• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Cruise Ships; Australian tourists overseas; Budget; Support Packages.
03 April 2020

Allison Langdon: Now, let’s bring in our Deputy Leader of the Opposition Richard Marles and Minister for Trade and Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham. Simon, I mean, often we have — or normally we have Peter Dutton on this morning. Where is he?

Simon Birmingham: Look, Peter’s got plenty on his plate at present. We’re dealing with some serious issues right across the borders of Government. You’ve had me on plenty of times in the past and I’m pleased to be with you.

Allison Langdon: Is his health okay?

Simon Birmingham: Yes, yes, indeed, he’s been participating in Cabinet meetings.

Karl Stefanovic: Okay. A simple question for you, Simon, in relation to the cruise ships and the Ruby Princess. Simple question, who’s responsible?

Simon Birmingham: Look, the cruise industry is first and foremost responsible. Now, the seeming lack of transparency and questionable practices on board some of these cruise ships has created a terrible problem, the world over, of course, and this is a global problem that many countries are facing. Just today, we’re going to see a flight arrive back in Australia, bringing Australian passengers off of cruise ships around South America, back from Uruguay. Similarly, today we’re going to see more than 120 Australians, hopefully, disembark cruise ships in Florida.

But these have been challenging issues to deal with in those countries, just as Australia is dealing with foreign nationals from other countries off of our coastline. And the cruise industry in part, at least, seems not to have made the situation any easier.

Allison Langdon: Doesn’t the NSW Government need to accept some responsibility here for letting those passengers off and into the community?

Simon Birmingham: Look, indeed. The failure of proper checking and so on of certain passengers in the past has certainly forced the hand to make sure that we now have the toughest approach in the world where
there is the mandatory quarantine of individuals coming off of ships, coming off of planes, however they’re getting back here, from overseas, or off of cruise ships. They go into quarantine; they face tough conditions. And when we are looking at situations like the ones you were just discussing, we’re also mindful of making sure that wherever possible, people are moved back to their home country without either setting foot on Australia or as expeditiously as possible and that they are not of a drain on our public health services and that we stand up private facilities like companies like Aspen Medical to step in and provide the direct assistance and management so that we preserve those public health facilities for Australians who need it wherever we can.

Allison Langdon: Richard, what would you do in this situation? Would you let passengers off the ship, even if it means- I mean they could take up Australian beds in ICU. We just actually heard from Quentin Long that some of those ships- one of the companies wants to just get them off the boat and so they can charter them home and then they’re not our responsibility. What would you be doing?

Richard Marles: I’d be the first to say this is a diabolically difficult situation and there are a whole lot of dimensions to it which are really complicated. At the end of the day, the Ruby Princess has been a complete debacle and there is no doubt that the Commonwealth Government is responsible for our borders. I- you know, Mick Fuller has been making the point that what needs to happen now is to get a proper sense of who’s got this disease and who hasn’t on the various cruise ships that are out there. I’ve got to say, that makes sense to me. But really the Commonwealth Government has to grab hold of this. I mean there is a whole lot of blame game going on here. I don’t hear the Commonwealth Government accepting much of the responsibility. At the end of the day, this is their bag, and they have to get on top of this and make sure this is sorted out, because they are responsible for our nation’s border.

Karl Stefanovic: Okay. Simon, let’s move on. You are spending money like the Wolf of Wall Street right now. When are you going to reel it?

Simon Birmingham: Well we’re going to reel it in as soon as this crisis is over because everything that we’re spending at the moment is temporary. And that’s the key point, Karl. When we put it in place the JobsKeeper Payment, a crucial thing to keep people attached to their employees or the support for childcare we announced yesterday, or any of the other measures, we have been very careful to make sure that not only are they targeted where Australians need it right now, not only are they proportionate to the scale of the crisis we face, but also that they are temporary measures so that when we start lifting the restrictions on people’s movement, and we get to the other side of the coronavirus, the spending comes off as well.

Karl Stefanovic: Okay. I mean you’re looking more and more like the Rudd Government. Richard, this jams you. They’ve morphed before our eyes, the Liberals. They’re looking more and more like Labor every day.

Richard Marles: Look, Karl, imitation is the highest form of flattery.

Richard Marles: But, look, I think — I mean Simon is right. Simon is right. The critical thing here is to get through the immediate crisis. There is a lot of money going out the door and it’s going out the door at a point where Parliament’s not really meeting that much over the next few months. So, it is important that there be some Parliamentary oversight put in place. We’re asking the audit office to have a look at this. There is going to be a bill to pay at the end of it, but right now, the priority has to be making sure that we get through what is an unprecedented crisis.

Allison Langdon: Simon, even according to your own medical advice, we aren’t anywhere near the peak of this crisis. How much more debt do you think we’ll go into?

Simon Birmingham: Well the type of measures we’ve announced are designed to see us through it. So the JobKeeper Payment is something that we expect will have to be in place for around six months, as are many of the other measures that we have announced. So, we have planned for the fact that this is not a crisis that is going to be over in days or weeks. It is one that is with us for months. It’s also one of the key things about the public health advice — that the types of restrictions and actions we take today have to be restrictions and actions that everybody can live with for the foreseeable future.

Now, Australia is doing very welcome compared to much of the rest of the world in terms of flattening the curve and slowing the spread of the virus, but we have to be vigilant and keep these efforts up to continue to do so.

Allison Langdon: Is there a figure you’re talking about in Cabinet?

Simon Birmingham: In terms of the budget?

Allison Langdon: In regards to money-wise, what we are spending?

Simon Birmingham: Well, we’re spending now upwards of $300 billion in terms of the additional spend, and there’ll be other implications for the budget, clearly on the revenue side. And what we’ve announced was a deferral of handing down the next budget until October, because quite clearly it’s impossible in the current circumstances to be able to clearly and accurately project what’s going to happen in the future. But we’re keeping a close watch on what is being spent and spending what is necessary…

Karl Stefanovic: I can feel the rumblings of discontent within your own party about how much you’re spending and how responsible it is and how long it’s going to take our kids to pay all of this back. You can feel it, can’t you? So that’s something you’re going to have to deal with.

But I want to ask this before we go, when will business get back to normal and our borders open? Australians have a right to know what your modelling is.

Simon Birmingham: Well as we say, we’re planning on this being a month’s long episode, Karl. And so we can’t say precisely when the peak will be. That depends on just how effective our public health measures are, but it is going to take months, not weeks, to get to the other side of this.

Richard Marles: Karl, I think the Prime Minister is actually right to be setting people’s expectations around a timeframe of around six months. This is not going to go quickly, and we need to be, you know, buckling in for that kind of timeframe.

Karl Stefanovic: See, it’s hard to criticise someone when they’re looking more like your party every day.

Richard Marles: As I say, what can I say to that?

Allison Langdon: He’s cheeky, isn’t he? He’s cheeky.

Karl Stefanovic: Thank you guys.

Simon Birmingham: It’s all in the national interest.

Karl Stefanovic: I understand that. Look, it’s very, very difficult what’s going on at the moment and I think we’re being led really well. So thank you so much that. Appreciate it.