Interview with David Penberthy and Will Goodings, FiveAA

21 Jul 2021
Prime Minister

HOST: Prime Minister, good morning and thank you for joining us.

PRIME MINISTER: Very happy to be with you, boys.

HOST: PM, look there’s no doubt there has been a significant negative shift in the perception of your Government, the perception of your leadership, the perception of your management of the pandemic. We now have a situation where more than 50 per cent of the Australian population is in lockdown and just 11 per cent of Australians are fully vaccinated. Do you still think the vaccine rollout is not a race?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, no I don’t, I absolutely think we have to have the total urgency on this issue, and that’s what we’ve been applying to it. There’s no doubt that the program has had its problems in the first half of the year. But, what matters is that you fix those problems, and we’ve now peaking at around a million a week of vaccines actually done, we’re just shy of that – they were the figures that just came out yesterday. The Pfizer supply has jumped from 300,000 to a million a week, they were just being delivered just this week. We are over 10 million people, vaccines having been delivered. And, we’re on track to ensure that by the end of the year, everyone who wants to have a vaccine will be able to have it. And, that puts us from where we had hoped to be at the start of the year – when the programs were all run last year – it puts us about two months back from where we’d hoped to be. We’ve caught up several months over these last few months. Putting in Lieutenant General Frewen to bring a whole of government focus to how this was being delivered around the country has had a very big impact. And that means …

HOST: Do you regret saying that?


HOST: Because I’ve got to say, in the last month we, there’s been a huge shift. We see it with the texts we get. We see it with the calls we get. We’ve been honest on air ourselves where it, it often feels like the national urgency that you should epitomise has just not been there.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, first of all, when that was said by both Professor Murphy and I at the time, what we were talking about was the regulation of vaccines and to ensuring that the vaccines that were being used in Australia had gone through their proper approvals authorities. Now, my political opponents and others have tried to use that. And, look, that’s what happens in politics. But, the fact is, is that we have been moving with that urgency and we’ve been increasing that urgency. I mean, I don’t think Australians wanted us to cut corners when it comes to the vaccines that were put in people’s arms that affect their health. I think they would have wanted us to have followed every proper process to ensure that that was the case. And, that’s what Professor Murphy and I were referring to. So, once they were approved, we’ve been going as fast as we possibly can and getting over the problems that we’ve had, and the ATAGI advice obviously on AstraZeneca was a big problem.

HOST: Yeah, sure, sure.

PRIME MINISTER: But, we’ve been getting over that and we’re now at a million a week, just shy of that. We’ve got the supply that we’ve been able to bring forward, and we went from 10 million Pfizer to 20 million. Then we got that doubled again, from 20 to 40 million. Then we got brought forward our supply, from 300,000 a week to a million a week, and they’re getting out there. The points of presence right across the country, they’re increasing every single week with doctors, and now we’re bringing on pharmacists with the supplies. So, yeah, Penbo …

HOST: Which is all great …

PRIME MINISTER: We’ve had our problems, but we’re getting over them.

HOST: Which is great, but the reason you’ve got 12 million people currently in lockdown is because you got it so wrong in the first place.

PRIME MINISTER: No, I don’t accept that. No, I’m sorry, I don’t accept that. I mean, right now, there was no, there was under no plan was there any plan that said we’d be at 65 per cent, 70 per cent vaccination rates in this country, at no plan. There was no suggestion of that. Australia was always going to be in the suppression phase this year. I mean, right now in Singapore – vaccination rates higher than Australia – they’ve gone back into lockdown. Europe, they’re going back into lockdown. In the UK, they’re over 65 per cent – 94 people died yesterday. So, let’s, I understand that there’s great frustration. Believe me, I feel the same frustration. And, this latest Delta variant has thrown a completely new curve ball on this issue, which every single country in the world is wrestling with. Now, we haven’t got every decision right. No country has in this pandemic. But, after having saved 30,000 lives, got a million people back into work, the largest ever economic support programs – which at one point were supporting 3.5 million people in this country – we’ve got a lot of things right too, Penbo.

HOST: Do we have an issue in this country, though, Prime Minister, with chain of command? Because, it can sometimes look like the country is not being led from the top. Part of the problem is our federal system. We saw the other day some of the criticisms. Your, one of your predecessors as PM Tony Abbott made of the National Cabinet model. But, it sometimes feels like the country is not being led, and a good example of that is two weeks ago at National Cabinet you called in the state premiers and said, ’We’ve got to move beyond lockdowns,’ and here we are, two weeks later, we’re all locked down.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, no, two things there, David. First of all, the national plan is actually accelerating. The fact that vaccination rates are increasing means we’ll be able to get from this suppression phase to the next phase, I believe, sooner. So, that plan has not changed, and in the coming weeks we’ll be able to define what the vaccination rates are that enable us to get past this suppression phase we’re in, where you can get to the next one where you’re looking at hospitalisations and ICUs and that. So, that plan continues to go forward.

But, the virus writes the rules. Delta strain is is what has impacted New South Wales, Victoria and sadly now South Australia, and while we’re in that phase, then we need to use the tools that we have to try and suppress that to protect people’s health and try to preserve our economy. So, that continues.

The National Cabinet – if someone’s got a better idea than the National Cabinet, which actually gets every premier and every chief minister in the country together – on occasions, we’re meeting several times a day. We’re currently meeting every week. The issue about our federation is states are responsible for some things, Federal Government are responsible for others. My response is to get them in a room as regularly as we, as we need to get in that room to sort things out. You know, every Friday we do sort things out. Now, we’re a federation, it worked no different under my predecessors. And, we have met more often as a team of premiers, chief ministers and Prime Ministers than at any other time in the history of our federation, and that’s the only way you can work these issues through. We all have responsibilities. We’ve all got to exercise them. We all have our accountabilities. We all have to be held accountable for them, and we are.

HOST: You mentioned the path out is going to be determined in the next couple of weeks with regard to what the vaccination rate allows us to move beyond the suppression phase. Does the UK prevent, provide any sort of a roadmap out then? Ninety per cent of the adult population there have received a first shot. Two thirds of the adult population are entirely vaccinated. They’ve come out and had their freedom day. Is that a reasonable goal post for Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is why we’ve asked the Doherty Institute to inform us about what the levels of risk are at various levels of vaccination. I mean, there are few, if any, other countries I know, other than Singapore, that are actually sort of taking that scientific approach to understand the sort of rates you need and how you can match those against the restrictions that you can ease. And, that’s what we’re looking to do, that’s how we saved 30,000 lives, because we had that cautious approach when it came to how we manage things to ensure that people’s health is incredibly important.

HOST: So, we might need to go further than the UK?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’ll wait to see what the scientific evidence is on this. We’ll match that with the economic advice we get through the various treasuries and, of course, our Federal Treasury. And, we’ll also look at the health system capacity, because that’s another important factor. Because, when you’re looking at managing hospitalisations and things of that nature, you look at the strength of your hospital system. Now, that’s one of the reasons why Australia has also done very well compared to many other countries. So, what I’m saying is, it’s a not one size fits all for the entire world. You’ve got to have plans that are designed for Australia and for very specific parts of Australia. I mean, in some parts of the country, you have, you have the capacity to, you know, provide health services in a way which is different in others. We have to be very mindful of regional areas of the country – our most vulnerable communities, particularly Indigenous Australians. And, I think one of the big achievements in Australia is how we’ve been able to ensure that, particularly for Indigenous communities, we’ve been able to keep COVID largely out of those areas. I mean, that was one of our biggest concerns.

HOST: Let’s talk about regional. We want to talk to you about regional areas, Prime Minister, because quite generously a good announcement today. Commonwealth income support is on the way for South Australian hotspots. You’ve declared SA, or large parts of metropolitan SA, and some of regional SA a COVID hotspot, meaning that people are going to get payments of $600 a week. We’ve got a lot of listeners in Mount Gambier, in Ceduna, in Port Lincoln and the Iron Triangle. They’re in lockdown, too. They’re not going to derive any income over what is hopefully just a seven day lockdown. We don’t know if it’s going to be extended or not yet. Why can’t they get any assistance from the Commonwealth?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there’ll be, the Treasurer in South Australia will be making some announcements later today. The Premier and I have been working on that last night, just as I was with the Victorian Premier last week and the New South Wales Premier before that. And, in all of that, in both of those states those payments go right across the state. So, I’ll leave that to the South Australian Government to make various announcements there. But, we work together to ensure that we can deliver the support that’s necessary. I mean, just to give you an example, up in New South Wales at the moment where the lockdown has been in place, we’ve already got $187 million dollars out the door, out the door – 388,921 claims actually paid. You know, the system is actually getting the money quickly. The payments are being made at the same level as JobKeeper was in the December quarter of last year, at $600 and $375. It’s a more targeted way of getting payments to people more quickly. We’ve got about a million extra people around the country have taken on a myGov CRN, which is how you access the payment. There’ll be many people in South Australia, I have no doubt, who’ve never had to deal with Services Australia before, particularly for receiving payments. And, you go online – that’s the best way to actually process it – on the 28th of July. So, after the seven days of, after a week, you can go online, you can make the claim. If you’ve lost more than 20 hours during that period, you’re eligible for a $600 payment. If it’s eight to 20 hours – one day a week to 20 hours – then you’re eligible for a $375 payment. And, those payments have been going out the door, and probably more so, more so than any other support payment I’m aware of. And, then, of course, there’s the business challenges, and I know the State Government will be speaking to that today. And if the, if – and let’s hope it doesn’t – the lockdown goes into a longer period, then we have a national program which shares the support for business, cashflow assistance as well.

HOST: Prime Minister Scott Morrison, thanks very much for joining us FiveAA this morning.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot, guys. Cheers.