The Times Australia

The Times


The Prime Minister's interview on the Today Show

  • Written by Karl Stefanovic and Scott Morrison

KARL STEFANOVIC: Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Canberra. PM, good morning to you. Nice to have your company this morning. 


PRIME MINISTER: G'day Karl, from quarantine again.


STEFANOVIC: Yeah, you loving it? 


PRIME MINISTER: 50 days in quarantine in the past year, but you know, that's what's necessary, and we're all going to push through. Whether it's in New South Wales, Victoria, ACT, we're pushing through.


STEFANOVIC: I take it you're not loving it. Look, have you spoken to Dominic Perrottet this morning at all? 


PRIME MINISTER: No, not today, I mean, I spoke to Dom over the weekend. We actually speak pretty regularly, actually, I mean, $10 billion of support into New South Wales over the last few months through the lockdown, you know, been working closely as we have right through the pandemic as you'd expect us to. So, but that's a decision for the New South Wales parliamentary party room today, and they'll make their call. But what's most important is they keep going in the direction that they've been going in, and I have no doubt that will be the case. 


STEFANOVIC: I heard last time you spoke it was on like Donkey Kong. Is that true? 


PRIME MINISTER: Well, you know, we've got a good, robust relationship, we've known each other a long time. It's a real relationship. So when we disagree, we disagree and the next day we're straight back into it. That's how people who get on well together, work together. Occasionally, you have the odd disagreement, and that's real. But Australians know that. And Dom and I, you know, we've got a long term relationship working together, and we share very, very sound beliefs. 


STEFANOVIC: By all reports, you described him as painful to deal with. Is that true? 


PRIME MINISTER: No, no. I wouldn't say that. Not at all. I mean, he puts his case strongly. I put my case strongly. Why would you have it any other way? He stands up for New South Wales. I look after the national interest. I mean, you know, we can't kid ourselves. I mean, politicians are real people. Every now and then we disagree and we will take it up with each other. I mean, why would you pretend it to be anything different? 


STEFANOVIC: Let's move on to more important matters. The Queensland Premier has delivered you an ultimatum last Friday. Spend more on hospitals or they just won't open up. They clearly have dramas with people being turned away from hospitals now. How do you expect them to cope and will you come to the party with more money for Queensland? 


PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm not going to respond to shakedown politics in a pandemic. I mean, Queensland needs to run their hospital system. Since we came to government, we've increased funding for public hospitals in Queensland by almost 100 per cent, 99 per cent. The Queensland Government have increased it by just over 50 per cent, so they need to sort their problems in Queensland. The Chief Health Officer in Queensland says they can cope with the surge that will come from COVID. She seems to be at odds with the Premier. So look, I'm just not going to play politics with hospital funding. 


We have been showering the states with money over the course of COVID, whether it's been in JobKeeper or economic supports, including in Queensland, where they haven't had lockdowns, but we've still been providing business support for those affected by their border closure. You know, we've got a 50/50 funding deal on the Olympics, so we cannot be accused of not coming to the support of Queenslanders. We have done that consistently in floods, in fires, in COVID. And so they need to get on and run their public hospital system and not shift- seek to make excuses about it, get on and do their job. They’re responsible for it.


STEFANOVIC: So Annastacia Palaszczuk says alright that's fine, I just won't open up. 


PRIME MINISTER: Well, she's got to take that up with the Queensland people then. I mean, to go down this point and say, well, you know, I'm going to hold the federal government to ransom and to seek to extort from them money on the basis of COVID, I just don't think is the right way to go. We've been working with them constructively. We've supported them time and time and time again in joint funding initiatives. We've shared 50/50 the costs of COVID on the health system, more than $30 billion around the country, we've pumped into health support right around the country. So we've been doing our bit. Of course there are challenges, but as a state government, they've got to be responsible for their state health system. New South Wales is getting on with it. Victoria is getting on with it. The ACT is getting on with it. So Queensland need to get on with it. 


STEFANOVIC: Ok, just said then extorting money. Obviously, relationship's not going that well then. 


PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm just calling it as I see it, Karl. I mean to suggest that they're not going to open the borders unless I send them cash. How else would you like me to call it? 


STEFANOVIC: Calling it for what it is. 


PRIME MINISTER: That's exactly right. I mean,  you know, we are supporting the Queensland Government and have been consistently. Queenslanders know that, you know, when I was able to travel to Queensland, the number of businesses I went into, they said thank you for JobKeeper, that saved my business, that saved my employees. The funds we put into sharing the costs in the hospital system to date, you know, over $6 billion I think it is in total that we've injected straight into the hospital systems and health systems of state governments to get us through COVID. We've been doing the heavy lifting when it comes to economic support. You know, we're all responsible for things as governments, state governments are responsible for their things and they need to make sure that they are covering them off. 


STEFANOVIC: You've been very conciliatory with all the state premiers, including the Queensland Premier, that clearly stops today. 


PRIME MINISTER: No, it doesn't stop. We'll continue to work with all the state governments, but we're not going to respond to those sort of, you know, ‘give me the money or else’ type demands and that's what this is. It's playing politics with COVID. The Chief Health Officer of the Queensland Government has said that their hospital system can deal with this. So, you know, I'm quoting their own health advice. 


STEFANOVIC: Ok, tell me about the government's new antiviral COVID pill. You've invested in it. How does it work and when will it arrive? 


PRIME MINISTER: Well, there's still a couple of months to go on trials in the United States, but this new drug is a tablet. It's a course of 10. So what it means is you won't have to go into hospital to get it. But the first thing you need to do is get vaccinated. It's not a substitute for a vaccine. But there are 300,000 courses of this, of this antiviral pill, a course of pills. And what it means is, is that it reduces seriously reduces the chances of you getting severe symptoms if you actually get COVID. But don't forget, almost you reduce your chance of ending up in an ICU from the vaccine by almost 90 per cent. I think it's 86 per cent. So vaccine first, but these treatments means that we're going to be able to live with the virus. So even in the unfortunate situation, if you do contract the virus, then we'll have the treatments to ensure that we can lessen these symptoms, reduce the chance of you ending up on ICU, which can put pressure on the hospital systems. Again, federal government investing in treatments which will reduce pressure on the hospital system. 


STEFANOVIC: Ok, a couple of quick ones. Have you managed to talk to Emmanuel Macron yet. Has he returned your calls? 


PRIME MINISTER: Not yet, but we'll be patient on that. We understand, you know, the challenges are there for the moment. Spoken to a lot of other European leaders, and everybody's keen for us to move on and ensure that we work together, particularly in our part of the world, which is  very dynamic. And there are a lot of uncertainties in our part of the world. And France has a big place here in the Indo-Pacific, and we look forward to continuing that work together as soon as possible. So much of it continues now, I've got to say, Karl.


STEFANOVIC: You really ticked him off that, didn't you? 


PRIME MINISTER: Well, you know, of course, there was no easy way to discontinue a contract of that scale. Of course, that was going to be disappointing, but I've got to make decisions in Australia's national interest, not France's. And it was in Australia's national interest to ensure we didn't proceed with that, and we have the nuclear submarine programme in place, which is the best way to protect and defend Australia. 


STEFANOVIC: Ok, you going to Glasgow? 


PRIME MINISTER: Haven't made that decision yet, Karl, like the New Zealand Prime Minister, she won't be attending, she's indicated. Will face another 14 days, but in quarantine, if I do go there. We will be represented at a very senior level. But my first responsibility once we agree our plan for technology and the plan that will see us reduce emissions over the long term, my first responsibility is to explain that to Australians, not to people overseas, at overseas conferences. It's an important conference, but the people I need to talk to most about our plan to reduce emissions and transition our economy over the next 30 years is to Australians, people in the Hunter Valley, people up there in Queensland, people in Victoria, in the west. They need to understand and I want the opportunity to explain directly to them what our plan means for them because our plan is for them. It's about them, it's about their jobs and their future, and they are the people who need to hear from me first. 


STEFANOVIC: You've also got, you know, a little bit of chat to have with your own party, with the Nats, I mean, has a bit to sort out. 


PRIME MINISTER: Well, difficult decisions, that's what's involved with them, Karl. I mean, it's a bit like we were talking earlier in the conversation. We can't avoid these difficult questions, and it does require a lot of debate internally to work it through together. But what I'm doing is working to bring the government together on a clear plan to reduce emissions. Transition to this new economy, which is coming and make sure that Australia is not left in an uncompetitive position. I want to keep those jobs in rural and regional Australia. We're going to get there through technology, not higher taxes. That can absolutely be achieved and we can do the right thing by future generations. But we don't have to, you know, turn the Australian economy off to achieve that. And that's certainly not our plan. Our plan will set out how we'll get there, not just why we'll get there and when we get there, it's the how that matters, because it's the how that determines what the costs are, how we protect jobs, how we ensure that the Australian economy remains strong into the future. 


STEFANOVIC: Good to talk to you, PM. Best of luck with it. There's a bit on. 

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot, Karl.

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