Interview on Studio Ten

Transcript
12 Nov 2018
Prime Minister
Terrorist attack on Bourke Street; Nauru; polls;
E&OE

HOST: Welcome Prime Minister, it’s good to have you here after a busy weekend, can we talk about polls? To begin with the latest Newspoll that’s out this morning, the Coalition, it puts the Coalition behind Labor, trailing Labor 45-55, this is on a two-party preferred basis. What is going on here?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I think the public want to see from us a coming together, showing a very clear direction and that’s going to take some time, I think, to establish that after the events of several months ago. That’s why I’ve been out and about. In Queensland the situation is a lot stronger as was reported in the Courier Mail today and in Townsville, even stronger than that, with the front page of the Townsville Bulletin. So the trip up through Queensland resonated with Queenslanders, that’s what the evidence is showing there. But Australians want to see the stability in the Government and that’s what we’re delivering and they need to be convinced of that and that will take time. I have no illusions about that, I knew when stepping up into this role, there’d be a big, big mountain to climb and a very steep one. But I’ve climbed those mountains before, as has our Party on many occasions and that’s what we intend to do.

HOST: Prime Minister is it time the parties started ignoring these polls? They’ve been cited as the example for overturning prime minister after prime minister, as people within the party react to the potential of these polls. Shouldn’t you just put your head down and focus on an issue and ignorne them? Concentrate on governing the country and doing what has to be done?

PRIME MINISTER: That’s exactly what I do and have always done. That’s my model and that’s what I think we should do. But any politician who tells you that these things are not part of the system and, you  know, they don’t feed into people’s perceptions and things like that, wouldn’t be telling you the truth. Of course, they play into the commentary and the discussion and the first question you asked me today is about polls.

HOST: Everyone is talking about them…

PRIME MINISTER: So, I’ll deal with them honestly.

HOST: Yep.

PRIME MINISTER: Does it change the agenda that I’m seeking to pursue for the country, particularly about keeping Australians safe of keeping our economy strong, or bringing our Budget back into surplus next year? Or the investments in water infrastructure or dealing with the drought or the aged care Royal Commission? No, of course it doesn’t. I get on with all of those things. But I think you’ve got to be honest with the Australian people; yes, we’ve got a big mountain to climb and at the present point in time, Bill Shorten thinks he’s an absolute shoe-in for the job. That‘s why his policies on everything from abolishing negative gearing as we know it, ripping off people’s retirement savings and increasing taxes are all very relevant.

HOST: Well, we’ll grill Bill Shorten about that when he’s on the show. But you mentioned keeping Australians safe, obviously awful news out of Melbourne over the weekend. You made headlines yourself for saying that the Muslim community and Muslim leaders needed to take a special responsibility for this and needed to cooperate more, come forward more with authorities, call these things out for what it is. What led you to say that? Do you have evidence that Muslim leaders of the Muslim community are tolerating this sort of behavior, that they’re aware of radicalism kind of boiling away but they’re not talking to authorities?

PRIME MINISTER: Well it’s the elephant in the room and you’ve got to acknowledge it. Now, I have many, many friends in the community, particularly in the Sydney Muslim community and I consulted one in particular who is a very good friend of mine before I made those comments. Now people in that community, they care about their kids, they care about the safety of their kids and what is happening in these communities is we have people coming into them and spreading this vile evil and taking advantage of vulnerable people in their community. Now imams and others who are the leaders in their religious communities, need to be looking carefully about who is coming into their community. Who is talking to their kids? Who is at the back of the mosque and walking out with some young person who seems a bit disenfranchised, do they go up and talk to these young people? Now I know in many cases they do and there is I think a very positive level of cooperation, but there needs to be a heightened sense. Because you can’t watch everybody and what you need to do is ensure that the community is working constructively together with authorities, to be seeing who is influencing who and how.

HOST: But not every imam in Australia holds that point of view.

PRIME MINISTER: They need to, they need to.

HOST: Why? We spoke to one on the Project last night and he accused you, in a way, of racist dog whistling.

PRIME MINISTER: That is the same lame old tired excuse for not dealing with this problem as has always been served up, whether it’s Anne Aly saying it or whether it’s someone else in the community saying that. I don’t believe that’s where the majority of decent, hard-working, respectable Australian Muslims are at, they want their community to be safer. There are people coming into their community and they are infecting their young people and others with hatred and false teaching which is taking them off the path. Now, that has to be called out and it has to be stopped. This happened because of an Australian citizen who was radicalized in Australia. He didn’t bring it from somewhere else. He learned it all here.

HOST: But if people make these noises, say these things, they’re branded racist.

PRIME MINISTER: Well people can throw that at me if they like but I’m going to call it out.

HOST: Yeah, but how do we stop that? How do we get to –

PRIME MINISTER: By saying it confidently and saying it in a way which, I think, is measured but also always respectful of all of those, of my friends who are in the Sydney Muslim community, who I know well. I mean Jamal Rifi I think you may have had him on the program -

HOST: I spoke to him yesterday, yeah.

PRIME MINISTER: I mean Jamal is a good mate of mine and Jamal is strongly supportive of dealing candidly with these issues within the Muslim community. He’s a brave man and I’ve known him for many years. You know, he has stood up in his community and we need more Jamal Rifis, that’s what I think.

HOST: What about people who argue that this man who was shot dead in Melbourne on Friday had mental health issues? That he was struggling with alcohol and substance abuse, his wife had just left him and that he wasn’t really a terrorist? What do you say to those people who say that he should be treated with some sort of sympathy?

PRIME MINISTER: I think that’s an excuse. This bloke, radicalized here in Australia with extreme Islam, took a knife and cut down a fellow Australian in Burke Street. I mean I’m not going to make excuses for that. Of course issues of mental health and all these other things are important. Those things lead to  -

HOST: Was he a terrorist?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes he was. 

HOST: Not just a madman?

PRIME MINISTER: No, he was a terrorist. He was a radical extremist terrorist who took a knife to another Australian because he’d been radicalized, in this country. We can’t give him excuses and we can’t allow others … these other issues are relevant, don’t get me wrong. But he was radicalized –

HOST: The family say –

PRIME MINISTER: That’s why he took a knife to people.

HOST: The family said that they had no idea why his passport had been cancelled in 2015, that they were kept in the dark about a lot of things. Do you think the Government needs to do more to make sure that if people are on watch lists, that the families know about it?

PRIME MINISTER: I think that sort of defeats the purpose.

HOST: Yeah.

PRIME MINISTER: But equally, I mean, he wasn’t on a watch list and he was prevented from travelling overseas because he was seeking to go and fight in Syria.

HOST: Why don’t we let them go?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what happens if you do let them go – you’d all remember Khaled Sharrouf and all these others – what they do is you take someone here, they go over there and they become basically weaponized, in a form that is unimaginable in this country. They build up networks and they actually speak from there, using social media, back to people here in Australia and they radicalize them.

Now there are about 230 that we’ve cancelled their passports and there are around 400 people what are currently under investigation. Now you can’t watch all of them all the time, you just simply can’t do that. That’s why the cooperation with the community, as Peter Dutton was saying yesterday, this is where we need the community. That young person who is being quiet of late or has been on the internet or talking to others who you know have some fairly dangerous ideas, spending a lot of time with them, that’s where I think leaders within the community and particularly religious leaders, have a duty of care to be pastorally looking at what’s going on in their own community.

HOST: I couldn’t agree more that that is what’s happening. But is it possible, I mean, does the Government have intelligence that there are community leaders or religious leaders at the mosques, imams or whoever they may be, who actually know that this is happening and are tolerating it? Or know that this is happening and are not reporting it?

PRIME MINISTER: Joe you wouldn’t expect me to be discussing the intelligence we have and I would never –

HOST: Not specifically, but –

PRIME MINISTER: Not even generally Joe. I wouldn’t be saying these things if I didn’t know that they were serious and that it was important, very important, to call this out. Now what I said on the weekend –

HOST: So specifically, you can’t ask them to come forward about something they do not know. So by your own statements that you’ve made public already, there seems to be an assumption that certain community leaders know things that they are not bringing forward?

PRIME MINISTER: Let me put it to you this way; as people know I go to church. My pastor in my church would know if there was a local, you know, bible study group leader, who was teaching things in our church that were completely against what we thought was okay, that was responsible, that was sensible. My pastor would know and that person would have no role in our local church. Now, that is just the pastor doing their job to protect the integrity of what’s happening in their religious community. Now we can’t provide excuses for people to look the other way and I can’t have them looking the other way. Now, many don’t and there are many great imams and I’ve met many of them who do what is necessary. But theres a difference between not propagating this stuff and just sitting there while someone in your community is. You know, communities have got to self regulate as well as what is done in partnership with authorities.

HOST: What do you think about trolley man?

PRIME MINISTER: I think he’s a hero. As all Australians have seen, he stepped up and look, he’s an interesting character with a colourful background. But in his moment, he stepped up and I think that’s what Australians have responded to very positively. But with Sisto, who we lost –

HOST: Would you like to see a state funeral for him?

PRIME MINISTER: For Sisto? Look, they’re matters for the State Government and I don’t think that’s what the family would want either, I think you’ve always got to be very respectful to the family and what their wishes are in these things. I mean Melbourne – I’ll be down there tomorrow and paying my respects there tomorrow – but as much as this event has affected all of us, I think it’s incredibly important that we respect the privacy of the family and how they want to grieve the loss of a dad, a brother –

HOST: A grandfather –

PRIME MINISTER: A grandfather. This is something that goes beyond that issue for them, this is personal and we should respect however way they wish to mark that.

HOST: Trolley man obviously as we all know, has had issues with homelessness. Why has the Government cut funding for Foodbank in half? I mean that seems to defy belief.

PRIME MINISTER: Let’s be clear what we’re doing – I know Bill Shorten raised this point – we’ve actually maintained the funding for those services, but it went to three charities –

HOST: It’s gone to three charities –

PRIME MINISTER: It’s gone to three charities instead of one.

HOST: So it’s not a cut?

PRIME MINISTER: No. No, it means that the overall level of services that are being provided for food support is exactly the same, it hasn’t changed. In fact Foodbank gets $1.9 million over the next four years and those services are now being shared with two other agencies including OzHarvest. Now what that means is we have a competitive process to tender on who can best deliver these services instead of doing one organization, there are now three. So the services are being delivered and that’s what’s important to those who need those services. But I’ll have a chat to the Social Services Minister and if there’s any need to review that decision, well, it was a decision obviously made by the Department and we’ll take a look at that. But the important point I think to those watching at home is, the services in relation to food support have been maintained at the same level, it’s just being delivered through more agencies. It’s not a closed shop, I mean there are other agencies that can do this job as well or better. Well, why wouldn’t we want to enlist them all in that task?

HOST: Prime Minister you’re going to be dealing with a hung Parliament, Kerryn Phelps who has just come in as the Member for Wentworth says it’s carbon emissions and getting children off Nauru are the main issues that Australians want. What sort of concessions are you going to have to make to those crossbenchers to get anything done?

PRIME MINISTER: Well last Thursday I met with Bob Katter in Townsville and Bob Katter has given us a formal support for the Government on all motions of confidence, supply.

HOST: So, that’s one…

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, we need one. We needed one so, that was the one we had previously with Wentworth and we lost that seat as we know, then Bob Katter signed up last Thursday and he’s signed up not just on confidence and supply, but on procedural motions and other things that happen in the House where the Labor Party seek to disrupt the operations of the House and pursue political games. Bob Katter has –

HOST: So does that mean you’re not going to address those issues that have been raised by Kerryn Phelps?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the Government will address the issues that are central to it’s agenda and that has included dealing with issues on Nauru, as it has indeed addressed issues of maintaining our border security. But I’ll deal respectfully with all the cross-benchers as I have Cathy McGowan, Rebekha Sharkie, I meet with them all the time. I’ll meet with Kerryn, I’ve been in contact with Kerryn. I’m about to go overseas for the week for the East Asia Summit and APEC and when we come back to parliament, we’ll catch up. But the Government will get on about it’s agenda. We’ve been able to secure this arrangement with Bob Katter which means the Government can just get on with it’s business.

HOST: Does that mean you can ignore those issues? Does that mean you can just put them – ?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don’t ignore those issues.

HOST: What about - 

HOST: Okay the Government has previously indicated  that it would get all the kids off Nauru by Christmas.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I haven’t said that either by the way –

HOST: That’s been reported by the Australian with fairly good authority it seems?

PRIME MINISTER: Well look, I’m the Prime Minister, let me tell you what the authority is –

HOST: What is the Government going to do then?

PRIME MINISTER: The Government will continue to manage the challenges on Nauru with children, both through the policy that we have with the United States and dealing with the existing policies we have with medical treatment. That’s simply what we’re doing. That’s what we’ve been doing for some period of time and the number of children on Nauru has obviously been reducing as we’ve pursued those policies. So I haven’t changed any policies, I haven t compromised any border protection settings and that’s –

HOST: Will the Government get all children off Nauru within in the –

PRIME MINISTER: We’ll have – we’ll keep reporting from time to time on where those numbers are at, but what is clear is that they have been falling and they will, I imagine, continue to fall as we pursue particularly the relationship with the United States.

HOST: Many people look at Nauru and say it’s a hellhole. What’s your view of the conditions in Nauru?

PRIME MINISTER:  I think that’s a very offensive view to Nauruans, they live there. That’s their home, their children live there, their children go to school there, they bring their children up. I mean this idea that a Pacific island nation is some sort of “hellhole” I think is very insulting to Pacific Islanders. It’s their home, how would we feel if someone called where we live a hell-hole? I think it’s very offensive.

HOST: So they’re allowed access everywhere? Medical, health?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes. They get actually more medical help than local Nauruans do. They get more medical help than frankly many Australian Indigenous People get in remote communities as well. There are more medical staff than there are children on Nauru.

HOST: Do you agree with Tony Abbott then, that actually it’s a pretty nice place to live if you like the weather?

PRIME MINISTER:  What I –

HOST: Or it’s not as bad as people are saying?

PRIME MINISTER: What I’m saying is –

HOST: Would you take a holiday there?

PRIME MINISTER:  I’ve been there many times –

HOST: On holiday?

PRIME MINISTER: If you were a big fisherman, you would, the fishing there is quite good, but I’m not. But my point is this; this is their home and I think we have to be respectful to our Pacific neighbours. I gave a major presentation last Thursday up at the barracks in Townsville and what I said to them was, I outlined our new plan for the Pacific as a whole. We need to reach out to our Pacific neighbours and embrace them and work with them. It’s an important area of strategic interest for Australia and we need to step up more and I’ve outlined how we’re doing that. When I was at Lavarack Barracks, they are the men and women who will be implementing those policies and I thought that as the right place – not in some hotel in Sydney –

HOST: [Inaudible] we’ve got to get through a few questions because we are going to run out of time. But before we do, how is the Scomobile going?

PRIME MINISTER: Well it ran –

HOST: Did you get it here?

PRIME MINISTER: No that was up in Queensland, it’s parked up on the Gold Coast.

HOST: Oh that’s a shame. That’s a shame because we’ve got some great tweets that have come through on social media showing some alternate slogans on the Scomobile; “It’s the same one we threw Malcolm under.” Is that a bit mean?

HOST: Bit unkind.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah well, Twitter, who would have thought they would come up with that sort of nonsense? What a surprise.

[Laughter]

HOST: We’ve got some other viewer questions though, look at that, off the cliff Thelma and Lousie style. Let’s go to Josh Welkins first; on Facebook he says; “Are the Liberals going to put in place a policy where they can’t roll their leader as Labor has done? Australia is a laughing stock to the world because of the practice.”

PRIME MINISTER: We have a parliamentary democracy in Australia, it’s not a presidential system. John Howard also had this strong view and it is that we represent our elected members of Parliament, they go to Parliament and they elect who their leader is to run their Parliamentary party. That has been the case since Federation began and that is what a representative parliamentary democracy is, not just here or any other part of the world where that’s done. So we don’t have any plans to change our processes but what we have plans to do, is just get on with the job of governing.

HOST: To be fair, you weren’t the one who actually moved against Malcolm.

PRIME MINISTER: No.

HOST: You actually defended him as far as you could and then basically ran a rear-guard, sort of white knight action to become Prime Minister instead of Peter Dutton. Do you feel like, no good deed goes unpunished? Do you feel like Malcolm Turnbull’s kind of knifed you, after you basically were his Lancelot?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I don’t and I appreciate the very kind remarks Malcolm had to say last Thursday night. While we haven’t been in touch for a couple of weeks, we worked very closely together as you can see. I mean, the fact that we’ve been bringing the Budget back into balance, he and I worked on that closely for years. So look, I intend to treat all previous Prime Ministers with the greatest of respect and they all have contributions to make and that’s my job.

HOST: [inaudible] diplomatic missions for you?

PRIME MINISTER: I have no plans for that.

HOST: Let’s talk about leadership because I understand John Howard was a mentor of yours and he gave you some advice several years ago on leadership which said; “Don’t spend time plotting and scheming because, frankly, it’s for those with performance limitations.” So they were your words; “performance limitations”, so where does it leave the Greg Hunts, the Peter Duttons, the Tony Abbotts?

PRIME MINISTER: It leaves them doing a great job of the portfolios they’re in. I mean, Peter is an outstanding Minister for Home Affairs. Greg Hunt is a fantastic Minister for Health –

HOST: So they don’t have performance limitations?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I don’t believe they do. Look, the events of several months ago are done, they’re done. We need to get on with governing and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

HOST: Another question from Brad Young and I think this is what every Australian wants to know; “Why do you wear those baseball caps, what’s wrong with the Akubra?” You’re wearing baseball caps everywhere. He says; “They don’t stop sunstroke, is it just another advertising opportunity for the Cronulla Sharks?”

[Laughter]

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’m not always wearing a Sharkies hat but I wear caps.

HOST: Caps, that’s right.

PRIME MINISTER: I wear caps.

HOST: Why?

PRIME MINISTER: That’s what I wear. If you find me at home, I’ll be wearing a cap. If I’m down at Shark Park or at Cronulla Beach or something like that or (inaudible), I’ll be wearing a cap. So, look, people can have a view about whether I wear caps, whether I wear ties, where my bus goes, whether I catch a plane. You know what? Who cares? I’m just going to be myself. If you don’t like it, too bad. If you do like it, good for you. But you’ve got to be yourself in this business.

HOST: Is it ever going to say; “Make Australia Great Again”? How’s your relationship with Donald Trump?

PRIME MINISTER: I’ve already had, obviously, the one conversation with him and there’ll be further coming up when we go to Buenos Aires in few weeks’ time. It’s one of our most important relationships along with many others and it’s being managed very well. We’re managing our relationship with the United States, we’re managing our relationship with China, you would have seen what happened last week, a very productive exchange between ourselves and China. So we’re getting on with business with China, we’re getting on with our relationship with the United States, it’s an important balancing act that we’ve done for many years.

HOST: You’ve said in the past you admired Donald Trump. Do you still?

PRIME MINISTER: I think he is someone who stands up for what he believes in and he says it his way and he’s not intimidated – whether it’s by the commentariat or the media or anyone else, his political opponents - to be someone other, who he is not. Now, you don’t have to agree with everything he says or what he’s about, but he’s Donald.

HOST: It’s pretty fashionable to dump on him.

PRIME MINISTER: Well it is and you know, there is a bit of a pile-on mentality when it comes to these things. But you know, in politics, people get very focused on the process and they sometimes forget what it’s really about when they’re talking about these issues. You know, in the last ten weeks, a Royal Commission into Residential Aged Care, I mean, how important is that?

HOST: Absolutely.

PRIME MINISTER: Dealing with the drought, $50 million to support farmers directly on putting on-farm water infrastructure in place. We’re putting in $30 million into the CWA and other charity groups to actually ensure that the charitable support can reach not just the towns but the farmers as well. So the Government is getting on with the job. I’m not going to get distracted. I mean, the polls exist and the commentary exists and - cap or no cap - I’m bringing the Budget back into balance next year. The economy is strong, unemployment’s down to five per cent. So, that’s all put at risk if we decide to change direction.

HOST: And the election will be?

PRIME MINISTER: Next year.

HOST: On?

PRIME MINISTER: Next year.

HOST: May?

PRIME MINISTER: Next year.

HOST: Any more questions?

[Laughter]

HOST: Mr Scott Morrison, thank you so much for joining us.

PRIME MINISTER: Great to be with you.