Interview on Today

05 Aug 2020
Prime Minister

KARL STEFANOVIC: Prime Minister Scott Morrison joins us now from Canberra, PM good morning to you. First up to that explosion in Lebanon. Terrible situation. We know there are many Australians who live there and many more here who have relatives there.

PRIME MINISTER: That's true. There’s about 20,000 Australians at any one time who are in Lebanon. Karl, and it's my deep regret to inform you that one Australian has been killed in this horrific blast. We obviously can't confirm details of that at this stage because there's contacts with families and others. But our hearts go out to all of those in Lebanon and in Beirut in particular at the moment. You can see from the image of the blast, it is just absolutely devastating. But beyond that, as we know, there are hundreds of thousands of Australians who have Lebanese descent and they'll be concerned about family members. We provided the number to you that I hope is on the screen now that people can call if they are worried about family members. And I can say, though, please be patient. Our Embassy in Beirut has been impacted significantly and, but I can report all our staff there are okay. Some cuts and some scratches and these sorts of things. But they'll be seeking, I know that people were sleeping, will be sleeping there to ensure that the facility is not compromised. So they're doing a great job there and they'll be doing all they can. But our hearts really go out to our Lebanese Australian community. I know there’ll be many prayers in the Maronite churches and the mosques in Australia. But again, given the COVID restrictions, I would just urge the appropriate response, those private prayers this morning, I think will be the ones that people will be offering and so will I.

STEFANOVIC: Well said, PM, that's the number there for loved ones to reach out to the Department of Foreign Affairs. That is below me on your screen, 02 6261 3305. That's the number there. But one Australian, as confirmed by the Prime Minister has been confirmed, has died in that explosion. Terrible news. Okay, let's move back to Australia now, if we can. Victoria is a state in crisis. The death toll, rising. Loved ones are burying family. Others are just separated at the moment. The economy is being battered. Some of us are broke and others are right on the edge. PM, where do you even start?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you start by providing all the support you possibly can, today those pandemic leave disaster payments will be available, 180 22 66, we've been able since I made the announcement on Monday to come to the agreement with the Victorian government that that applies to all those who are impacted and have to go into isolation. So whether you’re a short term visa holder, those costs are borne by the Victorian government and for Australian residents and citizens they are borne by the Commonwealth, where other states want to move into those disaster payment arrangements then that offer is made to them, that will be formally made to them. But those payments are in place, also in child care we've been working since that announcement, as I said, to get arrangements in place for child care. We're giving a triple guarantee. That is to parents they keep all their places, we will keep paying for the childcare facility, the subsidies related to their child's attendance at childcare facilities so they can keep them home but not lose their place. They won't be up for any gap payments or anything like that. That means the facilities with an additional sustainment payment from the Commonwealth will mean those facilities will remain viable. And that means the staff who will have an employment guarantee from those facilities will mean that they continue to be supported. So a triple guarantee on childcare in Melbourne. And that was those arrangements we were able to settle late last night. But there are many others that still need to be put in place. And the Victorian government I know is working on those and ensuring supplies, distribution centres, industry has been raising many issues, both directly with the Victorian government and with us. And we've been putting those issues directly to the Victorian government to address them in putting these restrictions. And we want to help them to try and get them right.

STEFANOVIC: Look, the RBA seems to indicate unemployment will reach at least 10 per cent, 70,000 jobs lost in Victoria’s stage four lockdown alone, that seems staggering to me. And the RBA wants even more stimulus. Will you provide it?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we haven't been shy doing any of that, as you know, Karl. We've well over $300 billion dollars now in balance sheet and direct fiscal support. The payments I’ve already announced this week, the additional support for childcare. So I don't think anyone can suggest that the Commonwealth Government has been in any way anything other than providing every support that's needed and necessary. We're careful, of course, how we do it in its design and because we just want to make sure we get it right and we can get it to people who need it. And I think the pandemic disaster payment that you can get from eight o'clock this morning over the phone, I think is a good example of that. But the real unemployment rate we know is a lot higher than what the what they call the measured rate. I mean, we already know I mean, in the last figures we had was over 11 per cent that had already fallen from 13.9. But I obviously fear that what we're seeing in Victoria and in Melbourne, in particular, will set us back there. There's no doubt about that and that's, they’re numbers. But it's hard news for the people who lose their job and lose their businesses. That's the bit that really grips me.

STEFANOVIC: Oh, it's just terrible. And the reality is that many Victorian businesses are going into a coma and some just won't make it out. I mean, Wesfarmers boss Rob Scott, as you would know, says the Victorian government has left businesses concerned, confused and frustrated. He said scaling down construction was deeply problematic. This is startling and a brutal assessment. No one wants to play the blame game here, PM, as you would know. But those criticisms raise some serious questions. And it seems like this morning you're asking some of those same questions of the Victorian government?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we've been putting these issues directly to Victoria, and I think it's best that I just put it that way. I know also industry. I know that the Treasurer, our Treasurer last night, Josh Frydenberg, was having hook-ups with a lot of industry players. Those issues are being relayed directly on to the Victorian Treasurer, Tim Pallas. 

STEFANOVIC: Are they listening?

PRIME MINISTER: We're working closely with the Victorian government. But these are very real issues and we'll look to see their responses, Karl. I mean, these issues are being raised directly. Some of them are very urgent, particularly around distribution centres. The issues around major construction projects, there's some serious issues raised there and we'll be relaying those further on today. I know the Premier was working on these last night. I know that for a fact. And so it's important that they get these restrictions right. They’ve brought them in and we need to make sure they're as practical as possible and that's why we've moved so quickly on the childcare. I mean, that's something we can do something directly about and straight after those announcements, I spoke to Dan Tehan, the Education Minister, and I said, get on it, mate. We need to move on this very quickly and I'm pleased that he was able to do that and I got the email at about eleven o'clock last night. 

STEFANOVIC: Sounds to me like you're all over the Victorian government like white on rice this morning. 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, we got to work together. We've got to make this work. I think the report that I saw of a Victorian police officer being assaulted by someone pretending to do this in the name of liberty was just disgusting. I mean, people have got to get real, too. I know this is tough. I know it's frustrating. I know it's hard to understand and it's confusing. I understand all that. But we've got to make this work and we've got to push through that and I know there's going to be things that really test people's patience. I get that. And we're going to try and put everything we can to support Victoria to get this right as best as they can. But we’ve also got to do the right thing by each other, and that's up to us.

STEFANOVIC: One final question, finally. The threats from China, you allude to establishing an alliance of like-minded nations in a speech you'll give today and in the Indo-Pacific region to combat increased militarisation and cyber attacks in the region. Is China part of a like-minded alliance?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I say in this speech that as China's economic growth has increased, they have a special responsibility like any large power. I mean, the United States have always had those responsibilities and they have responsibilities to ensure peace and stability within the region. And you do that by, I mean, we welcome China's growth, but that growth should not be leading to instability in the region. It should be promoting stability in the region. And that's what is the view that I get from like-minded countries all around the region who I speak to all the time to ensure that we achieve that. 

STEFANOVIC: Sounds like you've got a sniffle today, PM. Are you okay?

PRIME MINISTER: No, it's just cold out here mate. The courtyard is very cold this morning. I can tell you, other than that, I am fighting fit.

STEFANOVIC: Good on you. We need you fit, too. Thanks, PM. Really appreciate it.