SUBJECTS: Cases in Victoria, Queensland; Withdrawal of critical support; the federal government supporting legal action against the states on borders; Australia’s relationship with France; Former Prime Ministers
KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: More than 18 months into the pandemic and today’s National Cabinet is facing rather stormy waters. For a preview, I’m joined by Defence Minister Peter Dutton – welcome home Peter, nice to see you in Canberra. And Deputy Opposition Leader, Richard Marles in Geelong. Guys, good morning to you both. Well Richard, first of all to you, I think on behalf of everyone around Australia, what an awful day for Victoria yesterday, huh?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Look, it is very difficult to come to terms with. The number – when I first saw it – it was really hard to believe. I think for all of us in Victoria, we are – you know, we don’t want to be in lockdown for an extra day longer. We have obviously gone through a lot over a long period of time and people are just desperate to move on and to get out. I think the message here though is two things, really – obviously we have got to go off and get vaccinated, and Victorians are doing that. We have also got to live by the rules of the roadmap. I mean, there is not really another way around this. If we do both of those things, we are going to get to the other side, but that’s what we have to do.
STEFANOVIC: Pete, in your home town, things aren’t looking that great either – in Brissie. The Grand Final hanging in the balance. The Premier denies she is delaying a lockdown. Do you buy it?
PETER DUTTON: I think there is a lot of cynicism and understandably so out there, Karl. I mean, everyone wishes the Premier well in her decision making but there have been a lot of decisions that have been at odds with common sense here. And when you’re turning away people to attend funerals or three year-old kids to repatriate with their mum and dad across the border, we’ve still got heaps of people kept south of the Tweed, their businesses going broke. They’re starved from seeing their families and loved ones. And then we see the Premier holding on because of the NRL Grand Final on Sunday. I think that rubs people up the wrong way. So, all of us are NRL fans and we want to see it go ahead, but the health of people in Queensland is paramount and I don’t think the Premier should be treating us like mugs.
STEFANOVIC: Pete, just given what is happening in Queensland with businesses – you mention the border – also New South Wales as we come out of this and Victoria as we saw yesterday – don’t you think those disaster payments should go a little longer, just to help businesses out?
DUTTON: Karl, obviously, I mean, we have pumped billions of dollars into the local economies across the country, and we have done that successfully. And I don’t think the government has ever ruled out providing additional support to tourism and other industries that are severely affected, but this is the importance of opening up the borders. That’s why we have people talking about challenging at the moment the decision-making of the Premiers. Because, I’ve just come back from the US, the reality is there that people are living with this. People are – probably a third or half are wearing masks on the street. You need to show your vaccination proof if you go into a cafe or restaurant. People are living with it, and that’s what’s happening around the world and we want to make sure we get through this as quickly as possible so these businesses can reopen.
STEFANOVIC: We want to make sure that our hospitals are ready too. Richard, when the states open up, it won’t be full capacity, business will still need financial help. Would you be happy to keep the till running?
MARLES: It can’t run forever, we all understand that. But we need to have support until we get something back to a version of normality and that won’t occur when we get to 80 per cent vaccination limits. There will still be space requirements, capacity limits in relation to hospitality venues. Obviously, any business which relies on the international border being open, anything to do with tourism, they are not back to normal. And so, it is really important that we have support which enables people to get to the other side, because they have got good, profitable businesses that can work. This government said it wasn’t a race in terms of getting the vaccination out, but it does seem to be a race in terms of withdrawing support, and it is going to leave a whole lot of businesses and a whole lot of workers behind.
STEFANOVIC: So, at what point would you pull the credit card?
MARLES: I think the point is to have that calibrated, so when we get back to some version of normality. Yeah, we are going to be living with the virus in Victoria and NSW, and we need to get to that point, but there are still a whole lot of restrictions in place once we get to 80 per cent. And I think, the point here is that when JobKeeper was removed in March, the government did not have an alternative plan in the event that there were lockdowns, and they certainly imagined that was going to happen. They made that mistake then. They haven’t learnt from it now.
STEFANOVIC: Flight Centre boss Graham ‘Screw’ Turner is threatening legal action over border closures, Pete. Queensland, WA and Tassie. Is that something you’d support?
DUTTON: I think it is a fair enough position that he is taking. I think the Premiers have signed up to the 80 per cent – 70 and 80 per cent changes and I think they should honour their word. And I think if people are saying that the Premiers should be kept to their deal, I absolutely support that. And, otherwise, when Karl? When do you open up? At 90 per cent, 100 per cent? The fact is we are not going to get to those levels. We are seeing other countries live with this, as you rightly say. We have got to make sure the Premier’s claims about the capacity within their hospitals is right and valid, so that we don’t have people who aren’t receiving the requisite medical attention. But we can’t be locked down forever. The mental health issues with teenagers, the separation of grandparents from their grandchildren, the list goes on and on and on. And there is a sensible arrangement of coming out of this at 70 and 80 per cent. We are seeing that play out in New South Wales and now in Victoria as well. Queensland, South Australia, WA, the rest of the country has to really adopt that model and keep the deal that they have made.
STEFANOVIC: Pete, has the French President Emmanuel Macron taken your call yet?
DUTTON: No, he hasn’t. I haven’t spoken to the President before and I suspect he won’t be calling me. He is going to call Malcolm, I see. Maybe he will call Richard. But probably not me. I guess the point you are making, Karl, is that we want to be the best friends we can be, but we have had to make a tough decision that was in our National interest. I don’t think the French would have taken any different decision in the circumstances and you know, we are working now to re-mend that relationship. It is an important relationship, and they have important equities in the Indo-Pacific including of course in New Caledonia. So they are very valued partners, but they are hurt.
STEFANOVIC: You don’t know if the Prime Minister has spoken to him? That he has taken the Prime Minister’s call yet?
DUTTON: No that I know of, Karl. You are being very facetious this morning.
STEFANOVIC: Does Malcolm Turnbull grind your gears?
DUTTON: No, I’m just happy to wake up to the news of Paul Keating or Kevin Rudd or Malcolm Turnbull each day, and I just hope they have got a SEEK link on their computer, they can find another job, something else to do and move on a little. I don’t know. I’m not sure what Richard thinks.
STEFANOVIC: Richard, we could throw Kevin Rudd into that mix too, it would be quite the-
DUTTON: He is angry Kevin Rudd, he is so angry. What are you going to do about it, Richard?
STEFANOVIC: What are you going to do, Richard?
DUTTON: Come on. And Keating he has been angry for 25 years. When is that going to ease up?
STEFANOVIC: Yeah, Richard.
DUTTON: He is leading a tortured life. C’mon Richard.
MARLES: It is very clear that Malcolm is definitely grinding Peter’s gears. You can see that from this morning-
STEFANOVIC: I love it. You are a very funny man, Pete. Go on, sorry.
MARLES: I would like to see the former Prime Ministers in the news. And I liked yesterday’s contribution.
STEFANOVIC: We will leave it there folks. See you same time next week guys. Good to see you back, Pete. Well done overseas.