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  • Written by Scott Morrison Peta Credlin


PETA CREDLIN: Prime Minister Scott Morrison joins me now live from Kirribilli House. PM, thanks very much for your time tonight. 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Peta. Good to be with you. 

 

CREDLIN: Look, I have to say, and you've remarked on this, Australians have been really tested in recent months with the bushfire crisis and of course, this new virus. Now over the summer I thought our national character was on display in the way we really pulled together this time around it's been played out in the aisles of our supermarkets. And rather than pulling together, it's a bit like every man, every woman for themselves. How do you think the country is coping now? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think far better than some of those displays you’re talking about. I think those are more isolated incidents. And they've got plenty of media play, no doubt, and even more on social media. But I think Australians more broadly, I think there's a lot more common sense going on there. Look I understand the anxiety and we've seen that anxiety played out from time to time. That's why it's always important to get good information. I mean, as we've been working through our responses and you’re right, today, we announced the health response. Health first. I mean, at the end of the day, this is a health crisis, it is a global health crisis. It’s happened far away from Australia and it's made its way here. We've been able to contain it relatively effectively up until now. But obviously, the pressure of that gets stronger when you've got more than 100 countries where the virus is now present. But, you know, you have to deal with these shocks as they come. And that's why you do the work to ensure you get the budget back in balance and you run a world class health system and you put yourself in a position to respond to these events, which are indeed outside your control. But you control what you do and how you behave and and how you conduct yourself and and how you support your fellow Australians. And whether you run a business or you work for one or you you're a doctor or you're a nurse or you drive a bus or you're the prime minister, it doesn't matter. We all have a job to do.

 

CREDLIN: PM in the United Kingdom, the health minister there, Nadine Dorries, she's tested positive for coronavirus. And clearly she's going to stand down from her position for a period of time. She'll go into quarantine and she's been mixing with the PM and other ministers, been in and out of the parliament. So the big question, doesn't it, about contingency measures for government. Now I know business have this issue front of their minds. But what's the sort of continuity of government work you've been putting in place, you know, for you, or senior ministers, military chiefs, if any of you are put out of action by coronavirus? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the first point to note, Peta, is and Dr Murphy's been making this point fairly regularly, for the overwhelming majority of Australians who might actually contract the virus, the experience to date has been that those who've contracted it have had a very mild illness, very mild. For those who are most vulnerable, and that's particularly the elderly, we're also concerned about remote communities as well and that's why today's health announcement had particular measures that focussed on those communities. I mean, the normal processes apply, whether it's myself or the Deputy Prime Minister or the Chief of the Defence Force or any others. I mean, those arrangements are there every single day. But we're talking about someone who might just contract the virus and have the mild symptoms of what would be like a flu. So these are not things that are going to bring the government to a halt. Quite the contrary. What matters is ensuring that we're making the right decisions and not, you know, we've got to move swiftly, but we've also got to make sure we don't rush. I mean, the measures we announced today, I hope people saw, in the health package, it was everything from dealing with testing to ensuring there were treatment places through the pop up clinics that were established, there were the telehealth facilities that were there. But also just thinking through well how will elderly patients who may have to be contained at home, how will they get access to their prescription medicines? I mean, there's a lot of thought that has gone into this and a lot of people have been working to have the right response, $2.4 billion is a big investment, no doubt about it. But the virus is known, if not for its severe impacts on individuals, it is a highly transmissible virus. And that means that, you know, it has widespread effects and especially on the economy, which we’ll particularly deal with tomorrow.

 

CREDLIN: We'll get into that right now. I mean, you'll be announcing a package of measures designed to stimulate things tomorrow. How much is the spend PM?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we'll outline what that is tomorrow. I mean, tonight we've announced the fact that we're going to put in place a mechanism to support apprentices, some 117,000 apprentices will be supported through wage subsidies for employers of less than 20 employees. I mean, one of the things that really can, you know, I’ve focussed on and the Treasurer's focussed on is we've looked at this event, if you’re an apprentice, if you were there on the 1st of March, we want to make sure that you continue to work through your apprenticeship over the course of this virus and so that on the other side, your business will benefit, you'll benefit and you'll be there as part of the bouncing back strongly, which is part of our plan to get through the coronavirus event. And so that's going to cost about $1.3 billion. And that's about keeping people in jobs, but not just in a job for a young person, but keep them in training so their skills development is not disrupted. We think this is a very helpful measure where we think that potentially in a smaller business, which will be under a lot more pressure, you know, we don't want them to have to let their apprentices go. And this will provide up to 9 months worth of subsidised support for the wages of apprentices. As I said 117,000. So if you’re one of those apprentices tonight or they're one of your kids, I hope you find that encouraging that that's one of the first things we've thought about is to keep those apprentices in work and on the tools. 

 

CREDLIN: All right. Let's go back to some history you and I share. Back at the time of the GFC, Labor have tried very much to I think rewrite their own history on the back of this current crisis, the GFC history. As I said we were both here at the time. The opposition, you made the point, the opposition was the Coalition, you made the point today that the opposition supported the first tranche of stimulus spending the $10 billion, not the next tranche, which was $42 billion. Do you expect bipartisanship here from Labor? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I would hope so. I mean, you're right. The Coalition I was there and we supported, I was the shadow housing and local government minister, I think at the time. And there was a housing component-

 

CREDLIN: Yes you were.

 

PRIME MINISTER: So I was brought into the shadow cabinet discussions. And I remember the conversation and there was support for the initial stimulus. It was proportionate that first stimulus. But importantly Peta, as you’ll recall, It worked through existing payment systems. So the risk of cheques going off to pets and those sorts of things from that first stimulus was, didn't exist because they were channelling money through existing channels. They weren't dreaming up schemes like insulation batts and overpriced school halls and all of those other schemes, some of which were still being funded years after the GFC had even passed. And I think there were big lessons from that. Stimulus at a time like this is important, but there's good stimulus and there's ineffective or bad stimulus. The good stimulus accords I think to the principles I set out yesterday, we need to understand this is a temporary economic event. It's not a permanent one. As I think Paul Kelly was saying, when you were interviewing before, there's no failure of the financial system here. There is obviously economic impacts that are affecting both demand in the short term, but also supply chains, which is disrupting supply. Obviously, in the travel and tourism sector, in the external sector with exports, there are disruptions there. But this goes for a period of time. What we've been having to deal with over the last 6 years is repairing an over extended stimulus that went well beyond the event and baked in spending, you know, a decade into the future. Now, what we're going to do will be quite targeted, it will be very timely. It will deal with the problem we have here. It will be proportionate and it will have an exit strategy for the budget so when the economy bounces back, which it will, this is important, it will, then the budget also will be able to follow the economy's trajectory and it can bounce back. We've got the budget back into balance. We've worked hard to achieve that. We can now put that to work for the Australian people at what will be a very challenging time. 

 

CREDLIN: So I can read political code there, we're talking about people on fixed incomes. We're talking about people with, in and around the export industries. You've already said you've got a big focus on small to medium sized businesses. You put the wood on big business yesterday, do the right thing by their employees. I'd have to say the last couple of years have been pretty worrying for older Australians. Interest rates are low, so that impacts their savings. And obviously now they've got this added, the added hit of health risk. What would your message be to older Australians tonight who are watching the program? Because, you know, any money you deliver via the pension system, let's say, you've also got to get them out to spend it. And that's a bit of a challenge?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, first of all, what we've always known from, you know, where these types of things have been done that pensioners, particularly pensioners, but many in similar circumstances, they will go and spend that in the economy. That has been the experience. You're right. I mean, there is a different sort of health environment and context to this event. But our advice is very strong that this is a group that is always in a position, I think, to spend and be in the economy where they have those extra resources because, you know, they've got a lot of things that they would, they would normally deny themselves. It's a pretty, pretty astute and responsible group of people, those who are on the pension. And they they don't do it easy. And so, you know, where we can provide support, but the support is designed to deliver a stimulus to the economy. That's the important thing, because that helps business.

 

CREDLIN: But they got to leave home to spend it PM, and of course there’s concerns about mass gatherings they are being banned overseas. We're not at that stage here yet. But that's now one of the challenges here?

 

PRIME MINISTER: No we’re not that that stage here. And that's why well, this is why I also urge calm and particularly in the reporting that's done. I mean, there's been some reporting that I think's been obviously very unhelpful. And what we need to understand is just over 100 people currently in Australia who've had the coronavirus, well over a quarter of those have actually fully recovered and another quarter are well on their way to doing that. And we do expect, as the chief medical officer has said, that there would be broader community transmission. But our health system has been prepared to deal with that. And we understand the, those particularly who are in nursing homes, in aged care facilities, that will need some additional support and plans. And we've got those in place. And today, I said we put an extra $100 million in to support workforce needs in aged care facilities to meet additional demands and supports. So, yes, they will be a key focus of our attention both for their health, their health care and wellbeing, but also obviously for their economic needs. And so maybe the suggestion is, is take Nanna and Pa out for a meal at the club. It might be their shout!

 

CREDLIN: PM have you been in contact with other world leaders? I know there's been a whole sort of international movement working on vaccines. Have you been in contact with other world leaders? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Look there's been some contact around that. But, and particularly our officials have been dealing with particular on the health side with a lot of the five eyes countries in particular. But we’ve had contact with Indonesia, with Japan, with South Korea. There's been quite a lot of that contact. Everybody's trying to learn from each other and from the data so we can all get our modelling right to know when the virus might peak and have a peak demand on the health system. That's a key thing to understand. I mean, the package today included $500 million to co-fund the increased demand in public hospitals and the public health systems, support for things like aged care facilities or other things they do in the community, the state governments will obviously lead the public health response through hospitals as they do always. And they've been scaling up what they're doing and they've been looking at how they arrange things in their hospitals and ward beds and things like that. That's necessary planning. We're also hoping to see that the state governments as well as I say, everyone has a role to play here. We'll be doing heavy lifting when it comes to our balance sheet on the economic side of things, as well as doing our bit on the primary care, aged care, $30 million for seeking to do research for a vaccine. But equally, the state governments, I would expect would be looking at what they can be doing through their own budgets and their own works programs to provide that support both to the economy and they'll obviously be doing that when it comes to meeting the needs in their health system.

 

CREDLIN: PM, just before we go. What's your fundamental message to Australians tonight? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, to keep calm, but to know this, together we will get through this. And of course, we will. We've worked hard to put the budget into balance. So we have a balance sheet that can support both our economy and the needs in our health system to find our way and to make our way strongly together through this crisis. And it is a crisis that has come from external to Australia. We understand that, but we're not immune to that. And we moved very early. We've been able to stay ahead. And we're also going to keep our head, Peta. I think that's very important. Be good to each other I think is a very commonsense message. Follow the commonsense rules that are out there. Seek information from the trusted sources. That means not social media, that's not terribly reliable on virtually all occasions, good for keeping up with your friends and your relatives. But I wouldn't be looking to it for health advice. There is trusted sources of that information and at the end of the day we will bounce back strongly. The package tomorrow will be about keeping business in business, keeping Australians in jobs, and ensuring that we set up the Australian economy to bounce back strongly on the other side and maintain that optimistic spirit that Australians are well known for and look after each other. 

 

CREDLIN: Well you’ve got a lot on your plate, PM. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, thank you for your time. 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot. Peta, good to be with you. 

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