The Times

The Prime Minister's interview with Tracy Grimshaw, A Current Affair

  • Written by Scott Morrison

TRACY GRIMSHAW: Prime Minister, thank you for your time. Undecided voters are trying to figure out right now whether they can live with what they do know about you versus what they don't know about Anthony Albanese. So I'd quite like to address the you part of that equation tonight. How long have you known that you're a bulldozer?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, I've been like that for some time. And and particularly, you know, that has been very necessary, particularly over the last number of years, Tracy. And going back to when I had to stop the boats and there have been a lot of difficult jobs that I've had in politics and you've got to have the determination to push through and that can be a very handy thing to be able to achieve when, when particularly you're in a crisis. The exciting thing about the next three years, though, is, you know, we were standing at the edge of an abyss during the course of the pandemic. Now we're standing at the edge of a lot of opportunity, and we've been setting up that opportunity for the last three years in particular. And I'm looking forward to moving into that gear of securing those opportunities, particularly for our economy, because of all the disruption that has taken place, Australia is now positioned very well to succeed.

GRIMSHAW: What would you have done differently in the last three years if you had known that so many Australians were holding a grudge?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, I think I could have certainly been more sensitive at times, Tracy. There's no doubt about that. But in terms of actual policy decisions, the one that I've mentioned on many occasions, I wish had been, in hindsight, and we all have hindsight in the course of something like this, but General Frewen, if I'd been able to bring and militarise the vaccine rollout earlier, we did it in May. We were doing it through the Health Department first. If we'd done that earlier, then I think that would have made a difference, as it certainly did when he became involved. We ended up becoming one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, and we ended up being only a week or so out from our original target that we set back in November of 2020. But that said, you know, there's always things when you look back that you learn from, but when things don't go to plan, what we always sought to do as a Government was to get back on it, fix what needed to be fixed, set the course right, and get on with it.

GRIMSHAW: Let me let me toss some random examples at you. Would you have not referred to the life risking, life saving heroism of rural fire fighters as holding a hose if you had your time again?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think that was the context of the comment, but certainly that wasn't a comment at the time that was helpful, and of course.

GRIMSHAW: Okay. Would you have made more of an effort to, you know, acknowledge and meet the women who marched in Canberra and around the country because they'd had enough of bullying and marginalisation? Would you like your time over again and what would you do differently?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I did the right thing on that day. I offered a meeting in my office, as I do with so many groups, and that's exactly what I was meeting with other groups on that day as well. And I was very happy to have that discussion. And and I would have welcomed the opportunity for that type of a discussion in my office.

GRIMSHAW: So you don't think that there's been a hangover among women voters for you in terms of, you know, their attitude towards you this election?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think what we've achieved is very important. I mean, the gender pay gap has fallen from 17.4 per cent to 13.8 per cent. What that means is under our Government, women are now paying, getting paid $70 a week more than they were, than before our Government. There's 1.1 million more women in work. We've invested $2.5 billion in the biggest ever package to address violence against women. I mean, these are major initiatives. And on top of that, women's health initiatives, what we've been doing to support ovarian cancer nurses and breast cancer nurses, what we've done with our groundbreaking new program to support women suffering from endometriosis, or ensuring that we're enabling people to get better access to fertility treatments, particularly women facing cancer so they can freeze their eggs, and supporting that. Our policies, I think, have been very much focussed on the practical issues. I accept that from times people may not have liked my language, but the actual policies that we've put in place have been getting very strong results.

GRIMSHAW: Would you have handled the cancellation of the French subs a bit better? Did Emmanuel Macron cop the bulldozer treatment?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I did exactly what our national interests required, and I have no regrets from that time whatsoever. This was one of the most difficult agreements that Australia has ever been able to secure, and there's no easy way to tell a partner in the French Government that they're no longer going to have a $90 billion submarine contract. As I've said on many occasions, I was very clear that the submarines that were being built for us were not going to meet our strategic need, that there were gates in those contracts and Australia would have to make a decision. So I made the decision to go ahead to ensure that we were getting the right submarines for Australia, and that is the first time that Australia, any other country other than the United Kingdom has been able to get access to nuclear powered submarine technology from the United States since the British Government in 1958. This is a landmark defence agreement for Australia and I wasn't going to risk that on anything.

GRIMSHAW: Well, President Biden said that he thought that it should have been done with more grace though. I mean, I'm trying to figure out where you've been a bulldozer because you've said you've been a bulldozer. I'm trying to figure out where you think you've been a bulldozer 'cos so far I've given you three examples and you said you weren't.

PRIME MINISTER: No, I didn't say that at all. What I said was that's how I handled those situations. And in terms of dealing with securing the biggest defence agreement Australia has had in 70 years, I can assure you I was very determined. I was very determined to secure that agreement. Just as we've been determined to secure many agreements like the Comprehensive Partnership we have with all the ASEAN countries, the Free Trade Agreement that we have with the United Kingdom. And I can assure you that was a very tough negotiation with Boris Johnson, a good friend, but I can assure you we really got into the details of that agreement. The India Trade Agreement was another one. See, as Prime Minister, you need to be able to have strength. You must have strength. I mean, the situations we're dealing with, whether it's the Chinese Government and their coercion of our economic interests and their push into our region, you've got to have a strong Prime Minister. You can't have weakness.

GRIMSHAW: Okay. So, all right. So where are you going to not be a bulldozer, if you win this election? Where are you actually going to change? I mean, why have you said that you're going to change when you just basically said that everything you've done's been okay?

PRIME MINISTER: No, what I'm saying is, is that the times have required that level of strength. And what I've said, Tracy, is that in the next period we're going into, where we're seeking to realise the opportunities we've been setting up, there has been a need for these types of approaches and there will continue to be in many instances going forward. But what I'm looking forward to is that time of opportunity where we're realising opportunities and we're going to work hard as a Government to bring people with us. During the course of the pandemic, frankly, there's not a lot of time for having lots of conversations. Leaders have to make calls and they've got to make them quickly. In a pandemic, if you don't, people die and businesses shut and livelihoods are destroyed. And so in the next phase, I'm looking forward to a time where perhaps there is more time to bring more people with us into the future.

GRIMSHAW: Prime Minister, superannuation is facilitated saving to pay for retirement and keep us off pensions, basically it accumulates on compound interest. You've already let us raid it during the pandemic. Now you're going to let us raid it to buy a house. What next?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, no. We're not letting you raid it, because that would misunderstand the policy. What you're able to do, it's your money, by the way, the superannuation fund doesn't own it. You do. You saved it. It's come from your employer. You've earned it. And what you can do under our policy is use it as part of your deposit to buy a house. And when you sell your house, the money, including what you've gained from capital growth, goes back into your super fund. We're allowing your super fund to invest in the most important asset that you’ll ever own - your own home. You know, under Labor's rules, you could actually use a self-managed super fund to go and buy an investment property. So why is it okay to do that? But the very most important asset that any family has, that you're not going to let your own super invest in it. So the other part of it is this, Tracy. And that is at the end, when you go into retirement, you are much better off if you own a home and have your retirement savings than don't own a home. And this policy achieves both. Your house grows in value, and that supports your superannuation and enables people who really struggle to get that deposit to get in now. A lot of the critics of this policy, they already own a house. I'm on the side of those who want to buy one.

GRIMSHAW: How does it address supply? I mean -

PRIME MINISTER: They actually own a lot of houses.

GRIMSHAW: How does it address supply? Because, you know, I mean, this housing affordability is an issue. And housing affordability is low, because supply is low. How does it address supply?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it addresses in two, it addresses in two respects. First of all, people buy new homes. They build new homes. I've just been up here in Darwin today, out in Palmerston and that's exactly what they're doing. People are buying and building new homes and that helps that process. The other thing we're doing is we're supporting people at the other end of their family life - when the kids have probably moved out to downsize and put that money into their superannuation and they can put 300,000 in that superannuation. What that does, Tracy, is frees up more housing stock, particularly in established areas which deals with supply. Now on top of that, you've asked me about supply. HomeBuilder was a program we put in place during the pandemic, $25,000 for new homes. On top of that, we have the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation investing in the development of new homes, some 27,500. So we're working right across the board where we can on supply, but also just allowing people to use their own money. It's their money. I want to put them in charge.

GRIMSHAW: But it's not their money until they retire. They're supposed to save it until they retire to keep them off the pension.

PRIME MINISTER: No, I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Tracy. It is their money. It is their money. It's not owned by the super fund. It's not owned by the Government. It belongs to them -

GRIMSHAW: When they retire.

PRIME MINISTER: ... and this keeps their their funds in super. No, it keeps it in superannuation because you have to take the proceeds of the sale and put it back into your super. It's not like earlier proposals that people have put forward in the past. The difference here is when you sell your house or perhaps if you choose to refinance, you take the capital and the appreciated amount and you put it back into your super. I mean, this achieves both goals -

GRIMSHAW: How does -

PRIME MINISTER: The only reason the Labor Party doesn't like this policy, they don't like it because the union funds don't want them to do it. They just want the money shovelled into those big funds and tell people what their money should be for. I think someone investing in their own house is just as important as some big union fund investing in overseas shares. In fact, I reckon it's better that they invest it in their own house because that helps them more in their retirement.

GRIMSHAW: How does getting boomers out of their four and five bedroom homes help first home buyers in a in a much smaller market? First home buyers looking for four to five bedroom homes. And if you take boomers out of their big homes, they're going to be looking in exactly the same smaller, more affordable market that's already overheated for first time buyers.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think you're misunderstanding who's downsizing. I mean, we're talking about people who may have bought very modest homes, two, three bedroom homes in suburbs like Guildford or in Moonee Ponds and places like this. I mean, these are people who are able to downsize and they're looking for different aged accommodation options often. And so more housing stock on the market. I mean, our housing market is around $9 trillion worth in value, about $9,000 billion. And each year, the volume of sales and transactions that occurs in our housing market is around $687 billion. And so what we're doing here is in providing people just that opportunity to get their start. You know, we've got to let people get their start, Tracy. It's no good if they sit there and they watch the house just move away from them, when 30 years later they still don't own a house and they've got to rent in their retirement. I'm seeking to solve both problems. That's what's so effective about this policy, and it'll only happen under a Liberal National Government, because the Labor Party will never let you use your super to invest in helping you buy your home. And on Saturday you can make sure you can get access to that by voting for the Liberals and Nationals because the Labor Party, the unions, will never, ever let them do it.

GRIMSHAW: Prime Minister, you said at your launch on Sunday, I saved the country. You don't hold a hose, you weren't in your tinnie plucking people off rooftops, you weren't doing 16-hour days in PPE on COVID wards. You didn't get enough vaccines soon enough, you didn't get enough RATs so that we could finally have a holiday interstate for Christmas, and China has set up base in the Solomons. Do you think maybe you slightly overegged the part about I saved the country?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's that's quite a long list you've been able to pull together, but let me say this, we've come through this pandemic better than almost any other advanced country in the world. JobKeeper saved the country, that's specifically what I was referring to. And if you don't think it did, Tracy, well, you can you can have that argument with the 800,000 people who kept a job as a result of that. The cash flow boost kept small businesses in business. We've got 220,000 apprentices in trade training today Tracy, who wouldn't be there were it not for the apprenticeship programs that were running through the pandemic, which kept them in their jobs. There were some 480,000 training places that we put in place when kids were coming to the end of 2020 and they had no job to go to. So we made sure they had a training place to go to, and there were 30,000 more university places that we created that put them in there. I was the one who shut the borders, remember, going back in the early, early days of February, pulled the country together with the National Cabinet and ensured that we did not have the death rate that was experienced in so many other countries. I acknowledge constantly the great resilience and strength of Australians and I backed them in together with Josh Frydenberg and my whole team. And that's how Australia survived by backing in Australians and our policies did that. Sure, I've got my critics. Not everything that we did worked perfectly, but I can tell you when you stack up, Tracy, what we're able to do in Australia compared to the countries all around the world, our economic plan has worked. We've got unemployment down to 4 per cent, falling even further.


PRIME MINISTER: We've got a AAA credit rating that only one of nine countries have in the world. So you have the list. That's the list that I can share with you and that's rungs on the board and the economic plan that has got us through all this, that enables us to secure the opportunities in the future.


PRIME MINISTER: I have an economic plan. Anthony Albanese doesn't. He's a loose unit on the economy.

GRIMSHAW: Okay. Thank you for your time, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot, Tracy.

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