Interview with Ali Clarke, ABC Adelaide

21 Jul 2021
Prime Minister

ALI CLARKE: Good morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Ali.

CLARKE: Could you be really clear and concise, who will get the Federal Government money and when?

PRIME MINISTER: In hotspots right now?

CLARKE: Mm hm.

PRIME MINISTER: Right across, right across the state - the $600 and $375 payment. People will be eligible to claim that seven days from now. So, on the 28th of July, for work they lose, hours they lose this week. I was talking to the Prime, to the Premier last night, he'll be and the Treasurer will be making further announcements there today. As you know, in other states, we've been able to do that right across the state and we've had very positive discussions about that last night. But, I'll leave that for him to make announcements.

CLARKE: Isn't this the issue, though? It's actually not right across the state. The Chief Medical Officer, the Federal Officer, has only declared Greater Adelaide, Adelaide Hills and the Gawler regions. We've got people in lockdown all the way from Coober Pedy to Mount Gambier. So, do they really just have to wait for the state?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, I know, that’s why I … That's what I, that's what I just said. The Premier and I had very positive discussions last night and I'll leave him to make those announcements.

CLARKE: Ok. Are you clear on how we, at South Australia, have got here? Are you clear on how this man in his 80s was allowed to go to Argentina and then return? Because when we put these questions to our state health medical officers, they say it's a federal issue.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they’ve come back through the quarantine process, and they've gone from, through several locations, as I understand it from the advice that I have received. But, that is the nature of the Delta variant and this virus. As we've seen all around the country, in fact, we're seeing all around the world, it is insidious, and no one's, no one's fully protected from it anywhere in the world, as we're seeing particularly overseas at the moment. I mean, the fatality rates in the UK are just gobsmacking. I mean, 94 people died yesterday. When I was there just over a month ago those rates were, you know, a quarter of that or less. So, you know, it is a very insidious and highly contagious strain of the virus, and, and it is having its impact like everywhere else around the world. But, you know, we're doing everything, everything we can right around the country - states, Commonwealth, working together - to ensure it doesn't take hold, and we are able to get, push through these periods. And, of course, states are being rightly very cautious about this because it is a very unpredictable variant.

CLARKE: It is unpredictable, and you've spoken about the fatality rates coming from this Delta strain. Then, are you willing to accept that the vaccination programme in this country has been less than ideal?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, we've had our problems, I've openly confessed that. And, some of those problems, many of them have been outside our control, but the issue is you get on top of them and you fix them. That’s why I put Lieutenant General Frewen in there. That's why we're now hitting dosage rates of a million a week, just shy of that. And, that's why we're now on track to ensure that by the end of the year that everyone who is seeking to have a vaccine would have had that opportunity. And, that's put us probably now around about two months behind where we'd hoped to have been. But, we've been pulling back that that figure, you know, quite significantly over the last few months, and we’ll be well over four million vaccine doses delivered this month. I mean, many of the challenges we've had, whether it's the early non-supply from overseas and then, of course, the advice on AstraZeneca from ATAGI. But, equally, I mean, I think what we've seen is vaccination rates have increased at the moment when, when going through issues like these lockdowns, there's obviously a great awareness. In countries that have had low levels of COVID, like New Zealand, they have vaccination rates on double dose basically the same as ours, and our first dose rates are a lot higher. But, I don't think anyone is suggesting any, any failure of the New Zealand vaccination program.

CLARKE: Well, I guess it's just more, if we're taking it to South Australia, we've spent the last two days focusing on testing lines here, instead of vaccination lines.


CLARKE: You know, 11 per cent of the entire population is fully vaccinated. Only one in four aged care workers is fully vaccinated, and only 43 per cent have even had their first dose.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, no, sorry, all those figures you’ve just said aren't right. It is higher than that, and the level of aged care workers now has increased dramatically above that, and that's what I’m saying ...

CLARKE: So, what is it? So, if those figures are wrong, what’s the figures?

PRIME MINISTER: I think we’re about, we’re about 12 per cent now on the, on the vaccination rates, and that's rising, and we've got over 75 per cent of those aged over 70. And, for aged care workers, now we're getting very close to half of them ...

CLARKE: Right. So, half of aged care workers are fully vaccinated?

PRIME MINISTER: On their first dose, yeah.

CLARKE: Yeah, okay. So ...

PRIME MINISTER: On their first dose, they’ve received that, and we've, and we're pushing that through that. See, this is the thing, the vaccination program, yes, in those, particularly in the first half of this year, it's had its great trials. I'm not disputing that. But, the thing is, we're getting on top of those, and now when you vaccinate people at a million a week and we've been able to bring forward the Pfizer doses -  we're getting a million a week now. We were getting 300,000, and we keep pushing those numbers each and every, each and every month. You know, then, you know, we're improving it all the time. At least one dose is 43.3 per cent of first doses for aged care staff. That's where we've got to now. That's, you know, that's 69,700, and there's, sorry, 120,000 residential aged care staff have now had that first dose. So, you know, we continue to work with the sector to increase that every, every day, and particularly in this latest outbreak. I mean, we've been very fortunate so far that the fact that every single aged care facility in the country has had two dose visits is, we've been able to so far, and hopefully we’ll continue to be able to, to prevent fatalities in that area.
CLARKE: So, in hindsight, it really was a race, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, well, look, I think it's unfortunate that the comments that both Professor Murphy and I made at that time have been used in the way they have. We were talking about how cautious we needed to be when it came to the approval of vaccines for use in Australia. Now, I don't think anyone should have suggested we should have cut corners on that. But, look, I know how politics works and I know how people use things out of context about what you say, and that's what's happened. And, that's unfortunate.


PRIME MINISTER: But, we've always had a high sense of urgency, but we’ve also applied a very professional level of caution to protect people's public health in Australia.

CLARKE: Prime Minister, can we speak briefly because we'll hit the news soon, about the idea of a nationally run quarantine process, when all of us here in South Australia are locked down because of someone who went to Argentina and then returned. Do you wish that you had done something differently? Do you wish that you would have had a nationally run quarantine process in place months and months ago?

PRIME MINISTER: We have a nationally run programme. We have a 2,000 bed facility in the Northern Territory, and that was what was recommended by the review of quarantine. The hotel quarantine system that has been run ...

CLARKE: But that hasn’t, but that has played out into every, Prime Minister, that hasn’t rolled out into every single state. We are having people come back from overseas into South Australia and we're looking after them - New South Wales, everywhere else. So, that one section clearly wasn't enough. Do you wish that you then ...

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Are you suggesting that a hotel quarantine system can be 100 per cent perfect?

CLARKE: No, I think that's the issue. People are saying that it can't be 100 per cent perfect. So, can we try to get something that would prevent entire states and more than 50 per cent of your population being locked down at this moment?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I don't, I don't accept that any quarantine system run at a state level or nationally can be 100 per cent perfect. And, Australia's quarantine system, which was run together with the states and territories, has had an infection rate within quarantine of one per cent. And, of that, there have been about just over half a dozen breaches that have resulted in community transmission. Now, when you compare that to the hundreds of thousands of people that have come through that system, I mean, you're looking at effective rates high in the 90s. Now, if I told you a year ago at the outcome of the pandemic that you could have actually put a system in place in partnerships with states and territories that could be stood up almost immediately and that would have prevented transmission into the community in over 95, and probably over 99 per cent of cases, you would have laughed at me. You would have said that was impossible. But, that's actually what Australia has achieved, and while more than 30,000 lives have been saved and a million people are now back in work, and at its peak over 3.5 million people were receiving income support from the Federal Government to get us through this. So, yeah, no country’s got everything right, and Australia hasn't got everything right, either. But, I tell you what, we've got a lot of things right as well, which save lives and save livelihoods.

CLARKE: Prime Minister Scott Morrison, we have to leave it here.