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Prime Minister – Transcript – Interview with Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast

Written by Mamie M. Arndt

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MICHAEL ROWLAND: And joining us now from Nowra on the beautiful New South Wales south coast, Prime Minister, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Michael.

ROWLAND: The latest Newspoll has a slight tightening in the contest. You have leapt ahead of Anthony Albanese as preferred prime minister, although that’s within the margin of error. That said, though, do you take heart from this latest opinion poll?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the election is about a choice and now we’re in the election campaign, I think people will focus on that choice as a choice between my government, which has demonstrated the proven economic and financial management that has taken Australia through the worst economic crisis we’ve seen since the Great Depression, getting unemployment down to four per cent, keeping 700,000 people in jobs through JobKeeper, retaining our AAA credit rating and ensuring the biggest rebound in our fiscal performance in the last 12 months over $100 billion, the largest we’ve seen in 70 years. Versus a Labor opposition that we know can’t manage money. People know that that haven’t been able to demonstrate any proven track record, have no economic plan and are unknown after three years. And so we can’t risk Labor with the uncertainty that we’re facing and the proven economic management record of our government means we can guarantee the essential services we can invest in our defence forces. We can keep Australians safe and we can ensure we can deal with the cost of living pressures that they’re facing right now.

ROWLAND: You’re campaigning alongside the liberal candidate in the seat of Gilmore there in the south coast, Andrew Constance. As our viewers would recall, he had some pretty bracing words for you at the height of Black Summer regarding your you being shunned by those locals in Cobargo, a town particularly hard hit Andrew Constance’s. You got the welcome you deserve now. Emotions still run fairly deep in that electorate about the bushfires. Are you worried about that’s repeating itself today?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think as you can see with Andrew Constance being part of my team and choosing to be part of my team, I think that addresses that, that issue very well. I mean, Andrew and I, I spoke not long after those terrible experiences that particularly he and others, so many went through and we worked the issue. We ensured we addressed things like small business payments and we got the money on the ground and supported people in the areas that the federal government were responsible for. And I really thank Andrew for the way that we came together and really started to work together to address those issues. He’s a fine advocate for this part of Australia on the south coast of New South Wales. He’s demonstrated that time again and the fact that he wants to be part of my team and is running here as our Liberal candidate in Gilmore, I think that addresses those issues fairly squarely, that we’ve actually addressed the shortcomings that he was outlining at the time. And we’ve gone forward with a strong plan to ensure that we’re providing that support not just in relation to the fires but in relation to other natural disasters. And we’ve seen so many of those over the last three years.

ROWLAND: Local business owner Vicki Pamount-Reid is in Mogo in Gilmore. She’s quoted in The Guardian today about you. This is a quote he could have stayed here instead of going away when the bushfires were on. That was a dire emergency. What do you say to voters in Gilmore like Vicki?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’ve said many times, Jenny and I, that, you know, when we went took a week’s leave after what had been a very harrowing year that, you know, we could change that decision. We would. That was two and a half years ago. And ever since that time, as we returned, we’ve applied ourselves. I’ve applied myself every single day and we’ve seen that during the pandemic. As we’ve come through the pandemic, we’ve saved tens of thousands of lives. We saved hundreds of thousands of jobs and of businesses, and we’ve applied ourselves in a way that has ensured that Australia’s recovery and performance through the pandemic has been world leading, and we’ve ensured that we continue to invest in the resilience for the future and a strong economic plan, which means that we can guarantee the essential services. Our plans, be it in health care, education investments at record levels. Now we’ve got record levels of bulk billing rates on Medicare. There’s been no stronger supporter of Medicare than our government because bulk billing rates are at the highest level we’ve seen and that is very important in a place like the south coast of New South Wales, and that support will be giving it to pensioners in a couple of weeks’ time to assist them through this very difficult challenge of cost of living pressures caused by the war in Ukraine, in particular on fuel prices means that we can deliver that because of the strong economic and financial management. Now we know Labor can’t manage money. Australians know that. And this is no time to risk Australia’s economic future in uncertain times on unproven economics.

ROWLAND: Ok, I just want to clear up some confusion that emerged from your media conference yesterday. Is Alan Tudge in Cabinet or not?

PRIME MINISTER: He technically is a member of Cabinet. What do you make of what he means? He’s not paid as? Well, it means he still has his warrant as a minister from the Governor-General, and as a result, he’s formally still the education minister. We have an acting Minister for Education in Stuart Robert, and we had an independent inquiry into the matters that I took very, very seriously. I didn’t dismiss them. I didn’t just say, No, we don’t need to look at that. I said we did, and we did. And there was nothing found in that inquiry that would prevent him from continuing to serve as a minister. Alan has taken his own decision for family and health reasons to stand aside. He’s not being paid as a minister and I look forward to him returning because what he’s been doing in education has been very important. Our trailblazing universities programs, it’s really going to support especially regional universities and standing up for what’s right on education curricula, ensuring that our kids are taught to love their country and to be proud of what Australia has achieved. But that’s the sort of education I want for my kids, and that’s the education that. Alan Tudge has stood for.

ROWLAND: Ok, Prime Minister, he’s done nothing wrong. Why is the taxpayer on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars to Rachelle Miller? Alan Tudge, his former lover, the ABC, has confirmed that payment. Why? Why is he still in Cabinet when we’re paying out so much money?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I can’t confirm that payment. I don’t have any visibility on those issues … [inaudible]

ROWLAND: Minister, Prime Minister [inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER: Well, no, of course not, because it’s a private matter involving sensitive issues, I assume, between Ms Miller and the Department of Finance. And no one can make any assumptions about any findings because there have been none that have been presented to me, which suggests any impropriety on behalf of Mr Tudge. So that is just merely speculation, Michael and and can’t be confirmed.

ROWLAND: Ok, but still, can you understand why voters would see what we’ve now confirmed about the hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of money going to Rachelle Miller and Alan Tudge staying in cabinet and see something of a disconnect you?

PRIME MINISTER: No, because I mean, I cannot confirm, and neither can you the basis of that decision. And that is a matter between the Department of Finance and Ms Miller. We held an independent inquiry into the issues that were raised in relation to Mr Tudge. I note my opponent did not hold any independent investigation in the very serious matters that have been raised recently. I focused on making sure we had one and Mr Tudge was cleared on those matters. And so I look forward to him coming back when he believes he’s in a position to do so after standing aside, as I said, for health reasons and for family reasons, and I’ve respected that.

ROWLAND: Very quickly, you mentioned the pandemic, sadly ongoing for so many people. Greg Hunt, the health minister, is retiring. When will Australians know he’d be the Health Minister if your Government is re-elected?

PRIME MINISTER: I’ll be announcing that this weekend.

ROWLAND: This coming weekend. Ok, Prime Minister, we’ll leave it there. Thanks for your time this morning.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot, Michael.



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Mamie M. Arndt