20 Nov 2019
Prime Minister

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Live from Brisbane, from the River City, good morning to you, PM.


KNIGHT: Now, before we look at the infrastructure spend, I want to ask you about the release of Australian Professor Tim Weeks, held hostage by the Taliban for more than three years. An enormous relief for his family, knowing he's being freed. Is he in good health?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, Marise Payne, the Foreign Minister, has been in touch with the family today. He's obviously undergoing all those assessments now that he's in a safe place and so far, the reports are good. But obviously, it's been a very traumatic time for him and Mr King and we're just very grateful to the fantastic work of the United States, in particular, President Trump and Secretary Pompeo working together with the Afghan government and being able to secure Tim's release. I know his family are overjoyed. They're obviously asking people to respect their privacy. But again, we've been able to, working with others, get another Australian home. And I think this is something that is very welcome, particularly as we come into Christmas.

KNIGHT: Absolutely. Can you reveal where he is now and when he might be home with his family?

PRIME MINISTER: I won't be making any further comments on that at this moment. You’d imagine that's fairly sensitive information. But I can tell you he's safe and he's out and he's coming home.

KNIGHT: Yes, it is wonderful news that is for sure, especially coming into that Christmas period. Now, on the information of the infrastructure spend, there have been calls to bring forward the spend that you've announced for months now. What's changed for you to hit the green light? And what sort of projects will we actually see?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, nothing's changed. We've been working on this with the state and territory Premiers, as I've been saying for months now since the election, and we just don't go rushing around spending money like this. We plan it carefully. Straight after the election I sat down with all the Premiers and Chief Ministers around the country and said I want to bring some projects forward. I want to get things happening now. And that's what we've been able to work through over these many months. And $3.8 billion of bring-forwards and new investment into projects, whether it's on the M1 here up in Queensland or the Tonkin over in Western Australia, the Monash in Melbourne, Princes Highway in New South Wales, all of these projects, North-South corridor down in Adelaide. All of these projects are proper projects which are going to get people home sooner and safer, will strengthen our economy, improve how our economy works, not just now but well into the future. So it's careful, considered investment, not just helping jobs now but helping our economy and the liveability of both our regions in our cities into the future.

KNIGHT: It's certainly welcome news. And I guess it begs the question, if you can fast track spending on infrastructure, would you also consider bringing forward stage two of the tax cuts if the economy does still need a boost?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we're not engaged in any sort of panic measures or crisis measures. I mean, you don't run the country on defqon 1 the whole time at or at any time unless it's absolutely critical on those sorts of issues. So we're calmly and soberly working through the issues we've had. When you put together, Deb, both the infrastructure that I'm announcing today with the extra investment we've put into the rural and regional communities to support those communities through the drought and the tax relief we provided at the beginning of this financial year, that's around $9.5 billion of extra investment, both this year and next, that we're putting into the economy. Now, that's, I think, a proportional and a well-constructed balance of supports that are both not just about a sugar hit. They don't provide the sugar hit, that's not what it's for. It provides more money in people's pockets now, but also into the future. These are structural changes we’re making, not one-off cash splashes, which Labor did when they were in government.

KNIGHT: So does this mean that there is some wriggle room now on the surplus so that if the economy does need a further kick start are prepared to keep spending, even if it would put the nation's books into the red?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we've brought the Budget back to surplus after six years of very hard work. And the surplus is important because it means we pay down debt. If we don't have surpluses, the debt grows and grows. And that means our interest bill grows and grows….

KNIGHT: So the surplus stays?

PRIME MINISTER: Services like hospitals and schools. So the surplus remains very important to Australians to ensure we pay down debt and guarantee the essential services and hospitals and schools and other things that they need. So we're doing this in surplus with no new taxes and ensuring we've been able to pay debt and deliver the strength and support to the economy, which is necessary at a time. As we all know, the global economy is going through some rough patches and we're growing stronger than many and most developed economies. I mean, Germany, Singapore, South Korea and the UK all recently had negative quarters of growth and our economy is growing. So it's a tough time, but Australia's faring better than most.

KNIGHT: Now, the bushfire crisis does continue and I understand that you will be getting a briefing from Queensland fire chiefs on the situation in that state today. It's a big issue right around the country. Will you be looking at spending more on firefighting resources, particularly the aerial water bombing equipment?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, look, I've spoken to the Queensland Premier about this. Today David Littleproud the Natural Disasters Minister is meeting with all of his state and territory colleagues. The way these things are done is our fire commissioners make recommendations about what the priorities are for additional aviation firefighting assets. They make those recommendations based on their expertise and their technical advice. And then there's a formula for working out how that's paid for. And so we welcome those sort of submissions coming forward. I've said that to the Premier here in Queensland. I mean, such an asset wouldn't be available to deal with the current fires. She acknowledges that. But we're all for the preparations. I mean, we put an extra $11 million into the national firefighting effort on top of the $15 million we're already putting in this year earlier in the season. So these are important investments that we make. I've got to say though, Deb - and there are more than than 70 fires burning here in Queensland - whether it's been in New South Wales, where the bravery has been just absolutely amazing, together with here in Queensland, South Australia's facing a tough day today. The national coordination of effort and the response, I think, has been outstanding. And it's learnt from the lessons of the past, particularly Black Saturday. I mean, this has saved thousands of homes, I believe, and many more lives in the way that everybody has worked together so well.

KNIGHT: They really are our national heroes, our fire crews, aren’t they?

PRIME MINISTER: And worth a shout out from Bono too, I reckon.

KNIGHT: Absolutely, yep that is for sure. Prime Minister, thank you for your time this morning and we look forward to hearing more about the resources for the fire crews as well. Enjoy the River City, thanks so much.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot, Deb. All the best.