Interview with Ange McCormack, ABC triple j Hack

Transcript
22 Jul 2021
Prime Minister
E&OE

ANGE MCCORMACK: I have Scott Morrison on the phone with me now. Prime Minister, it’s been a while. Thanks so much for joining us today on Triple J.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks Ange, it’s good to be with you.

MCCORMACK: Prime Minister, young people have sacrificed a lot during this pandemic and we’re going to shoulder the economic impacts for decades. Our formative years are being spent in lockdown. What do you say to young people who are feeling pretty worried about their future right now?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, first of all, I want to thank them for pushing through. This is the challenge of their generation. Australians over many generations have faced very difficult challenges. And this is the challenge faced by this generation and our generation more broadly. And it’s hard. It’s really tough. And the uncertainty has been great. I mean, I particularly feel for those year 12 students at the moment, in Sydney especially, but also now hopefully less lockdowns in Victoria and over in South Australia. You know, and I know many parents is, that’s my generation, whose kids are going through their HSC now. And I know it’s really tough. So that’s why we put that $7 million mental health package in place …

MCCORMACK: And we’ll get to that in a moment, Prime Minister. Prime Minister, the biggest question I’ve gotten today, what is going on with the vaccines? When will all young people be able to get vaccinated with Pfizer?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let me say a couple of things about that. The first is we’re now getting a million doses administered …

MCCORMACK: It is a simple question, though. When will young people be able to get vaccinated?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, right now they can get vaccinated right now with AstraZeneca …

MCCORMACK: But that’s not the vaccine ATAGI recommends.

PRIME MINISTER: I’m just about to finish answering the question. In September, that’s when it’s designed for people under the age of 40 to get access to Pfizer. But what I’m telling you is that right now the AstraZeneca vaccine is approved by the TGA, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and to be available people of ages of 18 and above. Now, I know since at the end of June, when I said that people can go and talk to their doctor and have informed consent to have the AstraZeneca vaccine, there’s been almost 80,000 …

MCCORMACK: I believe 40,000 of those had their first dose, so.

PRIME MINISTER: That’s right. 40,000 in less than a month.

MCCORMACK: That’s not enough to get us, you know, towards the end of this race is it though?

PRIME MINISTER: That’s why we’ll keep increasing each week week. We’re doing over a million doses every week. We’ve got new pharmacies coming on board right now. By the end of the month, the number of pharmacists would have tripled, not just in rural areas. And I know in rural and regional areas and a lot of your listeners are out in those rural and remote areas. The pharmacists doing a great job, particularly up in Queensland, coming on early to support where there are no GPs and by the end of the year, and perhaps even sooner, everyone who’s wanting to get a vaccine will have had that opportunity to do that. Now, how high our vaccination rates are? Well, that will depend on everyone coming forward. But let’s not forget the AstraZeneca vaccine that was the workhorse vaccine for people in the United Kingdom and that’s seen them get to the rates they are at now …

MCCORMACK: It’s still not recommended for young people, though, and it doesn’t fill a lot of them with confidence. Prime Minister, today you called the vaccine rollout a marathon. A marathon is a race. Why are we coming last?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’re not …

MCCORMACK: We’re not coming first though, are we?

PRIME MINISTER: And were rapidly moving up. And I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you where we’re not in that situation. And that’s …

MCCORMACK: We’re coming last in the OECD, though …

PRIME MINISTER: No, we’re not actually. And we’re moving up through those ranks. Australia’s vaccination programme is actually running on double doses at the same level as New Zealand. And on first doses, we’re well ahead and we’re moving up through those ranks because we are now reaching those million doses happening every single week. And we’ve had our problems early on in the programme. I’ve been very frank about that, but we’ve turned those around. And now the programme with the extra doses, a million doses of Pfizer coming in from this week, having those brought forward, there were 300,000 a week before, we’ve got that up to a million now. And that increases as we go through the rest of the year. And so we will see more and more people getting vaccinated. And that’s that’s that’s the task.

MCCORMACK: Right.

PRIME MINISTER: We’ve saved over 30,000 lives. We’ve got a million people back into work. We’re supporting people with those COVID payments. Very important those COVID payments, if you’re in a lockdown area, you’ve lost more than 20 hours of work week and $600 and less than 20 hours, $375 a week. Those payments, particularly for those in Melbourne, you can start and across Victoria, you can start applying for those tomorrow. And next week is when South Australia kicks in. So those payments are there to help people get through these hard lockdowns.

MCCORMACK: Prime Minister, you said that we’re not coming last in the OECD. We’re doing a great job, in your words. Are you happy with where we’re at in the vaccine roll-out? That’s kind of what I’m hearing, you’re happy.

PRIME MINISTER: No, I’m not happy with where we’re at right now. That’s why we’ve been turning it around over these last few months. That’s why I put Lieutenant General Frewen in to bring the whole of government process together to ramp up those vaccination rates. And that’s exactly what we’ve seen. You know, in the last month, we have tripled the level of double dose vaccinations in the country. We tripled it …

MCCORMACK: We should have been there months ago, shouldn’t we? Or was this the plan to be at this rate at this time?

PRIME MINISTER: At this time of the year, we’re about two months behind where we’d hope to be …

MCCORMACK: Is that good enough?

PRIME MINISTER: Two months behind where we’d hoped to be and where we’d plan to be …

MCCORMACK: Two months is a long way to be off when half the country is in lockdown, isn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER: And that’s why and we’ve been picking up that pace over these last few months. I mean, there are things that happen within your control and things that happen out of your control …

MCCORMACK: But if we were on time and you’d done this roll-out properly, wouldn’t it have prevented the lockdowns potentially?

PRIME MINISTER: You’re assuming that the vaccination programme wasn’t impacted by three million doses not turning up from overseas, that wasn’t in the government’s control. You’re assuming that the advice that was made about the AstraZeneca vaccine didn’t slow down the vaccine roll-out, of course it did, that we had to adjust after that, and we had to adapt the programme, and we had to speed it up and we had to bring forward doses of Pfizer, which we’ve done. And we’ve turned it around over these last few months. And we’re now hitting the marks we needed to hit to get to the end of the year…

MCCORMACK: I’m sorry to interrupt, Prime Minister, but what really slowed us down in the first place was not ordering enough Pfizer back in November.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, everybody’s wise in hindsight, but remember, the Pfizer vaccine also had to go through approvals and we didn’t shortcut those approvals. I mean, many other countries, they rushed those approvals through. In Australia …

MCCORMACK: But it is a race now, you’ve conceded that. All right, Prime Minister …

PRIME MINISTER: We’re going as fast as we possibly can, and we’ve really turned that around. And that’s the encouragement I want to give to people listening in. I mean, yes, we have had problems with the programme. No one’s denying that. But you’ve got to focus on where we need to go now and what we’re doing now. I mean, as I said. We’ve tripled the portion of people with double dose vaccinations in one month.

MCCORMACK: Prime Minister, I’d like to move on because we don’t have much time, Prime Minister I have a question from a Hack listener. She’s a student on Youth Allowance, a hospo worker. She can’t go to her job right now. Prime Minister, Ali wants to know why isn’t she and others on Youth Allowance eligible for the COVID disaster payment?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, those COVID disaster payments aren’t designed to replace someone’s income …

MCCORMACK: But Ali is someone who would usually work, now can’t, she has to survive on 250 bucks a week.

PRIME MINISTER: And equally, someone who was previously working full time and getting an average wage is actually, with the COVID support payment, obviously getting a lot less income than they were than when they were working. And so when you’re going through a lockdown or these …

MCCORMACK: Sorry, you’re not answering the question. Someone like Ali is working. She isn’t working. Sorry. She’s surviving on two hundred and fifty bucks a week.

PRIME MINISTER: And that’s what the support payment that she’s on through the Social Security system is …

MCCORMACK: Is that enough? Usually she would top it up with work.

PRIME MINISTER: What I’m telling you is that the government isn’t replacing everybody’s income. What the government is doing is providing some basic income support for those who aren’t on the Social Security system, who don’t get any support from the government. And they’ve had their wages completely gone or reduced, massively, compared where they were before. And this helps them tide them over. It’s not designed to completely replace the wage you were getting before or the income you were getting before. It’s designed to try and help people through what is a very difficult time.

MCCORMACK: All right, Prime Minister, let’s move on. We’ve been talking about the pandemic and COVID. For young people, an even bigger threat is climate change. Why haven’t you committed to net zero emissions by 2050?

PRIME MINISTER: We want to achieve that as soon as possible. And what we’re doing now …

MCCORMACK: Would you like to commit to it now?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we are working on a plan as to how that could be achieved, because in Australia, people like to know what it will cost and how you’re going to get there. And that’s why we’re investing $20 billion in the technologies that can help you get there…

MCCORMACK: That commitment would mean a lot, Prime Minister. We’re lagging behind.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, no, we’re not, actually, because 20 per cent reduction in emissions is outstripping what’s happening in New Zealand and Canada and the United States and so many other countries, see what …

MCCORMACK: I’m sorry Prime Minister, young people want to know, why haven’t you committed yet to 2050 reducing emissions to zero by 2050? It’s a simple question.

PRIME MINISTER: Before I make a commitment, I have a plan to achieve it and I …

MCCORMACK: So is it not achievable yet?

PRIME MINISTER: I want to tell people how much it will cost them and what it means for their jobs and what it means for your regional listeners and the industries that they rely on and depend on for their jobs and their incomes and their futures. We want to achieve, I’ve said very clearly, we want to achieve Net Zero. Net Zero is going to happen into the future. It’s going to change the way the economy works, it is going to change the way technology works. And the way we get there is with technology. That’s why we’re investing $20 billion, but 20 per cent reduction in emissions is what we’ve achieved there and I think that’s really important for people to know. We’ve got the highest rate of rooftop solar take-up in the world and renewable investment…

MCCORMACK: I’m sorry to interrupt again, this one is really important to my listeners. When you last came on Hack in 2019, you said, I have made youth suicide my priority. Do you feel like you achieved that goal to make suicide stop?

PRIME MINISTER: It absolutely is our priority and continues to be and that’s why we invested $2.3 billion in the national suicide prevention plan that we’ve been brought together as …

MCCORMACK: Prime Minister, throwing money at critical care is one thing, but demand is outstripping supply.

PRIME MINISTER: I’m not talking about critical care. I’m talking about the expansion of headspace.

MCCORMACK: Yeah, they’re rocking up to headspace and being met with 8 week waiting times.

PRIME MINISTER: I’m talking about dealing with the causes of anxieties and pressures that are happening on people with young families, those who are going through school and dealing with challenges early in their life and how they can adjust and have strategies to deal with that. That’s what our plan is to …

MCCORMACK: Prime Minister, we’re about to hit the news. Will you come back on Hack before you call the next election?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, well, we’ll see how we go.

MCCORMACK: See how we go. We would love to have you back, Prime Minister, thanks for your time today.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much Ange, good chatting.

MCCORMACK: Thanks. That’s the Prime Minister there, of Australia.