ALAN JONES: Prime Minister, good morning.
PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Alan.
JONES: I was just thinking last night when we're going to talk to you today, you must feel as though you've gone 10 rounds with Muhammad Ali. It's been pile on the Prime Minister for a couple of months, hasn’t it?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, there's been a lot of that. But, you know, that's what this job's about. You stand up to that and you stand up for what you believe in. You just put your head down and you just keep going. That's what my dad always taught me.
JONES: Ah your dad, well I’m sorry about all that too, you’ve had a-
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah thanks for your lovely message.
JONES: Not at all. Look, can I just, I hadn’t intended to talk about it in the light of the correspondence, I think we have to. People are genuinely worried about this Coronavirus and so on. Can you just clarify a couple of things now? The people being sent to Christmas Island are the evacuees, are they not, from Wuhan? They are Australian citizens?
PRIME MINISTER: That's right and Australian residents yes.
JONES: Right, and Australian residents, right. Now if there are more of them you're saying you're going to open mining camps or hotels or whatever. If there are further quarantine centres needed?
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah not from out of Wuhan, though, we've put the second flight that's going into Wuhan, that's being arranged now. And there's 35 people who were on the flight out on Air New Zealand. We took that decision for the second flight, knowing we'd be able to cater for that at Christmas Island. That's the advice I have. And so that should accommodate that. What we've also tasked the Defence Force to do is to identify overflow facilities, that was done when we looked at the first flight. And they've been going through that process. So you could expect us, given the evolving nature of the Coronavirus and its impact globally that we'd be seeking to identify contingencies for down the road. That’s just about keeping ahead of it-
JONES: But these are all, you’re talking here foreign nationals are you? Foreign nationals?
PRIME MINISTER: No, no, no. I'm only talking about Australians.
JONES: Right. So. So hang on-
PRIME MINISTER: We’ve closed the borders to foreign nationals.
JONES: Right. You've closed the borders for two weeks, but that may be, that may continue for more than two weeks?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we'll do whatever's necessary to keep Australians safe. And that's just to show that we're constantly monitoring the situation, and there's been lots of developments. And if the virus, you know, we've got 14 cases here in Australia, 3 of those, I should stress, have been discharged from hospital and are healthy. So the virus has been different to others, but it has had a high rate of transmission.
JONES: I understand. I just want to go back to this quarantine stuff. So you're saying that mining camps or you’ll open whatever facilities are needed to properly quarantine? But my understanding is that Australian citizens and permanent residents arriving on commercial flights are required to self-isolate?
PRIME MINISTER: That's correct. Out of mainland China, not out of the directly impacted zones of Wuhan where that has escalated to levels significantly in advance of what's elsewhere in mainland China-
JONES: So the quarantine centres are for people from the impacted zones in China.
PRIME MINISTER: Correct.
JONES: Right. But the Australian citizens and permanent residents arriving on commercial flights from other parts of China will be required to self-isolate.
PRIME MINISTER: Correct. Because they have places to live, places to go and they're in an area-
JONES: How do you enforce self-isolation?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, you can't enforce it. The state and territory health support services and others are there providing help and advice. But I've got to say Alan that so far, the advice to us is that that's been very effective. I mean, it's been going for several weeks now and we've had people returning and how this is being, impacted Australia compared to other countries, we're doing the containment approach, working closely with the state and territories and it's been working very effectively. But we're watching it very, very closely with a lot of cooperation from Australians in listening to the advice and doing as they've been asked.
JONES: What people are writing to me and ringing about is how do we know that these Australian citizens who are arriving on commercial flights from China aren't infected?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, there's a 14 day incubation period and that's at the upper end of all of the advice is and so the advice we have is that they would isolate themselves the minute they come off the plane and they're given these masks, they're given their instructions, and they go home and they self isolate for 14 days. And what we've seen so far, as I said-
JONES: There's a lot of these people, aren't there, because you're continuing to allow all these commercial flights into Australia.
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah. But the number of people on these flights, Alan-
JONES: Is reducing of course
PRIME MINISTER: - is significantly reduced, which again, was the point when this was put to us by all the chief medical officers. The point was to radically reduce the number of people who were coming in. Now, in the case where in China, the risk had not elevated to the level, obviously anywhere near, it was in Wuhan then they believe that risk was acceptable.
JONES: Now, the Qantas flight, we had this Qantas flight, which basically went from Wuhan to WA and then to Sydney yesterday. I've had people ring me to say that, what happens to those staff? How were they protected from the virus being spread? Because they aren't being quarantined now. Even though they'd been in contact or may have been in contact with an infected passenger. Where are those staff? Are they being sent back to work?
PRIME MINISTER: They all have arrangements with their employer about how they're being treated like all their crews are-
JONES: My understanding is they haven't.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, what I'm saying is, is that they have when they're working on these flights, like others, they have a higher standard of personal protective equipment and they've got a series of protocols that they follow when they're on these flights. And they are working under the advice and under the care of their own medical advisers, but also as they’ve worked with the government.
JONES: You can understand, though, can't you, how these staff would be very worried about their health and well-being. Are you aware of this letter that Qantas have sent out, a direction to a particular employee who, quote, refused to board an aircraft and perform your duties in relation to a Qantas flight and they name the flight and so on? And then the letter says to the employee, you advised the reason you did this was due to your concerns about the risk of contracting Coronavirus. You were advised at the time that the risk of that occurring was negligible, negligible risk, this is what Qantas are telling this employee. And in these circumstances and with the information available, you cannot reasonably concerned that working on an aircraft originating from China would expose you to a serious risk to your health or safety, or that there is a risk of immediate or imminent exposure to Coronavirus. So Qantas here are playing the medical god, but then they say this, given the above, the company is formally directing you to perform your duties as required, including performing your duties on aircraft originating from ports in China. The company's position is that the direction outlined above is reasonable and lawful and you are required to comply with it. It's important that you're aware that should you fail to comply with this direction, this may result in disciplinary action being taken against you up to and including termination of your employment. Is that bullying or intimidation? That, that employer would be genuinely concerned? Is that the way to treat that employee?
PRIME MINISTER: Well I think that's a matter between that employee and the company like it would be anywhere, and I would hope that there would be a sensitive approach applied to this, that's really an industrial matter Alan, and I don't know the specifics of the case. I mean, you've read out the letter, but that is a matter that I'm happy to take up with Qantas about how they're managing those issues. I’ve got to say, though, I couldn't be more impressed with the Qantas staff who got on that flight to Wuhan.
JONES: Quite right, I agree.
PRIME MINISTER: And they did that on a voluntary basis. And so look, look, it's a difficult issue to manage for everybody, whether it's Qantas or whether it's the Australian government or you know managing the quarantine arrangements up there in Christmas Island. We also had an AUSMAT team. Now, these guys are like the commandos of dealing with viruses, and they were put on that plane to support the staff. When we went up to Wuhan and the same things I understand will happen next time. Those people were also up on Christmas Island. So there, we have got the best people in the world who are helping people who are in these situations. And it's a difficult time. And we just calmly proceed with putting into place, the arrangements in place, getting the best advice, getting support to people. And I would hope that, and I would think that, that's what would be occurring with our companies as well who are involved.
JONES: Are you concerned in any way about the objectivity of the advice coming from the World Health Organisation? These are the people who are saying in spite of other countries cancelling their flights, keep the borders open, keep the borders open, yet they have, of course, declared it an international emergency. The head of the World Health Organisation is this bloke Adhanom, and I made this point twice yesterday. He's the member of the Ethiopian Marxist Leninist Party in Ethiopia, are renegotiating billions of dollars in loans from Beijing and for a railway line that links the capital to Djibouti. So why wouldn't he be congratulating China on their work in containing the virus? Do you think that people believe that China has been really transparent in all of this? The World Health Organisation says you can have confidence in China's capacity to control the outbreak, but it was only in December that eight doctors were arrested and forced to confess to spreading false rumours, which weren't, in fact, false. Are you concerned about the objectivity of this advice?
PRIME MINISTER: Let me answer it this way. When we started taking our action, we were one of the first countries to do so, we were doing that completely independent, frankly, of what the declarations were of the WHO. We moved- I mean, our Chief Medical Officer, Dr Brendan Murphy, was calling for the WHO to declare this a week before they did. So we were working on the basis of Brendan Murphy's advice. You know, we were accessing information from the WHO, and in crises like this you have to be- you have to ensure that you're acting on your own information. You draw it from a range of different sources and you make the calls in Australia's interests. I mean, the WHO has never supported travel bans. That's a policy position they've had for a long time. Now we've had one, we were one of the first countries, ours actually activated before the United States one did. So we have, we've been very proactive on this and we've noted all the things the WHO and others said. But frankly, we're making the calls based on what we think is best for Australia. And you've got to always in this environment, I think, be careful about the information you're using. You’ve got to interrogate it. But we're relying on our health advisers.
JONES: Ok. Just on the economy and I want to go into as much detail. But, you know, you'd be aware that there's people struggling out here now, there are whole suburbs of Sydney and Brisbane and Melbourne in particular, who are ghost towns because of their dependence on Chinese custom. You've got tourism tropical north Queensland saying that they've reported more than 19,000 cancellations in one week, worth more than 10 million dollars. The Queensland Tourism Industry Council said there'll be mass cancellations, do these people just cop it? Or how do you- I mean, I know you've tipped him $70 something million dollars, but the damage is already being done and there's no end in sight.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we can't pretend there's no impact to a global virus like this, and we can't pretend that we can make it like the day it was before the virus struck. But just like with the bushfires as you said, $76 million in to support the tourism industry over that, that's, as you know, I used to be involved. I mean, that is, I'm not aware of a bigger package of support for the tourism industry in my memory. And we're obviously going to have to look at how the rebound can be assisted when it comes to travel. Now, I suppose, there is not a lot of good news here but when the previous viruses hit, international tourism fell to Australia by about 11 per cent in one quarter and in the next quarter, it bounced up back up by 16 per cent. Now, the advice we're getting, including from Treasury and of course, the Reserve Bank and others, is, of course it's going to have an impact. And the Treasurer's having that modelled and worked on as we speak. And it will have an impact and the nature of this virus and how it spreads across the global economy is also a bit of an unknown at the moment. At this stage, it hasn't demonstrated the same sort of severe outcomes that the previous virus, the SARS and MERS did. But the rates of transmission are much greater. So it is an unfolding story. And the economic impacts well, of course, they're going to be very significant. That's why we-
JONES: And the Chinese economy is much greater behind, bigger now than it was over SARS in 2003.
PRIME MINISTER: Of course our exposure to that, the number of visitors, the number of students. And that's why we're just working each of these issues one at a time to try and mitigate the impact. And that's why the travel ban was not taken lightly, because we know what the impact of that is.
JONES: Yeah it’s rough stuff out there, yeah rough stuff for many people out there. Just a couple of things, the veterans issue, well done on that but Normie Rowe, as you know, who sacrificed his music career, he was the leading commercial artist in Australia, wrote to me after your announcement. He said the major problem is with the Department of Veterans Affairs systemic attitude that all veterans are trying to rip off the system. That's what they call the culture. He said it's all very well to have one independent commissioner at the top of the claims tree. But if at the first contact with the Department of Veterans Affairs, a veteran’s treated as a pariah, how does that veteran sustain the strength to get far enough for the commissioner to consider his or her case?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, and I know of the many criticisms and the many views about DVA and I mean, this is one of the issues I spoke about with Julie-Ann Finney and others. And they acknowledge that things had been improving. And there's still a long way to go on this and Liz Cosson, who is the Secretary of that Department, and Darren Chester are working very hard on changing that culture. But I should stress, this national commissioner since independence to DVA, Department of Defence, they'll sit over in the Attorney-General's.
JONES: When will you be announcing him?
PRIME MINISTER: We’re going through that process now, Alan. And so I don't want to foreshadow that we're going through a proper process to get the right person.
JONES: But of course, Normie said to me how many veterans might die in the interim before, in fact, this gets into place?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, Alan, I think we've got to be realistic here. I mean, what this commissioner will do, will be the one- they'll be working with coroners to make sure we're investigating each and every case. This is not the only action we're taking to prevent veteran suicide. There are a raft of measures and that starts with the day someone joins the Defence Force. One of the key lessons has been, when we've looked deeply at this issue of veterans suicide is you got to start preparing our defence forces personnel for the day they leave the Defence Force, from the day they joined-
PRIME MINISTER: And this has been one of the big lessons-
JONES: I know.
PRIME MINISTER: -I sat with Julie-Anne and our others, fellow family representatives. That was, that has been a big problem and that has changed since their children went through Defence. It's been one of the big changes that they're now doing, but that will obviously take some time to work its way through. So there's a lot of things happening, a lot more needs to happen because we've got to pay eternal vigilance to their welfare just as they protect ours.
JONES: Well done. And yes, well done. I heard your comments in the Parliament about that. We've got to go. But I'll just leave something with you without comment, if I might. You’re well aware that I'd been down amongst all those bushfire people and I'm talking to them all the time.
PRIME MINISTER: Yes.
JONES: Forget what you are giving, the government are giving, I'm talking about the public, people listening to you now, have given a half a billion dollars. And can I just leave it with you? They're down there. They're seeing none of this money. And so something's got to be mobilized to get the money to the people. If I could leave that thought with you.
PRIME MINISTER: Look, absolutely Alan, I have a similar concern about this. I mean, I can tell you that over $111 million dollars has been paid out. I think it's very important that charities and state governments, for that matter, are reporting on how much money is going out the door and to where.
JONES: Well, there’s a few people, there are very few people who can tell the Prime Minister to stop talking but I've got to go to the news. But we'll talk again soon about that and other issues.
PRIME MINISTER: We're on it. Thanks, Alan.
JONES: Thank you. There he is, Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister.