Interview with Ray Hadley, 2GB

29 Jun 2020
Prime Minister

RAY HADLEY: Prime Minister, g’day.


HADLEY: Let's go back to Friday before we get to the good news about announcements today. What was the general feeling about National Cabinet in relation to Queensland opening the border sometime in the next fortnight?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, as I understand, Annastacia Palaszczuk is going to make an announcement soon, I would hope, to confirm that 10th of July date. She didn't offer any more on that on Friday. But I was pleased to see that both South Australia and Tasmania confirmed their openings. There's no reason we can't go ahead with these openings. They should go ahead. It's costing jobs in those states and so I'm pleased for those states that have pressed ahead. And I would hope that Annastacia Palaszczuk would do the same thing in Queensland. The prevailing mood, though, was one of strong support to do whatever we needed to do to help Victoria through this most recent outbreak. There's genuine concern there, but there's everything is being thrown at it and from both federal resources and other states, including Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania as well, pitching in and WA was happy to help as well. So everyone's focused on dealing with the coronavirus rather than anything else.

HADLEY: Look, I know we haven't played the blame game, but you everyone's concerned. I've gone through the figures day by day out of Victoria and we had another 49 yesterday. We had 41 on Saturday and in total we've had 323 since the 15th of June. Because you have constant contact with the medical people including, you know, these really good people you work with in Canberra, Dr Murphy and the like. Is there any suggestion, can we explain why it's happened? You know, without apportioning blame, has someone taking their foot off the pedal down there? What happened?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, we always said there's the risk of outbreaks and you've got one outbreak that has come out of a hotel quarantine where there's been a breach there and those issues have been identified and addressed. There was another one in a community area, which was a bit of a spill-over from what had happened with the meatpacking company and some non-observance of social distancing and particularly parts of a number of suburbs. So it meant that that's the stuff that can happen and that's the great risk of COVID-19 and we can't be complacent about it. And, you know, in seven states and territories, we don't have any community transmission at all. But the major risk has come from people returning and that's why the quarantine has been so important and you've got to keep that as tight as you can. It's not invulnerable, but I think particularly here in New South Wales, they've done an amazing job with the volume of cases they've had and had to deal with in quarantine. But down in Victoria, we've been surging the support on the tracers. They're obviously doing comprehensive testing. The ADF is supporting them in that, as are the other states. We've just got to work hard to get on top of it. So, you know, my job is not to criticise and I know you're not inviting me to, but just to provide every support we can to get on top of it. Yes, it is a genuine concern. But my advice is it's something we'll be able to get on top of if we just keep applying the focus and doing what's necessary.

HADLEY: I've got to say, Prime Minister, I was a bit surprised when I heard the Deputy Chief Medical Officer in Victoria say oh, you know, we've got 30 percent of people not being tested when they are leaving hotels or coming into hotels and that's okay by us. I was a bit astounded by that and surely to goodness the words of Dr Murphy are now resonating in her ears and that'll be done in the future. They will be careful, they'll stay there.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah. You’ve got two choices. You can stay longer or you can have a test. And that test, the throat and the nasal one, is a bit unpleasant for a few minutes. But then they were also trialling another saliva test down there. It's not to replace, it's not at the same level of accuracy as the other tests, but particularly when you've got young children or you've got people with disabilities or things or particularly the elderly, it does provide another helpful option. But I should stress and the medical advice is it's not the same as the other one, but it's, you know, it's done by the Dougherty Institute. So it's pretty, it's a pretty good test.

HADLEY: Okay. We'll get quickly to the announcement today, which has already been preannounced, in partnership with the New South Wales government. $1 billion for major road infrastructure. And these are job ready, they're ready to go. In other words, it is not a planning process, it’s bang crash, let's get it done. Is that right?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, that's right. It's part of a programme we're doing right around the country. It’s $1.5 billion in bring-forwards and new projects. Here in New South Wales we're putting in $451 million, to be precise, and the state government has $569 million. It's congestion busting projects, its road safety projects. There's support for some 5,500 direct and indirect jobs. And just to give you, there's 11 congestion hotspots around Sydney that we're particularly focusing on. There’s a couple at Macquarie Park, there's another one out at the Showground and Carrington Road intersection upgrades. There’s the Pacific Highway and Finley Road. I could go on. I'm not going to bore your listeners, but it's quite granular. Up at Bondi Junction, another one out at Canterbury Road, King Georges Road. So these are hotspots that we're dealing with, some $240 million for that. There's also - that's combined with the state government - there's over $380 million on local council upgrade roads. They always have projects they need to get on with. They’re being identified now by those councils and importantly, there's a lot of road safety projects. It's a good opportunity to get some support into those rumble strips, regional areas, and there's about almost a thousand jobs there. The Deputy Prime Minister is out focusing on those today. So infrastructure is going to be a very important part of how we continue to support jobs as we come out of the COVID recession and this is just another practical thing. We've already brought forward almost $10 billion dollars in the last eight months on projects, and that's just from the Commonwealth's investment. So it's a big part of our plan.

HADLEY: JobSeeker, JobKeeper. People, they get confused about JobKeeper and it was only meant to be there to September and the Government said, okay, we're doubling the payment in relation to JobSeeker. It goes to $1,100 a fortnight, not $550 or thereabouts, depending on other benefits you get with rent. And there are people jumping up and down today saying, well, you can't do this, you've got to leave it there. If we leave JobSeeker where it is at the moment, we'll all go broke, won't we?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, just on JobKeeper, so not taking into account the old Newstart payment. I mean, that's got a cash burn of over $10 billion a month.

HADLEY: $10 billion a month?

PRIME MINISTER: A month. So, you know, the budget figures at the end of May we handed out on Friday, and it has a deficit already of up around $60 billion and we haven't finished the month yet, sorry, the year yet. So, obviously, we said at the time it was temporary. It can't be sustained forever at that level. But equally, we've got to look at what's happening post-September. There are a number of industries that will continue to be affected by restrictions, particularly in the aviation sector, in the tourism and hospitality sector, particularly those that were highly dependent on international travel. There's lots of parts of the events and entertainment industry, the conference business, things like that. So those companies are still going to be very down on what their normal turnover is. But for many other companies who are currently on JobKeeper, then thankfully their turnover would have been getting up above those previous downturn levels. So, you know, we've got to get this right, Ray. I know people want to know what's going to happen at the end of September. We gave ourselves six months, not three months with this programme, which means when we make the next decision about the next phase, and there will be a next phase of this, that we get it right. And, you know, rushed decisions are never smart in an environment when you're spending that amount of money and you want to make sure it's targeted to the people who get it who need it most.

HADLEY: So JobKeeper, the door is ajar. Go back to JobSeeker, formerly Newstart. What do we do there?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, on JobSeeker, we doubled the payment with the supplement because we knew unemployment was going to be rising steadily and it has and that's been devastating. And Australian's, your listeners, only know too well about that. And the prospect of someone getting another job in the short term was pretty remote and so we knew we had to boost the supplement for a period. What we have to be worried about now is that we can't allow the JobSeeker payment to become an impediment to people out and going doing work, getting extra shifts. And we are getting a lot of anecdotal feedback from small businesses even large businesses where some of them are finding it hard to get people to come and take the shifts because they're on these higher levels of payment.

HADLEY: Yeah, sure.

PRIME MINISTER: And so we've just got to make sure that we continue to provide what is a reasonable level of support in the middle of the worst recession we've had since the Great Depression. But at the same time, we can't let the help get in the way that we're giving to people. And so these aren't easy decisions. They're very complex. Our opponents are going around and stamping their feet and smashing their fists on the table, demanding to know. But they clearly don't appreciate just how complex and intricate this decision is. There are a lot of moving parts. And so the Treasurer and I and the Finance Minister, we're in constant meetings with constant advice, you know, working through all this. I mean, I’ll see the actual report for the first time today that the Treasury has done. So there's still a fair bit of work before we can get those decisions right.

HADLEY: Okay. Now I suspect we won't be discussing Shaoquett Moselmane and ASIO investigation, but on a broader picture of China's efforts to interfere in a whole range of areas. There's a story today, as you no doubt know, about the interference in Kiribati and other places. Should we be concerned as a nation about China's intrusion into the Pacific islands? It hasn't been just happening this year. It's been happening for quite some time, obviously.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, for some years now, we've had what we call the Pacific Step Up and we have redirected large amounts of the aid that Australia has been putting more broadly around the world, we've been channelling that in the Pacific, into Papua New Guinea, into Fiji and Solomon Islands in particular, which is our second largest recipient of aid in the Pacific. A lot of these island states and we've been giving them significant support on climate resilience projects, on road projects. We are now working through a very significant loan with Papua New Guinea. We work with other partners on this, like Japan and the United States, to give that support. And so we're no stranger. We are the biggest single provider of development assistance in the Pacific. No one comes close to us because it's our family and that's how we look at it and we want them to be independent and sovereign. And Alex Hawke as the Minister for Pacific and International Development works closely with all of those leaders and I talk to them quite regularly, too. And so we've been working hard on those relationships very, very hard.

HADLEY: Just on Eden-Monaro coming up on Saturday, the by-election, there's a story today and polls, as you well know from a previous federal election, don’t mean a lot sometimes. But it says Trevor Hicks from the National Party increased his vote by six per cent in a fortnight and now up to 11.5, which would give your candidate a very real chance of winning the seat based on preferences, obviously. So it could be a strange set of circumstances, given Newspoll today and other things that all of a sudden Eden-Monaro, which most people would think would be retained by Labor, could fall your way?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don't get too carried away by polls for all the reasons you said, Ray. The numbers I was most interested on the weekend was 40 to 22 over Manly. I was very happy about that.

HADLEY: I wondered how you would torment our listeners on the Northern Beaches of Sydney.

PRIME MINISTER: I’ve got a Sharkies tie today for the press conference. Just saying. But it was a great game for our boys. But look, the polling numbers, they are what they are, Ray, and people look at them all with a pinch of salt. The Eden-Monaro by-election campaign has been going away for some time. I joined that. But to be honest, I think people understand, particularly those in Eden-Monaro, that the broader national crisis that we're dealing with, both on the economy and health, has meant that I probably haven't been, had the opportunity, to be there as much as you normally would in a situation like that. But I think people understand that. They know they need me to be at the national helm and that's in the best interests of everybody in Eden-Monaro. But we've been doing a lot of work down there, particularly to support the forestry industries, the orchardist industries, a lot of road projects getting funded as part of this work that we're announcing today even. Local government projects which will be supported throughout that community and the bushfire rebuild continues and significant investments have been made. And, you know, we thought we'd spend half a billion between January and the end of June when I announced the National Bushfire Recovery Agency. Right now, we're on track to spend double that and that's been because of the scale and speed of our response. And there's been a few things we've had to fix up along the way. I mean, the small business payments weren’t getting where they needed to. So Andrew Constance and I sat down and we worked it out and, you know, there's over 4,000 businesses in Eden-Monaro now that have received those $10,000 payments and many more across the country. So they'll make their decision and they're rebuilding down there and they are looking forward too. And, you know, we would obviously argue that the economy and the recovery effort is best in the hands of the government and particularly if I can have a local member who was a Liberal member, then we're going to get even more done.

HADLEY: Well, perhaps they can take the lead from the NRL, the Liberal Party Eden-Monaro, and get a cardboard cut-out of the Prime Minister and prop it up somewhere prominent for the rest of the week. If you can't get there, they’ll just have a cardboard cutout like they do with rugby league. On a serious one and finally, you've threatened the charity status and funding of organisations who are still refusing to sign the Child Sexual Abuse Redress Scheme by the deadline tomorrow. Look, I've read and I won’t identify those organisations one by one because, you know, they know who they are. I just think after the most important Royal Commission we've had, I think, in relation to the protection of children, that these organisations are resisting what they should do, which fair… and they purport to be Christian organisations. They should do the right thing, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: That's what... they should do it because it's the right thing. And I've been very clear in the letter I've written to them with the Social Services Minister that, be aware, that failure to sign up to this programme means I will ensure that there will be no further public funding that they'll be eligible for going forward. I'm certainly prepared to do that and even prepared to consider their charitable status, which I'm sure your listeners would not just appreciate me doing, but expect me to do.

HADLEY: Exactly, exactly.

PRIME MINISTER: And so Anne Ruston and I are not kidding. We expect people to sign up. And if you don't want to sign up, then I won't be signing any cheques.

HADLEY: All right. Always good to talk to you. Have a good week and we'll talk soon. Thanks very much.

PRIME MINISTER: Up, up, Cronulla. Cheers.