BEN FORDHAM: I can only guess that he’s here to call the election now, live on the air in what would be a 2GB exclusive – that’s just a guess I might be wrong - Scott Morrison good afternoon to you.
PRIME MINISTER: G’day Ben – there’s a fair chance you might be wrong. Fair chance.
FORDHAM: Oh, what?
PRIME MINISTER: No mate I’m here in Sydney and it’s nice to be back home after a big week down there Canberra with the Budget.
FORDHAM: You’re kidding, hang on a moment, you're letting me down here. I was convinced, hang on a moment, he’s going to buck all tradition here, he’s going ignore tradition and he's going to call the election live on my show.
PRIME MINISTER: As it's usually done by most prime ministers?
FORDHAM: Then you’ll go and see the Governor-General on Saturday or Sunday.
PRIME MINISTER: Well the election will be called in April and it will be held in May, that's as much of the detail I can tell you about today Ben.
FORDHAM: I’ve just missed out on one of the biggest scoops of my life.
PRIME MINISTER: Well it wouldn’t be the first time.
FORDHAM: Alright, well look we do have a few minutes to talk to you, so if you change your mind, I’m here. First things first, reaction to the Federal Budget, let's get to that. First of all you're promising Australia will be back in the black, back in surplus.
PRIME MINISTER: Yep.
FORDHAM: How do you reckon the Budget has been received by Australians? You’ve already had a chance to get a bit of a sense of that?
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah the feedback I've had, I was down in Nowra this morning just chatting to people down there and obviously I’ve been getting a lot of feedback through the phones and people's electorate offices all around the country. I think people do see it as a good balance between responsibility and reward for people's effort, but also the reality of what we're facing in terms of the economic challenges ahead. I think they see that as a good balance.
I mean it’s a Budget about saying to people; “If you have a go, you'll get a go,” and “we're not going to hold you back”. That's what tax cuts are all about, not just right now but into the future as well; you keep more of what you earn. The investments, particularly in our major cities on the infrastructure and the congestion-busting initiatives, that's been well-received, because we've been rolling out those programs for a while. But the broader road projects - like the one I was talking about this morning on the South Coast - many of you listeners would know the notorious section of the Princes Highway down at the Sussex Inlet turnoff – it’s $ 500 million and working all the way down the coast.
These sorts of projects is why you want a strong economy. I mean, it's great we're having a surplus next year, we've worked hard to get to it. But a surplus of itself, isn't the point. It's what you use the surplus to do and that is to pay down the debt and invest in the essential services Australians rely on.
FORDHAM: I was watching Q&A at the start of the week.
PRIME MINISTER: Why?
FORDHAM: I had a problem with the remote control, I got stuck. Anyway, I tuned in on Monday night and there was someone asked a question - this this whole thing about power bill relief – “Why don't people on Newstart get it?” I mentioned the next day I really quite liked how Arthur Sinodinos said; “Look, I don't know.” You don't often hear that from politicians. But he said; “I don't know, I don't know the answer for that.” You guys obviously then went and had a look at it and went; “Righto, we’re going to extend it.” Just talk me through how that all unfolded?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I wanted Australians – and we did this a couple years ago for pensions, you see pension welfare payments are different to the others, pension payments are permanent welfare payments. If you’re on a Disability Support Pension, the Age Pension or a widow's pension, these are living welfare payments. The thing about Newstart and a lot of these other allowances is, they’re temporary payments. Two thirds of people are off Newstart within the year. Now there was a growing sense of the mood that in order to see this supported, that it would pass the Parliament quickly in a couple of days - you know we're in a minority government so I have to be sensible with that - I said; “Well, let's not have the politics and the ‘argy bargy’. If that's the genuine consensus that exists across the Parliament, then we’ll extend it to those other payments”. And we're in position to do it, because we outperformed the Budget that I announced just under a year ago, by over $10 billion dollars. So we're in a position to accommodate it.
FORDHAM: Fair enough.
PRIME MINISTER: Let's just get it done.
FORDHAM: And when you consider what Newstart is, it's not a lot of money so I don't –
PRIME MINISTER: No, it’s not Ben. So it was about the Budget, I was happy to do it and it was just being quite practical and sensible.
FORDHAM: Alright, Bill Shorten had his reply last night, among other things he's promising $2.3 billion to slash the cost of cancer treatment for Australians. Do you like that idea? I reckon it's been pretty well received today.
PRIME MINISTER: We all stand with people with cancer, I mean we've got $9 billion of funding going towards 130 separate drugs under the affordable medicines program, the Pharmaceutical Benefit scheme. Where these drugs can cost $150,000, or $200,000 a course, we bring that down to $40.50 and $6.50 for concessions. So you know, we are doing this. I'll take a good look at what they've proposed and it's not clear yet how much of that is actually new money and how much of us overlap with things that are already happening now. So we'll take a look at that when they release the detail.
FORDHAM: In the interest of flexibility, like on the Newstart thing, if you do look at it, if you look at it and go; “Alright we're in a pretty strong position as far as finances are concerned, we might be able to do a few more things for people with cancer considering the number of people impacted by it,” you're willing to take a look at that?
PRIME MINISTER: I'm always interested in how we can help people with cancer. I think what was potentially a bit misleading last night was the suggestion that there aren’t free treatments now.
I mean if you go to a public hospital at the moment, all the things that he was talking about last night, that all happens for free at a public hospital now.
FORDHAM: That's what most of my callers have been saying to me today.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s true.
FORDHAM: Not all of them, but most of them today have saying; “Well you know, when I went through my own cancer battle, I didn't pay for any of this stuff”.
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah and that is true. So, the suggestion that somehow our health system doesn't provide this for free, now, I think is misleading. Or you know, there's another word for it, but let's be good-natured about it.
In the Budget we have announced on Tuesday night, we had the biggest ever program to tackle youth suicide and mental health for young people in this country. I was quite hopeful that he would have supported that last night. I mean that's why - dealing with disabilities today, I announced the Royal Commission into the abuse of people who are disabled – these things should be above politics. Whether it's tackling youth suicide or dealing with cancer, I mean –
FORDHAM: And you’ll go above politics on cancer if you feel you can do more, you will?
PRIME MINISTER: Sure, of course.
FORDHAM: Now, of electric cars. Have you got one?
PRIME MINISTER: I don’t, but I know it takes more than six to eight minutes to charge, I mean crikey. Seriously, I joked today at a lunch event, I was speaking there today; he must have been talking about those little cars you give to your kids. But I don’t think that’s what going to get everybody to work.
FORDHAM: Oh, a Scalextric electric car set? He might have been talking about them.
PRIME MINISTER: I don’t know what he was talking about.
FORDHAM: I should just play for people what we’re referring to. This is Bill Shorten talking to Kyle and Jackie O on KIIS FM.
PRESENTER – RECORDING: How long does it take to charge one up?
BILL SHORTEN - RECORDING: Oh, it can take, it depends what the original charge is. But it can take eight to ten minutes, depending on your charging. It can take longer.
PRESENTER – RECORDING : Oh, is that all?
BILL SHORTEN - RECORDING: Well it depends how flat your battery is.
FORDHAM: Now, what he’s saying is right … because if you charge an electric car for eight minutes, it will get you from Cronulla to Caringbah.
PRIME MINISTER: I don’t think it would get you from Northies to North Cronulla, I don’t think it’d get you that far.
But I think the problem with this is, Bill came up with this plan last Monday and it's clearly not thought through. I mean he reckons that 50 per cent of the cars that we all are driving around in 10 years from now will be electric cars. But the share of the market at the moment, is 0.2 per cent. He hasn't thought through what that means for diesel and fuel excise, that's around about $11 billion a year. Now, if you go and buy an electric car, well obviously you don't pay the fuel excise, what is that going to mean for that revenue stream and what's the cost of that? What about all these charging stations, how much is that going to cost? I mean if you have an electric car and you live in an apartment, are you going to run the extension cord down from your fourth floor window? I mean this thing is not thought through and it's just typical of what we see from Labor; a big goal - a 45 percent emissions reduction target, climate heroes - but the actual detail of it, is all fluff.
FORDHAM: There’s a mob called ‘Aussie Farms’ you may have seen these guys. They’re the people who put that map up of farm locations and they've been invading farm land, even though they've been told not to come on them. We revealed at the top of the show today through the Farmers Federation that they've secretly planned another one on Monday in Queensland and Victoria and also New South Wales. They've done their best through their messaging to say; “We’re going to keep all this quiet, we don't want anyone to know.” We have read out on air this afternoon, with the Farmers Federation what their plans are for Monday. What would you say about activists storming private property and going on to people's farms and terrorizing people?
PRIME MINISTER: Throw the book at them - and there are some other measures that the Government has been looking at, I've been working with the Attorney-General on this and the Minister for Agriculture. I think this is disgraceful, I'm sick of it. You don't - I mean our farmers are going through probably one of the toughest times we've seen in a very, very long time. These grubs carrying on like this, I think it’s despicable.
The fact is, you know the Greens and all these people think this is all jolly and alright. It’s just not on. That's why we're looking at taking further steps on this sort of thing, we’ve been working closely with the AG, I won’t say much more about it now. But this is not Australian. This is what I really can't stand about all of this, these types of initiatives; why are Australians looking to go to war with Australians over this? Why can't they help each other out? I mean they think their cause is bigger than the livelihood of a fellow Australian. I just find that despicable.
FORDHAM: Speaking of people going to war with Australians, you had said earlier in the week that you're not going to put any Australian life at risk to extract people from conflict zones?
PRIME MINISTER: Correct.
FORDHAM: Talking about people who go and sign up with Islamic State, you've also made some comments in relation to the children of Khaled Sharrouf, one of our most infamous terrorists. You’ve spoken about these children, you’re saying in the case of the children who were the innocent victims of those who took them into this atrocious place, they have a responsibility here. But “where there are Australians who are caught up in this situation particularly as innocent children, we will do what I think Australians would expect us to do on their behalf.” So does that mean bringing them here to Australia?
PRIME MINISTER: It all depends where they are. I mean they're there in a conflict zone currently, so I'm not going to put any Australian diplomat or any other Australian in a position of risk to go and extract anyone from these situations. But we are open to work with the Red Cross if they have identified people and they’re able to come to a position where they might seek travel documents or something like that, for children. In some cases Ben we're talking about orphans.
FORDHAM: I'm really torn on this and I feel so sorry for these children. There are so many children out there PM, who find themselves in circumstances based on the decisions made by their mum or dad, rightly or wrongly.
PRIME MINISTER: True.
FORDHAM: But I really worry too when you got 16 and 17 year olds, I worry whether you’re importing a problem here. If they grow up feeling like their father's life was taken by, you know, Australian-backed forces, are they going to seek revenge or retribution? I mean someone said earlier on the open line, just lastly; “Look, you know, it’s terrible for these kids, but let's face it, is anyone going to want them sitting next to their kid in the classroom here in Australia?”
PRIME MINISTER: Look to be fair, particularly when you're talking about younger children, I mean, kids are kids I think. I think we all respect the innocence of children.
We have pretty strict processes about what we'd have to go through, basically firstly ensuring that their identity is as they say it is and the citizenship issues check out. For that to happen they would have to be in a location where this could be done and in that case if all the checks are completed and they request travel documents, well, that's when the Government actually would consider providing that documentation. But the point is -
FORDHAM: You think we need to show a bit of love. We need to show we’re humane?
PRIME MINISTER: We’ve got to get the balance, I mean these are kids. These are kids and what their parents have done is criminal, going in there and fighting against Australia and against likeminded countries. That’s unacceptable and the other thing I won’t do is separate children from their parents. So if the parents think this is a way of getting themselves over the line, well think again.
But when we’re talking about innocent, unaccompanied children, well that's something we'll have to deal with on a case by case basis and I think, in a sensible way.
FORDHAM: It is a risk though isn’t it?
PRIME MINISTER: We won’t compromise it, but one thing that happened in the Parliament this week Ben – you may be keen to know – there are a lot of these foreign fighters and now they've lost that fight, some of them think; “Oh well, I was all confused and I wish I hadn’t,” and all the rest of it.
Well, my view on that is; “Tough.” On temporary exclusion orders which we sought to legislate in the Parliament this week – and the Labor Party wouldn’t support us - this is a rule that says if any one of these foreign fighters sought to come back into Australia, which if they’re an Australian citizen and their citizenship hasn’t been expunged - then they can enter the country, but we would have been able to put them on what was effectively in a parole-like set of circumstances with reporting provisions. Now the Labor Party didn’t support us to pass that and that meant we couldn't get it through the Parliament. I thought that was another tell from Labor, that when it comes to national security, you just can't trust them, their heart is not in it.
FORDHAM: Bringing the children of terrorists here is a risk, isn't it?
PRIME MINISTER: Well look, I don't think you can generalize to be fair Ben, I think you just take each and every case, you apply your process, the discipline, the intelligence, the judgment and which there are very experienced people working on in this area. So you know, we've just increased for example, our funding in this Budget by $560 million dollars for resources for ASIO and for the Australian Federal Police to bolster their counter-terrorism work.
I mean we are now, sadly but necessarily, surveilling eight times more people than we did when we came to government. That's what we have to do and that's what we are doing. Under our Government going forward, that's what we will always do.
FORDHAM: Really appreciate you sparing some time to call in this afternoon, I know I've probably gone over the allotted time. What have you got on tomorrow?
PRIME MINISTER: That Sharks are playing the Eels mate, so I’m excited about that. I think its going to be the game of the round and down in my beloved Shire it's the opening of the shield season, so some of the district’s boys will be running out for the first time and there's a rumour that the Prime Minister is going to be doing the kickoff. So that could be fairly ugly.
FORDHAM: What have you got on Sunday?
PRIME MINISTER: I go to church on Sunday mate.
FORDHAM: So you’re in Sydney on Sunday?
PRIME MINISTER: I go to church in Sydney, yeah.
FORDHAM: Not planning to go to Canberra on Sunday?
PRIME MINISTER: Oh, we’ll see.
FORDHAM: You are?
PRIME MINISTER: It’s a mystery Ben.
FORDHAM: Do you need the address of the Governor-General’s joint?
PRIME MINISTER: Well he’s going to be here in Sydney too, so you never know.
FORDHAM: So you can just go to the Sydney residence?
PRIME MINISTER: Mate he might be out there at the stadium on Saturday night, mind you he’s a Roosters fan. But Lady Cosgrove is quite keen on the Sharks.
FORDHAM: Alright, so we’ll be at the polls really soon, but you’re not saying when?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, of course not Ben. I mean the election will be called, there are three dates, 11th, 18th or 25th and we’ve just released our Budget. We’re out there – Josh is down in Melbourne today speaking at a number of events and I've been back home in Sydney today and it was also good to be down there with Warren Mundine on the South Coast. He’s doing a visa cracking job down there and getting a tremendous reception. Warren Mundine - I mean you know Warren - I think he's going to be, if he gets the opportunity which I believe he will, I think he'll be fantastic in the Australian Parliament. He's got so much to offer.
FORDHAM: Well I was hoping for the scoop, you haven’t given me one but it's always nice to chat, thank you so much for coming on.
PRIME MINISTER: Good on you Ben, cheers.