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Politics

Prime Minister interview with Alan Jones

  • Written by Alan Jones


Good morning Alan.

 

ALAN JONES: Thank you for your time. Could I just begin by saying that politicians rarely get praise. I have been speaking to farmers during the course of the weekend. You went to Julia Creek. They asked me if I'd thank you for going there. They believe you should know that you were fair dinkum and compassionate, and they wanted to say thank you because that opportunity isn't available to them. Can I just ask you, having been there and witnessed this devastation to listen, you're talking to people all over Australia. What was your reaction?

 

PRIME MINISTER: It was heartbreaking. It was devastating, not just there but also over Cloncurry. In both places and talking to a lot of the graziers, the property owners and other small business owners, the trucking companies. This is devastating, personally to families but also obviously the local economy. Obviously we're going to have to play a very big role in rebuilding the cattle industry in North Queensland. I can't imagine Australia without a cattle industry in North Queensland, it's not the same place. That’s basically what I said, it's a way of life, but it's also intrinsic to the success.

 

JONES: It's the fourth biggest export market.

 

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah it is just … so we're there, that's the commitment I made. The reconstruction effort, it’s going to be significant and it's going to take a long time. It's not, you know, an announcement today or next week, it's the next two, five, ten years.

 

JONES: Can I come to that in a moment, just on basically what you saw. I mean, how long did they tell you… I know the military have got about 150 personnel on the ground. My own view from talking to people is that - I don't know how many people you can have on the ground - it wouldn't be enough. I mean how long did they tell you it would take to clean up? This is all they will be talking about at this hour of the morning; bloated animals which are littering the landscape. I mean there are kangaroos as well as cattle, 30,000 sheep. The infrastructure has been wrecked. The Flinders Highway east of Julia Creek is still cut as I said last night. There were travelers and trucks stranded. The railway track from Mount Isa to Townsville was completely buckled. How does Mount Isa get its copper, lead and zinc for export to Townsville? These are massive logistical problems.

 

PRIME MINISTER: They all are. Look, the way I'm looking at it, there's three stages to this. The first stage is the immediate response and that's everything from mental health support to immediate cash assistance too. Just the physical, immediate response. That's been underway now as you know, with Brigadier Jobson and the $1 million we've put into each of the councils, the $75,000 that’s going to reach the producers. That’s just to deal with the most immediate reaction to what is happening there.

 

The second stage is really doing what you've just mentioned. It's the rail line, it's the road, it's the disposal plan that is now being enacted up there to remove the carcasses, to have them buried safely. Now, what the station owners, what the producers told me is they very much want to control that process.

 

JONES: Yes, they don't want the councils. They're worried about the council, it’s separate from the graziers.

 

PRIME MINISTER: They're supporting them in it but they just don't want, you know, people just stomping all over their properties. They know how to do this, they're getting the support through both the safety equipment and the protective gear, which you need because I tell you, you smell this stuff long before you see it and it has to be done.

 

JONES: And it stays with you.

 

PRIME MINISTER: The Queensland Government is working with us on that. The military are directly involved. But also I've got to say the mining industry up there, Glencore in particular, have been fantastic with their help. Because their equipment that they have there, their heavy equipment is suited for those conditions. So they are marshalling all of the heavy equipment they have up in that region to support that role of disposal and they're focusing on things like clearing the Flinders and Landsborough Highways. That's as important for morale as it is for safety and getting these carcass out of the way. But Alan, they still don't know the extent of the losses. I mean, I was on one station and they hadn't been able to venture too far out from the homestead because of where the waters had been and so they were guessing. They were -

 

JONES: There’s still an area the size of England underwater. There’s still an area the size of England underwater.

 

PRIME MINISTER: There’s an inland sea. I saw it was making its way down through the Gulf. So you know, this is a long way from over in terms of the immediate impact. But the third phase of course is there is the reconstruction and what I was incredibly impressed by, was the will to rebuild. A mate of yours, you know Phillip, I spoke to Phillip at the Gannons Hotel in Julia Creek. I thought he put it best; “We don't want people -

 

JONES: Just stop there for a minute, just stop there for one minute. There’s a lot of people out there that know this bloke, Scott Morrison. He's brand new on the block. New Prime Minister, people don't know about him now. I - and I can tell them this - I texted the Prime Minister on Friday to just say; “Look, there's a farmer up there who really would like to say something to you. If you get the chance at Julia Creek, could you see him?” And I sent the mobile number. The Prime Minister rang the farmer, which to the farmer was virtually like, you know, God arriving, that someone of his status would ring. Rang the farmer, had a beer with him, stuck a cap on. Scott Morrison, you have no idea what that meant to those people there.

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well they were very encouraged and it's great to be able to do that as a Prime Minister. Because what they really want is the plan to go forward.

 

JONES: They do.

 

PRIME MINISTER: They want to rebuild and they know it's not going to be easy. And it's different station by station, Alan. I mean, you can't just drop a whole bunch of cash from the sky on this thing. That's not going to work. What they need is a reconstruction plan, property by property by property, because they're all different. I mean, one of the stations I went to that is basically the top of the breeding cycle for Australia's herd. They have been genetically, you know, supporting their herd up there for generations now. You can't just go and buy cattle from the Northern Territory to replace those. They took generations to breed in and that's going to take a lot of time. So the value of those cattle is extremely high. You've got others which is at the other end. So every case is different. Their debt is structured differently. Their capacity to borrow is different. Some have lost 30 some have lost 95 per cent.

 

JONES: You said you'd cut red tape so that small business operators – this is at the bottom end of the market - could get $25,000 disaster relief payments. Philip Alexander, the supermarket owner, told you that no one fitted into the category and he said I can't handle this paperwork. You said leave the paperwork to me. What does that mean?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well it means I'm working on that now. One of the things I brought back - I'm going to be working Michaelia Cash and the Queensland Government over the course of this week - my first priority was to sort out the paperwork on the $75,000 for the producers, for the graziers. We got that sorted before I even got up there on Thursday night and that was well received, I can tell you, at the Cloncurry Bowling Club. I'm pretty happy about that. So now we need to apply ourselves to sorting out how that's going to work for the small business owners. I've got to say, in Cloncurry it was a bit better than Julia Creek. In Julia Creek, they really were hit very hard there. Because I mean, over at Cloncurry, you've also got the Henry mine so you've got you know the mining sector there as well. It's a bit more divers. But for some of these other smaller towns it's all about the cattle industry.

 

JONES: Can I just raise this with you - and I wrote to you about this - but you have said quite a few times since Friday, you've talked about a 10 year rescue plan. PM, many of these people won't be here in 10 years. I was asking you on behalf of the farmers, whether the Cabinet would consider giving a 100 per cent compensation for losses, so that the farmers and the businesses can immediately continue to employ - because those employed continue to pay taxes and they won’t go onto welfare which will cost the taxpayer a fortune - can build the infrastructure, the roads and railways lines, the fences and the sheds and can buy materials and work from the locals which will rebuild the community and the families together.

 

I hate to inject a negative point in here, but they keep saying to me that there wasn't a 10 year plan to give $444 million dollars to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well they’re completely different things. I mean the Great Barrier Reef Foundation that's money to actually apply over that period of time Alan and it's being done through one organization, so that wasn’t just today, that was for many, many years to come. So I think with respect, the two things are quite different.

 

JONES: Okay well what do you say –

 

PRIME MINISTER: What we’re talking about here, up in north Queensland

 

JONES: They’ve got no money, no income.

 

PRIME MINISTER: I understand that and this will cost hundreds of millions of dollars if not more.

 

JONES: It will, it will.

 

PRIME MINISTER: It's going to require a reconstruction plan, property by property. It's going to require dealing with existing debt. It's going to have to deal with future debt. It's going to have to deal with subsidies for how you rebuild your stock. So this is what we're putting in place.

 

JONES: But you see, the date today Scott, the date today Prime Minister, is the 18th February 18. Come March 1 the mortgage payments due.

 

PRIME MINISTER: No but they won't be Alan. That's the thing, the banks are already –

 

JONES: But for the workers, it’s due for the worker as well, it's due for the small businessman in Townsville.

 

PRIME MINISTER: Exactly and that's why we'll work on those 25,000 payments and their extension. That's why we've put the 1 million bucks into every single council.

 

JONES: Where does the money come from, to go out and buy the fence posts, to be able to start fencing hundreds of miles that have been destroyed?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well that's what we'll do, property by property by property. One thing I'm not going to do is rush to failure on this. I am acutely aware of the urgency. I've spoken to people directly about it on the ground and as Phil said to me in the pub of the Gannons Hotel he said; “What we want is reconstruction not compensation”. So they want us to partner with them to rebuild every single one of these stations. It’s my plan for them all to be there in 10 years and I'm going to do that working with every individual station.

 

JONES: Okay just a couple of things before you go. Kerryn Phelps has been in Parliament for five minutes, we now face 2008 revisited, when Labor abolished the Pacific solution.

 

PRIME MINISTER: And temporary protection visas.

 

JONES: And temporary protection visas. That cost us 16 billion dollars. Now, where do you think we stand, in a realistic sense in relation to this, what is your intelligence telling you now - Home Affairs, security, ASIO, all these people and your contacts in Indonesia - about boat people?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it says we need to firm up Operation Sovereign Borders, which is exactly what I did the day after, and on the day of the vote I convened the National Security Committee. We put those measures in place. We've engaged in direct messaging into the region that, you know, that may have happened, but frankly I'm still here, Peter Dutton is still here, the Government is still here, the one that stopped the boats and we won't let you in.

 

I mean I didn't want to have to reopen the Christmas Island detention centre a week ago, I didn't have to. I do today and that's going to cost about half a billion dollars.

 

JONES: That was recommended to you by Home Affairs.

 

PRIME MINISTER: By Home Affairs, exactly. So you've got the Labor Party out there saying; “Oh, we will always follow the advice of agencies on this”. Yet they're describing the decision to reopen Christmas Island as ridiculous.

 

JONES: What is the problem with Nauru? I don't understand what the problem with Manus is, I mean there’s 64 professionals there, half of them are doctors.

 

PRIME MINISTER: If you had anywhere in Australia the ratio of medical professionals to people –

 

JONES: One to seven?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah one to seven and 14 – 1 for mental health services. I mean, there's nowhere in the country to my knowledge that that's it's that concentrated, not even in Wentworth for goodness sake with the number of doctors they have there.

 

JONES: You should open a detention centre there. What's the point of going to the polls, if in fact migration policy and refugee policy is going to be determined by doctors?

 

PRIME MINISTER: That's what Labor have done. That's exactly what they have done, taking it away. But you're right the medical professionals are there. The children are off. So what this is about - let's make no mistake - is about shutting down offshore processing. That's what it's about. That's what Labor voted for. They did it with their eyes wide open. They had the declassified advice and the classified briefings from ASIO and from the head of the Defence Force and the head of Home Affairs and Sovereign Borders. And when we'd gone and implemented that advice, they said; “Oh what did you have to do that for?” Well, we told you what was going to have to happen if you voted for that bill. He has decided to take a cheap vote in Canberra to play to the Canberra bubble, rather than understand that Australians expect political leaders to stand up for border protection, which is what I’ve always done.

 

JONES: I will just confirm, you already have, sorry - it was last week, before this rubbish was passed – a Transitory Persons Committee don't you? I think within the Department of Home Affairs and they meet once a month?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Medical professionals.

 

JONES: That’s right, they assess the needs and seek urgent medical care, the mechanism is in place and there have been transfers from the Papua New Guinea or Nauru since July 2016.

 

PRIME MINISTER: There have.

 

JONES: That's already being done. So basically, this is a heap of humbug.

 

PRIME MINISTER:  They sought to solve a problem that didn't exist.

 

JONES: Yep.

 

PRIME MINISTER: And as a result - you know, what I should be focusing on, only frankly, at the moment is dealing with these issues in north Queensland not having to reopen a detention centre on Christmas Island because Bill Shorten the Labor Party wanted to go and crash border protection in this country.

 

JONES: And implement a policy –

 

PRIME MINISTER: The money I’m going to spend on Christmas Island, I would very much like to be spending all of that up in north Queensland. That's where the rubber hits the road.

 

JONES: Well if the Labor Party - and this very political, I know he’s pretending it’s not –

 

PRIME MINISTER: Just on North Queensland, let me be clear, I'm still going to make sure that’s happening. But you can imagine my fury and frustration.

 

JONES: And I think the public feel that way as well and it is political. He’s saying; “Oh, get the politics out of it.” It is political. But if the Labor Party in Opposition will reject the advice from the Department, from ASIO and from security and intelligence people, what chance do any of us have when they are in government?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well that's right and they say they'll still turn boats back. Well, really? really? Tanya Plibersek sitting in the National Security Committee with Bill Shorten? “Trust us, we’ll still turn boats back”. They’ve got no idea what's involved.

 

JONES: Good on you.

 

PRIME MINISTER: I know, I did it.

 

JONES: Yes, I know. Well listen we thank you for that, we'll talk again and we'll keep you posted on the feedback from the farmers as well.

 

PRIME MINISTER: Can I just say one last thing Alan.

 

JONES: Yes?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Sisters of the North; they have done an amazing job in raising funds for people up there and there's a bloke up there, Tim Pratt who runs a trucking company.

 

JONES: Yes, the cap.


PRIME MINISTER: He was the one, I wore a cap of his and people sledged me for the hat.

 

JONES: The cap on, good on you. Good on you. 

 

PRIME MINISTER: But he's got a thing called Gumnut Designz and they're selling hats to raise money for Sisters of the North which is supporting those local charities up there. In about 24 hours they'd raised 120 grand, when I got there on Thursday night. It's awesome.

 

JONES: Leave it with me.

 

PRIME MINISTER: I'll send you the details.

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