Radio interview - FiveAA Mornings with Leon Byner

18 Jul 2022
Prime Minister
Pandemic leave payments; Supporting Australians through the COVID winter wave; Dealing with the previous government’s trillion dollars of debt; Addressing rising insecure work; Repairing Australia’s international relations

LEON BYNER, HOST: Let’s talk to Australia's boss, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. Prime Minister, thanks for coming on today and welcome.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, Leon. Always good to chat with you.

BYNER: Now, pandemic leave has been extended until September. Why did the Government dig their heels in on this only to backflip at the last minute?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, of course, the decision to have time limits on the emergency payments were done by the former government. What we did was inherit that decision when we received advice from the Chief Medical Officer and other health officials, which I received on Friday. We acted very quickly to convene a meeting of the National Cabinet and I'm pleased that all of the Premiers and Chief Ministers agreed with the proposal to reinstate it, again time limited, until the 30th of September, and to share the funding going forward for the additional time to make sure that we get over this hump, which is there as a result of this very infectious BA.4/5 form of the Coronavirus strain.

BYNER: There are calls for a permanent telehealth rebate. Is this something that's under consideration at the moment?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we've also made provision for additional time for telehealth consultations particularly, so that people can get consulted about whether they need antiviral medicines, in order to alleviate the symptoms which are there from COVID. We will continue of course to examine use of new technology, telehealth procedures of course can make a major difference going forward. And the Health Minister will look at that as we go forward. But again, that will be provided until the end of October. We want to make sure that we deal with the challenges that are before us with time limited responses to deal with the specific circumstances because we know that as well as inheriting some of these decisions, the Government did inherit a trillion dollars of debt. And that's why we need to be very cautious when it comes to government expenditure.

BYNER: This inheritance, by the way, of the trillion dollars are we able to pay that down to make much of a difference over time?

PRIME MINISTER: Well over a period of time, of course we will have to address it. But what we know is that increases in interest rates will also increase the payments that are required. And that just adds to the challenge. And that's why we will be producing a budget in a couple of months' time that will be going through line-by-line looking at areas where we can make savings. So it's an enormous amount of waste. And we know for example, that some $18 billion of JobKeeper payments went to companies that were actually increasing their profits, not decreasing them. And with proper provisions and fiscal policy and proper prudence that could have been avoided. But once the payments have been made, it's actually not possible to get those payments back. It's a sort of example of waste that we have seen that, of course, that all adds on to the debt. And if that wasn't there, then the Government could have found a lot more sensible ways to help people with that sort of money. That's just one example of the waste and bad policy that was in place from the former government that has helped to add to the level of debt which is there.

BYNER: Premier of New South Wales, Dominic Perrottet has raised questions about the seven day COVID isolation period. Do you see this changing anytime soon?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we had that discussion. And the advice that is there from the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Kelly, was that now is certainly not the time for that to be reconsidered, that that's something that health officials will continue to look at. But given the increased spread of the COVID virus in recent times that we'll see continuing, it's expected to peak over coming weeks, now's not the time to change those provisions which are there.

BYNER: What is the situation with casual workers and pandemic leave, what are they entitled to?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they're entitled to up to this $750 payment, depending upon, of course, their period of work. And what that will do is make sure that they're in a position where they don't have to choose between going to work or doing the right thing, and isolating and protecting themselves and others without being without an income. One of the things that this has really exposed as well is something that I've spoken about on your programme before Leon, which is the increase in insecure work. And we can't solve that problem overnight. But it is a reminder that so many people out there are working without annual leave, without sick leave, without these sorts of entitlements that Australians used to take for granted. And that's where this problem arises. Given the new financial year for many people, their sick leave entitlements to permanent workers will have kicked in and if they contract COVID, then they can get their sick leave payments for the time in which they isolate. But for casual workers, so many of them simply don't have sick leave.

BYNER: Can you see that changing? Obviously, it'll be a legislative change if there is one, do you see anything changing?

PRIME MINISTER: Well over a period of time, we need to work towards more secure work, one of the things that we will do is to put into the Fair Work Act secure jobs as one of the objectives of the Act. And it can't be changed overnight, it's something that will be on the agenda at the Jobs and Skills Summit, is how we give people that security because it's not just a matter of the fact of people not having sick leave or annual leave. It's also the fact that how do you get a mortgage if you don't have secure work? How do you plan to have a child or another child, if you don't have a secure income? It's something that is a growing problem in our society. It's something that we identified before the election. It's something that my Government wants to work with employers and unions to promote secure work.

BYNER: Now, it's looked as if your early priority has been mending or strengthening international relations. How successful have we been so far?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we've been very successful. I didn't choose the date of the Quad leaders' meeting that was just two days after the election. I left for Tokyo on the Monday morning, and I met with President Biden, Prime Minister Kishida and Prime Minister Modi, they're Australia's important relations. I then met with President Widodo and that was a very successful meeting in Indonesia, of course, and then attended the NATO summit in Europe. There, we needed to repair our relationship with France. France has been a partner of ours through two World Wars. And they have been such close friends and that relationship was obviously very damaged indeed. And that's important, domestically, as well, one of the things that the war that has been undertaken as a result of the brutal invasion of Ukraine by Russia, it's a reminder that we're not immune from international events. That's had an impact on our petrol price, that's had an impact on our food and grocery prices and on global inflation. And we need to acknowledge that, we need also to look at ways in which we can grow our jobs and trade, the European trade deal had stalled completely as a result of the breakdown in the relationship with France. Now, that's back on track, just as our relationship with our Pacific neighbours is back on track, as well. We need to have good international relations, because that impacts on the living standards of your listeners in everyday prices, in the way that jobs are created, and in the way that the Australian economy functions, as well as of course, the need for security, including in our own region.

BYNER: Interesting you say that Prime Minister, because the Opposition have had a go at you for spending too much time out of the country. Do you think they've got it wrong?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, when Peter Dutton returns from leave, he can make comment on that. I find it quite astonishing that someone, including the Shadow Treasurer, would make comments likening a visit to a war zone in Ukraine to a holiday in Hawaii. Let me assure you that Ukraine at the moment is not on travel brochures. Indeed, it's on a list of countries not to visit. And when I visited there, it was with, of course, considerable protection from our Australian Defence Forces. And they actually criticised me for not ringing home. Well, we didn't have phones. We went electronically silent for obvious security reasons, because of the risks that were attached to such a visit, not just for myself, but for our Defence Force personnel and others who were providing protection and security for the visit, as well as the security of people who we're meeting with, including President Zelenskyy.

BYNER: What's your biggest challenge right now, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: To get the economy back on track, and to make sure that it's an economy that works for people, not the other way around, to see Australia through this latest wave of the pandemic, in a way that protects people.

BYNER: Prime Minister, thanks for coming on this morning. And you know that if ever you want to talk to our state, you have access, you just ring in or let me know and you've got it.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much.