Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM

20 Jan 2020
Prime Minister

SABRA LANE: Prime Minister, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning Sabra.

LANE: How long will these small businesses need help given for many of them, the period right now, the summer school holiday period is normally the most important trading period of the year for them?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they’ll need it now and they'll need it for some time to come. I mean for some of these businesses, for many in these areas, this is the time of year which supports the rest of their year until the burst of next summer's season. And so that's particularly why we've done the zero interest loans for two years. So the principal doesn't accrue. There's nothing there, nothing to pay for two years while businesses gets back on its feet. That's working capital. That's also for other works. They might want to do in the business. That's in addition for those businesses that have been directly damaged by the fires, of grants of up to $50,000 dollars that's assessed by the state governments as are other loans through their financing authorities. And then on top of that, the other thing we're doing today, Sabra, is we're providing relief around the BAS for these businesses because that affects cash flow and their pay as you go income tax. I mean, they can claim back anything they paid in the last quarter. They'll have a December, that is for their income tax there is a zero assessment for December. And the BAS doesn't have to go in until at least May. So this is all about trying to support people around their cash flow right now. 

LANE: So how much how much money is- how much how much money is the government willing to spend to help these businesses, even businesses who are indirectly affected? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's a demand driven program, so as many as needed and as many as qualify to what we're doing. This could be in the order of hundreds of millions, affected.

LANE: Your wallet is open? And there are no, no limits?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is why we put the $2 billion dollar fund in place. This is exactly why we did it. And we knew this was one of the key things we had to do. We spent the last week working with the Small Business Committee. I mean, you just heard from Peter there in your package, and we've working with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, local chambers, the tourism industry. I’d stress also a lot of the recovery works that are going to go on is also going to support these towns because it's going to bring contractors and tradies and a lot of activity which will then support local economies. The rebuilding effort of itself will be assistance to small business because it will bring, you know, people doing fences, people rebuilding sheds. And yesterday we confirmed that the Commonwealth will spend over $100 million on this, are supporting the states 50/50 to do all the site clearing costs, clean ups on all residences and all commercial private properties on the demolition works that has to be done for insurance. That means if you've got insurance, you’re starting in many cases, about $50,000 dollars ahead of the situation because you don't have to pay to get your site cleared. So your insurance will go further. And if you don't have insurance well at the very least, you'll have your site clearing costs covered. 

LANE: All right. Cabinet is meeting today. Are you taking a proposal for a bushfires royal commission to that meeting?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we'll talk about that today. I mean, this is not something that I'm seeking to rush, right now we're focussed on the response and the recovery. I think the three things that, though, have become very clear to me and I talked about them last, in this last Sunday week, and that was we have to get a clear idea about where the line is, is when the federal government can take action and initiate action to provide support in natural disasters. I mean, in December, there was less than 900 ADF personnel that had turned out in response to the requests that were being received by the states, after we changed that policy and we did the compulsory call out of the reserves as the first ever. That figure is now more than six and a half thousand. And I think it's making an enormous impact on the ground and is working closely with the states. And I know that's appreciated. But then there's the broader climate resilience issues that need to be addressed and that’s hazard reduction, that's dams, it's the broader issue, preparedness issues that we will look at and the longer term climate adaptation issues. So I think they are things that we're looking to take forward out of this process and do that as most constructive way we can. 

LANE: How soon before you unveil all the terms of reference for that inquiry? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I said we would work closely with the state premiers and that's what I'm doing. So I'm getting ahead of ourselves. And also right now, the focus is on the response and the recovery on the ground. See we've already committed over half a billion dollars, about 90 per cent of which is likely to be spent before the end of this financial year, by the 30th of June. So what I want the recovery agency, led by Andrew Colvin focusing on is actually getting these programs out and doing.  I want cheques in people's hands. I want the money flowing in the communities. I want the tourism campaigns being run. I want the $50 million that we put into wildlife support and assistance, getting to those organisations and the various programs that we run there, the mental health programs, $76 million also there. I want to focus on the implementation.

LANE: Ok. The New South Wales Minister Matt Keane says there are a group of senior liberals, including federal colleagues, urging your government to adopt stronger climate policies and a commitment not to use the so-called carryover credits to meet Australia's emissions commitments. Will you consider those calls? 

PRIME MINISTER: Matt Kean doesn't know what he's talking about. He doesn't know what's going on in the federal cabinet. Most of the federal cabinet wouldn't even know who Matt Kean was. And we are dealing with our climate policies in the same ways as we took them to the election. We are beating and will meet and beat our emissions reduction targets of Kyoto.

LANE: That’s a significant slap down of a state minister. If you're not going to change those policies, as he and others are requesting, how are you going to deal with this? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well who are the others? Who are the other, Sabra? 

LANE: Well, you know that I don't like to divulge sources.

PRIME MINISTER: Well I don't know Sabra, that’s the point. What is being suggested by, in your question that there are others, is just isn’t the case, the government is completely united on focusing on the challenge of the response to the current bushfire crisis and meeting and beating our emissions reduction targets and taking our climate policies forward over the next term of government. And we have the opportunity beyond to ensure we meet and beat our emissions reduction targets, which would see a halving per capita in emissions by Australia over the next 10 years. We are leading the world on renewable energy technologies. That's a fact. In terms of our levels of investment in renewables, we got one in five homes that has solar on its roof. Australia is getting the job done. We're carrying our weight. But I tell you what I'm not going to do. I'm not going to put a carbon tax on people. I'm not going to increase their electricity prices and their costs of living. And I'm not going to wipe out resource industries upon which hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Australians depend on for their living. We know what.

LANE: we need to move on Prime Minister- 

PRIME MINISTER: We know and our target is it's 26 per cent and the government has one. And I can't say that for everyone else. 

LANE: Do you endorse Bridget McKenzie's approach in deciding how public money will be allocated in her administration of the sport's grant scheme? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the auditor general's report, I thought, was very serious, and we are acting on its recommendations and moving quickly to do that. And on top of that, there are some legal issues that were raised by the auditor general, which I’m moving quickly with the Attorney-General to ensure that they're clarified as soon as possible. The Auditor-General found-

LANE: I’m sorry, that wasn't my question, it was do you endorse her approach?

PRIME MINISTER: I was getting to it. The Auditor-General found that there were no ineligible projects that were funded and that the rules were followed. So that was the finding of the Auditor-General-

LANE: And the Auditor-General - sorry Prime Minister- also said it was not informed by an appropriate assessment process and sound advice, and that there was evidence of distribution bias. Voters would know that as pork barrelling 101.  

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I also know that the program was delivering very much needed grants to local communities to build sporting facilities, which I know those communities are very appreciative of, and where there are lessons to learn from this process, that's fine. But what I do know is that the program of $100 million dollars was spent on ensuring that young girls don't have to change in their parents cars or out the back of the shed. They can have actual proper facilities in their communities. And I do know that these grants- all eligible, every single one of them was an eligible project, unlike what happened in the Ross Kelly affair and what happened under the previous government. So there was no issues about ineligibility of any projects. The Auditor-General found that.

LANE: Did either you or your office have any involvement in allocating the money to marginal seats? 

PRIME MINISTER: The decisions were done in accordance with the process the Minister set out, and that was that the Minister made those decisions and they were actioned in an endorsing way by Sports Australia. That's how it worked. 

LANE: Prime Minister, thanks for joining AM this morning. 

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot Sabra.