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Trump, Morrison, money and the drought

Oct 4, 2019 • 15m34s

As Scott Morrison tried to shift Australia’s focus to the drought, and the cash rate fell below 1 per cent, Donald Trump’s paranoia followed the prime minister home.

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Trump, Morrison, money and the drought

93 • Oct 4, 2019

Trump, Morrison, money and the drought

[Theme music]

ELIZABETH:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Elizabeth Kulas, this is 7am.

As Scott Morrison tried to shift Australia’s focus to the drought, and interest rates fell below one percent, Donald Trump’s paranoia followed the prime minister home from America. Paul Bongiorno on the week Alexander Downer became a Clinton spy and the phone call that might haunt The Lodge.

[Theme ends]

PAUL:

All right. When you're ready I'm ready.

ELIZABETH:

Great. So Paul, Scott Morrison is back from his first trip to the U.S. as Prime Minister.

PAUL:

Yes he's back. He had a very warm time with Donald Trump. But there were some tense moments, as you'd expect, with the mercurial and unpredictable Donald Trump.

ELIZABETH:

Paul Bongiorno is a columnist for The Saturday Paper.

PAUL:

He got caught in the middle of a press conference in the Oval Office where Trump started threatening military action in Iran, in fact it was more than military action. He started talking about a refurbished nuclear arsenal. He knows what nuclear is all about but it'll be very easy to do.

Archival tape — Donald Trump:

“When I was running everybody said ‘oh, he’s gonna get into war, he’s gonna get into war. He’s gonna blow everybody up. He’s gonna get into war.’ The easiest thing I could do, in fact, I could do it while you’re here here and say go ‘ahead fellas go do it’. And that would be a very bad day for Iran.

PAUL:

And then, a day later he got caught up in re-elect Trump rally in Ohio. The Prime Minister that is, went with Trump to open a factory that an Australian entrepreneur Anthony Pratt owns and it's into recycled boxes. But really, the Trump people had made sure that that opening became a Trump rally.

Archival tape — Donald Trump:

“You like better ‘Made in the USA’ or ‘Made in America’ what do you like? Made in the USA, go ahead: Made in the USA. [Crowd cheers ‘USA’].”

PAUL:

There were plenty of Trump red baseball caps in the crowd. And in fact, some of the pictures showed there more than one or two white nationalists who think that Trump's a bit of a hero. Really, Morrison got a bit carried away here because he, as it were, aped the Trump campaign slogan from last time.

Archival tape — Scott Morrison:

“We’re making jobs great again. Cheers. [Crowd cheers].”

PAUL:

But journalists, you know, who followed the Prime Minister on his U.S. Odyssey say by the end of the last week Morrison was giving every indication he couldn't wait to escape the Trump bubble.

ELIZABETH:

But Trump also followed Morrison home.

PAUL:

That's right. Morrison's office confirmed this week that the Prime Minister had received a call from Donald Trump on Thursday, September 5. That's two weeks before the Prime Minister was due to go on his scheduled trip to America. And in that call the Prime Minister agreed to assist the Justice Department and the American Attorney-General, William Barr, with his inquiry into the origins of the Mueller report and that report of course looked into Russian influence in the US 2016 presidential election. So in Trump's sights, is the former Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Alexander Downer. Trump accuses Downer of passing on to Canberra the boast of Trump aide, George Papadopoulos, that they had Russian supplied dirt on Democrat candidate, Hillary Clinton. Now as the Five Eyes intelligence partner, Canberra, passed that on to Washington which triggered an FBI investigation, while Trump sees it all as a political plot to damage him and, in fact, Trump seems to believe what Papadopoulos says that Alexander Downer, former Conservative Member of Parliament, you might remember was a spy for the very moderate liberal Clintons. Anyway, George Papadopoulos gave an interview this week praising Morrison for his cooperation. Papadopoulos in fact has already served 12 days in a US federal prison for lying to the FBI on matters relating to the investigation and said he, that is Papadopoulos, had reported Downer to authorities for spying on him. In a Sky interview midweek, Morrison threw almost no light on what he described as his brief Trump initiated conversation.

Archival tape — Interviewer:

“The US President called you two weeks before your state visit to Washington. What did he ask for?”

Archival tape — Scott Morrison:

Well, let’s just start at the beginning.”

PAUL:

He tried to say there was nothing extraordinary in the president calling for a point of contact in the Australian Government. The whole unbelievable tone was there's nothing to see here.

Archival tape — Interviewer:

“Did he use the phrase ‘favour’?”

Archival tape — Scott Morrison:

“Not that I recall at all.”

Archival tape — Interviewer:

“So he’s just asking for someone that his justice department can contact?”

Archival tape — Scott Morrison:

“Yes.”

ELIZABETH:

How damaging is this for Morrison do you think?

PAUL:

Well look it's hard to gauge that for a couple of reasons. There was a Guardian Australia poll today which showed that most Australians think that it's good for an Australian Prime Minister to have good relations with the US president, no matter who that president is. But on the other hand, Trump is extremely unpopular in Australia with Australians. As Bill Shorten said, Morrison appeared to look like a lapdog of Trump. Now that stuck, I don't think it would do Morrison any good at all.

ELIZABETH:

It all seems like a little bit of a mess Paul.

PAUL:

Well the prime ministers do their best to hide it but the fact is government is mostly flying by the seat of your pants. And this is particularly true for the Morrison administration, now into its sixth month after its surprise election win. I think it's scrambling to convince the nation it really knows what it's about and how to achieve it.

ELIZABETH:

We'll be right back.

Archival tape — Interviewer:

“Prime Minister, good afternoon to you. State-side to the countryside, you must be exhausted but our farmers are doing it pretty tough, aren't they?”

Archival tape — Scott Morrison:

“Well they are, up here in Dolby and right across the country. You're right, New York yesterday, or what seemed like yesterday, and Dolby today.”

ELIZABETH:

Paul, Scott Morrison got back to Australia from the US and he almost immediately flew to Darling Downs. What was he up to there?

PAUL:

Well, Morrison is keen to ensure that Australians, everyday Australians are his focus. In fact, on the last press conference he gave in New York, he said that people hit by the drought were in fact his first priority. He said that as soon as he gets back to Sydney he'll be off the ground again, getting into drought affected communities in Australia. In fact, he didn't leave Mascot airport, he got out of shark one into a smaller jet and went up to the parched Darling Downs.

ELIZABETH:

And what's happening there that used to be quite a lush area of the country, and now it’s been heavily affected by the drought.

PAUL:

Well that's true darling the Darling Downs was once lush and it's now something of a dust bowl due to the drought. Once they're in trademark fashion the prime minister spoke of the seven billion dollars for drought relief. He's already announced and unveiled another hundred million on top of that. Now look there are problems with those figures as far as Joel Fitzgibbon the shadow minister from the Labor Party says about 5 billion of it is the future drought fund. Now that doesn't start until July next year and not one cent of it goes directly to farmers, it goes to things like farming techniques and research. According to Labor the other 2 billion is arrived at by counting money earmarked for concessional loans. Not exactly the sort of relief farmers need because many of them, most of them, haven't pulled in income for several years and there are no prospects of doing so for who knows how long. So Labor's calling on the Auditor-General to take a close look at the millions the Government is spending or says it is. Joel Fitzgibbon, The shadow minister is convinced much of it is an ad hoc shambles and that it's pork barrelling Coalition electorates and ignoring Labor ones.

ELIZABETH:

Albanese was also touring drought stricken areas of Queensland this week. What was he saying?

PAUL:

Yes, well, Albanese heard that the Treasurer and David Littleproud, the Water Resources Minister, were going to be doing a three day drought pilgrimage so he claimed that he was invited to go to Stanthorpe which is a town in southern Queensland running out of water and there he pointed out that the government has had a drought taskforce, a drought coordinator, a drought envoy and a drought summit.

Archival tape — Anthony Albanese:

“With all of those, we asked in parliament last week, Joel Fitzgibbon, to table those reports and the government has refused to do so. One wonders whether they exist or not, and whether it was just a title to give Barnaby Joyce, for example, as the drought envoy, to travel around and campaign in margin electorates.”

Archival tape — Interviewer:

“All of - everything’s on the menu at the moment. Senator Bridget McKenzie, welcome to the studio.”

Archival tape — Bridget McKenzie:

“Fantastic to be with you, Warwick.”

PAUL:

Now, Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie assured ABC Radio that she's working on it. Now look, I find this a disarmingly frank admission from a government now into its seventh year. In fact, Bridget McKenzie said she was waiting for the National Farmers Federation to provide its view before the government announced a plan. The National Farmers Federation is not too impressed. It says the country doesn't have a wide strategic drought policy. Now, one of the first things the Abbott Government did in 2013 was to tear up the historic intergovernmental agreement that was being steered through the Council of Australian Governments. This had the support of the farmers, of Liberal and Labor state governments and at that stage, of course, a Labour federal government. Well Abbott ditched it and according to Labor that's lost us literally six years of real drought planning. And really, when you think about it, that's exactly what agriculture minister Bridget McKenzie has admitted to.

ELIZABETH:

And of course, Paul, this is all happening in a week when the Reserve Bank is again cut interest rates to historic lows. This time, I mean, to rates we've never seen before.

PAUL:

That's right. It's the first time ever that they’ve dropped below 1 percent, a long way below the 3 percent emergency levels the Liberals used to scoff at during the global financial crisis in 2008, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg tried to assure the nation everything was under control. His first reaction to the rate cut was to urge the banks to pass it on in full. There is, and still is, a marked reluctance to do so. This has a lot to do with their need, of course, to attract depositors by not cutting the rates on offer to investors. There is also the risk here of another property bubble which Frydenberg is blithely ignoring and he's doing that because he's resisting calls to do more elsewhere to stimulate the economy.

Archival tape — Interviewer:

“Is it then time for the government to now announce more tax cuts? Are they on the table?”

Archival tape — Josh Frydenberg:

“Ross, we’re sticking to our economic plan, that is a plan that is delivered more than 1.4 million new jobs. That is under tax cuts, we talk to the Australian people at the last election. That is the infrastructure plan that we took and that will play through across the economy.”

PAUL:

Well, that plan boils down to waiting for the already paid tax cuts to somehow begin flowing into spending. They haven't yet. And to talk up the 10 year 100 billion dollar infrastructure spending. Well Labor says much of this spending should be brought forward along with the next tranche of the tax cuts. But the other part of the plan, of course, is a budget surplus next year which as far as the government is concerned will happen come hell or high water

ELIZABETH:

And with all that, Paul, a week from now, will the Trump/Downer/Morrison stuff be a distant memory?

PAUL:

Well look it depends. The Trump White House leaks like a sieve as does the State Department. And don't be surprised if we get a transcript from The New York Times of the Trump/Morrison phone call. That's where we'll find out just how upfront with this all, Morrison has been in that interview he gave to Sky.

Archival tape — Interviewer:

There’s no recording of the conversation as far as you’re aware?

Archival tape — Scott Morrison:

David, that’s not information that I have available to me, and I’ll tell you why, because it’s not a matter that has ever been raised with me proactively as being a matter that has demanded the attention of the prime minister.

ELIZABETH:

Paul thank you so much.

PAUL:

Thank you very much Elizabeth. Bye.

[Theme music plays]

ELIZABETH:

Elsewhere in the news:

A gunman who fired shots in Western Sydney on Wednesday night has been identified as 32-year-old Daniel King. King began his shooting spree by firing at the home of a woman named Stacey Taylor, who is pregnant with his child. He then targeted two police stations, before being shot dead.

And anti-domestic violence charity White Ribbon Australia has shut down its operations and gone into voluntary liquidation. The Daily Telegraph revealed earlier this year that the organisation had slipped into the red by more than $840,000, according to its financial reports. In a statement, the charity said the decision was quote “necessary… following an analysis of the organisation’s future sustainability.”

7am is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz and Atticus Bastow with Michelle Macklem.

Erik Jensen is our editor.

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

Please consider subscribing to the show through your favourite podcast app or you leave us a review if you listen on iTunes or Stitcher. It’s a huge help to us.

This is 7am. I'm Elizabeth Kulas. See you next week.

As Scott Morrison tried to shift Australia’s focus to the drought, and the cash rate fell below 1 per cent, Donald Trump’s paranoia followed the prime minister home. Paul Bongiorno on the week Alexander Downer became a Clinton spy and the phone call that might haunt The Lodge.

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno.

Background reading:

Coalition flailing on drought in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz and Atticus Bastow. Our editor is Erik Jensen. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

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93: Trump, Morrison, money and the drought