RAY HADLEY: Prime Minister, good morning.
PRIME MINISTER: G’day Ray.
HADLEY: I was just referring to this story from the Courier Mail, which you’ve probably caught up with today about this proposal by the government to get people out there and picking crops. And it's failed miserably, unfortunately?
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, this is a very hard thing to get, get to work. I mean, governments have been trying to do this for years and years. I mean, we've got a current programme which is providing a relocation incentive for people to go and do that kind of work. And I mean, a lot of this work was being done by backpackers and obviously, because of COVID there's not as many of them around and it is putting the crunch on. And, you know, we've been upping the seasonal worker intake and working with states to try and get people in. But it's, it's very hard to get people to go and relocate. And I was just having this conversation with the Mount Isa Mayor up here. I met with all the mayors up here in Cloncurry, from right across this amazing area. And that's one of the big challenges they have too. But it's interesting, they're saying a lot of the FIFO workers who are going into a lot of these places because, you know, a lot of mines up here which are critical to the economy. Some are choosing to stay now because they haven't gone back to Melbourne or Sydney or wherever they were coming from and they're settling. So, you know, there's one shard of light out of COVID, there aren't too many. For regional communities hopefully we'll see a bit more of that. But it's very tough to get people out there working in those areas.
HADLEY: Now, Quilpie looked a bit different yesterday from the last time you were there, we're told?
PRIME MINISTER: Oh, it did mate, and it's still got a long way to go. There's still, there's 41 drought declared LGA’s in Queensland and Quilpie is one of them. But compared to where we were- they were just over two years ago I mean, there's the tinge, there's some feed there on the ground and they're doing well. They're getting back, the comeback is on, but they've still got a long way to go. But the resilience and hope that they had two and a half years ago, well, that's paying off. They really backed themselves and it was good to see the Tully family who I met with last time. And they're doing, they're doing okay. And they've pushed through, like so many people up here, they’ve toughed it out and they can really see the light ahead now.
HADLEY: I want to get to the vaccine in a moment because things have changed since we even spoke via text yesterday. But I note that you've also mentioned your Chief Health Officer has said, well, international travel maybe 2022? You're a bit more optimistic am I right in suggesting that maybe towards the end of this year we might be looking at that? I know it depends on the outcome of what happens with vaccines and the rest of it, but are you pushing towards that?
PRIME MINISTER: And that's the point. Well that’s the point, it all depends. I mean, what we've done all the way through this COVID crisis is just take one step at a time based on the information we have at the time, not get too far ahead of ourselves. And I was on a call the other night- I mentioned to you, I think, you know, yesterday Ray, and with the Norwegian Prime Minister and a number of the others and they’re in the early stages of the vaccine programme in a lot of those countries and, you know, there are a few hiccups there, but they're getting past them. And you know, what we've learnt all the way through is things change quickly and that means they can improve quickly, but sometimes they can deteriorate quickly, too. So we have just got to play it, you know, one step at a time and not create too much anxiety about what might or might not happen. Let's focus on what we know can happen and getting that going. And like one of the issues you just mentioned, trying to get these workers on to Ag areas and getting the states... I’ve got to say up here in Queensland they've got an on-farm quarantine system up here, which also hasn't had a huge take up. I think that about 500 or so have come through there. They're seasonal workers and that means they go and quarantine on the farm. So they have all the right health conditions there, but they can be working at the same time. So they're not taking up hotel quarantine spaces. We don't want to sort of take away the hotel quarantine spots because we're still trying to get people home at the same time. So there's no shortage of challenges mate but we're getting through them.
HADLEY: And just on that, I think that you are giving some thought to the suggestion by Annastacia Palaszczuk to relocate some of the people returning internationally from hotels in Brisbane to regional parts, mining camps and the like. Because, I mean, when we talk about mining games they are not tin sheds anymore, they're quite substantial places to stay?
PRIME MINISTER: No, yeah well we're already doing that up in the Northern Territory. I mean, all this I mean, we've had, I think about 70 chartered flights already trying to bring Australians back. And a lot of those have gone through the Howard Springs facility up there in the Territory. We’ve got another 20 flights that I approved on the weekend. And that means, you know, we're going to keep the pace of getting people home. Look, Anna has- I haven’t got a proposal yet, but I'm catching up with her in Brisbane on Friday, so I imagine we'll have a bit more of a chat about that. In regional communities, there will be understandable anxiety about, well, what does this mean? How's that going to work?
PRIME MINISTER: If it can't be in Brisbane, why does it have to be here? And those issues have to be worked through. We had to do that in Howard Springs, but that worked. And so I think we’ll just take it step by step. But, you know, always happy to hear good ideas mate.
HADLEY: OK, well, look, just back to Norway and I'm conflicted here because you and I've had this discussion before, and those that thought it was only a flu and not to worry about it. And the poor people who died in nursing homes were going to die anyway and I just think that's an abhorrent view and you’ve expressed this here previously. But you see I'm conflicted because health authorities in Norway are now saying there's no direct evidence of a link between the death of those 33 patients, 75 and over in nursing homes and being given the vaccine. They're saying, look, the people were in the latter stages of their life. They had really serious illnesses. And we can't find a link between giving them the COVID vaccine from Pfizer, and the fact they died. And I guess there's concern from some people that maybe it accelerated their death, or didn't. But they can't find that link at the moment. I guess that's where the TGA plays a role and says, well, we should give it to these people, but not these people. And that'll be their department to look after?
PRIME MINISTER: That's that's exactly right. And that's what the Norwegian Prime Minister told me and the other leaders the other night. And you’ve just got to go on the medical evidence and there's any number of theories and I tell you that during COVID everyone’s got a theory, but what matters are the facts and the evidence. And that's what we have to make decisions based on. And the Therapeutic Goods Administration and Professor Skerritt who does a tremendous job there, he will make sure that he dots those I's and crosses those T's on who it is safe to give it to and who it's not. And I think we can put a lot of confidence in that. We're also working closely with the Kiwis Ray. I had a- on the way back from Bunginderry station back to Quilpie yesterday I got a phone call from Jacinda Ardern in the middle of the outback and we had a chat. It dropped out a few times,
HADLEY: Yeah I bet it did.
PRIME MINISTER: And, but we're just trying to align, we've been working closely with the Kiwis on this, too, because it's good for them to be drawing on, you know, what our teams are doing here and sharing that information. So we're trying to sort of line things up as much across the ditch as we can. Because we as you know, New Zealanders can come here under our arrangement that hasn't changed. And so it's important that I think we're lining up our vaccination plans and policies there. And there's been a lot of work, a lot of work there. So mate I've only been back two days, but it’s been busy I got to tell you.
HADLEY: Sounds like- well you've been busy right through 2020 and that’s continuing into 2021. Now, I know that Ben Fordham had a yarn with your Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd. The other angst is from pregnant mums, and we can understand about that. And Michael said - Professor Kidd said, look, it'll be the job of the TGA to determine who can and can't take it for safety reasons. And if we do exclude pregnant women we will exclude pregnant women on their advice. So we just have to wait until the end of this process to determine who can get it and who can’t?
PRIME MINISTER: Yep, that's exactly right. And that's why you don't cut corners. That's why you take all the best evidence and advice. And that's why we've got a range of countries overseas that have already started vaccination programmes. We've got a front row seat on that. We're not in their situation at all. And there's a real desperation to the programme over there, that's not the case here. It means that we can protect Australians with this vaccine and make sure we get it right. Learn from that. And the TGA at the end of the day, that will be the umpire's call and we'll go with their advice.
HADLEY: Look, I know that you've you know, you've got JobKeeper, JobSeeker. But in relation to that, I've got to commend some companies and I don't know whether they advertise with this organisation or not, but we're talking about Rebel, BCF, the Super Retail group. And this is incredible. The 26th period, until December 26 last year, Supercheap Auto, they had a 20 per cent sales growth, Rebel experienced 15 per cent and BCF for obvious reasons 51 percent. So they're going to hand back money, I think it's a large sum of money to the Australian government for the JobKeeper payment because they've experienced growth. And I commend them for doing that, for being obviously so transparent.
PRIME MINISTER: I do, too. And what that says is, is that people know when they need it and they appreciate it when they need it, but they don't want to take advantage of it. And, you know, we can't run the Australian economy on government money forever. I mean, we've had to step in at a very serious time and we've done that. But now we've got the hard job of getting the Australian economy back on its own feet. And that's why we've been going through that gear change on JobKeeper and JobSeeker. And it's true after you know, after the change in September, we haven't got the January figures yet- but after the change in September when we reduced the payment and and reassessed the eligibility, 450,000 businesses came off it and more than 2 million Australians who were on taxpayer funded income support, basically, on JobKeeper no longer needed it. And so, you know, we've got to keep that going this year because it's all it's all taxpayers money. It's all debt. And it's got to be paid back. And so we've got to be very careful with how we deal with these programmes. They can't just continue, you know, endlessly. We'll keep looking at the information, take it step by step. There are still sectors that, you know, are struggling. But I tell you that what we've done on HomeBuilder, I mean, you would have seen those figures this morning...
HADLEY: Yeah I heard those figures this morning- incredible.
PRIME MINISTER: Mate, this has more than doubled our expectations of that programme. It's set the residential building industry up for the next two years, they tell us, and in like a $50 billion dollar impact from an $18 billion dollar investment and for every- for every tradie, for every plasterer, for every, you know, rug salesman or whatever they're doing, this is good news. And this programme has been really effective. It had its critics at the time. I remember the usual suspects and they're still knocking us on everything else we do, too. But I'll tell you, on the ground, it's working. And up here Ray I mean, after those floods, I mean, I don't know- those floods that hit up here, many of your listeners, I'm sure, will remember particularly those in Queensland, I mean, wiped out the cattle industry up here in a matter of 48 hours. And the way they've got back, and we spent about just under three quarters of a billion dollars getting this area back up on its feet and to see the projects now completed and people in work and, you know, the road trains running- there’s one just running past me right now, actually, you know, it's great to see the optimism up here.
HADLEY: I think one of the problems you're going to have, if we select JobSeeker as opposed to JobKeeper, those people who benefit from JobSeeker and those, of course, JobKeeper. I mean, you talked about people, unemployed people and those on benefits who've seen their income go up immeasurably over a period of time. And they're going to find it difficult, I suppose, when the tap gets turned off?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, that is the case- we have to reset it. And that's what we've been doing. We haven't done it overnight. You know, the Labor Party were saying, oh, this will be this terrible cliff at the end of September, no there wasn't, you know, we pushed through we’ve gone forward and that'll still be challenging. And businesses will be making changes. I expect that. But that's about trying to get us back on, you know, in an economy where businesses and jobs can stand on their own feet and we've got to get people back into jobs. That's the key. The key is always, when you're dealing with welfare policy and before this COVID crisis, we were at the lowest level of welfare dependency in 30 years. I want to get back to that as soon as we can. And that's going to be achieved by creating jobs and getting businesses investing. So to hear about BCF and all the others, I mean, that's come because they've been I think they've been assisted because Australians aren't going overseas, that money they were spending overseas they're now spending on things like that, on home renovations. But I tell them that they should get out and see their own country. There's a great opportunity to do that. And I mean the rest of the world comes here because it's so good. So it's worth checking it out.
HADLEY: Okay, just one final thing. I've been critical this morning for the first time about Donald Trump and the legacy he leaves. And Joe Biden gets sworn in at 3 o'clock tomorrow morning, our time. And a few of the, I would say right wing supporters of Donald Trump have taken issue with me. And I've simply said that his legacy is tarnished by what's happened over the past couple of months. Anthony Albanese being critical of you because you haven't, I guess, distanced yourself from him in the manner that he would like you to. You've spoken to the Vice President, I believe, but a general comment about what's happened not historically over the last years, but more recently about the American democracy and what we saw on Capitol Hill. It's disappointing?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’d agree with that Ray. And I think the way you talked about how the last couple of months really detracted from other things that, you know, they were able to achieve over the last four years. I think it's a very fair comment. And that's what was really disappointing. But, you know, some very good people in that administration. I particularly worked closely with the Vice President who I get on very well with and Secretary Pompeo, I just had the chance to talk to them in the last 48 hours. And I thank them for that and wish them well. But, you know, it's, it has been very, very disturbing what we've seen, particularly around Capitol Hill, but it’s been a year full of violence, you know, in many ways last year in the United States. And, you know, I'm confident about America. I mean, they're an incredible society. They bounce back. They've got that spirit and they'll overcome this. And what we see from here of the extremes, because that's what you see on your television. You don't see people in their, you know, in their normal towns and communities for most of the time. Just like here, you see the extremes on television and the American story I think it's a lot bigger than that. And I think they'll rally and they'll come together. And that's very important for Australia. It's the most important relationship we have. And, you know, if people want to have a crack at me because I worked with the President of the United States, will I think that reflects more on them than me.
HADLEY: Well, I think it's pretty important that people understand, whether you're the Prime Minister or Anthony Albanese would be the Prime Minister and whether there's a Republican President or a Democratic President, the relationship extends back, you know, to the middle of last Century and it has to continue. I mean, we're an island nation of few. And we need the Americans to be there for us at all times. And whether it's a Labor Party government or a Coalition government, that will always be the case.
PRIME MINISTER: That is true. That is true, Ray. It is that sort of foundational relationship that we have. And and whoever the Prime Minister is and whoever the President is, it's important that, you know, both of us steward that relationship for the benefit of both of our countries and anyone who doesn't understand that, just doesn't get it.
HADLEY: Anyway, look, it's going to be 39 degrees in Cloncurry today. If you are wearing your peaked cap do what I tell my golfing mates who wear peaked caps, put some sunscreen on your ears.
PRIME MINISTER: I, well yeah mate I do do that. But I got to say, when I was in Winton yesterday, they very kindly gave me a Waltzing Matilda Akubra when I was there, you know for the work we've done around the floods, so I'm not often wearing one of those, but it's going to take pride of place in my office. It was a very kind, very kind thing that the Mayor, Gav, did down there, it was, you know, they are great people up there. I'm really enjoying spending time with them. I actually get up here a bit and it's great to see them forging ahead but you’ve got a lot of listeners up here. And we're making an announcement on the Copper String project today, where we're putting $11 million dollars in to prove that up to final investment decision stage. That's, an important project up here because it basically runs a wire from Townsville all the way up to Mount Isa. And what that means is you reduce your electricity costs by about 40 percent. So if you want to get businesses investing up here, you want mines to be operating successfully and staying open. We want to reduce those living costs for people who decide to stay in Mount Isa, then they’re just the practical things you've got to do and that's what we're trying to do and get on with up here.
HADLEY: All right. Thanks for your time. Have a good day in Cloncurry and look forward to you having a discussion with the Queensland Premier on Friday. Thanks very much.
PRIME MINISTER: Good on you Ray, Cheers.