Interview with Gareth Parker, 6PR

05 Oct 2021
Prime Minister

Gareth Parker: Mr Scott Morrison joins me on 6PR Breakfast. Prime Minister, good morning. 

Prime Minister: Good morning, Gareth. Great to be with you.

Parker: Thank you very much for your time. A new treatment for COVID-19 today. Still experimental. Is that correct?

Prime Minister: Yeah, it is. It's still a couple more months in the US for the trials that they're having, but they're very, very promising. It's a new drug. It's called molnupiravir. Don't try and spell it. It's like all of these drugs it would be great if they came up with some easy names, I've got to tell you, but it's a tablet form. It's 10, a course of 10 tablets. We've got 300,000 of those courses on order. And to put that in perspective, you know, there's been about 113,000 Australians who have contracted COVID in the last two years. So it's a significant order that should definitely deal with the challenges that we have. And that's on top of the existing treatments, which is sotrovimab and remdesivir, which you get in hospital. These treatments with tablets means you'll be able to have them at home, be able to get them in a prescribed form with the prescription from your pharmacist, which means you won't have, hopefully won't have to go to hospital. That's what it should reduce significantly. But I stress it's no substitute for the vaccine. The vaccine is what you need because that's what will reduce your likelihood of ending up in ICU by 86 per cent. So get vaccinated. But in the cases where people may contract COVID in the future, this will be an important treatment which will reduce the severity of that illness and the impact on our hospitals. 

Parker: So is it fair to call this another line of defence? 

Prime Minister: Oh, absolutely. Just like the two treatments that we have now, but it's an even more effective one because it can get out and about right out into the community. You know, we don't have the issues of refrigeration, cold chain storage, all of that that was, you know, originally present with the Pfizer vaccine. So this really does spread our ability to to reduce the impact of COVID where people contract it. But the best way to ensure that's the case is that people get vaccinated, but that becomes another line of defence and both on our hospital system. But of course, ensuring that people don't suffer serious illness and it all adds up to one thing - living with COVID. This is what living with COVID looks like. 

Parker: Right. I just want to ask you about the point about getting vaccinated because it is just a fact. It is a fact that in this state, we are the slowest to get vaccinated in the nation. 48 and a half per cent fully vaccinated, 66 per cent first dose, both significantly behind the national averages. Does that concern you?

Prime Minister: Well, it does, but I think the primary reason for it though Gareth, is that there's been so little COVID in WA. I mean, where the vaccination rates are highest like in New South Wales, that's where they're in lockdown. And so, you know, people obviously want to get out of lockdown, and so there's a big incentive to go and get vaccinated. And so it's important that there are these clear, you know, encouragements that people can see them getting their lives back from getting vaccinated. That's an important part of the incentive and living with COVID and being able to travel again, not just overseas, but indeed around the country. And I know that's what everybody would like to see happen ultimately in Western Australia. But they also don't want to go through the process of lockdowns and other things like that, should COVID become, get into the community in Western Australia. So the Western Australian situation, I think, is quite different to the rest of the country. I acknowledge that. Something I acknowledge with the Premier all the time. But the ultimate goal where I think we both want to get to is a place where you know, people can get their lives back, and that means being able to connect with the rest of the country and the rest of the world. 

Parker: So should the Premier here, Mark McGowan, set a date to say, look, this is the date that we're working towards to reopen borders as something to drive that vaccination rate? Get it happening sooner? 

Prime Minister: Well, the national plan sets out that when you hit 80 per cent, these things are possible and that's what should be the focus. Getting to a level of vaccination, I mean, there's no magic in a date, but there is real medical support for achieving an 80 per cent vaccination rate. 

Parker: You might never get there though, the dynamic I think, is correct in that there's no COVID. So people are, you know, they're not in a rush to go and get jabbed because there's no COVID and becomes a circular argument. 

Prime Minister: Well, we are seeing the vaccination rates rise in WA, not as quickly as in other states, but I think we will see them continue to rise and we want to do whatever we can do to support the state government and in the work they're doing. We're, of course, doing the work directly ourselves as well in WA, and we want to see those vaccination rates keep lifting. But it is true, until you can get to 80 per cent, the risks involved of opening up to international travel and all of those sorts of things, you know, will be real. It's true that people in Sydney and quite possibly Melbourne will be travelling to Bali by Christmas. But no one in WA. 

Parker: Has Mark McGowan ever given you any indication about the capacity of the West Australian hospital system to live with COVID once it is circulating in the community, have you had those discussions with him?

Prime Minister: Yeah, we have them, we have them all the time and in particular at national cabinet. But this has been one of the most important items, if not the most, on our agenda for many, many, many months …

Parker: And so is he giving you any indication that he's worried about our ability to cope?

Prime Minister: Well, of course there are concerns, but that's why you do the planning, and that's why all states have been doing that. I mean, New South Wales will be going into their peak period very, very soon, and they're coping well. Victoria, the same. All states need to prepare and plan for it. It does put pressure on the system for a period, and then it peaks and then it moves, it moves away. We've pumped a lot of money into the Western Australian hospital system. We've increased our funding to WA hospitals by 72.8 per cent over the course of our government. Now that compares to an increase from the WA Government by around 18.4 per cent. And you also know that we've through the GST deal, which I can assure you as Prime Minister, it's the deal I did. It's the deal I put together, both as Treasurer and Prime Minister. And it's a deal that sticks and that's pumped almost $5 billion extra into the WA budget to ensure that they can deal with these priority issues. So I have no doubt that the Premier will direct it to those priorities and ensure that his hospital system will stack up. 

Parker: Dominic Perrottet could be well, Premier of New South Wales today. Does that mean that the GST issue is back on the table? He'd like it to be.

Prime Minister: No. The deal is done. It's ended. It's not something I'm revisiting. I mean, I was serious. I believe WA wasn't getting their fair share of the GST. I was absolutely convinced by that argument when I was Treasurer and set about fixing it. And as Prime Minister, I ensured that it happened. And WA is almost $5 billion so far better off because of that decision. And the one person you can trust to keep a deal is the one who did the deal, and that's me. 

Parker: Is Gladys Berejiklian going to find a home in the federal parliament, do you think, even though she's under this ICAC cloud? 

Prime Minister: Well, those issues obviously are the priority to work through, and it's terribly devastating that she took that decision. I think people in New South Wales would very much like her to be continuing on in the role that she was doing. And sadly, that process led to that outcome. And but she's got a lot left more to contribute. Absolutely no doubt. And I know Gladys very well. We've known each other for a very long time and she's very dedicated to public service and I know that she'll want to keep serving. And so if there's an opportunity to do that, then I'm quite sure she'd want to find a way to provide that service. Doesn't necessarily need to be in an elected office or something like that. But if that's what she'd like to do, then I'm sure there'll be plenty of opportunities. 

Parker: There's an election due sometime between now and May, are you expecting to be able to campaign on the ground here in Western Australia? 

Prime Minister: Well, it's not really up to me, is it? That's up to the WA Premier as to whether he opens the borders or not, to anyone from the eastern states and their decisions that he'll take in WA's interests. And I understand that. I know what the powers are, they’re his, but I also know that we want to be able to bring the country together and open up safely and stay safely open. That's what the national plan is about. The situation in WA is quite different to the rest of the country, and I've always got that about WA. I mean, it's very different to all the other states and territories. And that's why I think the Premier and I've, you know, in almost all cases have worked very well together. You know, we come from different sides of politics, but we've always managed to be able to get stuff done. 

Parker: Prime Minister, thank you very much for your time this morning. 

Prime Minister: Thanks a lot, Gareth. Good to talk to you.