BEN FORDHAM: Scott Morrison, good morning to you.
PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Ben. How are you?
FORDHAM: Good. How many days have you got to go?
PRIME MINISTER: I've got another week to go yet and I was talking to the girls last night, they were asking me the same question. So we're looking forward to getting to the end of next week so I can go home and see them, but a lot to do. And we're keeping extremely busy and I'm not really missing a beat at all.
FORDHAM: So how does it work? You still have people around you, but they’d be similar people who you're away with in the first place?
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, yeah. I mean, Adam Taylor is here with me. He had travelled with me to Japan, as he does on all of our trips. So he's sort of making sure all the communications links work. We've been linking up with summits all around the world. And I have one of my other executive staff members here with me as well and he's joined us this week because we've got Cabinet meetings and all of those sorts of things, lots of briefs and a lot of work to do and so I need a policy person here with me as well.
FORDHAM: Alright. We're learning today about a plan to enshrine the Brereton Report into war crimes at the Australian War Memorial. The Memorial Director, Matt Anderson, says people will come to the Memorial and expect to see it acknowledged. Now, we know these are very serious allegations, Prime Minister, but there needs to be a presumption of innocence here because that's one of the values our troops went to war for.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, of course there's a presumption of innocence and I've said that and that's the process that we set up with the special investigator. But also the process that's been set up with Defence to deal with the report and the oversight committee that the Defence Minister put in place. But, look, let's not get ahead of ourselves of what's being proposed here either. I mean, we haven't seen anything specific there and the War Memorial Board, which has oversight over this, has people on there, like Tony Abbott, for example, was appointed to that board. Corporal Daniel Keighran is on there. Air Marshall Mel Hupfeld, you’ve got Kerry Stokes, of course as the Chair, Wing Commander Sharon Bown and the list goes on. So there's a lot of, you know, people with a lot of experience on this who, of course, who work closely with the War Memorial Director-
FORDHAM: But the Director is saying people will come to the Memorial and expect to see it acknowledged. And you're saying we shouldn't get too far ahead of ourselves. It sounds like he wants a hall of shame there.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, no, I don't think that's necessarily what he's proposing at all, Ben. I think we should just wait to see what the War Memorial is actually- how they're proposing to handle this very sensitive matter. And my simple point is we've got a board that sits over those decisions, which has got a lot of very sensible people and I just read out some of the names that are there, I think who have a good understanding of how this issue needs to be sensitively dealt with and respecting our defence forces and upholding the integrity of that process. And I've got confidence in them to make the right decisions. That’s why we appointed them.
FORDHAM: Do you agree with the Director, Matt Anderson, where he says people will come to the Memorial and expect to see it acknowledged?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, it all depends on what that actually means, Ben. And I think this is a very sensitive issue. We've got to be careful how we handle it and so I'm not just going to run off half cocked in giving a response to something that hasn't even been formulated yet. I don't think that would be very wise on my part and I trust the War Memorial board directors to exercise the appropriate judgement. That's why I appointed them.
FORDHAM: Speaking of half cocked, the ball is already rolling on plans to strip 3,000 troops of their military citations, even though 99 per cent of them did absolutely nothing wrong. Do you support the removal of those citations for thousands of troops?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm waiting for General Campbell to be able to finalise his set of recommendations about what he proposes to do. And I know this is a very sensitive and controversial issue. It's complex. I mean, we haven't seen a report like this before, Ben. And there are obviously things that need to be addressed within the ADF and there is a proper justice process that needs to go through, as we have both said, where you're always innocent until proven guilty in this country. That's what doing things by Australia's rule of law means. And so they're working out their response to this and we'll see where they get to on that. There is an oversight panel over the top of how these recommendations will be followed through on and so, again, I'm just going to take this step by step, Ben. It's a very hard issue and there's a lot of things to manage and I'm not going to run a daily commentary on every suggestion that comes out.
FORDHAM: You can understand why people wouldn't support the notion of collective punishment, whereby you punish thousands of people for the sins of a couple of dozen.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, again, Ben, decisions haven't been made yet on these things and so let's just see how each step unfolds. But I'm very sensitive to the issues that you've raised, as is the Defence Minister. This is a very hard issue for Australia to deal with. And I want to do it, as I said at the outset when I set up the process for how we're going to deal with it as a Government, to ensure where there are reforms that need to take place in the military, then that needs to happen. And Defence Force veterans themselves have been saying that. And not just- I mean, it's important that the justice process, obviously, where specific incidents are involved, that's dealt with there. But there's also issues around chains of command and things like that and they also have to be addressed in terms of reform. And those are matters that I know are being dealt with and I will wait to see the next stage that the Chief of the Defence Force makes his recommendations.
FORDHAM: A few more quick ones, if we can. I know you're limited on time.
PRIME MINISTER: No we’re right.
FORDHAM: Queensland's opened the border from December 1, which is good, but we've still got WA needing to do the same. Is there an argument for National Cabinet to look at some kind of mechanism to stop state leaders locking themselves off from the rest of the country?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, first of all, I'm thrilled that Queensland is open to the rest of the country. I'm thrilled that they'll also soon, I believe, open to Victoria as well. I mean, I've set that goal that we would be open by Christmas. Only Western Australia hadn't agreed to that. And so it's great to see the people reuniting in Queensland and I think for Christmas coming up, that's especially important. And it's important now that as we open safely in Queensland that we remain safely open. I think business needs that assurance. We had that hiccup in South Australia last week, a bit of a false alarm, and it's important, I think, for businesses that there's that certainty.
The Queensland tracing system, the reports I've had, are very good. So they can deal with something if it pops up and we need to keep that comeback going in our economy and those tourism businesses up in Queensland I know will be thrilled about this result.
In terms of the broader national system, Western Australia has made something very clear. But what you're talking about, I mean, we have to run the country by the Constitution. And public health is the responsibility of state governments and they have the powers to quarantine people who come into their states if they believe there's public health risk. Now, that is a power that they have. We work together as best as we can. The National Cabinet has been something that no other state, no other country has done that has a Federation like this. And while there's been some disagreements, the outcomes of how we perform both on the virus and containing its impact and the economic results we've got, which are some of the best in the world, well, I think that speaks for itself. While there's been the odd disagreement overall, the country has done extremely well.
FORDHAM: Former Finance Minister Mathias Cormann is campaigning to become the next boss of the OECD. He's flown from Canberra to Perth, to Oman, to Turkey, to Denmark, to Germany, to Switzerland, to Slovenia, back to Switzerland, then Luxembourg, to Belgium and then to Spain on Australian Air Force jets. So who's paying for all of that?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's funded by the Government because we're taking this bid very seriously. And the reason we need him to do that in the Air Force jet is because COVID is running rampant in Europe. I mean, this is a very important position. The OECD is going to play a really important role in the global economic recovery. As many years ago when the Rudd government was in power, they campaigned for a seat on the Security Council and there were similar efforts put in place. But the other point, really, about this, I mean, there really wasn't the practical option to use commercial flights in the time we had available because of COVID. I mean, if Mathias was flying around on commercial planes, he would have got COVID. The risk of that was extremely high. And so this is about safety, it's about health, but it's also about campaigning for a position that Alexander Downer was telling me the other night, our longest serving foreign minister, that Australia has never secured such a position before. Now we're in the race for it. And it'll be very important. Mathis would be an outstanding Secretary-General of the OECD, standing up for those liberal democratic market-based values which the OECD represents that are going to be so important for the economic recovery. So the COVID environment has really demanded this probably more than anything else.
FORDHAM: We're talking to Prime Minister Scott Morrison from The Lodge. PM, if I can ask you about robodebt. I know that the Government has apologised over robodebt but the Labor Party says you haven't taken enough personal responsibility for all of this because it was your policy introduced back when you were the relevant minister. Do you take personal responsibility?
PRIME MINISTER: The Labor Party would say that and they misrepresent everything, as I'm sure your listeners know.
FORDHAM: What have they misrepresented?
PRIME MINISTER: What they're misrepresenting is what this decision is about, is a thing called income averaging. And it's actually not about the computer. It's about the assumption made that a debt is raised by averaging people's incomes. Now, the Labor Party did that. That policy has been used for years and years and years.
FORDHAM: But you've acknowledged as a government that robodebt was over the odds.
PRIME MINISTER: No, no, what I said was that income averaging was found not to be a valid means of raising a debt. That's what it's about. This is just the Labor Party trying to throw some mud. Now, this process has found on income averaging not to be a way you can legally raise a debt. But I'm sure your listeners agree that where there are debts, where there is overpayments made to people, that it's important the government seeks to recover those debts and the government will continue to seek to do that by the appropriate means. And that is what previous Labor governments did. That's what our government has done. And this process has not continued in that form, and we paid back and relieved some $700 million of the debts out of $1.2 billion. So we've got on with fixing it. That's what we've got on with doing. Labor wants to just keep kicking it along for their own political reasons.
FORDHAM: We need people to get out there and start spending now. We're one month out until Christmas. Have you started doing your Christmas shopping?
PRIME MINISTER: I haven't really had the time, Ben, to be honest.
FORDHAM: Oh, come on.
PRIME MINISTER: Right now I can't even get out of the house.
FORDHAM: Tell me I brought something back for the kids from Japan.
PRIME MINISTER: I did bring something back and I had that sent back up to them. But the Christmas shopping is something that Jenny's always been the commander of and she does an amazing job and I think that's the case in probably many houses. And thankfully for that, because she's a much better present buyer than I am.
FORDHAM: Not in my house. I was out at Kmart on the weekend. You should see some of the stuff I got at Kmart.
PRIME MINISTER: You're leading the way. You’re setting an example.
FORDHAM: All right. Well, good luck with the rest of the quarantine and we'll catch up soon.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot, Ben. Good to talk to you.
FORDHAM: Prime Minister Scott Morrison, live from the Lodge.