Interview with Sunrise

11 Mar 2021
Prime Minister

Samantha Armytage: The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, joins us now. Prime Minister, good morning to you. Welcome.

Prime Minister: G’day, Sam.

Armytage: The tourism industry has obviously been crying out for help. Talk us through the details of this plan. Is this enough to get people out into these areas again?

Prime Minister: As you say, 800,000 tickets and every one of those tickets, when they are sold, is helping those tourism industry regions right across the country. This is all about keeping people in their jobs by putting planes in the air and getting tourists on the ground. We know that when one-dollar is spent on a ticket, around $10 is spent on the ground and what the tourism industry needs is tourists. That is what they have said to us and so we are sending 800,000 tourists to them over these months, which takes us out to the end of September, you book by the end of July and we’re looking at life getting back to normal as we go through these next two school holiday periods. By school holidaying in Australia you are helping those travel and tourism industries around the country. And it’s saving jobs, we have been successful in saving jobs in this industry. We have seen over 20 airlines around the world go bust. We’ve kept our two big airlines, they’re here today and they are working with us to keep planes in the air and the jobs in place.

Armytage: And the government, taxpayers, will subsidise half these tickets. Is there any way you can ensure the airlines don't jack up the prices before these tickets are bought?

Prime Minister: Yes, this is based on pre-announcement prices so you can't change the past. So there are those protections in place. But I have got to say, working with both Qantas and Virgin and other airlines like REX, they have been great in working with us because they want to see their planes in the sky, they want to keep their staff, they want to see these regions recovering as well. So they are working closely with the travel industry as well. There is further support for travel agents today, not just airlines and the operators. And that means the whole industry is working together, with the government’s support, to keep their employees and their businesses going.

Armytage: OK. Prime Minister, what are you hearing, are you confident that we will be having overseas travel by October?

Prime Minister: It's still a bit too early to say and that is what the Chief Medical Officer says. And so we will take this one step at a time. I think one of the first steps is that Australians, once we’ve gone through the vaccinations and once the confidence is there from the data overseas which is looking great, that Australian's will be able to travel overseas and return and hopefully won’t then have to quarantine, all of those things. That’s still a way off yet, Sam, we’ve just got to do it one step by one step. Australia is leading the world out of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re leading the world out of the COVID-19 recession. And the reason we’ve been able to do this, the great strength of the Australia people, doing it carefully, targeted, proportionate, just like the announcement today. That’s what’s got us through til now and that’s what will keep getting us through to the other side.

Armytage: Yeah, we have done so well so far. The vaccination rollout has been slow in some states, prime Minister. Are you worried about that? We have vaccinated 100,000 people so far.

Prime Minister: We have, and over a quarter of those have been in aged care facilities. So the most vulnerable of Australians. But we will get this done by October as we said we would. But we have got to do it safely and as Brendan Murphy said yesterday, this is not a race, what is most important is the health and safety of Australians in the vaccination programme and that is what we are principally focused on. And that rollout will gain speed towards the end of this month and we will see the Australian produce vaccines coming into the program and that means we will be able to be rolling them out in terms of supplies, around a million a week. When we get to that scale, I think we will see a real gear change. But right now, it is about the most vulnerable, the quarantine workers, those working in the frontline of our ICUs and in places like that, elderly Australians, those with disabilities. So we are just very focused on getting that right and it will continue to increase in speed as time goes on. But as Brendan said, it is not a race, you have got to get right and it has got to be safe.

Armytage: Yes. Are you concerned some states are stockpiling the vaccine? I know Queensland and Victoria have been outed for holding quite a few supplies back, does that worry you?

Prime Minister: Well, look, obviously we are watching all of those and I think some of those stories are misrepresenting. I'm not being critical but the reason you hold a vaccine will be for a second dose and there are other reasons why the vaccine may be prepositioned. So just because a stock is there doesn't mean it can automatically be rolled out. But, obviously, we will keep working with the states and territories to keep ramping this up. It is a partnership. As I say, it is not a competition between the states. I am looking for people to work together not against each other.

Armytage: yes, we are all like that, prime Minister. Tough week for the Government, you have got three senior ministers on leave. Health Minister Greg Hunt is out of action in hospital with a leg infection. Is he OK? When will he be back to work? Because it is a pretty important time for him.

Prime Minister: Yes, I am the acting Health Minister at the moment because I have been working so closely with Greg, particularly on the vaccinations.

Armytage: And are you enjoying that, Prime Minister?

Prime Minister: Well, I love all the aspects of my job, Sam. Just as I know you would have over the last eight years. You are thankful for every day you get to serve the Australian people in this job, and you have done a wonderful job over these last eight years as well. But Greg will be back in the Parliament on Monday, I got a text from him again last night, he will be fighting fit and, of course, the Attorney-General and the Defence Minister, they have health issues they are attending to. Linda has a cardiac issue that she is dealing with and that’s a serious matter. So we will allow them to get better and while I’m at it, all the best to Dan in Victoria. I hope he is on the mend, it sounds quite serious. And to him and his family, I hope they are all OK and I wish him a speedy recovery.

Armytage: It does sound quite serious without Daniel Andrews. It appears politicians are dropping like flies at the moment, so take care, Prime Minister.

Prime Minister: I am fighting fit, Sam.

Armytage: Good, good. Linda Reynolds, as you said, off work for another month. Has her position now become untenable? 

Prime Minister: No, I don't believe so. Linda Reynolds has on her cardiologist’s advice been asked to take that month off. If that happened to any other Australian, I am sure they would want simply that person to get well and listen to their doctors and get the treatment they need and that is what is occurring. So I am looking forward to her doing that. In the meantime, Marise Payne, a former defence minister herself, we’re not skipping a beat in any of these areas. We are just getting on with the job and our job is pretty straightforward. Lead Australia out of the COVID-19 recession, ensure we are leading Australia out of the global COVID-19 health crisis around the world. That is what we're doing, that is what we’re doing today, we’re getting on with the job and getting stuff done.

Armytage: Prime Minister, while we have got you, before we let you go, the buzzwords this week, Harry and Meghan. The interview has stirred up debate about Australia becoming a republic. Where do you stand on that? Is it time to open up this discussion again?

Prime Minister: We have got far more important things. My personal position is I have always supported the constitutional monarchy. But that is not going to change anything when it comes to coming out of the COVID recession or the COVID pandemic. Jenny and I watched the interview the other night, I'm sure many Australians did. We met them both when they were out here in Australia and I've got to say, they were just lovely. And I wish them and everyone, this is obviously a traumatic time for them and all of their families and I just wish them the best.

Armytage: I love that you and Jenny sat down to watch it because Rich and I sat down to watch it too. It was compulsive viewing. Prime Minister, we will let you go, thank you for the last time, from me from Sunrise, thank you for your time over the years.

Prime Minister: Thank you, Sam, for everything you have done for the country and your journalism over all these many years. I wish you all the best in the next stage of your life.

Armytage: Oh, thank you, I appreciate that. And well done on leading us through these last 12 months or so, we appreciate it.

Prime Minister: Thank you.