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Transcript of interview with Ray Hadley: Radio 2GB: 21 November 2019: Westpac breaches; bushfires; infrastructure pipeline; working age

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The Hon. Scott Morrison MP Prime Minister



TOPICS: Westpac breaches; bushfires; infrastructure pipeline; working age.


RAY HADLEY: Most Thursdays we have an appointment with the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton but he’s having a week off so the Prime Minister Scott Morrison is on the line right now. Prime Minister good morning to you.

PRIME MINISTER: G’day Ray how are you mate?

HADLEY: good thanks

PRIME MINISTER: Congratulations too by the way.

HADLEY: Thank you thank you, I got your note and I appreciate it [inaudible] thank you very much and my best wishes to you and your family. Westpac. They can overcome most things banks, but they can’t overcome allegedly letting paedophiles transfer money from this country to South East Asia. I can’t think of too much lower in business practices.

PRIME MINISTER: You're absolutely spot on about that. I mean, it is deeply disturbing the nature of these transactions and the broader breaches that have occurred, and they'll be facing the music over this and they should and they've got to lift their game. I mean, we've been through a Royal Commission. There were similar breaches that were found to have occurred at CommBank and they've been addressed. And that resulted in the biggest commercial fine ever imposed on a company in Australia's history under the prosecution that followed. And there'll be one here, too. And I’m with all Australians in just complete disbelief and in fury. And, but we've got a court process. We've got a prosecution process, that will all be followed. And the accountabilities will fall where they must.

HADLEY: Well, I think you- in some of these matters happened post the Royal Commission. That fine record fine, held previously by the Commonwealth Bank is about to be usurped by the fine levelled at Westpac. I think we can nearly guarantee that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that could well be the case. I mean, I obviously can't pre-empt these things and that that process will take its course. I want to thank and commend AUSTRAC again for the work they're doing. They're creating the compliance environment through the work they're doing where, you know, these things get revealed. And that's what I think people would expected of the cop on the beat in this area.

HADLEY: Okay. You've made the announcement this week about the major infrastructure announcements and Queensland benefits greatly. New South Wales benefits greatly, but not quite as well as Queensland. And you're pumping $2 billion dollars into Queensland, $2 billion elsewhere. Is that a reflection on how far Queensland's behind New South Wales in terms of infrastructure, perhaps?

PRIME MINISTER: That's not an unfair assessment. I mean, I very much welcome being able to get to the start line on what is a $1.3 billion in additional commitments from the Commonwealth in Queensland. And I want to stress that that's in particular dealing in regional areas up there in Cairns and north of Cairns, from Cooktown to Weipa, Townsville to Roma, Toowoomba to Seymour, Shute Harbour Road. There's big money going into regional road safety, there’s $400 million, some to still be allocated to a lot of these regional projects, as well as the M1 and, you know, the Logan Station. I mean, the Queensland is there is catching up to do, but the credit where it's due. I mean, I think your Queensland listeners, Ray, will just want governments to work with each other and get stuff done. So I'm glad we got to that point, yesterday.

HADLEY: And it signals to what the people of Australia, do you want a bit more money spent? You want more people working, that you want to try and pump up the economy to a certain extent?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we want to invest in things that are really helpful now. The jobs, that aren’t sort of here today gone tomorrow, like the cash splashes that were done years ago and the panic settings then, which we're still paying for 10 years later, this, you know, building these, this infrastructure when we've done it carefully. I mean, it was just after the election, we didn't sort of rush into this and draw up a list over the weekend. We spent the last six months working with states and territories because all states and territories in every part of the country have been part of this program. We've got the schedules right. We've got the timings right. We've got the costings right as we understand them. And we've committed the money and so have the states. So this will provide important investment into the economy. And when you combine it with the tax cuts we did just after the election and, you know, we've tripled our investment in drought relief and I'm talking just grants and payments have grown, to $1 billion dollars since the election. We've got $9.5 billion in additional investment going into the Australian economy this year and next year alone. So, you know, the Australian economy, it faces some headwinds, but we're doing a lot better than other countries like Germany and Singapore and South Korea and the UK and so many others. So you know, Australians do well when we're up against it.

HADLEY: You’re spending a lot of money in rural New South Wales, almost half the $570 million you sent down to New South Wales over 18 months will go to regional. Do you think that, and I'm not this is not a criticism of the government here, but they've spent a lot of money, in major cities, particularly Sydney, as they need to, because it’s a city of 5 million plus. But to a certain extent, the bush has missed out?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you know, we've got a lot of those congestion busting projects, whether they're car parks, railway stations or, you know, right hand turn lanes down in the Shire where there's a project which is going ahead there. But, you know, we've got the Pacific Highway, Woolgoolga - Ballina project. We've got that really important Milton to Ulladulla bypass. Now, those of us that live in the south of Sydney and take our holidays down that way, we know of the terrible accidents that have occurred down on the south coast and, you know, investing in the Princes Highway down there is incredibly important, we’ve got the Newell highway upgrades going throughout New South Wales, this will bring important stimulus spending to the roads into regional areas obviously impacted by drought. That's on top of the $2 million dollars we're putting too into all of those councils and the more than $130 million we're putting into the Roads to Recovery in those drought affected areas. So there's a lot of money going into those areas because they need it. They really need it.

HADLEY: Now I consider you, and I’m not being disrespectful- as a knockabout sort of bloke. I've known you for a long time from the days you work with the continuous call team for a bit of fun reporting on the Southern Districts football team. And, you know, you get out in the crowd down there at Shark Park and watch your team. And so I think, you know, for a politician, particularly for a Prime Minister, you try to be in touch with what's happening. When Josh Frydenberg, I think a good bloke, by the way. But I think what he's saying now, what he wants people to do is retain and stay in the workforce at 65. Now, he's been accused of being ageist. I don't think he's ageist, but I think he might be living in a bit of a bubble because what's happened since he made those comments and he wasn't trying to be offensive, but many are offended by it. Older Australians have contacted me in large numbers via email and phone calls saying, well, hang on a sec. You know, I'm 62. I can't get a job. I can't even get an interview. So if Josh wants me to get a job, I've got to get an interview. And then all of a sudden, raising its ugly head was worker's comp. I've done some investigation in New South Wales, particularly if you're over 65, you can't be covered by worker's comp. There's two organisations who give policies out, but employers are reluctant because of the constraints and all the types of things you have to do to get a worker over 65 covered. So if we’re going to attack that angle and say, you know, as a person Prime Minister, who's 65 is still working and hopefully for a little bit longer yet. I think it's important we make sure that people are given a chance to participate in the workforce and they're not sidelined because they are 63 or 64 or 65 or shock, horror 71.

PRIME MINISTER: I couldn't agree more with all of that. And I think sort of Josh has been misunderstood. I mean, all he was simply saying is that he wants people to have choices about what they want to do as they as they grow older and if they want to be able to continue to work and do that, then you've got to knock out these sort of impediments, like the ones you were just talking about. You’ve got to make sure that there are the jobs there. But the good news is that we've had strong jobs growth that those over 55, now it's got to be stronger still. But it has been one of the strong areas of jobs growth but there are still the impediments and there are still workplaces. Not everybody operates like Bunnings. I got to say, and I think they're a good example when it comes to employing more senior Australians and I always find that the support I get from them when I walk in there, is very helpful. They know far more about those odd jobs than I would, but we do need to address those issues. But it really is just about I mean, people are living longer. That's true, but they're also living healthier, longer and that's great. I mean, ageing is not some blight on the Australian economy. It's not. I mean, this is a good thing. People are living longer and healthier, how good’s that? I mean, we want that. And when that happens, we want people to have more choices about what they do in the healthy years that they have.

HADLEY: So we get a guarantee from you and the Treasurer, the impediments that I've spoken about and there are many of them, as you'd understand, will be removed and what would be a good idea for Josh and the Treasurer to employ for the first time ever, a media adviser over the age of 55.

PRIME MINISTER: We've got a few of those in the team across the government I’ve got to say,

HADLEY: No, not over 55? Prime Minister you might have a few over 50’s-

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they're certainly available, I mean John Mangos is working for us. You remember John?

HADLEY: He’s a great man John.

PRIME MINISTER: He works for one of our Senators. John's a great bloke. So you know I agree with that. I mean, we got to be taking people right across the perspective to get that understanding. But let me make this point. After I became Prime Minister, I binned the idea of raising the pension age, tossed it in the bin. The only changes to the pension age that are now occurring are the changes that were introduced under the Labor government. So we're not changing the pension age. We're not changing the retirement age. That's what it is. And I binned those changes within weeks of becoming Prime Minister. So we just want to see people as they live longer and healthier to have more choices. And that means getting rid of the impediments. Now, some of those are state, as you've acknowledged, but we will work with the states to see if we can knock those out. I'm quite sure Gladys would be keen to see, you know, older Australians as they live healthier in to their older years, have more opportunities.

HADLEY: Okay. We go back to where I started the program. Fires, now we’ve got a red alert in Victoria. You've been dealing with New South Wales and Queensland and travelling about the place all of a sudden South Australia and now Victoria. And those temperatures you've probably heard as I came to you, in southern parts of New South Wales, 41, 42, 43. Total fire ban in those areas as well. I mean, as I've said to you last time we spoke, you’re a man of faith and I know you pray for rain but by crikey that's about what we need right now, don't we?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we do not just obviously for the drought, but right across the eastern seaboard, but as you say, down in South Australia, I’ve been in contact the South Australian Premier this morning about the fires occurring there. And let's not forget, it's been firefighters coming out of South Australia and Victoria and Western Australia that have been fighting and assisting with those efforts in New South Wales and Queensland. So that means these firefighters have got to look after their own states. I was up in Queensland. Yesterday at the management centre there, and one of the things I've been really impressed with Ray is that the national coordination effort, the lessons from the Black Saturday fires being implemented, the technology they now have, which can be deployed on the ground in the local incident response centres, being able to predict which way fires are going to go, where they can put their containment lines, how they keep their crews safe and keep them informed about what's happening. This is really helping all of these crews fight these fires and save homes. I’m mean we've sadly had hundreds of homes lost. But I tell you, as they've told me when I've sat down with them, it would have been thousands without the amazing coordinated effort. You know, we've been told that this fire season was going to be longer and harder. We've been told that earlier in the year and we put additional resources in and states have done the same. And I think the effort and the response as we see down on the south coast, as we've seen down in Victoria, the same coordination and professionalism

that we've seen already in New South Wales and Queensland we’ll see in South Australia and Victoria as well.

HADLEY: Okay. Back where we started and what's going on with Westpac? We've seen Ian Narev from the Commonwealth go, Andrew Thorburn from NAB, should the board take a close look at their CEO in light of what he's presided over? Mr Hartzer?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's a matter for them, as you know, it’s not for Prime Ministers to hire and fire bank chief executives-

HADLEY: Well they may listen. They may listen to you if you said something about it.

PRIME MINISTER: I’m sure they will reflect deeply on these events and they'll make decisions as they see fit. And as you know, as you rightly said, the other boards have gone down that path, and they'll have to make those calls and they'll have to be accountable for them, too. I mean, this is sort of the point, the banks have to be accountable for the decisions they make. Now, and in these cases how these processes were allowed to be in place is quite mystifying. I think for most people, including me and that will have to be delved into and the courts will deal with it. But at the same time, let's not forget the really important role the banks play in the economy. Now, I don't want this to be an excuse for people not to be given home loans or small businesses to be stiffed on them getting access to credit. This is really important in our economy at the moment, the banks are a vital supply of oxygen, economic oxygen to our small and medium sized business sector. And I don't want, you know, all this attention from AUSTRAC to be some excuse for not actually, you know, backing our Australian businesses to employ people.

HADLEY: Well done, we'll talk again soon. Thanks for your time.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot for the time mate.

HADLEY: All the best.


Contacts: Press Office, (02) 6277 7744 The Hon. Scott Morrison MP, Sydney

Press Office of the Hon. Scott Morrison MP, Prime Minister, Canberra