BEN FORDHAM: The PM joins us to talk about the Budget. We better kick off by letting him know the latest from northern New South Wales because PM, as we say hello to you from Canberra, I'm just getting images through at the moment for not only Lismore, but also Byron and Suffolk, where you've got cars floating down the streets in Byron Bay. Good morning to you, Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, good morning. And that's dreadful and awful news for the people of northern New South Wales, to be hit so soon after the devastating floods of several weeks ago. There are 3,200 Defence Force personnel up there in that region, and they're there to assist and do things that they do. Of course, those on the ground, those living there will be once again supporting their neighbours and their friends and their communities and the terrific work of the SES will be doing their job as well. And you know. We were just getting underway with the recovery operation and the trauma that this I know will cause to those already dealing with their terrible experience of just weeks ago, this only reinforces why we'll continue to stand with them, not just in the practical financial support, but the support for mental health and the many other things that we needed to help this community rebuild.
FORDHAM: We will catch up with Jacqui Lewis in Lismore straight after the news at 7:30. If you're in the area and if you're able to call in, please do so. Otherwise we understand that you've got bigger issues you're dealing with at the moment. The PM has announced the Budget alongside Josh Frydenberg. And Scott Morrison, pretty clear that cost of living is the focus of the Budget, and no doubt it will be of the election as well.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, cost of living pressures are real. And Australians know that they're being caused by things well beyond our shores. The rising fuel prices caused by what's of course happening in Ukraine. That's not permanent, but the relief that is needed is real and it's needed now. And that's why we've acted in the Budget. The same way, why we acted back with JobKeeper several years ago. Australia's economy is coming back strongly. The Budget has improved, about $100 billion worth of improvements. And that is what has enabled us to take the action we did last night to ensure that Australians don't get knocked down just as they're getting to their feet coming out of this pandemic. And so that support at the bowser by cutting excise in half, by providing income tax relief that they'll be able to access when they lodge their tax returns on the 1st of July, and cheaper medicines, which will particularly support older Australians for whom having medicines is not a choice, it's a necessity. And to reduce the cost of those medicines is incredibly important. And pensioners as well and others receiving those payments, well, there's a $250 support payment right now to ensure that they can deal with those. But it's responsible because it's targeted and it's for a temporary period as these cost of living impacts are real and they're there right now.
FORDHAM: Well on the cut to the fuel tax. We called for this to happen in mid-February, and then about mid-March we had your energy minister Angus Taylor, on the line, he said no, it would only make a tiny difference. Do you agree with that?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, if we were only talking about a few cents change and that's what was being contemplated at that time, well no. That's why we've halved it by over 20 cents and we've done it for six months. So we don't do things in a kneejerk way, Ben. We think about these things, we carefully assess how we can best support. And that's why it's not just a cut to the fuel excise, but it's also the support payments to pensioners. It's why we've expanded the tax cut that people will be getting from this year and be able to claim in their tax returns in July. It's why we're changing the prices of the safety net, which means people can get access to more affordable medicines. This is a package of measures. But the Budget goes well beyond that. Yes, we have to get through the six months ahead, but we've also got to build the wealth of the country for the future. And this Budget has the biggest investment in regional Australia that we've ever seen. There's $21 billion, and that includes $7 billion specifically in wealth creating regions like the Hunter and the central and north Queensland, the Northern Territory, the Pilbara. Now people might say, well, what does that mean for me in the suburbs of Sydney? Well, you know how we pay for our hospitals? By what we dig out of the ground in Western Australia, by the resources industries that work right across our regional areas, 82 per cent of our exports come out of regional Australia. And this is the biggest vote of confidence in regional Australia that we've seen, building everything from dams to ports to pipelines and the things that will make a difference to realise that wealth and unlock it in the region.
FORDHAM: Prime Minister, we went hard on Anthony Albanese and the Labor Party when there were allegations of bullying within the ALP. And last night, the Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells described you in the Senate as a bully with no moral compass. Here she is.
FORDHAM: That's one of your own Liberal Senators, and she also alleged that you use your faith for marketing purposes. What would you like to say to Concetta Fierravanti-Wells?
PRIME MINISTER: Oh, well, look, I know Connie's disappointed that on the weekend 500 members of the Liberal Party went to a preselection and they didn't select Connie. I understand that. And I understand that there are many disappointments in political life. And you know, when you're Prime Minister, people hold you responsible for many, many things, and there are decisions that are taken over your life as a Prime Minister and that can lead to disagreements. I'm not the only one who's been at the end of those sort of comments from Connie. But look, I wish her well for the future. And if she has specific complaints that she'd like to make, then I would encourage you to do those. We have Party processes, so you know, if there are issues there she'd like to raise than the New South Wales Party and the Federal Party, we'll deal with those issues in the processes that we've established. But I understand she's disappointed with not winning the preselection on the weekend. It was, 500 members came together, I wasn't there, and they were the ones who made that decision.
FORDHAM: She claims it was a factional fix by you and some of your factional allies.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, you know, when you don't win preselections, there's always someone else responsible for it.
FORDHAM: She also claims, and I just wouldn't mind getting a response from you on this, because she claims that when you were competing for preselection for the seat of Cook that you were overheard saying, we can't have a Lebanese person in Cork.
PRIME MINISTER: That's rubbish.
FORDHAM: So she's made that up?
PRIME MINISTER: That's not true.
FORDHAM: How did it feel hearing that last night?
PRIME MINISTER: I was focussed on the Budget last night, I wasn't focussed on those issues, Ben. As Prime Minister there are lots of people who disagree with you, there are lots of people who say all sorts of things about you. It comes with the job. You've got to have a thick skin and you've got to be able to focus on the things that matter most to Australians. And right now, that's the cost of living pressures. That's the Budget that we delivered last night. It's the strong plan for the future, the essentials we're guaranteeing, the investments in our defence forces, particularly the $10 billion we've invested, I think Peter Dutton has done a great job in pulling that package together. That's the stuff Australians want me focussed on. That's what I am focussed on. From time to time there'll be disagreements and you just move on and get the job done for Australians.
FORDHAM: I've got 15 seconds to the news, are you calling an election this weekend?
PRIME MINISTER: The election will be in mid-May.
FORDHAM: You're not answering the question.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, when the election is called, everybody will know. We're not far away now. And you know, our opponents on Thursday night, the Labor Party has got to stand up and say what they would do in a Budget. We've waited for three years for them to tell us what they're going to do. They say there's going to be a mini budget in September. Well, Australians want to know what they plan to do now. And on Thursday night, Mr Albanese has to tell the country what is his alternative plan. He's not a small target. He's a vacant space. And Australians can't afford a vacant space.
FORDHAM: We've got to run to the news. We appreciate your time this morning, Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot Ben.