Television Interview – ABC Weekend Breakfast – Saturday 29 February 2020


SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; the Economy; Jacinda Ardern.

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM: Welcome to you both, seeing as this is the Jason and Jason show Im going to have to make it quite formal and call you both by your full names. Lets talk about the Government enacting emergency plans for a possible pandemic. As I understand it Jason Clare, the WHO hasnt actually called it a pandemic as yet. Are we over panicking or do you think it is time to prepare for a possible pandemic?

JASON CLARE: No I think the Government has done the right thing here. They have followed the advice of the Chief Medical Officer. They have followed the advice of the experts. Thats the right thing to do. This is not a time for politics. Its a time for both parties to listen to the experts. 

Its about the only thing the Governments done right this year. I only wish they had followed the advice of the experts on the bushfires when it comes to the former fire chiefs who told the Government what to do thereor followed the advice of the experts when it came to the sports rorts scandal. If they’d done that – if they had followed the advice of the experts in those other areas – this government wouldn’t be in as much trouble today as it is.

JOHANNA NICHOLSON: Jason Falinski, the New Zealand Government has announced that travellers from Iran will no longer be able to enter New Zealand until at least March 3rd. At the moment Australia has got the travel ban for travellers who have passed through China and that’s been extended a number of times. Are you looking at extending that travel ban to other countries as we see cases rise in other areas?

JASON FALINSKI:Look we will be taking advice from the Chief Medical Officer and experts in this area. We’re hoping for the best but we’re preparing for the worst whether it’s through our National Medicines Inventory, all the things that we have done thus far have been to ensure that the safety of the Australian people is maintained. We will obviously be following the best advice that we have in this particular area if we need to extend quarantine for people travelling through certain countries we will do that. And look you know as we’ve seen this week we’ve had several international organisations say that this thing is going to, that the corona virus is going to get worse before it gets better. Fortunately so far in those nations where it has been reported they mostly overwhelmingly have very well developed and sophisticated health systems so that they can be contained and people who contract the virus can be treated properly and effectively and so that the deaths from this globally are kept as low as possible. I think it’s important that any government whether it be here or overseas is ensuring that they keep people’s fears in check. We don’t want to get into rampant speculation. What we do want to do is make sure that we are dealing with this issue as appropriately and sensibly as we possibly can.

IBRAHIM: Jason Clare there has been a lot of talk about you know this travel ban and the fact we are actually starting to see some of our sectors being affected as well. We seeing the education sector affected. We’re seeing the tourism sector affected as well. It’s also affecting the bilateral relations between China and Australia. You know relations, trust as well. Do you think that extending this ban even further will actually affect the trust between the two countries and perhaps China may find a different a different market?

CLARE: Well look, the health of Australians is what’s most important here so I agree with Jason. First and foremost you’ve got to take the advice of the experts. Take the advice of the Chief Medical Officer. We’ve got one of the best health systems in the world, if not the best. And this is serious but people shouldn’t panic. We just take the advice of the experts here.

We’re being told this is going to have an impact on the economy. How big? We’re yet to see. The point I’d make here Fauzi is that we were told by the Government they would deliver a surplus. Now I’m still expecting that they will deliver on their promise in May and no amount of weasel words or no amount of pointing to the Coronavirus will get them out of that. The fact is the economy was getting weaker last year. Last year economic growth here in Australia was weaker than Greece. We had the Reserve Bank cut interest rates three times and unemployment now going up. So that’s why we told the Government last year that they should bring forward tax cuts. They ignored us against all of those warnings. So if this has an impact on the Australian economy either through China or more broadly, then the government will only have themselves to blame.

NICHOLSON: Well Jason Clare it’s not just been the corona virus it’s also been the bushfire crisis and last year when that bushfire crisis was going. We had many people including people from Labor saying look don’t worry about the surplus. Australians want the government to step in and offer assistance. So you can’t have it both ways.

CLARE: No, this is a test they set for themselves. Remember they said Back in Black They promised a surplus. They promised it themselves.

NICHOLSON: That was before Coronavirus, that was before the bushfires.

CLARE: But before any of that the economy was already getting weaker. The Reserve Bank had to cut interest rates three times. Unemployment going up and economic growth weaker than Greece. That’s why we said bring forward the tax cuts. Put more money in people’s pockets to spend in the economy. Now if they’d done that, if they’d taken our advice back last year, there’d be more money in the economy to keep it stronger now than it is right now.

IBRAHIM: Jason Falinski this need to be Back in Black This need for you know to deliver this budget surplus. Do you think that perhaps the Government really put itself in a difficult position there because of that?

FALINSKI: No I don’t think that we’ve done that at all. I think the important thing that we’re doing is making sure that we are prepared for any eventuality. If we’d taken the advice of others we would have gone back into a deficit before the bushfires, before the coronavirus and we would have ended up in a position where we were less able to deal with the issues that have now beset us. So it’s incredibly important that what we continue to do is manage the economy as sensibly and properly as we can. This is no time for partisanship over these things. We will adjust our policy settings as they need to be adjusted. As the Prime Minister said we shouldn’t speculate we should just be informed by facts.

The IMF has estimated that the coronavirus will cut global growth by point one percent from 3.3 to 3.2 percent. Our economy is still growing faster than every one of the OCD nations globally. So we’re still in a very good position. There’s a lot more to be done. This is a journey not a destination. But at the end of the day what we need to make sure is that we respond to these crises as they emerge. And we are as agile and flexible as we possibly can be.

NICHOLSON: All right we want to get to our second topic this morning and the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has visited Australia in the last couple of days and as you know.

FALINSKI: She sure has

NICHOLSON: She sure has. There was a bit of tension between the Prime Minister and Jacinda Ardern as they were both standing at the podium and giving a press conference and that was over the deportation of New Zealanders who have committed a crime. Some of those people who have lived in Australia for their whole lives. Jacinda Ardern was very critical of that policy saying do not deport your people and your problems. Jason Falinski I’ll start with you. Is this testing the relationship with New Zealand?

FALINSKI: Well look I think it obviously goes without saying that both leaders of both nations their countries would expect them to stand up for the interests of their countries. That’s what Jacinda Ardern is doing. I don’t think that that was the best possible way or the most effective way to deliver that message. I think there was an amount of political grandstanding involved in what she did and I don’t think it’s helpful either to the relationship for Australia and New Zealand or the policy outcomes that she’s seeking to achieve. Having said that her message is one that Australians have known about for quite some time and our message in return is also one that has been well developed which is if you commit a crime in Australia and you’re not an Australian citizen we will attempt to send you back to the nation from whence you came. But keeping in mind unless of course you are likely to be persecuted or find yourself in a dangerous position if you were to be returned to that country. Now I don’t think Jacinda Ardern is saying that if we return people who commit New Zealand citizens who commit a crime in Australia to New Zealand that they are in any particular risk of you know being hurt or damaged in that particular situation whatsoever. So look I think I’m pretty much all of this points to not very much at all. It just was a bit dramatic and I note that Jacinda has a new election coming up later this year.

IBRAHIM: Jason Clare do you think it was all just a little bit of drama or do you think there certainly is something there that could actually hurt the Australian New Zealand bilateral ties.

CLARE: Well I think you can see the relationship is under stress at the moment. I haven’t seen Australia so badly mauled by New Zealand since the last time we played the All Blacks. This was pretty awful stuff. The Prime Minister in New Zealand is a tough strong leader. She’s obviously very angry about this. I can understand Scott Morrison’s argument as well. If you’re a criminal you’re born in another country and you serve time in jail in Australia then you should go back to the country that you were born in regardless of whether that’s New Zealand or whether it’s on the other side of the world. The point I’m concerned about here is that these are two countries, Australia and New Zealand that are close – we call each other family – and you’ve got the leaders of the two countries that are fighting in front of the Opera House. That shows that the relationship is under stress and we both should be doing everything we can to work together.

NICHOLSON: Jason Clare, Jason Falinski we’ll have to leave it there. Thanks for coming in.