Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

31 Jul 2020
Prime Minister

Ben Fordham: Prime minister, good morning to you.

Prime Minister: G’day Ben.

Fordham: Victoria recorded a record 723 coronavirus cases yesterday, nearly 1,000 cases linked to aged care. 57 people have died in nursing homes since the start of July. I believe you spoke to the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, last night. He seems like a broken man, and I can understand why.

Prime Minister: Well yesterday was a very disheartening day for all Australians and in particular Victorians with cases rising to those levels. There were 16 additional cases amongst residents in aged care facilities out of that more than 700 cases. There were about 50-odd cases of staff that work in aged care facilities. And that's been one of the great challenges in managing the aged care centres in those that are most critical. But I'd stress there are over 430 aged care facilities across the Melbourne area and less than a half a dozen of those have been in a very serious situation, an acute situation. It's only been a couple where we've had those very unacceptable and very distressing outcomes. And that's why we've moved quickly working together with the sector, particularly also with the Victorian Government, to avoid those outcomes again.

Fordham: There's one in Victoria called Epping Gardens, and six people have died there. It's reported today that some of the deceased were left in their beds for six hours before being collected. I suppose it's overwhelming for people dealing with this in Victoria.c

Prime Minister: It is overwhelming. And there are a couple of cases in Victoria where the centres themselves were overwhelmed. We had entire staffs that had to be stood, that were stood down as by the public health unit. And if you shut down any workplace like that, you’re going to expect there's going to be some discontinuity. And there was some terrible events that followed from that. ADF officers and nurses went into those facilities. New workforces were dragged from all over the place to get them in there. And a lot of patients were then transferred to hospitals, private and public hospitals. That's been another thing we've been doing this week. And those facilities have now stabilised my advice is, I mean, Epping Gardens was still a lot of work being done on that yesterday and overnight. I'll get another update on that in about the next half an hour. But we were heading to that stabilised position in Epping Gardens, the other things in Epping Gardens. And this is what we learnt from it. There's a big difference between Newmarch, for your listeners, and what's happening in Victoria. In Newmarch, the staff weren’t all stood down and there was a way of handling how the change over occurred so you kept some continuity of service to the residents. And so that was one of the big challenges we were dealing with there, But there wasn't a community outbreak in, around Newmarch. The way that occurred was slightly different. When you've got that level of community outbreak that you've seen in Victoria, then it gets into every workplace. And whether you're running a newsagent or, you, you're running an aged care facility, or you're running a hospital. And so the level of community outbreak and community transmission in Victoria is the, is the great challenge down there. And there's still a lot of work to do and we’re not on top of it yet. And that, they were obviously the things that the Premier and I have been discussing very regularly.

Fordham: Yeah, you've been having regular discussions and you've been helping, the Federal Government can't just intervene in Victoria off its own bat, but states have the option of referring powers to Canberra, and that's happened in the past. So if Daniel Andrews needed to do that with any element of what's going on in Victoria, the Feds would be ready to do more?

Prime Minister: Well, we're always ready to support them with all the requests they've made and to be making further offers as we constantly do. But no those sorts of things haven't been in contemplation. We've got, you know, 1,500 almost ADF personnel on the ground in Victoria supporting the effort there doing everything from door knocking, I mean, we have cases where, you know, people will doorknock and people should be at home because they've got COVID and we've found cases where people have gone to work. So that door knocking has been very important, getting directly in contact with people. That's why we've expanded it in Melbourne and the ADF are doing a great job with that. But they're also working in the ops centre. They're assisting with tracing. They're actually supporting the testing centres. There's an enormous effort being put in by the ADF and up in New South Wales, they're helping as well where, around the border control and border towns and supporting those services there. New South Wales is a very different situation to Victoria. We've got some challenges, but so they're doing a terrific job.

Fordham: Queensland is dealing with a problem there after two girls allegedly lied about being in Victoria and then went into Queensland. And the family members of one of these girls are saying the only reason they're being named and shamed is because of race as opposed to what they've done wrong. Surely there's a lesson for everyone to learn out of this. This is about responsibility, not race?

Prime Minister: Well, of course it's about responsibility. But, you know, and those actions are terribly regrettable and I hope that is a lesson to everyone else about the real dangers of how this virus transmits. I mean, sometimes I think, you know maybe people think there's a golden ticket for Australia, that somehow we're immune from it. Well, we're not. And it does require everybody to work together and exercise responsibility, because where we see the most vulnerable in the community and they are not just elderly residents, they are people going under, other health issues, people going into chemotherapy, people who have suppressed immune systems. All of their lives depend on how all of us engage and do the responsible thing and support each other to do the responsible thing.

Fordham: PM, have you got a report card for Sydney, because we're watching these cases and clusters popping up all over the place and you can understand everyone's worried. We're looking at Melbourne and we're thinking, is that where we're headed or is New South Wales Health doing such a great job at contact tracing that we're not headed down that path?

Prime Minister: Well, they are, and they really did build their capacity to do this. And the key difference is, is that in New South Wales, based on the numbers we had from yesterday, I haven't seen what they are in New South Wales for today. I mean, the New South Wales Government will make those announcements as normal, but there are no cases that have an unknown source, none. And whereas in Victoria, you've got around about 50 cases a day where there is an unknown source. And that is the real area of concern. And that's why so much effort is being directed at trying to address these issues of unknown source. So that is one of the key reasons we feel much more confident in New South Wales. I spoke to Gladys Berejiklian yesterday and she and I talk very regularly as well. And they are on that completely. But that can change. And that's why, you know, I've known Gladys a long time and she's very determined and she's very careful. And those talents and natural instincts, I think, are playing very well to ensure that New South Wales is doing very well here.

Fordham: When it comes to borders the health advice can be a bit confusing because Greg Hunt tells us, the Federal Health Minister, that the health advice is that borders can remain open. But in Queensland, they're relying on health advice to keep other states out. In New South Wales, we're relying on health advice to keep Victorians out. There are some mixed messages there?

Prime Minister: Well, there is a difference with the New South Wales Victoria border, the New South Wales Victoria border, was shut after there was a discussion between both Premiers and myself and then a plan for how that border was to operate and the health advice that led to that was shared between all of those three jurisdictions, where states are making unilateral decisions about what they're doing on their borders then they're making statements about health advice it’s for those states to explain that to the public. And what that advice is and so I'm not making a judgement about that. All I'm simply saying is that there have been two ways in which borders have been set up. One has been just directly by states and the other has been, as was shown in New South Wales, and Victoria, together with the Commonwealth.

Fordham: Have you got a phone hook up with the state leaders today?

Prime Minister: We have a national security briefing to Premiers today. It's not a normal meeting of the National Cabinet, that will be next week. So today's focus is on another topic.

Fordham: You've been focussed on not throwing anyone under the bus and making sure that they've all got support, even when there's been criticism coming the way of the Commonwealth from Victoria. You've been really conscious, haven't you, on saying, look, there's nothing to be gained at the moment by giving people grief about things you just want problems solved?

Prime Minister: Well, that's exactly it Ben. And I'm just not interested in any of the politics. And there'll be a lot of things thrown this way and that way. And, you know, there's a lot of reports that are out there, but my job is quite straightforward, and that is to work with everyone I possibly can to keep Australians safe, whether that's in Western Australia, Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales, wherever it is. And that that's what the National Cabinet has been focussed on. And those bonds there and that working relationship between all the Premiers and Chief Ministers is strong. I know there's been a few stories out and about which has tried to exaggerate some tensions. I can tell you, everyone's picking up the phone and everyone's talking to each other. Everyone's asking the questions they need to ask of each other. And where the resources are needed, we're getting them there. A good example of that, the other day, when I knew we were having problems with the aged care workforce in Victoria, I rang Steven Marshall in in South Australia. I said, Steven, mate, can you, can we get some nurses? And he said, Yeah mate, sure. And they're working in Victoria now. So people are working together, New South Wales is helping doing all the testing, sorry all the tracing now for the border towns on the New South Wales Victoria border. That really helps Victoria and it'll help South Wales so that, you know, the examples of how everybody is just getting on with it made, I think, are fantastic. They don't always get out there every time, and, you know, we might have a slight disagreement here and there that gets blown out of all proportions. But the truth is, people are just working together because that's what we're all elected to do.

Fordham: I'm sure you won't have too much time off over the weekend, but enjoy it anyway and we'll talk soon.

Prime Minister: Thanks a lot Ben, just one last thing, if you don't mind. I know that the Eid festival is coming up over the next little while and today, and it's just really important, like Jenny and I haven't had the chance to be at our church since February. And I know faith is very important to people. And but even at times like this, it's even more important that, you know, we don't gather in those large groups that, as important as faith is that we really do think of the health issues here. And I just want to encourage everybody to make positive good decisions when it comes to how they choose to celebrate their faith over this important time for that community.

Fordham: Noted. Thanks for your time.

Prime Minister: Thanks, mate.

Fordham: Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia.