Interview on Today

05 Feb 2020
Prime Minister

ALLISON LANGDON: Good morning to you Prime Minister. 

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning Ally. 

LANGDON: Now the independent commissioner will have the powers of a rolling royal commissioner. But as we know, every day counts here. When can we be moving on this?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we've got to get the laws set up and get that through the parliament. But we'll be setting up an interim Commissioner, which will be working out of my department straight away. And the first task of this Commissioner will be to look at a whole series of cases in the past to ensure we're getting the lessons from those, and that's very important. I spoke to Julie-Ann Finney last night, who's been an advocate with this for many times. And she couldn't be more pleased that we're taking this step. It's bigger and better than a royal commission, beyond what she had hoped for, because this is an ongoing problem. We can't just look back. We've got to look forward.

And the other thing we've established is a Veterans’ Families Advocate that sits within the Department of Veteran Affairs. The other thing I learned from talking to these families, that they need help and support as well to go through this, our veterans policies and programs rightly focus on veterans. But we must think of the families as well and ensure that we're working closely with them.

KARL STEFANOVIC: PM I was on 2GB at the end of last year and this was running hot. News Limited have also done a terrific job in trying to get this up. I think it's a timely and important inquiry. Some veterans told me though, they feared, and let me put this delicately, what an inquiry like this would do to their own mental health in raising post-traumatic issues, deep issues in many cases, private issues. This inquiry will need to be mindful of that delicate- and considerate to certain personnel. 

PRIME MINISTER: I agree. And that's why we've gone down this path rather than the traditional approach of a royal commission, because it does have those risks. I spoke to many of those veterans myself, also Karl, and I spoke to the President of the RSL who had not been supportive of a royal commission in that sense. And that's why I think we've come up with a much better way that brings everybody together. Veterans like Phil Thompson, who serves in our parliament but served in uniform and served with so many Australians, and he's been to too many of these funerals. I remember on one day we were walking into a press conference and Phil got the news as we were walking to the microphones that another one of his mates had taken his life. So we've got to be very sensitive to that. And that's what this Commissioner will do. And I think also having the Families Advocate will be helpful in supporting families through this as well. But you’re dead right. That's what you have to do.

LANGDON: Well, Prime Minister, yesterday was the first day back in parliament. We should have been solely focussed on the bushfire crisis, instead it was marred by the Bridget McKenzie sports grant saga and the Nationals leadership spill. Were you happy to see Barnaby Joyce fail?

PRIME MINISTER: I was happy to see the Nationals deal with these matters as quickly as possible as they did so we could get the focus very quickly back on to the importance of yesterday, which was to honour certainly and firstly, those who lost their lives in these terrible fires and many of the families of those who'd fallen in Australia's name were able to be there and get that comfort and support, but also to honour all of those who certainly continue to serve to this day, that Michael McCormack has made it clear this morning that he, you know, he's apologised, that there was that event yesterday morning, but they dealt with it quickly. And we've got back straight on the job as we never departed from as, in the government.

LANGDON: I mean, it was an ugly distraction yesterday. Prime Minister, you know, he'll be back.

PRIME MINISTER: No, he said he's not challenging again. So I think that issues-

STEFANOVIC: Because that never happens in politics. 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, the media might want to talk about it, but I think Barnaby ruled a line under that pretty clearly yesterday. So we just get on with the job, which is what Australians expect us to do. 

STEFANOVIC:  Alright, you may not have Michael McCormack for long I reckon, will you work with Barnaby because he ran for leadership yesterday on an anti-environment platform. He vowed to promote coal, and build coal fired power stations, enable land clearing and said the government should not be succumbed on climate change by greenies. That sounds like a good partner in crime for you, don't you think?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm going to put in place the policies I took to the last election, that's what I'm doing. We're going to keep rolling those out, we’re going to keep the economy strong. And on issues like hazard reduction, I announced yesterday that we're recommending Mark Binskin to lead this royal commission. One of the issues he's going to be looking at closely, not just the federal powers, which you know I've talked about before, Karl, about how and when I can send in the defence forces without request but on our own initiative, but also because when we're thinking about the bushfire season the next one, then hazard reduction is as important, if not more than I would argue, to keep people safe- than emissions reduction. The royal commission assumes that our climate has changed and there is climate change. The issue is what you do about it, the practical actions that keep people safe, and emissions reductions, land clearing. All of these things are critical to that.

STEFANOVIC: But of course our- the perception is, the perception out there is and I know you and I have argued about that perception before, but the perception is we need to do more. But the Nationals want you to do less. How on earth do you sleep together? 

PRIME MINISTER: We’ve been a Coalition always in government, and the great beneficiary of that has been the Australian people. Stronger economy, stronger national security, sensible balanced policies, particularly on things like climate change. And you know we listen to all Australians and we listen to Australians right across the country, not just those in the inner city. And we listen to those out in the far flung parts of our remote territories. Our bush, our regional communities. And it's important to listen to everybody but take people forward on practical, balanced action that doesn't go and write people's jobs off, or industries off. That doesn't go and put taxes on people. I mean, action on climate change does not mean taxing people. It's about technology, not taxation. So we won't be bullied into higher taxes or higher electricity prices. What we'll do is take practical action that deals with these challenges. And that challenge is living in a hotter, drier and longer summer where these risk of these bushfires we need to be more resilient to. So I'm going to focus on the stuff that works. The stuff that actually reduces risk and the stuff that ensures that people can be safer in summer.

LANGDON: Ok and Prime Minister, just very quickly what can you tell us about the second evacuation flight to get stranded Aussies in Wuhan home?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's on its way to Auckland, there’s around about 35 Australians on that flight and they’ll be ultimately transferred back to Christmas Island when they arrive in Auckland. Our focus on Coronavirus is to keep Australians protected here in Australia first. And we've been one of the first movers, if not the first mover, on important issues like travel bans and things of that nature. We'll have another flight going into Wuhan. We're working on that now. And the transfer arrangements to Christmas Island are working very well. And we've had no presented cases there on Christmas Island at this point. But what I want to tell people is that they can't count on a further flight beyond that or one into mainland China at some point. So there are flights coming out of mainland China now and people should avail themselves of that if they wish to. But my focus, the National Security Committee met yesterday again, our focus is on keeping people safe here in Australia. And the arrangements we’ve put in place have been very effective. We've had three people already discharged who had contracted the virus. And they're fine and they've gone back about their lives and there are 10 active cases at the moment. But in so many other countries, we're seeing a different scenario play out. Our containment measures are working well.

STEFANOVIC: PM, thank you for your time and congratulations on the independent Commissioner that you appointed into veterans affairs and what's happening with our veterans that needs to be acknowledged today. Appreciate your time.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Karl. Just one other thing- can I thank the Chinese Australian community for the way that they’ve been respecting and honouring these, these quarantine arrangements and these self-isolation. They've been so fantastic. And I just want to thank them very much for their cooperation.