Interview on Today

14 Apr 2020
Prime Minister

9:30 AM

ALLISON LANGDON: We're joined by Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Good morning to you Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: G'day Ally, g’day Karl.

LANGDON: Unemployment reaching double digits, it's a bad number. But as we said it could have been a lot worse.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's a heartbreaking number. Unemployment at that rate, hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs. It is just absolutely heartbreaking. But you're right. The JobKeeper program means that we'll be able to limit that devastation and also we've got the doubling of the JobSeeper program which means those who do find themselves unemployed will be able to gain access to the support that we've never seen in this country before.

KARL STEFANOVIC: It could go to 20 per cent, PM, couldn't it?

PRIME MINISTER: That's not our advice. What we're seeing in many other countries is far worse. We came into this crisis - which is a dual one, a health crisis and an economic crisis - in pretty strong shape. Our balance sheet was strong which meant we have been able and we brought the Budget back into balance which means we're able to do the things we’re doing now and cushion that blow. But it is still a big blow. I don't want to lessen that in terms of how we speak of it. It's a serious impact on our economy, it’s impacting people’s livelihoods and it's heartbreaking. But despite all that hardship, Australians have responded so well and they're doing their best. What they did over the Easter weekend like we asked them to, they did. We're keeping on top of this virus. But we've got to keep keeping on top of it and providing the economic supports that we can, the lifeline we've provided through JobKeeper and JobSeeker to get people through to the other side.

LANGDON: Will you consider expanding the JobKeeper program to include those casuals not currently covered or even foreign workers?

PRIME MINISTER: We've got to draw the line somewhere. That's what the JobSeeker program is for. For those who aren't eligible for JobKeeper, then we've doubled the rate of JobSeeker. They also get access to things like rental assistance and a range of other benefits which means they are certainly not forgotten. There is the strongest social safety net we've ever seen in this country for those who are out of work is now in place. And then we've got the JobKeeper program to keep 6 million Australians connected to their employer. So this is unprecedented in its scale. Over $200 billion now has been committed to supporting our economy for people in the economy. Their businesses, their jobs, to get through to the other side.

STEFANOVIC: PM, the Ruby Princess has been an unmitigated disaster for this country. Do you support an independent inquiry into what went wrong? Tasmania is now dealing with some of those consequences.

PRIME MINISTER: Look, there are a lot of complications that have come from that rather terrible event. But what we've got to do is we’ve...there are going to be failures in the middle of a crisis. There certainly has been here. No one is walking away from that. We've got to keep focused on the next set of problems. The problems down in Tasmania, there are a range of issues there. I spoke to the Premier on the weekend, we sent the Defence Force there to support as well as the AUSMAT teams to support them in north-western Tasmania. This is very important. We’ve got to, as we work through this crisis, we can't allow ourselves to get bogged down in everything that hasn't gone right. There will be things that don't go right. So many more things are going well. Particularly, the work of our health authorities and those who are doing amazing work all around the country. I have got 6,000 extra people processing JobSeeker claims and that's the redeployment of public servants from other areas of work, hiring more people into the job to ensure that we can get that support to people as quickly as possible. We've got to keep looking forward, Karl.

LANGDON: When we start looking at easing restrictions with the lockdown and what will that look like in its early stages?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we've got to not get ahead of ourselves here. The National Cabinet later this week, we are doing a lot of work over the last week or so in particular to look at the sort of prerequisites, the things that need to happen, before you can start considering that. You've seen in places like Singapore and Sweden and other parts of the world where the virus has just taken off again. We can't have those sort of things happen here in Australia. We have to do everything to prevent that. We've learnt a lot over the last few weeks. When we can get a health system to an even higher level of response, we have got one of the strongest testing regimes in the world. But it would need to be stronger still to ensure that we can stay on top of any outbreak in the future. 

The immediate response capacity to outbreaks, wherever they might come, we've got to be able to slap down on these things very hard if we're to look at easing of restrictions. So we are looking at how that can be achieved. But I wouldn't want to mislead people. We're still many weeks to go on this. That's important to keep on top of the virus and while people are being amazing in complying with what we've been asking for, we can't allow that to be eroded by being premature in the easing of any restrictions.

STEFANOVIC: Ok, a couple of quick ones but important ones. Are you going to bail out Virgin and help Qantas? I'm hearing Virgin is very close to perhaps going into administration. Will you throw them a lifeline. 

PRIME MINISTER: We've been very consistent and the support we've provided in the economy has been sector wide. We haven't been picking any winners or picking any favourites here. What we've been doing is ensuring we're giving sector-wide support, which has already been quite significant to the aviation sector. The Transport Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, has been working with those airlines around domestic trunk routes. They've already worked together with them on international routes that are vital, not just bringing people home and getting people to their homes but also to support much needed freight and transfer of medical supplies. So we'll continue to deal with the sector on a sector-wide basis.

LANGDON: What about the NRL starting back in late May? No one wants to see the Sharkies back more than you. But is it a bad look for the game?

PRIME MINISTER: I like the ambition. I like that they're planning to try and get the show back on the road at least in some form. That's what we're all trying to do. That's what the National Cabinet will be doing this Thursday as we look at what needs to be done further to shore us up further so we can look at restrictions easing at some point. The NRL are doing no different to that. I like they've got an ambitious date. But it will be subject to the health advice. There will be no special set of arrangements, the health advice is paramount and I'm sure they’ll comply with it.

STEFANOVIC: One final one before we get to the news, the World Health authority, our favourite authority, they've backed the reopening of wet markets where this virus is supposed to have originally come from. Your thoughts? And be nice.

PRIME MINISTER: I think that’s unfathomable, frankly. We need to protect the world against potential sources of outbreaks of these types of viruses. It's happened too many times. I'm totally puzzled by this decision. We don't have them here in Australia, and I am just puzzled by that decision. We have to stay focused on what is right in front of us and what we're doing here in Australia and the policies we're putting in place, the big responses economically and health wise. 

And keep communicating and encouraging people. I hear you've got Claudia from Coorparoo coming on the program this morning. She sent me a question the other day. She misses being able to see her grandmother, I understand that. I know there are a lot of kids going through this and grandparents separated from grandkids. It's terribly hard on Australians. But they're responding well and I want to thank them again for the great work they did over Easter. Keep going Australia, you’re doing a great job. We’ve got to keep doing it to keep us all safe and to get ourselves back on track, which we will. 

LANGDON: As you are too, Prime Minister, thank you for your time. We did love the interview with Claudia that you’re talking about, that you did a podcast with a whole bunch of kids who could write in questions and you answered them directly. So well done you for doing that.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Ally. It was good chatting to them. All the best.