real consistency and consensus and and cooperation on these important economic changes that will be necessary to see our economy not only get back to where we were, but to go beyond that. And I would hope that we could achieve that. I'm certainly keen to try and lead that type of process and I very much appreciate the great cooperation I've had from those Premiers and Chief Ministers. It's been genuine. It's been very consultative and we've got a lot done. But there's so much more to do.

MURRAY: Now, the strategic oil reserve, because the price is so low we’ve got an opportunity now to stock it up. A lot of people watching this program care very deeply about that. How much are we going to be improving that in the next little while?

PRIME MINISTER: $100 million bucks, 2 million barrels. That's what we announced today and we'll be using the strategic reserve in the United States to achieve that. That's where the storage capacity is. We’re also looking at how we can expand our storage capabilities here as well. That's something Angus is working on as we speak. But that's where that capacity exists right now and that's where we can take advantage of where those prices are right now and we will be looking to boost that in the weeks ahead. So that's an important initiative and there are a lot of things that aren't great. Too many to mention when it comes to this COVID crisis. But building up those reserves while we have that opportunity is a good plan.

MURRAY: I have to ask, are you going to read Turnbull’s book?

PRIME MINISTER: No.

MURRAY: So that gets me to the last question, which is...

PRIME MINISTER: Too much else to do, mate, too much else to do.

MURRAY: Too busy, don’t care, I get it. Perfect answer, perfect answer. Alright, last one here. What are you most looking forward to? The NRL coming back and being able to watch the Sharks play the Tigers or a full Parliament Question Time?

PRIME MINISTER: That's the easiest question I think I've ever had and I would say we will take that one over the Tigers by at least 12 mate. And I hope we can be watching it together. That day when we can all go back to that sort of thing is, I think, really important and we've got to get back to there. There have been so many hard things. You know, you asked me before, I mean, I had young people, young kids who can't see their grandparents and vice versa. But one that really tears me up, though, is how many people have had to deal with loved ones who passed away and to go through funerals with so few people. That is just, it’s just horrible. And so we need… let's look forward to the good days, mate. They’re going to come. They’re going to come.

MURRAY: Bloody oath. Well this is the thing, people want to be able to honour their family as you were able to honour your father, as so many people want to honour. And just, look, thank you for your time tonight, thank you for your leadership, I don’t care who is listening I think you’ve led a global standard mate, well done.

PRIME MINISTER: Good on you. Thanks Paul. All the best.