Daily Bulletin


Politics

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NEIL MITCHELL:
On the line Prime Minister Scott Morrison, good morning.

 

PRIME MINISTER: G’day Neil.

 

MITCHELL: Thanks for your time. First, South Australia says 600,000 masks that the Commonwealth provided are inadequate and have removed them. That right?

 

PRIME MINISTER: No they are reversing that decision. That was a false alarm. 

 

MITCHELL: Was it? Because Victoria's got the same masks? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, exactly. It's a false alarm. And the South Australian Health Minister, I understand, will be issuing a statement to that effect very shortly. 

 

MITCHELL: Okay. Everything's alright with them. You know, how on earth? That’s terrifying, how did that happen?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Look all I could tell you was that's the advice I've had this morning and look occasionally, Neil, these are extraordinary times, things like this will happen, where they’re corrected quickly, that's good. 

 

MITCHELL: Okay. Leads me to the matter of supplies, though. China is restricting medical supplies to the United States, which includes masks and testing kits and the rest. Is there any suggestion they'll restrict material to us? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Look, no, we've had quite a bit of success here. We've been working commercially. I think that's been one of the really good stories we've had over the last month. I mean, we have around 100 million masks in now with our current orders and what we've got here in April and we've got supply lines going out now over the next sort of 6 months. The Health Minister, Greg Hunt, and with support from, you know, people in the industry as well. I mean, you would have heard that the work that was done through the Minderoo foundation on testing and others, they have been working with a lot of partners to improve and secure those supply lines. And, you know, that's been going pretty well for us, keeping our head down and focussed on our lane.

 

MITCHELL: I guess the significance, yeah the significance of China restricting supplies to the US at a time like this is pretty ugly, though. And they did, of course, take a lot of stuff out of this country before it hits. Are we getting material from China? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Yes. And we have been, and we've been testing its veracity as well before we've been putting it into public use. I mean, when I was in the G20 leaders meeting hook up a few weeks ago, and one of the things we all agreed is that we had to keep essential supply lines open. 

 

MITCHELL: Also, the acting PM in Britain, the acting British PM says after this thing could be no business as usual with China. We can't have business as usual with China. Do you agree? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they're coming from a different position with us. I mean, I mean, we already have, I think, a lot of very tough controls and rules about everything from, and not specific to China necessarily, but I mean, things like foreign interference legislation that we already have, the arrangements that we have under 5G, I mean, these countries aren’t in that position. 

 

MITCHELL: So it will be business as usual with China?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, we've always been vigilant about these things, but at the same time, we’ve continued to pursue a productive, comprehensive strategic partnership with China. But we have an eyes wide open relationship.

 

MITCHELL: And how much of the medical stuff we're getting in the moment is coming through China?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, a big part of that testing material that we were able to secure working with Twiggy Forrest actually was secured out of China. 

 

MITCHELL: And we hope they don't impose the same ban on us as the United States?

 

PRIME MINISTER: There was a big shipment, a very big shipment. But look, you know, you just got to work your supply lines and a lot of these are commercial supply lines and. And so that's holding up. And Greg Hunt, and Nev Power, who heads the COVID Commission, they've been working in well with this as well. So it's an industry, government and private sector effort. 

 

MITCHELL: Now, I understand the measures you want to put in place before you can ease restrictions like the disease detectives and some sort of tracking app and all and to deal with things that come up quickly because they're going to come up. But what is the metric at which stage you’d look at imposing that? Does it mean no community transmissions, no new cases? What do you need to see before you get those three things in place? What do you need to see before you ease restrictions? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's a thing called the Reff, which is a coefficient. It's a measure which looks at if someone gets it how many people do they then transfer it effectively to after you've put all these restrictions and mitigations in place, in isolation and things like that now where that number is below 1, where it, which is where it is now and every state and territory except for Tasmania, where we've had one of those outbreaks, then if you can keep it there consistently and that's what we're looking at over the next four weeks, if we can keep it there over the next four weeks with the things we've had in place. And we can build up our defences on testing, on tracing and an immediate response capability to lock down on outbreaks in particular areas, then we believe in four weeks we'll be able to ease some of those restrictions that we've had in place.

 

MITCHELL: So we've got to follow the Reff. have we?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Yep.

 

MITCHELL: And if, we get that every day?

 

PRIME MINISTER: No, it's not easily produced every day. It's something that the Doherty Institute works with our medical expert panel to produce. And it's using a tool, which I mean we're learning a lot of new names and terms in all of this. But there’s a tool called ‘nowcasting’ as opposed to forecasting. And so it models the transmission rate based on all the other data. It's quite a complicated process, but that's what it produces at the end of day for lay people like you and me, it says how many people get it from one person getting it and when that's below 1, then we're winning. 

 

MITCHELL: So when you do look at easing, does the social distancing ease, you let people out more, but do you still stay a meter and a half away from people those...

 

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, absolutely. 

 

MITCHELL: Is that long term?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, until there's a vaccine.

 

MITCHELL: There's no guarantee there'll be a vaccine? We still haven’t got one for SARS?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well sure. Remember there was never a vaccine for SARS or MERS and the virus died off effectively, but social distancing is something we should get very used to for the foreseeable future. 

 

MITCHELL: What, a year?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well...

 

MITCHELL: They say 18 months to a year for a vaccine, that's most optimistic?

 

PRIME MINISTER: It could be a year Neil. But I mean, I'm not speculating about that. But that is the thing that I think instinctively, certainly while the virus is prevalent across the world, that we’ll that should be a natural instinct for us. 

 

MITCHELL: Does that also mean that we have to look at keeping the international borders closed for a year? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we haven't made any decision on that or in what areas they might be restricted. I think that's at another level beyond what we're going to look at in the next four weeks. I mean, we're still seeing a virus around the world which is rampant. I mean, Australia is at the top of the leaderboard both on our testing, the success of our testing. The way we're flattening the curve, all of this we're doing very well comparatively. And that's because of the efforts and sacrifices that Australians are making. Other countries aren't in that situation. Some are doing better than others, but few are doing as well as Australia. 

 

MITCHELL: The electronic tracking, that will be optional, not compulsory?

 

PRIME MINISTER: It will be optional, but we need to get a big take-up. And this is the simple sort of deal we're looking to make and states and territories and the, with the Australian people. If people take-up this app, that means we have greater confidence that if someone gets the coronavirus, we can more quickly trace down their contacts of people who they may have infected. Now, if we can't do that, if we don't have that capacity, then we'll have to keep the restrictions in for longer. 

 

MITCHELL: But doesn't that metadata exist already through the telcos? Couldn't you get it from them? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we believe this should be done on a permission basis by the Australian people and the security arrangements should be there for people’s privacy. 

 

MITCHELL: So, and if you don't take it, if we don’t take it up in big enough numbers, what did you say 40 per cent?

 

PRIME MINISTER: 40 per cent is the minimum yeah. 

 

MITCHELL: If we don't take it up in those numbers, the restrictions stay?

 

PRIME MINISTER: We'd have to because we wouldn't have the confidence that if there's an outbreak that we'd be able to contain it with an Reff of less than of less than 1.

 

MITCHELL: There’s that Reff again. Can you tell me, is, all of this is almost a sideline, do you know are any of the private hospitals yet being used for COVID cases?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, there have been cases where they're being used, particularly when we've had some of these cruise ship cases, in Western Australia we had a particular case with a German cruise ship, that was one of the early on arrangements we've had. And we basically took over a couple of private hospitals for that exact purpose.

 

MITCHELL: Let's look ahead. The economic pain. Tim Pallas says our grandchildren will be paying for this. I'll be talking to him later. Post pandemic, you're going to have to look at increasing taxes aren’t you?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we're going to have to look at growing the economy. 

 

MITCHELL: No, you wouldn't look at increased, increasing taxes?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, increasing taxes doesn't always grow the economy. So we've got to get our economy up and humming. That’s how you get people back into work. And when people are back in work, then they are paying taxes. 

 

MITCHELL: How do you do that with closed borders? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is why we need to get on top of this and get moving forward on it and getting our domestic economy up first and where we're able to then increase our linkages. And we've already got a freight subsidisation plan at the moment for our exports, we've already put that in place and we're getting our crayfish back out into China now.

 

MITCHELL: Do you agree with Tim Pallas, that our grandchildren will be paying for this?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I would hope not. I would hope not in terms of the additional debt burden that we're taking on. But let's not forget that our debt to GDP, our debt as a size of our economy, while it's high by Australian standards, by world standards everyone would rather be us. 

 

MITCHELL: Do you think we could be looking at a COVID levy, post pandemic? Where sort of, we got to pay some of this, put a levy, a bit of a poll tax on?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Again, that's not something that we're contemplating. 

 

MITCHELL: Not yet.

 

PRIME MINISTER: My first priority on the other side of this is to grow the economy. That's how you actually restore people's livelihoods. That's how you build up your revenues as a government again, you do that by having an economy that's successful and so it would be unwise to do things that would actually retard your growth. And that's why we need a business economy, growing employment friendly policies on the other side of this that will see our economy lift and people will be able to regain their standard of living and to start paying down that debt.

 

MITCHELL: As the IMF said, could we be looking at depression? And if so, what does it mean to the average person? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm not speculating about that. 

 

MITCHELL: Let's just talk recession. Because that seems inevitable? What does that mean to the average person? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, again. Look, all I know is that the hit that the Australian economy is taking is the biggest than we've seen since the Great Depression. That is undisputed. I mean, the GFC was an entree compared to what this is. This is at a whole another level. And that's why it's important to ensure that we try and keep businesses as intact as possible during the course of the, the most debilitating impact of this virus on our economy. That's what JobKeeper’s about, that’s what doubling JobSeeker’s about. That's what the cash flow lifeline putting into business is all about. That's what the tenancy arrangement is all about. So on the other side, our businesses are not beaten down by obligations and debt burdens. And having been folded and being pursued by creditors and the landlords and these sorts of things so they can get going again.

 

MITCHELL: But given how much we rely on the rest of the world surely recession is inevitable. Now we’re judged differently on the unusual circumstances, it is not the usual failures of management or something, but recession is inevitable isn’t it?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, again, I never concede to the inevitability of anything when it comes to the economy. I like to think that there is always the things that we can do to try and make things better. Now, on the economy, we've got some really bad news coming our way. I mean, yesterday we had the unemployment figures and that’s probably one of the last sets of relatively good news that we're going to see for some time. So whatever these figures are going to end up saying Neil, whether it's in the terms that you're talking about or anything else. All I know is this thing is going to hit us like a truck. And we need to ensure that on the other side of that and through it, we're doing everything we can to ensure the recovery is as strong as possible. Now, whether it's V-shaped or U-shaped or whatever shape you want to come up with. It'll be as best as possible the shape we make it. And that is to see employees getting back into jobs, businesses getting going again, exports firing up again and to get to that position as soon as we can. 

 

MITCHELL: I know you've announced some money going to Virgin and Qantas. But if, they want a lot more Virgin, will you let them go under if necessary? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: We do want to see two, we do want to see- sorry there’s a different call coming in on the other line, we want to have two airlines in Australia that are commercially viable that are there and into the future. Of course, we all want that. There's no dispute about that. 

 

MITCHELL: But will you pay to get it?

 

PRIME MINISTER: But what I'm saying is I'm not going to get in the way of a commercial resolution to this. 

 

MITCHELL: Even if it means Virgin goes under?

 

PRIME MINISTER: What I'm saying is I understand and know that there are all sorts of commercial discussions going on right now. And the worst thing I could do as a Prime Minister or as a government is get in the way of that. So I want to see them fix that. 

 

MITCHELL: Even if China wants, well although it’s pretty well foreign owned anyway, even if China wants to buy it?

 

PRIME MINISTER: But all I'm saying is there are commercial discussions underway, Neil. I'm not going to get in the way of those. I'm not going to pre-empt those, I’m going to let them do their work. And I wish them every success.

 

MITCHELL: Just in a general sense, as the JobKeeper. There are some glitches there. Council employees can't get it, but AFL players can. Obviously, it's been put together in a hurry as it needed to be,

 

PRIME MINISTER: No, that's not a glitch. That’s not a glitch. State governments are responsible for state government employees, which includes local government employees. And there was an agreement of National Cabinet that we're all responsible in the public sector for our own workers. So, you know, we look after the Commonwealth workers and the state government looks after local government workers. That's why on child care, we're paying the 50 per cent continuity payments for all child care centres, including local government ones. But when it comes to the wage subsidies, that is the responsibility of the state government. And in New South Wales, they've done exactly that for local government run childcare centres.

 

MITCHELL: Okay, I’ll raise that with the state Treasurer a little bit later. But there are glitches turning up, which are legitimate ones where do people go to sort them out. Do they go to their local member of parliament or where do they go to sort it out? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they can do that. But I mean, they can also work it out through the ATO, who are administering the program, one of our key principle through all of this, whether it's JobKeeper or JobSeeker or childcare or universities or whatever, it is. One of our principles that we learnt from the GFC was you've got to use existing distribution mechanisms. You can't come up with new schemes with new systems, because that creates even more problems. And so let's take one of the issues that's often raised about casuals who may not have been working up to the 1,500 bucks a fortnight level of hours, but getting a $1,500 JobSeeker payment now. The alternative is that that casual if they'd been there for more than twelve months, and they'd be on JobKeeper, they would go down the road and they would apply for JobSeeker now they'd end up getting roughly about the same. And the difference would be that we're delivering it through a more effective mechanism, through the JobKeeper payment through the business, then rather putting the pressure on JobSeeker, which is under a lot of pressure. I've got 6,000 extra people right now working on processing all of those claims and I want to keep the pressure off that so I can get people money through the welfare system. 

 

MITCHELL: Just quickly, you won't like this, but it is relevant. Malcolm Turnbull's book, he says that you and Mathias Cormann were a significant tension that only matters now, it's history but that only matters now if you don't get on. Is there a bit of tension between Mathias, between you and Mathias Cormann?

 

PRIME MINISTER: No.

 

MITCHELL: Was there ever?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Mathias and I have worked together on six budgets together. 

 

MITCHELL: But you were a leaker and he didn't like it according to Malcolm Turnbull?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Oh look, I’m going to let all those go through the keeper Neil. I'm focussed very much on the job Australians want me focussed on, and I'm very committed to. I'll leave it to everyone else. 

 

MITCHELL: And I read you are in isolation at the Lodge with your family is that right?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Ah, I wouldn't say I’m in isolation. I'm just doing the same thing that all Australians are doing. And I've got the family with me at the moment, it’s school holidays. And my hope is that very soon in New South Wales that they'll go back to classroom learning. And when they do that, my kids will be back in Sydney, going to school every day. 

 

MITCHELL: Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it. Thank you.

 

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