Interview with Alan Jones, 2GB

ALAN JONES: Prime Minister, good morning and thank you for your quick time. Just a comment, if you could please, to across Australia here, in relation to what apparently is going on in supermarkets and the fear that people have, and the way in which you believe they should respond, and the way in which your Government is responding.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, sure Alan. As I said yesterday, I mean, what we have in Australia at the moment, and I understand why people are anxious. Let me make that point first. I can understand as they see what’s happening around the world, 75 countries where this virus has now spread. I mean, we’ve got more than 20 members of the Iranian Parliament that’s contracted the virus. And that has been a very intense part of the virus around the world. That’s why we’ve put the ban in place.

But in Australia, 38 cases, 21 of those who’ve had the virus have passed through the virus now and are back in the community. We got ahead of it at the start. We’re working hard to stay ahead of it. And the medical advice from Dr Brendan Murphy, who has been calling this right all the way along, well ahead of the rest of the world. His advice is exactly as I said yesterday, Australians can go about their business. Unless you’ve been in an affected area, you’re the one that shouldn’t then go and be at a place of what they say, mass gathering or something like that. But the rest of us, we just get up on about our lives as normal. And I can understand why people may be concerned, and go to supermarkets, and do those sorts of things. But the advice is that’s not necessary. I spoke to Coles and Woollies yesterday when I, this was brought to my attention. And they’ve been putting things in place to ensure that they get those shelves stocked up again and all the rest of it. But what we’re dealing with here is something that’s very serious. But we have an emergency response plan that’s been put in place. It’s been put in place well before the rest of the world. We are taking it very seriously, but we’ve got one of the best health systems in the world. And the border arrangements we’ve had in place have been working very effectively and we’re changing things as we need to each and every day on the best possible advice and information that we have. So I get it, why people are anxious. I understand. I mean Jenny and I have two girls as well, young kids, so I can understand why families would be worried. I mean, interestingly, Alan, one of the points that was made by Dr Murphy yesterday was that young children, and particularly infants, have proved to be no more vulnerable to this than other members of the population. It’s actually older Australians or older people, I should say, more generally, that have been most at risk, just like they are in a flu season. And that’s why we’ve been working so carefully with aged care facilities to ensure that our preparedness there is right. And if it was necessary, that we’ve got systems in place where aged care facilities can actually be locked off to protect those residents, in cases where the virus would be spreading. So it’s a serious issue, but we’re on top of it, as is the state Government in New South Wales, and Queensland, and other places. And people can just go about their business. That is what you can do, most importantly to help the economy, to help each other, and to lower the anxiety levels.

JONES: Good on you. Well done. Just one quick one then on that. I said I wouldn’t keep you –

PRIME MINISTER: You’re alright.

JONES: …but to go about the business. Now you acknowledged businesses everywhere are in really desperate trouble as a result of this. Necessarily, we have had to stop travel. Necessarily, we have had to stop movement. And so in the tourism industry, in the wine industry, because of the bushfires, smoke taint, the fishing industry that relies on China, when do you think you’ll be able to have what you’ve called a modest, responsible, and a package that is going to address those issues?

PRIME MINISTER: We will be announcing that well before the Budget. We’re working hard on that just right now. People, and once you’ll particularly remember Alan, when the Labor Government did a stimulus many years ago, we end up with overpriced school halls and pink batts programs –

JONES: Correct. Correct.

PRIME MINISTER: All of these things. I’m not going to be making those mistakes, I can assure, I can make, you know, you pay for that for a decade. So we’re getting that right. And what we’re focussing on is exactly what you’ve said. It’s about the cash flow of particularly small and medium sized businesses. It’s about keeping people in jobs, keeping businesses in business. Because on the other side of this, because this is not, I mean the economic effects here are very significant, but it’s not the same as the Global Financial Crisis, because on the other side, when the virus works its way through, the economy will pick up. And so we want those businesses to be there for that, for that bounce back. And I want them to bounce back strongly. So we’re designing those measures to do that, so they can work immediately. I mean, these things can be difficult. And so we’re getting the design right, and we’re working closely, as you could see yesterday, we worked very closely with the Reserve Bank. And again, I want to thank the four big banks for passing on those rate cuts. I asked them to do it, they did it. I thank them very much for doing that. That’s the first time that’s happened in about five years – the banks passed on the rate cuts. And it was just like Qantas showing up and doing the right thing by Australians. So, what people can see is everybody’s working together here. Everyone’s working together here to get Australia through it. We will get through it. We will get right through this. And we’ll bounce back on the other side really strongly.

JONES: Quite. Just a general comment then, because the abalone fishermen in Tasmania is listening to me and their entire fleet of dive boats have ground to a halt. I mean the lobster fishermen in Port Macdonnell on the Great Australian Bight, the entire town is shut down. The lobster boats are sitting in the harbour. And up in North Queensland, Townsville, where you’ve been recently, they’re listening as well, and they’ve reported more than 19,000 cancellations in a week, worth more than $10 million dollars. What are you saying to them?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the program will be targeted as well. And we’re looking particularly at some specific industries that are affected. Tourism businesses as well, right around the country, also affected by this. And so the issue here is how we can best support some of those specific sectors, that might take a little longer for those. But they will certainly benefit from the things that we’re looking at doing for the small and medium sized businesses. As I say, we need them to be there once the planes start running again and they can put their produce in the bellies of those planes. And if we have to look at ways that we can work on that in the meantime, well we’re open to all of the options and we’re going to need to work specifically with some of those sectors so we can get the right measures to support them. We can’t make it like it was before the virus. I mean, I think people understand that. But we will work through this together and get everybody through as best as we possibly can.

JONES: Good on you. So finally, go about your business you said yesterday, your words, in the normal processes, in a calm manner.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, just before I lose you Alan, as I think I mentioned to you the other day, I had a good chat with Andrew Constance the other week –

JONES: Yes.

PRIME MINISTER: …when we saw each other at the Memorial Service.

JONES: Yes.

PRIME MINISTER: And we are repackaging that small business program for bushfire assistance.

JONES: Thank you. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER: It hasn’t been getting to the places, that we, and we understand the problem. And Andrew Colvin is working on that. He’s been working on that over the past week. And when we’re in a position to re-launch that program we will. But we get what the problem is. It’s not going as well, the way we’d hoped it would and so we’re out there-

JONES: Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER: … we are making some changes there. And we’ll get that out as soon as we can.

JONES: I’ll keep you posted on the anecdotal experience that comes my way as well. So, there you are.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Alan. All the best.

JONES: No, thank you, Prime Minister. Much appreciated.

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