PM Morrison writing at his desk in his prime ministerial office

Radio interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW

Transcript
19 Feb 2019
Prime Minister
E&OE

NEIL MITCHELL: Prime Minister Scott Morrison, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER: G’day Neil, good to be with you. I’m sorry we couldn’t catch up the other day.  

MITCHELL: Thank you, I understand you were ill. Thank you for your time. This cyberattack - the head of ASIO says it's an unprecedented threat, the damage will last for years. Can you rule out China as the main suspect?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I'm not commenting on where it might come from other than to say the sophistication, as I said in the Parliament yesterday, has led agencies to advise that this is a state actor but I'm not...

MITCHELL: What does that mean, what’s a state actor?

PRIME MINISTER: Well it means it’s a government. But we're not in any position to attribute that to any particular nation.

MITCHELL: So we don't know who did it.

PRIME MINISTER: We're not in a position to do that.

MITCHELL: Sorry but who do you know who did it or not?

PRIME MINISTER: No what I'm saying is you don't go and make those claims wildly.

MITCHELL: I'm not asking you to say.

PRIME MINISTER: I'm not suggesting you are. So we don't have any information, I don't have any information that would enable me to make that claim.

MITCHELL: So you don't know who did it?

PRIME MINISTER: I've said what I've said, Neil. That's a very specific wording I've used.

MITCHELL: Well clearly you've got suspicions.

PRIME MINISTER: Well it's not up to me to have suspicions and share them, it's up to me to to speak to the facts as we know them and what we can be very confident of.  

MITCHELL: Can you give us a list of likely suspects?

PRIME MINISTER: No.

MITCHELL: China says media speculation on this is heightening tensions between the two countries, is that right?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I'm not responsible for the media.

MITCHELL: No, no, but are tensions being heightened? Are tensions with China heightened?

PRIME MINISTER: We work constructively with China. I've met with [inaudible] as well as the President and we have a very important relationship with China and I'm very positive about particularly the economic growth of China. I mean, there's some suggestion that Western countries don't want to see and want to frustrate China's growth. We don't share that view. We want to see China do well. I've just been down in Melbourne recently for, you know, Chinese New Year celebrations. I think this is one of the key points - we celebrate their prosperity. And you know we've got one point two million Australians of Chinese heritage in Australia. And we celebrate those links and they’re positive.

MITCHELL: Prime Minister, I take from what you said that you've got a fair idea who's responsible and you don't want to say it, is that right?

PRIME MINISTER:  I'm not going to get into a discussion on security matters.

MITCHELL: But once it is established, will you make it public?

PRIME MINISTER: Well again, whatever we might say would be a matter that I would consult with the National Security Committee of Cabinet.  

MITCHELL: Fair enough. What… what have they got on us? Whoever did it and whoever did it, what information they got now?

PRIME MINISTER: Well yesterday Alastair MacGibbon I think sort of went into that and it's not clear what the precise purpose of this is at this stage. But those investigations continue and there is no suggestion that there is any, any at this point, any greater access to information.  But these things are concerning, as I said yesterday...

MITCHELL: If they've hacked in, there must be access to information.

PRIME MINISTER: Well I mean, people can make all sorts of suppositions. But I've just deal with the information that I have.

MITCHELL: Is there any is there any evidence or suggestion that could have been an attempt to interfere with our democratic process?

PRIME MINISTER: No, and I said that. There's no evidence to suggest that at this point.

MITCHELL: Why else would you be hacking into the Parliament?

PRIME MINISTER: Well that’s supposition, that’s speculation. And what I said in the Parliament yesterday… see, as Prime Minister I've got to stay on the facts

MITCHELL: I understand, I understand.

PRIME MINISTER: The facts say that there is there is no evidence of that. But clearly one of the general areas of risk, not specific to what I'm, you know, I've identified in the Parliament yesterday is that we need to make sure Australia is protected from this. This is why we introduced the foreign interference laws into the Parliament and...

MITCHELL: But wasn't there a warning to upgrade the system in 2015, three or four years ago?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we did and have been.

MITCHELL: The political parties as well?

PRIME MINISTER: The political parties do this under their own steam, just like any company or business does. And that's why all all businesses, all political organizations. You know, even 3AW’s website and systems. I mean, everybody is responsible for their own security on their own sites just like they are for protecting their own home. 

MITCHELL: But would I be correct in saying the area that's been hacked has a lot of personal details and on a lot of voters?

PRIME MINISTER: That's not clear. I've heard that being suggested, but there's nothing to suggest, at least in front of me, that has occurred.

MITCHELL: So it's possible, we don't really know.

PRIME MINISTER: Well anything's possible but that doesn’t mean it happened.

MITCHELL: OK. Border protection. Isn't the problem that you've been campaigning about and saying the weakening of the borders, isn't that fixed now? Nauru's tightened the laws.

PRIME MINISTER: Well what Labor did last week was weaken them.

MITCHELL: But hasn't Nauru fixed it now?

PRIME MINISTER: Well it's not quite clear what they've done and how that will play out. I think what's happened in Nauru is a good example of what happens and how Labor didn’t think through what playing around with border protection laws will do. I mean, there are consequences.

MITCHELL: The reports are in Nauru though, limited medical evacuations and stopped remote assessment by doctors. Is that right?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I'm still getting reports in of exactly what they've decided to do and what the legal force of that is.  But look that's a matter for them and it's a reminder that it's their country.

MITCHELL: But if they have done that, it certainly reinforces the strength and undermines your argument that it's weakened, doesn’t it? If they have done that?

PRIME MINISTER: What Labor did was weaken our border protection.

MITCHELL: And now Nauru has tightened it again.

PRIME MINISTER: Well what Nauru has indeed done and, that it is legally able to be done, well we’ll make our assessment on that. But there's no leave pass here for Labor. Labor weakened the border protection laws last week wilfully, wilfully.

MITCHELL: ASIO also says the leak on their advice was incorrect and you were in part using that leak publicly to convince us the boats were coming. Are the boats still coming?

PRIME MINISTER: They were always at risk of coming. That never changes.

MITCHELL:  But are the increased risks still there?

PRIME MINISTER: Of course there is. There's always that. When you weaken the border protection laws, as was said last night by Mike Pezzullo the Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, that always increases risk. Now I have taken actions on the advice of these agencies, particularly Home Affairs, to take a number of step which has included the reopening of Christmas Island, which was recommend to us by the Secretary of Home Affair. And to strengthen what we were doing with Operation Sovereign Borders and that included everything from our strategic communications through to posturing in terms of where our assets are and what they're doing and that's what we’ve done.  We had to strengthen it because Labor weakened it.

MITCHELL: Is it correct the US has refused entry to 265 people from Nauru who wanted to go there?

PRIME MINISTER: They were always not going to accept everybody, that's their own.

MITCHELL: And why have they rejected them?

PRIME MINISTER: Well for reasons that would suggest that they weren't welcome in the United States because they'd be concerned about who they were.  

MITCHELL: So what, matters of security?

PRIME MINISTER: They’re matters for the US and not for me to comment on.

MITCHELL: But I mean I'm worried that the situation. The US could say these 265 people are not coming here but do they end up in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: Well not under our laws, but they can under Labor's.

MITCHELL: So under these changes they could still come to Australia? Rejected by the US for security reasons, you’d assume.

PRIME MINISTER: That’s exactly right and this is the point we're making. Because in a lot of these cases, these people they won't have serious criminal convictions. But they may well be facing charges for such convictions and not have been sentenced and what Labor did to the laws means there is no ability for us to stop those transfers. The other group, Neil, is the group that have been found not to be refugees.

So they're there because they refused to go home. They're not refugees, they’re living in the community in Nauru and they can also be brought to Australia where they can, you know, engage the court process and play the system like always happens.

MITCHELL: Prime Minister, I know you short for time.

PRIME MINISTER: Oh no, we’re good, we’re good.

MITCHELL: Oh good. Why should we trust Border Force? I mean, they have mucked up this footballer, Hakeem al-Araibi. He spent two months in jail in Thailand because some bloke forgot to send an e-mail. Told him it was OK to travel there. At the very least he's owed a pretty serious apology isn't he?

PRIME MINISTER: Well you know I'll be taking that up with Border Force. There had been a review into these matters internally. But it was my job to get him home and I'm very pleased that Hakeem has come home, and it was great to meet him and his wife recently in Canberra.

MITCHELL: But he wouldn't have been there of Border Force had done their job properly.

PRIME MINISTER: No I don't... I think that is actually a bit of a leap, Neil. There are many other ways that Hakeem would have been kept in (inaudible) other than just that incident. But I'm not suggesting that incident was not something that needs to be addressed. But it would be wrong to assume that other than for that that wouldn't have occurred. I don't think that’s correct.

MITCHELL: A couple of minutes prior, are you happy Mathias Cormann, your Finance Minister, took a junket, free tickets for a family holiday from a company that had just won a billion dollar contract? Is that… it doesn’t look good.

PRIME MINISTER: Well that is not what happened.

MITCHELL: But he did he take free tickets, didn’t he?

PRIME MINISTER: Well no he didn't. He thought he was paying for them.

MITCHELL: Who paid for them?

PRIME MINISTER: He has paid.

MITCHELL: He has after he got caught.

PRIME MINISTER:  Because he wasn't aware. He wasn't aware.

MITCHELL: He wasn't aware and he wasn't paying for the tickets?

PRIME MINISTER: No that's the statement that he's made and he had nothing to do with the issuing of the contract, by the way, that had been issued prior and Ministers aren’t involved in those decisions. There's a clear separation that minister… any suggestion that the two were linked would be complete rubbish.

MITCHELL: Bit it is not a good look, though.

PRIME MINISTER: Well that's why he's cleaned it up.

MITCHELL: After. I've just robbed a bank but I'll give the money back.

PRIME MINISTER: No I think that's a bit unfair to put it in those terms.

MITCHELL: It probably is.

PRIME MINISTER: There was that oversight which had been identified and he fixed it up. I mean what more can he do?

MITCHELL: He could not have taken the free tickets in the first place.

PRIME MINISTER: But he didn't take free tickets in the first place.

MITCHELL: Well they paid for his tickets.

PRIME MINISTER: He was fully… they were going to bill him and he didn’t get billed and that was drawn to his attention he paid the bill.  

MITCHELL: Well what about another case, a former Minister and a Minister Michael Keenan and Michaelia Cash refusing to cooperate with the police investigation. That's outrageous.

PRIME MINISTER: That’s not true.

MITCHELL: Did they refuse to give an interview?

PRIME MINISTER: They were written to and they were asked to respond which they did and they provided responses and the police have not sought any further statement from them. So they have cooperated.

MITCHELL: It's reported today they refused to give statements to federal police, is that right?

PRIME MINISTER: They provided a response and the police have accepted that response and they haven't sought any I'm advised, any further statement.

MITCHELL: So the police didn't want a statement, so they...

PRIME MINISTER: Well I'm just saying that cooperate with the investigation and nothing's been sought from them. And remember what this is about. This is about the alleged…

MITCHELL: A political leak.

PRIME MINISTER: Misuse of union funds by the AWU, Bill Shorten’s union. There was a raid because the police believe they were destroying evidence that may have suggested that the Shorten’s union was sending money, allegedly, to GetUp! and even to his own benefit. So that's what this is about. So Bill Shorten should cooperate and actually provide the minutes of meetings and the other things that are necessary for the police to do their investigation. I think he's the one with the questions to answer and obviously to be cooperating.

MITCHELL: Well I thought everybody should cooperate. You would hope, that didn’t happen here in Victoria.

PRIME MINISTER: They should, you’re dead right Neil. People should cooperate with police investigations and my Ministers have.

MITCHELL: OK speaking just quickly of Victoria, a three billion dollar cheque you us for a road down here. Are we going to get it?

PRIME MINISTER: I will continue to work with the Victorian government. Let's just be very clear. What there is, is a contingent liability in in the Budget. What does that mean? That means if the state government had chosen to trigger investment in the East West Link, then the Commonwealth would have raised that money to support that project. So it's not like there's three billion dollars sitting actually there to spend on the road. That money would have to be added to the bottom line of the Budget and that would have to be allocated, so it would have to be new money. But I can tell you, we've already put in the last Budget there was over seven billion dollars we invested in Victorian infrastructure, we’re investing in busting infrastructure all over Melbourne and I'm keen to do more and I'm keen to work with the Victorian Government to achieve that. And we've got a Budget coming up in April and we'll have a bit more to say that then.

MITCHELL: Prime Minister, you've come back in the polls. Is that the message you're getting from the ground, you’re back in the fight?

PRIME MINISTER: Look all I've been doing Neil is [inaudible], showing Australians what our record is on national security, on the economy and that's what guarantees essential services. People I'm finding when I when I'm relating this to them, are responding well. I think they're focusing very much on the future and what it all means for them. I think, you know, the Canberra Bubble and all the noise here which people go on to, they're telling me very clearly that they're not interested in, there interested in what's going ahead in the future to the extent that is being well received, I welcome it.  

MITCHELL: I assume you're confident about being re-elected.

PRIME MINISTER: Of course. I mean, I didn't take the job on to, you know, to do anything else but that. I took the job one because I believed it was essential that the Liberal and National parties will return to this next election because the Labor Party will change it all. The retirees tax, the housing taxes, busting the borders - all of this, Labor will change it all.

MITCHELL: If you are re-elected, given the history of the party in recent years, can you guarantee to stay Prime Minister for three years?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes.

MITCHELL: How?

PRIME MINISTER: Because our party resolved that last year. An elected Liberal Prime Minister will now have the security of that arrangement over the next term. That's what we saw last year.  

MITCHELL: Well if you’re not re-elected do you want to be opposition leader?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm not contemplating that situation. I'm contemplating being re-elected and ensuring that we continue to keep Australia safe, secure borders, and keep our economy strong.  

MITCHELL: Well they’re both hypothetical

PRIME MINISTER: Not in my mind. I’m dealing with the reality. You know me, Neil. I’ll leave nothing on the field.

MITCHELL: So what emoji are you going to put on your number plate?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh a big smiley face, mate. A big smiley face. You know me, I’m that cheery. How about you? I'd love to know what yours is.

MITCHELL: Might be grumpy.

[Laughter]

Thank you for your time.

PRIME MINISTER: Good on you Neil, cheers mate.