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Source: Prime Minister of Australia

RAY HADLEY: Prime Minister, good morning. 

PRIME MINISTER: G’day Ray. 

HADLEY: Jeez you copped a hammering while I was away.

PRIME MINISTER: Goes with the job mate. 

HADLEY: Well, you know, I’ve got to say, you know, I was from afar, I was up on the Gold Coast and and saw you come back from your holiday and people said you shouldn’t have gone there. And, you know, you try. You know, I have given you a fair work out on the odd occasion myself. But I thought you got two little kids, they don’t see you all through the year. You take a punt, you go there. We’re overwhelmed by a fire crisis. You come back and you’re still copping it. And I’ve got to say that I felt some sorrow for you. I felt sorry for you that you were copping it in the manner that you did. I’m glad you came back. It was the right thing to do. But I mean, you’ve got to try and juggle- you are the Prime Minister I know, but you’re also a father and a husband. And you’ve got obligations to those kids as well. I mean, you know, in the course of a week, what do they see you? Half a night a week or something like that?

PRIME MINISTER: Something like that. But look that’s no different to a lot of parents. As you know, mate, you’re juggling work and family responsibilities. And it’s true for a Prime Minister, it’s true for a tradie. These are things you’ve got to manage. And I know the expectations on me. I was pretty candid when I came back, about my contrition on that, you know? But you just take your medicine and you just get to work. And that’s what we’ve been doing. Others have sort of gone on about it. But I mean, I think people wanted me just there focused on what needed to be done. And in that time, we’ve turned out the biggest ever response of the federal government to a national bushfire crisis, six and a half thousand boots on the ground, $2 billion dollars in funding committed, over half a billion of that already committed to programs we’ve announced in the space of just a fortnight. So we’re getting on with it. 

HADLEY: So in other words, you made a poor judgement call. I think I’m not putting words in your mouth. You came back and, but you still copped it. 

PRIME MINISTER: I mean, in politics, in leadership, you just don’t, it’s not about me. It’s just about getting on with the job. So I appreciate your sentiment, Ray and look, I’ve you know, people I think have moved on from that, because they just want me to focus on the job at hand. And today, you know, it’s getting that support to those small businesses all along the coast, I should say, of New South Wales, because let’s not forget the fires that were impacting up there on the mid coast and the north coast as well earlier in the year, I remember being up back up there I think it was around November last year, I was up in Wauchope and in Taree and I’d been up in Rappville. And up in Queensland as well, I’ve been up in Canungra back in September. So, you know, it’s not like those fires all just happened in one week, that had been happening over some period of time. 

HADLEY: And some of those places you’re talking about are now facing flood. I mean, it’s the nature of where we live. 

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah it is but I was pleased to hear was that 16mm at Junee 

HADLEY: Yeah.

PRIME MINISTER: That you said, that’s good news.

HADLEY: Yeah in a very short space of time and thunder and lightning down there. Now, if we could just get- there’s a double page spread, you’ve probably read today in the Telegraph about people still living in tents and caravans. How difficult is it? I mean, there have been a lot of generous support from a whole range of places, including government, improving private enterprise and citizens of Australia and international citizens making contributions. But how hard is it, then, to make sure it goes to the right places? It’s not being rorted and you and I have spoken about it before. As soon as the government puts a hand in they kick, some bludger is going to try and, you know, take advantage of it. How hard is it to make sure these people aren’t going to be living in tents for an extended time, or caravans? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we don’t want them to. That’s certainly the case. And we’ve got $57 million dollars out the door to 48,000 claims. And today there’s over 20,000 kids in families who will be receiving from today an extra $400 dollars in those areas that have been affected. I mean, the Commonwealth payments that have been going out, I mean, they hit people’s bank accounts within 30 minutes. There are a whole range of state payments also. And I can’t speak to those. You’d have to check those with the state government about how quickly they’re turning around. But then there’s you know, there’s around $200 million dollars that has been raised by charities and the Red Cross being one of the most significant. What we’re working with them on at the moment, and Gladys Berejiklian and I and Dan Andrews down in Victoria in particular, we’re trying to make sure we’re all working off the same information. So a lot of that charitable support can get more into those communities as in addition to what’s already coming from the governments, now I pulled together last week a meeting of all the charities in Canberra with the Treasurer. And one of the things that came up when we were going round all those social welfare charity groups was this accommodation issue. And that’s- while there was immediate housing for people who went and stayed with relatives or the local commercial accommodation was quite generous, particularly in those first few weeks. As time goes on and people start coming home and the prices of local motels go up because there’s a lot of people coming in to help, then the housing thing starts to get a lot more complicated. Now it’s you know, the states have carriage of that and we’re keen to support them. But that housing issue, I think is going to get more acute. And so it’s one of the things we’ve got our focus on and we don’t want people living in tents. But I mean, at the same time, this has been a terrible disaster. And when these disasters hit, you can’t make it like it was the week before the fire. It’s, there’s a lot of support. You’re trying to get to as many people as possible in the right way. 

HADLEY: Now, you wouldn’t have heard my comments, I know you were in a briefing, but I’ve taken issue with Matt Kean and to a lesser extent, to Greg Mullins, a former fire commissioner in New South Wales. Look, in relation to climate change. I haven’t flogged the barrow either way on my program over a long period of time, but I’m just getting a little sick of everyone blaming climate change, as previously they blamed, of course, global warming and rising sea levels on a whole range of things that never eventually happened. But my point being, that even if climate change is real and many people now believe it is, we contribute 1.3 per cent of global emissions in this country, if we stop tomorrow it would be like a pimple on a whale’s hump. Won’t make one bit of difference, but one place we can make a difference. And that’s why I’m disappointed in Matt Kean, one of your state colleagues. Is hazard reduction burning. Bob Carr locked the national parks. Annastacia Palaszczuk locked them again last year in Queensland. We need to have, and I hope this is forming part of the investigation. A really long look at what we do about reducing fuel levels on the ground. We’ve got to do something, Prime Minister. 

PRIME MINISTER: I agree. And that’s the area that I flagged that a royal commission from the Commonwealth would seek to do, see what is action on climate change? Building dams. What is action on climate change? Hazard reduction in these areas. It’s native vegetation management. It’s land clearing laws. It’s all of these things which are often talked about and often on your program or other programs that I know that there’s very strong support for. All of those things actually make you more resilient to longer, hotter, drier seasons. And that’s what we’re going to face in the future. And you’re right. I mean, we’re taking action on climate change, we’re reducing emissions. And there’ll be many listeners who may think that’s not necessary. But you’re right to say whether they were twice as much or half as much, these fires would have occurred. 

HADLEY: Let’s just stop there. I think that’s the point I want to make. It’s no good saying, and the kids that are talking about it in schools it’s no good saying that the crisis confronting Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria was contributed to by climate change. It doesn’t make one bit of difference. What made the fires worse than they ever were, was the fuel on the ground. 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, and then the long drought. And can I assure, your listeners, drought has not gone an inch from my mind over this bushfire crisis. And next week, I’ll be out with Shane Stone who is heading our Drought Recovery Agency and we’re meeting with his new board and progressing the initiatives we’ve got there. In fact, many of the things we’re doing in the bushfires in response are modelled on the drought support of loans and grants and on the response to the north Queensland floods, which is coming up to the anniversary of those horrible floods which we saw a year ago up in north Queensland. So we’ve learnt a lot in how to deal with these disasters. But the point you make is the right one. What makes us more resilient? Sure, we’ll take our, and we’ll carry our load and burden when it comes to dealing with global issues. But what makes Australians more safe in Australia, in response to the longer, hotter seasons is things like hazard reduction. What makes us more able to go through droughts? Dams. So those who have opposed dams and hazard reduction on environmental grounds in the past? Well, that’s a fair enough debate for us to have. But I’m not really into the blame game on this. I’m just focused on what are the things we need to do to make Australia more resilient to these things in the future. And a lot of them are just really practical, commonsense things. And indigenous Australians have got a lot to teach us about that too.

HADLEY: Now away from all of that. Senator Bridget McKenzie, and it’s commonly called pork barrelling and everyone’s been guilty of it since we started having elections in the federation. But it does appear that 9 of the 10 electorates awarded the most money for these sports grants were marginal seats or ones the Coalition were hoping to win. Now, you know, if the Labor Party is going to start crucifying Bridget McKenzie for pork barrelling, we don’t need to look too far about who else has been pork barrelling, that happens every election. That’ll happen in the next election, and the one after that. But it’s not a good look in terms of, you have an independent body that determines, apart from the Minister, where these grants go to. And that was usurped by the Minister. Surely that-

PRIME MINISTER: I got to, well, let’s start with the Auditor-General’s report. The Auditor-General’s report is serious. It’s made some very important recommendations. And we’re going to implement those recommendations and we’re also going to address the legal issue that they highlighted and the Attorney-General’s working on that now. Now, the other thing the Auditor-General found was there was not one project that was funded, that was ineligible. Now that’s very different to the Ros Kelly case and the Catherine King case with Labor. They funded projects that were ineligible under their own guidelines, that did not occur on this occasion. And the Auditor-General found that the rules were followed. Now-

HADLEY: But will you concede that more deserving organisations missed out, even though they were all eligible. Would you concede that? 

PRIME MINISTER: I mean, it’s, these things are hard to judge between, to be honest, Ray. I mean, this isn’t about the projects that were funded. These are projects on the ground for community sports infrastructure, which meant the girls wouldn’t have to change in their car or out the back of the shed, that they actually had a change room. So, you know, the girls are playing AFL, girls are playing rugby league. Girls are playing rugby. Girls are playing a lot of sports now on fields and places that used to be boys only. And so a lot of these grants were addressing that. Now, I know that those local sports clubs, because I had them in my own electorate. Anthony Albanese has projects in his electorate, and we were both hoping to be re-elected at the last election. I wouldn’t describe either of our electorates as falling into the category of what you were saying before. 

HADLEY: Well they’re certainly not marginal or his- or maybe the Greens might call it for him, but not for you. 

PRIME MINISTER: But we had local sports clubs raising money for a decade and these grants came in and made these projects a reality on the ground, now people are going to argue the toss about this one versus that one. You know, but money’s finite and it can only go to so many projects. But every single one of those projects. I haven’t heard anyone raise any project and say, well, that’s not a worthy project or that wouldn’t have made a big difference on the ground. I think they all have. And I mean, Labor members welcomed the grants. They put out press releases acknowledging them and saying what a great job they had done in securing them. So, look, I think we’ve just got to get it in perspective. There’s lessons to be learned from the process I don’t doubt. But the process did provide for the Minister to make the decision. So there we are. 

HADLEY: Okay. I appreciate your time. We’ll talk again soon. Thanks very much. 

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot Ray. 

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