PM Morrison writing at his desk in his prime ministerial office

Radio interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

07 Mar 2019
Prime Minister

BEN FORDHAM: Prime Minister, good afternoon.

PRIME MINISTER: G’day Ben, g’day from Perth.

FORDHAM: Thank you for joining us. You went to Christmas Island yesterday. What did you find?

PRIME MINISTER: Well they've been able to stand up the facility as we asked them to do a couple of weeks ago. That's what was recommended to us after the Labor Party voted to undermine our border protection laws. The Department of Home Affairs said we will now need to set up Christmas Island again. We'd be closed it last year. So it's been stood up. The medical facilities are there. It's ready to receive people who may be transferred under this new scheme. But what it sends a very clear message about is to those who are looking to game this new loophole, well you won't be coming to the mainland - you'll be going to Christmas Island into a very hardened in detention facility.

FORDHAM: What kind of condition is it in, if it hasn't been used for a year? Is it full of cobwebs and mothballs?

PRIME MINISTER: No, no, it was all shut down about October last year and so when they do that and decommission a facility like that, they have a procedure for actually standing it up again. That's what's called a hot contingency, so that means that they can stand it up again pretty quickly, which they've done. And those services are there and you know there's the education books coming back out in the adjacent rooms and the other facilities are put in place. So it's ready to receive. But my hope is that the way we've dealt with this and firmed up our border protection regime to cater for when Bill Shorten sought to weaken, that hopefully it won't get that much that much use.

FORDHAM: So you’re not expecting boats?

PRIME MINISTER: Well not under us, no. I think our border protection regime, I think people smugglers know that when they come up against me they've got a brick wall. If they come up against Bill Shorten, there's an open door. And so the one thing standing I think between those boats and Australia is our Government You know you never give an absolute guarantee on that because as you know there's you know 10,000 people plus up in Indonesia alone who would get on a boat tomorrow if they thought they could get through. But they know we will turn them back, they know we will send them to Nauru but they don't know that about Bill Shorten because he's had umpteen different positions on this and is led around the nose by Tanya Plibersek on border protection.

FORDHAM: The Medivac thing is now reality, right? So are you thinking that there are going to be boats coming and is there any suggestion that we've seen any leave?

PRIME MINISTER: Well what we're seeing is that people know that we're still the Government and that they know I’ll turn boats back. That's what they're certain of. They know that the border protection regime was weakened by the Labor Party and the law. But they also know that I took immediate action to compensate for that by strengthening what we're doing with Operation Sovereign Borders but also you know that they know if you're sitting on Manus Island now then you're not getting to go to Bondi for treatment. You've got to go to Christmas Island and be in a detention facility. That's where you'll receive your treatment.

FORDHAM: So Christmas Island yesterday, in WA today what do what are you up to? Are you on the election campaign trail already?

PRIME MINISTER: Well for the last six months, Ben, since I've taken over as Prime Minister, it's been my task really to get out to Australians all over the country and explain what we're doing as a Government, where we're going to take Australia after the next election if we're successful. This morning I was down at the Henderson wharf facility where we're actually doing all the maintenance on all the frigates. That's a huge project for Western Australia, it's a $900 billion contract to maintain and upgrade those frigates. We're building the offshore patrol vessels, the Pacific patrol boats over here as well. Investing in those defence contracts is actually very important for our economy. We're hitting some headwinds in our economy and so using our defence procurement as a way of actually supporting jobs and industry, not just in Western Australia but right across the country.

FORDHAM: We had a hint of those headwinds yesterday. Were you worried about those economic figures out yesterday? They were indicating if it wasn't for population growth we'd be in recession. Are you still confident about getting back into surplus?

PRIME MINISTER: Well no that's not quite what it said, to be honest. I mean, the Labor Party came up with some new language on these things which was to spin, but the economy is still growing at 2.3 per cent. The economy is growing. That's what it is doing. And I wasn't surprised to see that yesterday because as I've been warning now for some period of time what we're seeing overseas, the softening in global market conditions, then they're not things Australia has control over but they'll have an impact here. So my very simple point is now is not the time - in fact never is the time in my view - but you don't go and deal with a soft global economy by putting $200 billion of higher taxes on your economy, including a $5 billion dollar a year tax on retirees, abolishing negative gearing as we know it, putting up capital gains tax and halving the income tax cuts that we've already legislated for Australians right across right across the spectrum. I mean, that's not how you actually put your economy into a more resilient position. That's what the Labor Party wants to do and I think it will be very, very damaging for our economy if they are allowed to do that.

FORDHAM: When I mentioned that about, you know, if it wasn't for population growth we'd be in recession. I spoke to Terry McCrann yesterday, the business writer from NewsCorp. He almost dropped a swear word, Prime Minister, when he was on the show accidentally. He said, “We are high on the speed of immigration but if you take immigration out of the mix the economy is in deep shhhhh.” And then I had to jump in and save him. So do you disagree with that analysis from Terry McCrann?

PRIME MINISTER: Income per capita, disposable income per capita, these measures show that positive position over the last 12 months and that's been an improvement. Non mining investment also grew yesterday. I mean, what we've seen on business investment is the mining sector continued to lag on investment and that has not been helping the economy go forward. What's been making up for that is the big investments we've been making them in services and infrastructure. That's been important because when you have $80 billion of mining investment stripped out of the economy coming on the downside of the mining investment boom then that's going to have an impact. And that's why we’ve been doing what we're doing in defence industry, infrastructure and other things to ensure that the economy is continued to grow and that's why we've been able to retain our Triple A credit rating. But the great risk of Labor is that they go and get rid of negative gearing as we know it and put up capital gains tax by 50 per cent on these assets. What that will simply do was usher in a hard landing in our housing market and it's already soft now. You go and do that and you only worsen the situation and we all know what that will mean for the economy. So look, I think Terry is right to highlight that there are some real vulnerabilities and risks. And that's why you need to be doing things that are sensible in your economy, investing in the infrastructure and not dampening the economy through higher taxes.

FORDHAM: I know you're tight on time so let me squeeze in a few more and I thank you very much for calling in by the way, we appreciate it. Bill Shorten says the next election will be a referendum on wages and we know wages are too low, they haven't budged in years. I'm guessing you don't have the power to wave the magic wand and guarantee workers a pay rise?

PRIME MINISTER: Well that's why you need your economy to be strong and the only people are going to get a wage rise under Bill Shorten are the people smugglers. That's who is going to get a wage rise under him. As a result of his policies, because he's an open door when it comes to those issues. But I mean, people in the construction industry aren't going to have wage rises under Bill Shorten, he's going to shut the industry down through what he's doing on negative gearing. People who work in the mining industry aren't going to have that because his Cabinet would be quite happy and would think it was wonderful that our mining industry was having problems. He's not standing with them. So I don't know which workers he is actually standing up for. But under our policies the economy will be in a much better shape than it would under Labor, which means you've got a better chance for a wage rise. And on his emissions reduction target of 45 per cent - 45 per cent - versus ours of 26. That means they have to find three times the amount of emissions and that will mean a 9,000 cut to wages over the next 10 years in 2030, by following that policy.

FORDHAM: Let me ask you about the reports out today about this Chinese company that is backed by the Chinese government wanting to build a massive new coal fired power plant in the Hunter Valley. One of your MPs Craig Kelly says it's fantastic. Now, I gather this is a matter for the New South Wales Government but as Prime Minister of Australia, do you have a problem with a Chinese-owned company owning a key part of our power supply?

PRIME MINISTER: Well there are Chinese companies that already do own parts of coal mining operations in New South Wales currently and otherwise those operations probably wouldn’t even be there, which is no good for those who work in those places. But that particular project, there is no federal involvement in that. It would have to follow the normal further approval processes, I imagine. But that’s a matter for the state government, we’re not involved in that.

FORDHAM: OK quick one, as a rugby league fan, what do you make of the NRL players involved in leaked videos in these sex tapes? I know that Phil Gould from the Penrith Panthers says this goes beyond sport, it’s a massive issue for Australians mums and dads. What’s your message to younger people who are facing these issues, that… well, they can basically ruin lives in an instant and we’re seeing that at the moment. What’s your message?

PRIME MINISTER: I just think this is just appalling. I mean, as a fan of the game, as fans, that’s who I identify with. I love going along to the game but I mean, this week I announced $328 million to support programs to prevent violence against women and people have got to lift their act. They’ve got to lift their game.

FORDHAM: We appreciate you calling in, when are you heading back our way?

PRIME MINISTER: I’ll be back there on the weekend and I’ll be back there to be with Gladys at the election campaign launch on the weekend. I was with her on Monday when we announced the Western Sydney International Nancy-Bird Walton Airport which was very exciting. I know many of your listeners would now be able to drive past out there on Elizabeth Drive and see the wonderful picture there of Nancy-Bird. To have one of our airports in Sydney named after our greatest male aviation pioneer and to have Nancy-Bird Walton which was one of his first, I think his first student, and the first women in the Commonwealth, not just Australia, to get a commercial pilots licence. That’s a great tribute to women, I think, in Australia and New South Wales in particular.

FORDHAM: No doubt about it. On a lighter note before I let you go, Ray Williams who is a Minister here in NSW, we have named and shamed him today for using photos on his election posters from about 30 years ago when he had jet black hair. Are we going to see current photos of Scott Morrison on his election posters or old ones?

PRIME MINISTER: No, no you will see current ones.

FORDHAM: With photoshopped shoes or real shoes?

PRIME MINISTER: No, the Prime Minister and Cabinet Department won’t be responsible for that so we’ll make sure my real shoes are in the photo, no problem. And you’ll have to see me all in my white-haired glory.

FORDHAM: I’ll be watching, thanks very much.

PRIME MINISTER: Good on you Ben.