Radio Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW

04 Sep 2019
Prime Minister

NEIL MITCHELL: …Three hundred and sixty million dollars on these- widening of the Monash. Why?

PRIME MINISTER: Well there's always swings and roundabouts with these projects. I mean stage one actually came in a little under. Since we first committed to this project and we've had the negotiations with the State Government, we've seen some movements in material costs, we've seen some movements in transport costs. There's a lot of projects going on, not just in Melbourne but around the country too and that's putting some price pressures into the system. But what we find over, you know, we've got a $101 billion program over the next decade and we will find that some projects will increase in costs, others will come under and so there's no overall variation to our overall budget over the period.

NEIL MITCHELL: State Government announced it March 18 last year. You confirmed it September 18 last year. This is the same project, just the price has gone up so really the only thing that’s new today is a price, cost blow-out.

PRIME MINISTER: What it's about is getting it done. And this means nine million-

NEIL MITCHELL: But it was announced in September last year.

PRIME MINISTER: Well as you go through detailed project costing Neil these dollars do move around.

NEIL MITCHELL: 360 million?

PRIME MINISTER: What's important is to get it done. This is nine minutes less on someone's commute time. This is 600 jobs. It's a really important part of dealing with congestion in the southeast. And we're really keen to see it happen. So one of the first things I did after the election is I sat down with Daniel Andrews here, as I did with all the Premiers, and we went over the pipeline of all the projects in all the states and territories and I said we've got to get these things happening, and this is one we've been working on since then so I'm pleased we're getting it done. I'm sure commuters and people who will be having access to those extra lanes over 32 kilometres will be happy about it too.

NEIL MITCHELL: So that's 360 million on a $711 million dollar project, it's almost 50 per cent blow-out.

PRIME MINISTER: We put 500 million in. And now we've increased that by 190. That's just the Commonwealth, so we're talking about a multiple billion dollar project here.

NEIL MITCHELL: Right but it's 360 million more than it was.

PRIME MINISTER: Well and I agree.

NEIL MITCHELL: It's a bit- a huge blow-out.

PRIME MINISTER: Well you know it's for the reasons that I've said so-

NEIL MITCHELL: But won't be done any quicker will it?

PRIME MINISTER: Well now it's getting under now. So that's a good thing.

NEIL MITCHELL: But that was always planned.

PRIME MINISTER: Yes that's right. But it's happening. That's the point and if we didn't commit to these funds Neil it wouldn't be happening. So-

NEIL MITCHELL: It's ready just in time for the next state election.

PRIME MINISTER: We've got to get it done.

NEIL MITCHELL: You know it's ready to open just as the state election hits.

PRIME MINISTER: Well I'm happy that it be open Neil. I don't think punters care when it's before the next election or after, they just want it done and that's what- that's what the Premier and I are working to achieve.

NEIL MITCHELL: I think the Premier cares about the timing. Does this mean East West Link is off the table?

PRIME MINISTER: Not from our point of view, but that's really up to the State Government. I mean-

NEIL MITCHELL: You'd still like to build it?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah. We would and our commitment remains exactly what I said it was before the election. There's been no change in the Premier's view about that and there's been no change in ours.

NEIL MITCHELL: Won't this, I mean, I agree that outbound we certainly need more lanes but isn't this just going to clog. Where does the traffic go when it gets closer to town?

PRIME MINISTER: Well its part- it's stage two and there'll be further stages as well.

NEIL MITCHELL: But you can't widen the tunnel.

PRIME MINISTER: Well it's nine minutes better.

NEIL MITCHELL: So what happens when you get to the tunnel?

PRIME MINISTER: Well you know these are projects right across the network where we're investing in roads which seek to overall reduce commute times Neil but if you're suggesting we shouldn't do it then I disagree.

NEIL MITCHELL: No but I'm- I'm worried about it is just creating a bottleneck as we get to the tunnel we can't widen the tunnel.

PRIME MINISTER: We'll deal with these projects one at a time.

NEIL MITCHELL: What you would look at widening the tunnel?

PRIME MINISTER: Well let's just keep working with the State Government to ensure we do the right thing by commuters here in Melbourne.

NEIL MITCHELL: Speaking the state government I read the Daniel Andrews is your new best friends is that right?

PRIME MINISTER: Well look to be honest we're from different sides of politics and I don't know if we share too many interests but one thing we do share an interest in is getting projects done. We both lead governments. I mean the elections are over now. There was one for us this year. There was one for him last year. And so you know as two leaders of two governments of different political colours we just want to get on and build things.

NEIL MITCHELL: The economy. Figures out today will confirm it's a bit soft, won't they?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I said that the other day- it has softened, what the final numbers are we'll see. But I was pretty pleased with the current account numbers that came out yesterday. That's the first current account surplus that we've had since 1975. I mean Sky Hooks were leading the charts back then.

NEIL MITCHELL: We were hardly in good shape in '75 though?

PRIME MINISTER: Well what I'm saying is our export performance today has been quite extraordinary and that's been building up over many years. I mean we've gone from covering our trade agreements that previously only covered about 28 per cent to 70 per cent, and so you know the work we've done to build our export markets as a government over the last five years is really paying dividends now and we're going to keep expanding those, both with the European Union and with the UK.

NEIL MITCHELL: But the economy's flagging I mean that's all terrific. But it's not doing a lot of good here at the moment, back here and various industry leaders are saying that well for example that the tax cuts have failed, they haven't stimulated spending.

PRIME MINISTER: Well that's a ridiculous comment. I mean the figures that are coming out today are for the June quarter, the tax cuts were passed in the September quarter. The current quarter.

NEIL MITCHELL: You're confidence still they'll work?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah of course I am. And not only that but we've had the cash rate changes, we've got the reductions, we've had the infrastructure program which is rolling out and we're going to spend one and a half billion dollars in infrastructure in Victoria this year, just this year.

NEIL MITCHELL: Are you prepared to spend still more on infrastructure to avoid recession?

PRIME MINISTER: Well what I'll do is continue to monitor the implementation of our plan, see Neil I'm not surprised by the difficulties we're seeing globally at the moment when we put the budget together in May I said we should cut taxes. We should spend more on infrastructure. I said we should invest more in skills transitioning. I said we need to keep the rate of job growth running which is above what our budget estimated. And we've seen record employment growth, we've got 1.4 million jobs have been created, we have had over 100,000 jobs in the last year for people aged over 55. So-

NEIL MITCHELL: Retail spending has contracted, are you concerned by that?

PRIME MINISTER: I know. Yeah I am concerned by that.

NEIL MITCHELL: What do you do about that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well you cut taxes, you build infrastructure, you invest in skills.

NEIL MITCHELL: Well you've done that and you're saying it hasn't flowed through yet?

PRIME MINISTER: No I'm saying that, that happened in the September quarter and the figures we're talking about today were for last year. So you can't govern by rear-vision mirror. You have to look forward. And when you look forward, what are you going to do? Expand your export markets, invest in skills, invest in infrastructure, provide tax relief. Now let's remember what the alternative was. Labor said-

NEIL MITCHELL: No the election is over. You just told me the election is over.

PRIME MINISTER: Well the election is over. But what would have happened if we'd actually increase taxes by $387 billion. That was their prescription for the economy. And that was dead wrong.

NEIL MITCHELL: Well let's talk about the future. Are you prepared to forego the surplus if necessary to provide stimulus?

PRIME MINISTER: The surplus provides an important guardrail for our economic decision making. We're not going to do what the Labour government did when they were last elected where they recklessly racked up debt which we are still paying for today and will for the next decade. We will carefully and soberly look at what's happening in the economy. We've got plans that we put in place in the budget to deal with exactly the situation we're talking about now. And we will watch those programs. That's why I sat down with the Premiers to make sure the infrastructure commitments happen, that they weren't on paper- they were pavement. They were concrete, they were bitumen.

NEIL MITCHELL: So are you prepared if necessary to forego the surplus to provide stimulation for the economy?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I'm not seeing anything at the moment which would-

NEIL MITCHELL: But you're reviewing. You said you're reviewing things, is part of the review the surplus?

PRIME MINISTER: And I'm not saying anything Neil that would draw that question to our considerations-

NEIL MITCHELL: That must be on the table if you're reviewing things that must be one of the issues on the table. What else-

PRIME MINISTER: No I don't believe- see we're putting the budget in a much stronger position Neil and that's taken us- It's this is the first budget surplus year we've been in for 12 years. And I know Labor and others are so quick to throw away those gains as they are on the gains we've had on border protection. They think you can just so carelessly throw this away at the first breath of wind. And our government won't do that we will stay the course, we will be consistent we'll be measured, we'll be reasoned, we've got our plans we'll implement them, and that's the stability I think Australians voted for.

NEIL MITCHELL: What- if you were to rate the economy out of 10 what would it be?

PRIME MINISTER: Well globally we're in the second fastest growing developed economy in the G7.

NEIL MITCHELL: So what do you give us out of 10?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I'll let others judge it but I mean, 1.4 million people who have got a job would say that's pretty good.

NEIL MITCHELL: Is recession a danger?

PRIME MINISTER: Look I don't see us going in that territory at all. I mean but let's remember Germany just had a negative quarter of growth. The UK just had a negative quarter of growth. Australia hasn't. The fact that Australia, albeit that today's growth figures I think over the year will show a softness. I think what we will also see is that in a tough climate we're actually battling away quite well and you know what I put that down to? I put that down to hardworking Australians starting businesses, going to work every day. That's who that's who I say the heroes of the Australian economy are.

NEIL MITCHELL: 19,000 Hong Kong residents in this country. There's a suggestion they be given visas to stay because of the dramas in Hong Kong. Would you look at that?

PRIME MINISTER: Look I think those sorts of issues are premature. I think what we have to do in this situation, as I've said all along, is just to remain calm we're closely assessing the situation, the Foreign Minister has particularly been doing that. I mean, we're in regular contact with our Consul General there in Hong Kong and we just urge the protesters to be peaceful. And we just urge the de-escalation of the situation.

NEIL MITCHELL: Do you urge China to show restraint?


NEIL MITCHELL: I know we need them for trade. We need to get on with them. But by gee they sort of stand against everything we support don't they?

PRIME MINISTER: Look we're two different countries. But that doesn't mean you can't get on. I was in Vietnam the other day-

NEIL MITCHELL: It's hard to get on with a country that's got concentration camps.

PRIME MINISTER: Well it's not for us to go around and tell every country how they run their show.

NEIL MITCHELL: Well I hope we would have told Adolf Hitler that-

PRIME MINISTER: But we also raise these issues as you would expect us to, and we and we do it unapologetically. But we don't run China, but they are part of a global community and this is the point I've been making about China. China has- it was the point to see China grow, engage the global economy and become a more successful economy and bring tens, if not hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Well guess what? Mission accomplished. But that means today we're dealing with a different China from an economic standpoint than we were 30 years ago. So the challenge now is how do you integrate China both strategically and economically into a global economy and setting as a developed economy. And that means they've got to play by the same rules as everybody else whether that's on emissions reduction, on trade, or anything else. And that's I think the point the United States has made, and that's why I strongly support what the President's been saying about that.

NEIL MITCHELL: But isn't our morality affected by our economy here? And we're saying we can't really say what we'd like to say about China because we've got to trade with them?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we've been trading with China you know for decades-

NEIL MITCHELL: But we seem to turn a blind eye to some of their atrocities?

PRIME MINISTER: I don't think that's fair. And particularly it's not fair if you- and I know you're not suggesting this Neil, but when Australians are caught up in these issues as well. We raise these issues consistently and very, very strongly. And Australia- we were one of many who signed the most recent document that was calling out human rights issues that went to the United Nations.

NEIL MITCHELL: This Tamil family. Is it correct there are 6,000 other Tamils in a similar position?

PRIME MINISTER: Everyone has had their cases assessed as to whether they're refugees by the government that's my advice.

NEIL MITCHELL: These are illegal immigrants?

PRIME MINISTER: These are people who've had their refugee claims rejected and they are now going through the appeals process-

NEIL MITCHELL: Did they come illegally?

PRIME MINISTER: They illegally entered Australia.

NEIL MITCHELL: They illegally entered?



PRIME MINISTER: that my understanding of the figures that you're referring to. Now I'm happy to stand corrected on that, but that is that's my understanding of those.

NEIL MITCHELL: So there are 6,000 who have been- and they will be sent home.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah. And look as they should be. And if then, you know if Priya and Nades, and Kopika and Tharunicaa want to then come to Australia, well like fifteen hundred who have already been sent back before them, well they can seek to do that. And there are a range of-

NEIL MITCHELL: Would you expedite that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I'd apply the same rules that I apply to everybody else. I mean this is the whole point, to have a fair immigration system you don't create special cases just because Twitter says so.

NEIL MITCHELL: We do- I mean the opposition's saying that the Minister's intervened 4,000 times.

PRIME MINISTER: There are many interventions that take place-

NEIL MITCHELL: Has he intervened with illegal immigrants though?

PRIME MINISTER: Not to my knowledge. I'm not aware of all those 4,000 cases there many of them, I used to be an immigration Minister-

NEIL MITCHELL: Did you ever intervene in- these illegal immigrants will be allowed to stay even though they're illegal-

PRIME MINISTER: I cannot recall an occasion where I would have done that.

NEIL MITCHELL: I mean there have been various cases we've campaigned on who are not illegal immigrants. But that's another matter.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah exactly. And there are many cases where I intervened in those cases not those who illegally entered Australia. And this is the point. I mean Neil, this is a case which has been found that people- look and look let me say this first, I understand why Australians feel so strongly about this. And I don't for a second question their genuine compassionate motivation in raising the issue and I genuinely respect that.

NEIL MITCHELL: And you don't question the decency of this families?

PRIME MINISTER: No of course I don't. Of course I don't.

NEIL MITCHELL: Can we be sure they won't be persecuted when they get back? Yes, because and that's not only me that's saying it, the high court has found same. So you know-

NEIL MITCHELL: Are you annoyed that your religion has been brought into this, your faith.

PRIME MINISTER: I turn the other cheek Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL: That's probably a good idea. Um, can you explain to me the relationship between media and government?

PRIME MINISTER: Well it's the fifth estate.

NEIL MITCHELL: I mean you're not doing a great job in terms of freedom of the press by arresting journalists and searching journalists’ homes.

PRIME MINISTER: Sorry? Why would journalists not be subject to the law Neil?

NEIL MITCHELL: Well it depends what the law is. If it's suppressing legitimate information that's a problem.

PRIME MINISTER: Well I'm sorry. If people break the law in this country they should be same subject to the same laws as everybody else. Politicians and- people can search my home if they want, if they think, if they suspect me of a crime Neil. I don't place myself above the law, I don't see why anyone else would.

NEIL MITCHELL: The dinner with the Nine management on Monday night.

PRIME MINISTER: There was only one member of Nine there from memory.

NEIL MITCHELL: I thought there were a couple, anyway it was on the Today programme in the Nine facility and it's been criticised.

PRIME MINISTER: They hosted it.

NEIL MITCHELL: Whose idea was it?

PRIME MINISTER: I couldn't tell you I was just invited.

NEIL MITCHELL: It's not your problem!

PRIME MINISTER: No it's not.

NEIL MITCHELL: Do you see anything wrong with it?

PRIME MINISTER: Well it's not really for me to say. I mean they were happy to host an event and I attended an event, I understand they attended a Labor Party event last night-

NEIL MITCHELL: Yeah but they didn't host it.

PRIME MINISTER: Well no. But that's really for them to explain not me.

NEIL MITCHELL: I think that's a fair point. Aussie Post prices going up did you approve that?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah. That has to come through us, but that doesn't affect the concession arrangements for pensioners and others, and it doesn't affect Christmas cards. But the fact is that people aren't using letters as much and the people who will pay the extra here are largely large corporates who use it. So this is largely falling on corporates and government this extra cost.

NEIL MITCHELL: You've been doing a lot of travel recently, do you enjoy the World stage? Or would you rather be at the footy?

PRIME MINISTER: I'd rather be at the footy to be honest. But you know it's an important part of the job. And at this part of the year there's always a lot of it. And you know I'm always very sensitive to the fact that Australians say, would be thinking, well you know he should be back here more often and I have a great deal of sympathy with that view. But you know this was the first opportunity we've had to sit down with the G7 as a country, and that's an important opportunity particularly when I'm trying to press trade agreements in Europe at the moment and with the UK and everything that's happening with Brexit. So it was an important opportunity. And Vietnam. Well this is going to be a huge relationship for Australia. And I'm really excited about that. And of course Timor-Leste celebrating their 20th year since the vote all those years ago- Australia played an important role in that. And I think it was great to be there and that was done on a bipartisan basis, I had Anthony there with me, because you know Australia supports Timor-Leste.

NEIL MITCHELL: You've got a state dinner with President Trump soon. He's a little different?

NEIL MITCHELL: He's unconventional. I think that's fair-

NEIL MITCHELL: How do you get on with him?

PRIME MINISTER: I get on very well with him. But more importantly our countries get on and I think that's the real connection. I mean he's a very different President to previous Presidents.

NEIL MITCHELL: Is he a good President?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah I, look we've got a straight up relationship and he respects Australia.

NEIL MITCHELL: That's avoiding the question. I can understand why. Is he a good President?

PRIME MINISTER: Is he a good president for Australia? Yes.

NEIL MITCHELL: Ok, Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister, got a bit of strife over there but he has had time to-

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah he's got a bag full of angry cats at the moment.

NEIL MITCHELL: He has had time to have a go at you about the cricket in the Commons.

BORIS JOHNSON, PRIME MINISTER OF THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN: Prime Minister Morrison of Australia, who heroically masked his emotions in the face of the historic innings of Ben Stokes.

NEIL MITCHELL: You going to watch it tonight?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah I am going to watch it and Steve Smith will be back BoJo, so you know I'm looking forward to it.

NEIL MITCHELL: You're confident.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah look and that last test was an amazing test and we caught up the next morning and we'd both been watching it I'm sure the day before, and this is a great Test series. It's a great Test Series.

NEIL MITCHELL: Thank you for coming in, two little quick things- my city is better than your city Melbourne is rated ahead of Sydney. Sydney's come up because it's green. We've got a problem with crime but we're number two to Vienna, you're number three to Melbourne.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah well Vienna's beaches are rubbish so I'm sure we'll both get on top of them in the years ahead. That's why we got to invest in this infrastructure Neil. That's what we've got to do here and that's what we are doing. And Melbourne is a great city.

NEIL MITCHELL: And speaking of beaches I'm told that you surprised yourself winning the election, you in fact had a holiday booked in Fiji the week after the election? Is that right?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we did go to Fiji after the election.

NEIL MITCHELL: But that was a couple of weeks later I heard the week after?


NEIL MITCHELL: Some colleagues said to me you were about to go off.

PRIME MINISTER: No it was several weeks after the election-

NEIL MITCHELL: You hadn't booked it earlier?

PRIME MINISTER: No, no I didn't arrange anything until after the election. I was focussed 100 per cent. I think as people saw me campaigning all the way up to the close of polls.

NEIL MITCHELL: Thank you so much for coming in.

PRIME MINISTER: Good on you Neil, great to be here.

NEIL MITCHELL: The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.