Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

16 Aug 2021
Prime Minister

BEN FORDHAM: Good morning to you, PM.

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Ben.

FORDHAM: How good’s Poland?

PRIME MINISTER: How good is Poland? That's, that's a very good way to put it. They've worked with us very cooperatively. I spoke to Prime Minister Morawiecki a few weeks ago when we first became aware that this, there might be a bit of an opening there. And, we've been working with them on other issues earlier in the year and last year. So, there was already a relationship, which was good. And, and look, it’s, when we needed it, and particularly when Sydney needed it. We need those extra doses for those 20 to 39 year olds in those affected local government areas of western Sydney, south western Sydney. So, they arrived last night, and all of those are now here, the ones going to Sydney. I was tracking that flight pretty carefully, I've got to tell you …

FORDHAM: I bet you were.

PRIME MINISTER: … since take off, the other night. I text the Premier as soon as I knew that it had left, because we've had a few problems in the past. And, so, this time it got out, and and here we are.

FORDHAM: I know it's obviously been a difficult vaccine rollout. You've acknowledged some of the mistakes along the way. And, there's also a bit of a gamble in which ones are going to work.


FORDHAM: Some of them had problems along the way. But, it is disappointing, isn't it, that the US was a bit useless when we were saying to them, look, you've got 26 million spare doses of vaccines that are about to expire, like Moderna and Pfizer, can we have some, and they brushed us?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, no, I really wouldn't put it that way, Ben. And, let's not forget, 700 people died in the US yesterday because of COVID. They're dealing with a veracious next Delta wave of the virus. And, they're also dealing with demands from many, many developing countries, both in their own region as well as in ours - in southeast Asia and Indonesia. And, they’ve, the vaccine bank pretty much for most of the world with the vaccines that, you know, are highly effective - Moderna and Pfizer. So, you know, they have many calls on them. So, I just focused on where we can get the outcome, and and that proved to be out of Poland. Now, we have many more coming in the months ahead. So, it was, it was more of a timing issue on this one, and and Poland was able to move immediately and we've been able to take that through. So, they're coming out of the, their, the Pfizer plant, which is actually in Belgium. And, and so these are in addition to the 40 million we'd already transacted with Pfizer and Pfizer had to sign off as well, so we worked with them. So, it’s things like ensuring the cold chain storage had been maintained, and, as of course, you'd expect it to be. And, so, those doses are there, they’re TGA approved, they're going through the state distribution system, the state hubs. That’s, we thought that was, working with General Frewen and the state authorities in New South Wales, that's the best way to get them into that 20 to 39 population.

FORDHAM: I'm guessing you're going to be angry to hear this. Obviously, we need as many jabs in arms as we can possibly get, and we're getting reports from GPs and also from vaccine clinics. GPs are saying we've now got anti-vaxxers who are booking GP appointments and they sit there in the room and read off a prepared list of questions just to waste the time of the GP, because their theory is, while you've got an anti-vaxxer in there who's never going to get the jab in the arm, there’s someone else in there who's missing out. We've also got people booking appointments at vaccine clinics and then cancelling, and the people at the vaccine clinics suspect that they're dealing with anti-vaxxers here who have no wish to get vaccinated. And, there's always a danger that at the end of the day, some of those vaccines go down the sink. Can you believe the extent that some people are going to to try and sabotage the vaccine rollout?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah I, look, I find that very disappointing. And, I find it most disappointing because I think it is disrespecting their fellow Australians. I mean, in our country, you know, we have free speech. We respect other people's opinions. But, the other thing we respect is that we don't do harm to others. You know, I mean, you and I can have our opinions and occasionally you and I will, sometimes more often than not, Ben, we might disagree. But, you know, we'll be respectful to one another, but we'll, we’ll, you know, appreciate each other and the contribution we can both make. We wouldn't seek to do something other than that. And, that's what really disappoints me about this. It is disrespecting their fellow Australians, and it's quite selfish. It's really selfish and it's self-defeating too. What I'm pleased about is more and more Australians are just ignoring all that. They're seeing it for what it is. It's, it's the views, very extreme views, and it's undermining where Australia wants to go. I mean, that does nothing for hope. The idea that you can just let this thing rip is absurd, just as absurd as the idea you can get to COVID zero. They're both extreme positions. They're both absurd. And, so, we'll just stay in the sensible centre ground here, which is where you get people vaccinated. You put in place the lockdowns that are necessary to deal with the Delta strain. The Delta strain is the game changer. That's what has really changed everything in the last few months, and it's not just in Australia. It's all around the world. So, we’ll continue to confront that by suppressing the virus and vaccinating the population.

FORDHAM: PM, what can you say to all of the people who are in lockdown at the moment, because we know that this virus is dangerous, but we also know that lockdowns are dangerous as well. They’re, they're not good for our health, they're not good for our mental health. There are so many families struggling out there at the moment. What can you say to them about the pain they're experiencing at the moment and the hope that the future hopefully will bring not too far down the track?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the hope is I think the important point, Ben, and already in New South Wales one in two people who are eligible for the vaccine have been vaccinated. A quarter of the population around the country has been fully vaccinated. We're now vaccinating across the country at one and a half million a week, and we're hitting the same per capita levels of vaccine performance that the UK was at their best during the course of their program. So, as you said, you know, we had early setbacks in the program, but we've totally turned that around, and the changes we put back in place late May, early June with General Frewen has really got that on track. And, and so that's really hitting its mark. So, that vaccination program is rolling out. The second point I'd make to them is please stay home, because frankly, there's no alternative ...

FORDHAM: But, when we say please stay home, I've raised the point this morning, I mean, we're able to leave our homes. Everyone knows that. We need to leave our homes to go and buy things, to get some fresh air, to get some exercise. Shouldn't the point be, and the main message be, don't have other people in your home, don't go into the homes of others? Because when we say stay home, stay home, stay home, people think, well, hang on, I'm allowed to leave my home, and that's completely unrealistic.

PRIME MINISTER: No, no, it isn't unrealistic. I saw Melbourne do this for four and a half months, and that's how they got on top of it …

FORDHAM: What, not leave their homes?

PRIME MINISTER: No, unless you have to, go for a walk, take the dog for a walk. But, don’t be out for hours and hours. Only go out if you actually have to, because the virus doesn't move on its own.

FORDHAM: No, no, I get that, but isn't it, isn’t it more targeted messaging to say to people, look, we know the virus spreads inside people's homes. Don't have people into your home, don't go into the homes of others, as opposed to saying stay home, when you know people have got to go outside to get some fresh air. They’re got to go and stretch the legs.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’m not saying they shouldn’t. I think they should. But, what I'm saying is, and that is an essential thing for people do, both for their peace of mind and and all of those things. What I'm simply saying is, is when you don't have to, stay home. Let's keep it simple. It's really simple. If you don't have to go out, don’t. That’s, that's the, and I wish it was a different way through, Ben. I really do. But, the Delta strain has changed all of that. And, I hear what others say, oh, you know, the lockdowns, we should never have them, and all the rest of it. I've seen what's happening in countries where they’ve followed that approach - in the southern United States and other places. It's a horror show and there's no alternative.

FORDHAM: Alright.

PRIME MINISTER: I wish it were different, but this is what we have to do to push through. And, months ahead from now, once we get to those higher vaccination rates, we will look back at this time, and for, if we've really tried to make this lockdown work in New South Wales and protected the most vulnerable in our community - in Indigenous populations, in particular, and the elderly - then we'll be thankful we did. This is the challenge, Ben, of our generation. Previous generations have gone through, they've gone through depressions, they've gone through wars, and what our challenge is, as our generation, is stay at home. 

FORDHAM: Alright. Let me ask you about another horror show, Afghanistan. We followed the US into the war there after September 11 for obvious reasons. Forty-one of our diggers were killed, another 249 wounded. Now, within three months of the Coalition withdrawing, the Taliban has taken back control of almost the entire country. Everything but Kabul has fallen, and now they're moving into that part of Afghanistan as well. I mean, what was the point?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's a very distressing situation. The point was to deny Osama bin Laden and to hunt him down, and to deny Al-Qaeda a base of operations in Afghanistan. They were the, they were the reasons we went there ...

FORDHAM: But, we got bin Laden 10 years ago.

PRIME MINISTER: And, but the fight for freedom is always worth fighting, Ben. And, this is a very difficult part of the world. It has been, it has been a vexed part of the world for centuries. And, you know, that's that's the history of this, of this terribly tragic place.

FORDHAM: So, what happens with the fight for freedom going forward, when the Taliban's in control, and, as you know, under their rule, there is no freedom, particularly for women?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, well, I'm very, very conscious of that. And, that's why, you know, we've already got out since April 430 of those Afghans, Afghans and their families who were helping Australia. They were already out; 1,800 of them we've been able to get out over the, over the last few years. And, we're still working on those who remain right now, and those operations are obviously sensitive. I’m about to go into another meeting just now on that topic, and we'll continue to work that, Ben. But, the world is a complex place and there are many challenges all around the world. Australia, on its own, obviously, can't address situations in other parts of the world. The decisions that have been taken as part of the Coalition forces that were there, well, you know, they they have their natural ends, and we moved out and we closed our embassy back in May. Well, I was criticised for that at the time, by the way, but that got Australians out safely in an orderly way. And, and we're still working on that program right now, and it's it's important that we continue to hold the Taliban to account on these things.


PRIME MINISTER: I mean, they're no friends of Australia, and we know what they're about. 

FORDHAM: I know that you say there are sensitivities around what's going to happen next. But, we just, we just honestly hope that anyone who helped us in our moment of need that they get our help, too.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, Ben, that's exactly what we've been doing, and and we've honoured that, and we, and we will continue to honour that. 

FORDHAM: We appreciate your time. You go and make those phone calls and we'll talk to you soon. 

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot, Ben. Thanks for your time.