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Source: Prime Minister of Australia

KARL STEFANOVIC:  But for now, I’m joined by the Prime Minister himself, Scott Morrison. Prime Minister, good afternoon to you.  State-side to the country-side, you must be exhausted but our farmers are doing it pretty tough, aren’t they? 

PRIME MINISTER:   Well, they are up here in Dalby and right across the country.  But you’re right, yeah, New York yesterday or what seemed like yesterday and Dalby today.  But they are doing it tough and that’s why we made the announcement today of further measures.  And today was all about further  income support type measures and relief.  So we’ve put the Farm Household Allowance, we’ve made that simpler.  We’ve relaxed some of the rules around that, and about $56 million going into that.  And then we have got the second part which is putting more money into our Drought Communities Program.  So we put 13 more local government areas.  So about a million for each of those councils, including where we were today.  And the other one is 30 million we’re putting into Vinnies and Salvos and because they’re doing great work all around the country, and that just really fills up their tank to go out and keep doing what they’re doing.

STEFANOVIC:   You’ve been out and about.  You’ve seen it all over the last couple of months.  It just goes from bad to worse, doesn’t it?  Is this enough? 

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, well – well, it’ll be more.  And I mean so long as the drought goes on, you know, we’ll keep responding.  I said that, you know, a year ago.  And when we had the drought summit and we kicked off a lot of big programs there and you know, we’ve put seven billion in since then and we’ll keep responding as the situation demands.  And, I mean, one thing that’s great that is when you come out to these places, as you know, people are still – they’re positive, they’re optimistic, they’re talking about they’re one day closer to rain and they’re not giving up.  And I had young Jack Berne with me today and, as you know, and he’s well known to your listeners.

STEFANOVIC:   Yeah.

PRIME MINISTER: And what he’s done with Fiver for a Farmer, it’s not just the money, as they were saying to him up there today.  It’s just the fact that a great little kid like him cares and other people care that gives them a real boost.

STEFANOVIC:   Yeah, Jack’s on our show a little bit later today, he’s going to be joining us live.  But it is that sentiment that is helping in the bush.  I guess, to a large extent though, a lot of these farmers feel like they’re not being looked after.  I noticed with interest too, today, Labor leader, Anthony Albanese and Joel Fitzgibbon both said it’s all too little too late.  What do you say about that? 

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, look, I don’t think people should politicise the drought.

STEFANOVIC:   Yeah.

PRIME MINISTER: We’re all doing everything we can to provide the support that we are.  And, you know, we don’t set-and-forget on these things.  We just keep rolling out more, I mean everything from mental health, financial counsellors, even the work we’ve done in geoscience and the work with the Bureau of Meterology, which is providing support for farmers.  Your response has to be far and wide.  But it also has to be about water infrastructure.  I mean, we’ve currently got just under a billion dollars going to 21 dam and water projects right now.  And there’s another 50 on the board that we’re trying to get up with the state governments, and there’s three and a half billion dollars that we want to put into that water infrastructure.  So you’ve got to plan long-term with those projects but you’ve also got to put food on the table and put money in people’s pockets.

STEFANOVIC:   I agree with you, and I think a lot of people out there are incredibly frustrated.  They can’t understand or comprehend why the state governments aren’t playing ball.  You’re coming to the table.  You’re trying to get these drought relief projects, like the big infrastructure projects, like dams, up and they’re not coming to the table.  What is going on with them? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it is frustrating.  I mean, New South Wales has come to the table very recently and we welcome that.  And I met with the Premier over the phone last week, with the Deputy Prime Minister and John Barilaro, the Deputy Premier.  And so we’ll have a fast track list of projects which they’ve committed to try and take through the planning and environmental —

STEFANOVIC:   Queensland’s a dog’s breakfast, though.

PRIME MINISTER:   Oh, look, I mean, now they’re squibbing on the size of dam projects.

STEFANOVIC:   Yeah.

PRIME MINISTER: I mean, they actually haven’t formally told us this yet but, you know, they can pay public servants more but they can’t live up to the dam promise.  So that’s frustrating.  But, again, I don’t want to politicise drought; I just want to get the support out there.  We just want to get these dam projects underway and they’re done by state governments.  I mean, the Commonwealth does its bit but fundamentally that’s where it’s done.

STEFANOVIC:   These people are hurting, aren’t they? 

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, they are.  But, as I say, they’re supporting each other.  The mental health side of this is incredibly important.  I spoke to a rural financial counsellor up here in Dalby today who has a lot of clients and she was just taking me through some of the issues that they’re facing.  One of the things we did today was we relaxed the rules on what’s called off-farm income to access the Farm Household Allowance because people are getting – you know, supplementing their income by getting other jobs and doing things off the farm.  And that can sometimes crib them getting access to this allowance.  And so we’ve changed that rule, both on the assets they can own off-farm but as well as the income they can earn off-farm.  And we just want to try and keep people who make the decisions that they want to tough this out, we want to keep them there because it is going to rain and then there’s an opportunity on the other side, like there always is.

STEFANOVIC:   And if we forward plan well enough. You just got from this historic visit to the US.  Well done on that trip.  A lot of love between you and Donald Trump.  What’s he like?  It seems half the world thinks he’s going crazy.  How do you find him personally? 

PRIME MINISTER: He’s just a straight-up sort of guy.  I mean, he says what he thinks.  You’re never wondering.

STEFANOVIC:   He put you on the spot there a couple of times.  Were you nervous? 

PRIME MINISTER: No.  No, look, we’ve met several times now, and this was a very generous visit.  But, to be honest, I mean yes, you know, I get on quite well and have developed a good understanding early.  But, frankly, the bigger thing, and we both acknowledge this, it’s about the broader bigger relationship between the countries.  Australia and the United States see the world through very similar eyes.  We’ve got our differences but we get on pretty well and we stand up for the same things.  And it was – I was just so proud of the way Australia was celebrated, you know, there in the White House in their capital.  And it was a great tribute, to particularly our serving men and women.  And if there are any of them listening, thank you for your service.

STEFANOVIC:   There seems to be some growing tension on the China front.  They feel like a bit of a jilted lover at the moment.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they’ve got a trade deficit with China.  We’ve got a trade surplus, and so we come at that issue slightly differently.  And so he’s working that issue from his end.  But for Australia, the China relationship is very important.  So, you know, we’ve got to walk a very clear line there.  And I appreciated the fact that the President understood and respected that.  And I think we’ve been very consistent in how we’ve dealt with that issue: where there are things to call out, we call them out.  We’re very consistent about that.  And we also want to ensure the economic relationship continues to deliver benefits and jobs for Australia.

STEFANOVIC:   That’s a tricky balance.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, it is, but that’s what you’re elected to do.

STEFANOVIC:   Yeah.  Well, Prime Minister, we’ve run out of time now.  We really appreciate you coming on the program.  I know you’ve caught up with Jack Berne today.  How was he? 

PRIME MINISTER: Mate, he’s great.  He’s such a great – he had – it’s the last day of school today.  So it was either, he could have gone bowling, I think, today.  And so he grabbed the chance to come with me and it was just great to see him talking to the farmers.  And for a young fellow like that, to see the dividend of, you know, what he’s put all his heart and soul into.  And his mum, Prue couldn’t be more proud and she should be.  He’s a great boy, a credit to – you know, practical things.  I know young people, they’re concerned about many things and that’s fair enough.  And I think Jack’s an example of the response, you know, just roll your sleeves up, get in there, do something positive like he has.  And what a great kid.

STEFANOVIC:   Some of them more concentrating on other things and doing it in a very different way, aren’t they, overseas.  Very tense, aren’t they, some of these kids.  Hopefully they’ll have —

PRIME MINISTER: Jack showed the Aussie way.

STEFANOVIC:   Alright.  Prime Minister, well done on your trip to the United States and I think even better coming back from that trip and working so hard and rolling your sleeves up and getting out on the land.  It’s a good look.  Well done.

PRIME MINISTER:   It’s been good to be here.  Thanks.

STEFANOVIC:   Thanks Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Cheers, Karl.

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