Radio Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW

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01 Nov 2019
Prime Minister

NEIL MITCHELL: Scott Morrison, good morning. 

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Neil, good to be back.

MITCHELL: Well, thank you for your time. I've read the speech you're delivering today and we've had massive disruption in this town by protesters over a couple of weeks. You've promising to take them on. You accuse them of economic sabotage and said you want to outlaw, quote, ‘Indulgent and selfish practices’. How? What can you do?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we've already taken action against their cousins who wanted to invade farms and we put legislation through to protect our farmers from that type of economic vandalism. And there's, of course, a right to protest in this country. But I think they're really starting to push the envelope with where we've got reports of people getting spat at just because they're wearing a business shirt on their way to work in Melbourne. This is, I think, getting well beyond the pale. And so, look, you know, we're looking at the options that we have there. There's also the broader issue of what I'm seeing in secondary boycotts have been effectively put in place through this type of activism, just targeting decent small businesses who are providing services to the mining industry. And they're being black banned and they're being harassed. And this is not something that any Australian should have to put up with. So by all means, people have a right to protest. But, you know, we live in a country where we should respect each other and try and disagree a little better than what we're seeing on display there.

MITCHELL: Would you like to make secondary boycotts or bans like that illegal?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, these are things we're looking very carefully at. I'm flagging that today. I mean, we need to progress, I think, cautiously. But if it's not okay to have secondary boycotts being run by unions and we get rid of those a long time ago, it's not okay for environmental… well they’re not environmental, they’re activist groups. That's what they are. And to be able to disrupt people's jobs, their livelihoods and to harass in the way that we've seen down in Melbourne, it's just... it's ugly. And I don't think it's good for our country.

MITCHELL: Would you look at permits to protest?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, those are things that the state governments, I think... I mean, they control those sorts of issues. What I'm talking about is the injury that is being done to people’s businesses and deliberately and wilfully, which is the same thing we saw from those who were organising the protests on people's farms. And we've put laws in place to deal with that. And so I'm simply signalling that I think Australians respect and understand the right to protest, it’s part of our democracy. But we also expect each other to behave in a way that also isn't seeking to injure fellow Australians, particularly their jobs.

MITCHELL: But how do you draw the line? How do you define it? You won't march on the road and block intersections? You won't fight with police? I mean, how do you define it?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm not talking about those issues, they’re matters for state governments. What I'm talking about is the injury that is done to people's businesses by secondary boycotts being run by these anarchist groups. And the victims, they're basically targeting people's businesses and trying to drive them out of business simply because they're contracting to legitimate lawful resources companies who create a lot of jobs, particularly in regional Australia. I mean, the first people to turn up when I went up to north Queensland and the floods were on out in west Queensland were the mining companies with their equipment to help them remove the carcasses. So, I mean, they're a very important industry. I respect the right to protest, but people have got to respect other Australians too when they do it.

MITCHELL: So just finally, what's your timeframe when you would look to introduce legislation on this?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don't have one at the moment. The Industrial Relations Minister and the Attorney-General and I are working on these issues. I'm careful about how I go forward on these things, Neil. The vegan farmers laws, as you know, went through the Parliament and that's happened in the last few months. And so we'll continue to move on this one. I’m just making it pretty clear that this type of behaviour, secondary boycotting companies just going about their business, is not on.

MITCHELL: Prime Minister, something else. You're fond of saying - and I usually agree with you - how good is Australia? But in two days you've had two reports. One shows we're desperately failing the mentally ill, a million people untreated, no room for suicide people in care. Today, aged care and the Royal Commission calls it ‘cruel and harmful; diminishing Australia; needs urgent action’. How can you say ‘how good is Australia’ when you have those sort of reports? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, Australia is always a great country. And the reason that we can initiate, as I did one of my first acts as Prime Minister - a Royal Commission into this, is one of the reasons we are a good country. Because we're prepared to acknowledge where we get things wrong, not buck pass. My initiative here was to get this Royal Commission so we could get this rather shocking and very difficult to read information. I mean, we all have connections, personal, into those who need this care. And it doesn't matter whether they’re your family or not your family, they should all have the same type of standard of care right across the country. And so we do need to acknowledge what's coming forth in the Royal Commission... 

MITCHELL: But it doesn't fix it. I understand you initiated and you said it would be difficult and you're right. But exposing it doesn't fix it. We need to fix it. Specifically.

PRIME MINISTER: That’s the start of the process, we need the Royal Commission and now they haven't come forward with recommendations yet. 

MITCHELL: Well, yes, they have, they said they want immediate funding in home care. 

PRIME MINISTER: They did, they haven’t made recommendations but they've highlighted those three things in particular. One is the need for more in-home aged care. 

MITCHELL: They said immediate funding, will they get it?

PRIME MINISTER: What I was about to tell you is that we will be making a response on those issues before the end of the year. One of the reasons I've been waiting for this report is because I wanted that to inform the final decisions we were going to make around in-home aged care funding before we finalise the mid-year update. I spoke again to the Treasurer, the Finance Minister, last night and the Minister, Richard Colbeck. We have been looking for that input from the Royal Commission to inform this next set of decisions. It's one of the reasons, Neil, I'm so careful about our spending in the Budget, because I've been saying for some time now that we knew we would need to address issues coming out of this Royal Commission on aged care. That's why I initiated it in the first place so we could know what we needed to do and confront that. The other two things that I've seen come out of this, there's also the issues around the overmedication...

MITCHELL: The chemical restraint, yep.

PRIME MINISTER: The chemical restraint. And there have already been some things that's been done in all these areas. But there's so much more to do, which is what the Royal Commission is highlighting. And there's a seventh pharmacy agreement which is underway now. I saw the pharmacists last night, actually, and we talked very briefly about that issue. There's a process with states and territories. And then there's the issue of younger people. 

MITCHELL: Yeah, 6000 young disabled people in nursing homes. 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's fallen from 6,200 to 5,600 over the last two years. But there's so much more to go. One of the other things I did when I first became Prime Minister, I came up here to Brisbane, where there's an amazing organisation called Youngcare, and they actually build homes for young people with serious disabilities so they don't have to go into aged care facilities. And we need more of that model to support how they do their work. So all of these three things, I couldn't agree with more. We've got to acknowledge the problem. We know there's a lot more work to do and we've got to create a new culture of respect for older Australians, which is what I said when we first announced this. I think that's at the heart of what the report says. 

MITCHELL: I agree. But there's an urgent problem here. You say you'll have decisions by the end of the year. Will money be spent? Will money being available by the end of the year? 


MITCHELL: How much? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'll announce it once we've gone through that process. 

MITCHELL: So it is that urgent? You’ll have money out there by Christmas? 


MITCHELL: Is profit motive part of the problem here? 

PRIME MINISTER: Look, whether it's... I mean, let's go back to where this all started with the aged care facility in South Australia. It was a publicly run one. I mean, it doesn't matter whether it's public, private or not for profit. We have seen abuses and we're seeing substandard care across all fields. So, I mean, you've got to address the issues in each of those sectors.

MITCHELL: Mental health, will there be money for that as well? A million Australians not getting treatment are needed.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we've already acted in the last Budget. We put over $750 million into that. As you know, we put additional resources into headspaces around the country and with our towards zero suicides adviser who's working right across government. She's bringing forward to me at the moment a whole series of proposals based on the work that she's doing. The mental health of our nation is critical. And the Health Minister has been talking with the states just in today and in recent days about a new agreement that can go around mental health. On mental health I think we've been sort of getting more on the front foot on this. It's certainly been a priority that I've placed. And it's everything from supporting, you know, great organisations like Batyr, which is an organisation that goes into schools and helps young people understand how to deal with anxiety and the help available to them. But it also extends to putting support in for people in our rural communities who are dealing with the drought where we’ve upped the funding there too, but more resource needed there. That's why we need a strong Budget.

MITCHELL: Well, can I raise a couple of other quick issues? The economy, the economy. And you talk about money and the need to spend money. Isn't it time to put the surplus as less of a priority? And look, did you see Shayne Elliott from the ANZ yesterday said we're not in recession, technically, but people feel like they're in a recession. They are hurting so much.

PRIME MINISTER: That’s why we want the banks to lend.

MITCHELL: Well, yeah, but what about the surplus? Are you irrevocably linked to a surplus?

PRIME MINISTER: We're linked to responsible fiscal management.

MITCHELL: Well, that doesn't necessarily mean a surplus.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what it means is having clear priorities about where you're going to put your funds. And that's aged care, that's mental health, that's supporting the drought and these are the priorities, and it's supporting our veterans.

MITCHELL: I agree. Does that mean that you will forgo a surplus if necessary?

PRIME MINISTER: It means we will honour all of those priorities. And I believe the two of them can be achieved together.

MITCHELL: You can still get a surplus? What about stimulating the economy? What about those people who are hurting so much?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this stimulus idea last time involved sending cheques to dead people. And it was an absolute waste of taxpayers funds.

MITCHELL: Well, you can do it better than that. Do you accept what Shayne Elliot is saying that people are hurting? People feel we're in a recession.

PRIME MINISTER: I've always accepted that. That's why we've had budgets that have delivered record levels of tax relief to Australians. That's why we're bringing forward infrastructure projects, including in Victoria. I mean, a lot of the work since the election, in particular. I’ve just been sitting down with Dan Andrews. We've met on numerous occasions now, just getting projects brought forward, ones that we can move quicker or providing additional support. The last time we spoke we were talking about the Monash Freeway, getting these projects moving more quickly. And I genuinely appreciate the support I've had from the Victorian Government to achieve that. So tax relief and infrastructure spending are things that are already happening. It's not like there's not investment going into these things. There is record investment.

MITCHELL: No, fair enough. But just to be clear, the surplus remains a priority? The surplus will continue?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, of course it does, because that's important for our resilience to the future. You can go and blow the Budget now on ineffective measures and that just reduces your ability to support mental health and veterans and aged care. Because the aged care, there'll be an immediate response, which is what I was referring to when you asked me a second ago. But there's also a medium and long term response which will have to prepare for as we go into next year's Budget and the Budget after that.

MITCHELL: Prime Minister, we broadcast to regional Victoria. Parts of Victoria are hit by drought as badly as some other parts of the country. I just want to play you something, Judy Collingburn runs a small drought aid operation in northern Victoria. I asked her what the message was for you.


JUDY COLLINGBURN: Do something about it. The farmers are really suffering. Like, the Darling River, you know, is bone dry and the farmers up there have got no water. And, you know, the new bit of water they’ve got they can't use it because it's so rank. He's got to do something. Small towns along the Darling River started dying and farmers are just going to walk off their land. And it's just... it's devastating and it's upsetting. We go up and see the farmers and just see... you can see it in their faces. It's just astronomical. And Mr Morrison needs to do something.

MITCHELL: Can you offer them any hope, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we can offer the support that we've been delivering and we're increasing it. I mean, not including the Future Drought Fund, there is around $2.5 billion of support. Now, if you're on the Farm Household Allowance, which we’ve eased up and eased up on all the restrictions and assessments as to how people can access it, that will over a four year period give you $125,000 per farming family. And just last, just a couple of weeks ago, we included another $13,000 additional payment, supplement payment, on those issues. The response has three parts. There's the direct financial assistance through things like Farm Household Allowance. We’ve given over $60 million to groups like the Salvos and Vinnies to provide $3,000 emergency payments for people in these towns to support them with bills and put food on the table. Then there's the programme of putting a million dollars into all of these Shires so they can keep the local economies moving and ensure we're getting those people on jobs. On the farms, we’ve provided rebate assistance for work they're doing on the farms so the farmhands can continue to get work on those farms, on doing stuff like piping or doing dog fences up in Queensland or doing work on turkey nests and things like that. And then, of course, there's the longer-term water infrastructure projects, which is part of our National Water Grid. But there's serious money going into those new dam works, 21 projects all around the country right now.

MITCHELL: Ok, just quickly on something else. Can you just explain to me in very simple terms…

PRIME MINISTER: Can I just stress on that, Neil, there'll be more to come too. It's not set and forget, there’ll be more assistance and we'll have more to say about that soon.

MITCHELL: By Christmas as well?


MITCHELL: Ok. Where do we stand on the continuing Uyghur concentration camps in China? I'm confused. I mean, Australia has been very strongly criticised out of China today. Where do... what is the Australian Government attitude on these concentration camps?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we've been very consistent and both the Foreign Minister and I and the Trade Minister and others, we've just consistently raised our concerns about these issues directly with the Chinese government and that has been included in working together with other countries…

MITCHELL: Do we believe they're immoral?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you've seen the pictures. I mean, it's fairly straightforward. I mean, we've raised these issues as great human rights abuses and concerns. We've done it directly. We haven't just done it in public. We've always raised these issues consistently and the Foreign Minister has done this on every occasion she's had. And, you know, the thing about our relationship with China is it has to be an honest one. It has to be a transparent one. And we just have to act consistently with our values, which is what we're doing. The Chinese government will make their comments about what they believe is occurring there. And we'll continue with other countries around the world to raise the concerns that we have.

MITCHELL: The Chinese say, they’ve lodged ‘stern representations with Australia about this’. Have they?

PRIME MINISTER: They've made various statements and when I've raised matters myself and the Foreign Minister has raised they have their view about what's occurring there and they are obviously a part of that relationship entitled to raise those matters directly with us. But it's not something that I seek to have define our relationship. I mean, the relationship is defined on the things you agree on, not the things you disagree on. But it's important that, you know, Australians understand that we’ll always act consistently with our values. And we'll do it in a very consistent way.

MITCHELL: Have you told the Victorian Premier that signing up to the Belt and Road agreement - he took the second step recently in China - is not a good idea?

PRIME MINISTER: We said that at the time. 

MITCHELL: What's he compromising here? What's he doing? 

PRIME MINISTER: Look, you'd have to ask him.

MITCHELL: No, no, no. But, you know, he signed it. You know, you've had advice not to sign it. What is he risking?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we haven't been part of that project. And for a start, foreign affairs is actually run by the Commonwealth Government. I'm not about to come and run the Victorian police force.

MITCHELL: But haven't you got advice not to be part of it?

PRIME MINISTER: We have chosen not to be part of that initiative. 


PRIME MINISTER: ...individual companies have. Well, these are sensitive matters and all of that. And they're not ones that I tend to go into public commentary about.

MITCHELL: So you've got advice not to be part of it for reasons you won’t explain? Which I can understand.

PRIME MINISTER: I’ll just give the same answer I gave you, Neil.

MITCHELL: Fair enough. All right, just finally, China embraces censorship. And we've got this campaign for the ‘right to know’ here. And it's a simple one, a silly one, perhaps highlights it. Can you explain to me - and I can understand threats to national security and everything - how being told what taxpayers are paying Scott Cam to promote apprenticeships is a threat to national security? Why does that have to be secret?

PRIME MINISTER: It's not about national security, it’s about a commercial-in-confidence relationship in the same way you have commercial-in-confidence relationships with any number of different suppliers. You have it over infrastructure projects. You have it over any number of commercial arrangements. It's just that's a protection that's provided to individual Australians that their own commercial arrangements aren't exposed.

MITCHELL: So you don't think the public deserves to know where their money's going?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we're bound by a commercial-in-confidence arrangement, which is contractual. 

MITCHELL: You didn’t have to sign it.

PRIME MINISTER: Your companies you work for and others do a similar thing...

MITCHELL: But I'm not paid by the taxpayer.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there are a lot of companies that do business with the government who seek those commercial-in-confidence arrangements. It's not a new practice. It's quite a longstanding one.

MITCHELL: Can you negotiate a way through this? You've got every media organisation in the country concerned about the right to know, about suppression of information, about raids on journalists.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'd make a couple of points. The first one is we’ve got the inquiry, which has gone over to the Joint Standing Committee, which is looking at that. I'll wait for that to come back before taking any further action there. The second thing we've done is that the Home Affairs Minister has given a clear directive to the Federal Police, which both codifies what our expectations are about how they pursue these things, as well as providing, I think, some better processes about how they make decisions about what they do. And I stress, the Government doesn’t tell the AFP where they go or what do.

MITCHELL: But won’t the Minister have the power of veto?

PRIME MINISTER: That was the third I was going to come to. In many areas, the Attorney-General has those powers and they were extended in this actually to protect press freedoms. I mean, what happens under that is that the AFP would have initiated the investigation. The prosecutor would want to actually come and prosecute a journalist and under this arrangement, the Attorney-General would be able to prevent that from happening at the end of the process. But if the journalists would like him not to have that power and allow the prosecutors to just proceed, well, that could be done.

MITCHELL: Don't you see the danger in that? I mean, Daniel Andrews would have me prosecuted tomorrow if he could. Somebody else might not. I mean, why do, when you have a politician making these sort of decisions? It's obviously dangerous.

PRIME MINISTER: I think, with great respect, Neil, I think you're misrepresenting the process. The Attorney-General is not initiating anything. What is initiated is by the law enforcement agency…

MITCHELL: But he’s got the power of veto. 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's only to stop it proceeding. 


PRIME MINISTER: The power is to stop the prosecution, not to not to allow it, not to initiate it. I mean, the prosecutor comes to the Attorney-General and says, we would like to prosecute person X, and the Attorney-General has the ability under that arrangement to say no. If he says nothing, then they prosecute.

MITCHELL: I thank you for your time. If we go much longer, your office will never speak to me again.

PRIME MINISTER: Always happy to chat.

MITCHELL: Hey, you’re not coming to the Cup, are you? You working on Tuesday?

PRIME MINISTER: I am. Yeah. And I won't be able to get down there, but I'm sure I'll catch it like everybody else somewhere around the country.

MITCHELL: So it's not a Taylor Swift boycott, isn't it?


PRIME MINISTER: No, I love Taylor Swift. I think she’s fantastic.

MITCHELL: Thank you very much. The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. Sadly, she doesn't love the Melbourne Cup. Scott Morrison.