Interview with Jim Wilson, 2GB

10 Sep 2021
Prime Minister

JIM WILSON: PM, good afternoon to you. 

PRIME MINISTER: G’day, Jim. Good to be here.

WILSON: Let's start with- yeah, good thank you. Thank you for your time. Let's start with the roadmap that was announced by the New South Wales Premier yesterday for this state. Once we hit the magical 70 per cent vaccine threshold, it gives us some hope, Prime Minister, and incentives to get the jab.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's right. And, then at 80 per cent again, and what the Premier has done here in New South Wales is totally consistent with that, with that national plan I set out several months ago. We'd been working on it since March of this year. It provides the way forward. The vaccinations are critical to that. It's not just all open in one day. It's a sensible, it's a safe plan. I think that's really important to reinforce, Jim. This is, this is something that’s carefully thought through. I've worked closely with the Premier on these issues and they've been thinking through, well, what does this mean for hospitalisations and the pressure on the hospital system. They've been modelling that out, getting themselves ready. And, so, you know, this is an all enabling Sydneysiders and people across New South Wales to be able to get to that next step and the one after that and the one after that.

WILSON: Yeah. Well, once we hit the 80 per cent mark, are you fully supportive of people in this state travelling overseas, even if other states haven't reached the target?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, other states will eventually get there, and most of them aren't that far behind, I should stress, and, you know, states like Tasmania and others, they've been doing really well as well. But, what's critical to make that happen is we've got to get home quarantine - that has to be operating so people who are vaccinated can go overseas and they can come back and quarantine at home. The hotel quarantine system - that won't be for those quarantine arrangements. That will only relate to unvaccinated people who are still coming back from overseas, residents, Australians and so on. But, for the travel to work, we've got to have the home quarantine in place. And, I know the Premier is working very quickly on that issue. We've had numerous discussions on that. I’ve spoken to the Treasurer about it as well. And, that's the issue that I'm currently, you know, pursuing with all the premiers and chief ministers - that we've got to get that home quarantine in place. That that means we can lift those caps for vaccinated people returning to Australia who are overseas. That means that people, more people can get home in the months ahead. And, vaccination enables that, but so does the home quarantine arrangements.

WILSON: What do you think suffices for the quarantine period at home? Does it have to be two weeks? Could it be shorter?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, at the moment it's two weeks, but that very question is one that the medical team are working on to see whether that can be altered at all, and whether that can be supported by testing, you know, in the second week, and things of that nature. So, you know, we're still working through those details and we've still got some time to make sure that that can all be worked through. But, at the moment, it's two weeks. But, and that's how it's being trialled in South Australia right now, and I know there are trials going ahead in New South Wales. So, we'll work through that. But, doing it at home means people can leave and they can come back. People who are vaccinated with the vaccines we recognise here in Australia - they'll be able to return also, and go into those those home quarantine arrangements.

WILSON: But the bottom line here, Prime Minister, is once - our listeners who are tuned into the program this afternoon - once they, once we get to that 80 per cent vaccine threshold, the prospect of flying overseas, even if other states haven't reached that point, that opportunity will be there for them?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, that returns.


PRIME MINISTER: I mean, overall, we want the average across the country to be hitting those 80 per cent marks as well. But, you know, Victoria isn't too far behind. And, so, they're the two big and most populous states, and they're they're moving ahead and they're keen to get in exactly the same place. You know, everyone around the country wants that. I mean, these lockdowns and increasingly what will be lockouts - those states that are locking the rest of the country out - they’ll they'll be locked out. It won't be about keeping others out, it’ll be keeping them in. And, that's also something that I think will cause issues going ahead. But, it'll be up to those states to join the rest of the country.

WILSON: How concerned are you about Queensland and WA? In fact, this afternoon, WA Premier Mark McGowan hardly filled his state with confidence about getting a COVID jab. I just want to play this bit of audio from from the WA Premier from early this afternoon, PM.

[Excerpt plays]

WILSON: And the WA Premier, Prime Minister, says he won't open his state to people from New South Wales by Christmas, even if they're fully vaccinated and are willing to quarantine. You must be very, very frustrated and disappointed with that stance.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let's see what happens. That's still still several months away, and I think the vaccination rates in WA will lift, particularly when they see people in, you know, Sydney and Melbourne and other parts of the country being able to travel and move around, and life is living with the virus. And, that's the future and the certainty that comes with that. I mean, Western Australians, they're outward looking people. They want to be connected to the rest of the country as well. They they want to be travelling overseas, they want to be doing all of those things. I understand people want things to be safe, but this is a safe plan. And, I think what we’ll demonstrate here in New South Wales and other parts of the country is that can be safely done. You can't, you can't go, you can't stay locked away forever. That is just not-, if not at 80 per cent, then when? Well, 85, 90, 95? I mean, you can't move the goalposts. We've done the work. We've worked out what's the safe way to do this. Other countries are doing it around the world, too. And, so it’s, you know, I think Australians just want to get on with it. I mean, lockdowns and lockouts, once you get above that 80 per cent vaccination rate, they do more harm than good. They, and we know what it's like here in Sydney. We know what it's like in Melbourne. We know what it's like in the ACT. These lockdowns, they cause a lot of harm, and and while these things may be necessary at particular points in time, and are preventing much more cases and more importantly, hospitalisations and serious illness, at 80 per cent we've got to say goodbye.

WILSON: If they don't get on board with the Doherty national model, will you withhold Commonwealth funding?

PRIME MINISTER: What do you mean - for hospitals and schools?

WILSON: Well, no, just as far as, would you, would you say to the states, for example, WA and Queensland, if you're not going to back this in, you agreed to it at National Cabinet, if you're not going to walk your talk, then we'll withhold Commonwealth funding?

PRIME MINISTER: But, withhold Commonwealth funding for what?

WILSON: Well, for projects, for infrastructure.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, no, we're not going to do that. No one's suggesting that. I mean, that wouldn't be fair to, I mean, to the citizens of Western Australia. I mean, they're Australians as well. I mean, they need those services like anybody else does.

WILSON: But, how about GST payments like the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg?

PRIME MINISTER: No, no, of course we wouldn’t be doing that.


PRIME MINISTER: That's that's not on the table. And, I mean, that's what pays for hospitals and schools.

WILSON: Ok. Well, what are your, what are your options …

PRIME MINISTER: I’m not going to punish the people of Western Australia. That would be very unfair.

WILSON: Sure. Sure. But, what are your options then? What are your options to pull these rogue premiers into line?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that that's-, the Constitution means that states, whether it's New South Wales or Western Australia, they have always had - for over 100 years - control over public health in their states, Jim. And I, there seems to be this this this misinformation. There seems to be this fantasy that somehow there's a lever I can pull here, which makes the states, you know, conform to a federal policy. That doesn't exist. And, I can guarantee you, if we went to a referendum and we asked people to take those powers away from the states, I bet the public would actually would vote to keep the powers with the states. So, Jim, I just have to deal with the reality of what our Constitution says. And, we've put a national plan together. The premiers agreed to that, including the 70 and 80 per cent marks. So, let's just see who keeps the deal and keeps the faith with the Australian people. That's certainly what's happening here in New South Wales. I believe that is also what's going to happen in Victoria. Premier Andrews has been very supportive of the national plan, as has down in Tasmania with Premier Gutwein, and Premier Marshall in South Australia. And, I've got to say, I worked very, very closely with the Chief Minister Gunner up in the Northern Territory, and they had quite specific challenges up there with remote Indigenous communities, and that's a, that’s, it's a much harder, in many ways, challenge up there because of the nature of their geography and their populations and the high proportion of Indigenous people. So, you know, we're all working together and getting it done. The rest will catch up, Jim.

WILSON: I hope so, because like there's a lot of people listening to the program who, they get that news this afternoon, they’ve got loved ones in the West, loved ones in Queensland. It’s just heartbreaking, you know.

PRIME MINISTER: I agree. I agree. That's why we put the national plan together and we set it out. Now, look, premiers and some states which have low case numbers of COVID, I can understand why they want to keep things as they are. I get that. And, I can understand why many people in those states don't want that to change. But, you can't do that and connect with the rest of the country and the rest of the world. I mean you, when, when we’re, when we weren't, didn't, you know, when we last year, in particular, and early parts of this year, when we didn't have the vaccines, well, I can understand that you'd have to take those precautions. But, borders are no match for the vaccine. The vaccine is what will protect Australia, together with common sense, low-level measures - not lockdowns - just common sense things you do. We've got to live with this virus. We've all got to live with this virus, and we've got to live together and not apart.

WILSON: Is it your aim to have a national one size fits all vaccine passport that can be used here and abroad for those of us fully vaccinated, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they’re two issues. I mean, we have a responsibility as a Federal Government, for those who are travelling overseas, to have a record of vaccination that can link to people's travel documents when they're going overseas, and we're doing that. And, that is taking place right now and that will be ready. The other issue is is having a record of vaccination for Australians, ok. And, we've been doing that for 20 years. People have records of their vaccination, and that has to be digital. It has to be real time, because over time when we get to the booster stage next year, then, you know, people will need to know whether their vaccination is current, and if they let it lapse without the booster, then their vaccination won't be authenticated. So, our job as the Federal Government is to provide a record of vaccination. What will be happening in pretty much all the states, now, they've pretty much all agreed with a couple still holding out, but we're still working together with them. Well, not, holding out is an unfair way to put it. We're just working with them to finalise the details. Everybody's used to using the QR code system, particularly here in Sydney and across New South Wales. You're going into a shop or a pub or a registered club or something like that, you scan the QR code and that provides a registration of where you are and that's being used by contact tracers. So, everybody's really used to using that technology. What will be available is that your registration, your your your record of vaccination, will have a little document number on it, and you can plug that little document number into the registration with the state government app, and that works exactly the same way.

WILSON: Ok, and what happens to the people, a lot of our listeners who might not be technologically minded. Will there be like a paper document as well?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, of course, there already is.

WILSON: Right.

PRIME MINISTER: There already is, and that's available. People can have a record of their vaccination …

WILSON: From myGov, yeah.

PRIME MINISTER: That's that’s what the Federal Government and the health system provides. How that's used is up to the state governments and individual businesses and who also have a right to decide who comes in and out of their premises. That's not a decision for the Government. That's a decision for them.

WILSON: How do you stop fake vaccine passports? Are you concerned by them?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's why we've built the technology on the record of our vaccination that these numbers ‘ping’, as they say - they authenticate back with the master database. And, so, to ensure that if someone is saying, in their registered app in New South Wales, if that says that they have an authenticated vaccination, that has proved it against the national vaccination database.

WILSON: Speaking to the Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Tomorrow, Prime Minister, marks 20 years since the September 11 terrorist attack in New York.


WILSON: I mean, it changed the world forever. Can you remember where you were on that day?

PRIME MINISTER: I can, I remember it was later in the evening, and Jen and I, we didn't, we didn't have the kids then. That was obviously 22 years ago. They're not that old. And, we were just in bed that night at home. We'd had a, you know, just a normal evening, and we'd been watching telly and it came on and we just sat there numbed, watching this unfold. It was, it was, it was unreal. It was hard to to take it all in. And, it was incredibly disturbing and distressing. You could, you could barely believe what you were seeing. And, it was one of those moments that, you know, nothing's going to be the same.

WILSON: Well, before 9/11 Australia had zero national counter-terrorism laws. Now, we have 92 of them, amounting to more than 5,000 pages of rules, powers and offences. It did change the world forever, didn't it?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it did. And, you think back, you know, we've just been through the Olympics - and you’ve been to more Olympics than most, Jim - and you’ll remember the 2000 Sydney Olympics was the last real Olympics where those sorts of issues were not as top of mind in the public's mind as they, of course, they are now. Everyone thinks about those issues now, has for 20 years. Of course, back in Sydney, they took great precautions around those issues. They weren't naive to them and they were great, successful Games. But, when we think of all these public events now, it's probably the first thing that comes to people's mind. And it, and the world did change after that. I mean, my mind often, Jim, often goes when I'm thinking, I mean, tomorrow my mind is really going to the families of those who lost people on that day and, you know, had a message perhaps on their answering machine, it would have been back then. You know, people in the towers who would have been calling to say I love you and goodbye. And, just the thought of that is just, you know, it's very upsetting. But, I think that's where our first thought should be, just the the awful human tragedy. You know, and we think back to the Bali bombing on October 12th the following year, and we think of those 88 Australians we lost that day. And, I don't know, you may have been down to that service they have every year down there on the cliffs at Coogee. I’ve been many times, and just the sorrow never goes away. And, it'll be the same for those families. There are ten Australians who were killed on that day, too, that we're aware of, and their families will be remembering it from twenty years ago. That's, it's very sad. There are a lot of other implications - terrorism, ensuring we stand with our great friend, the allies, the United States - and we stand with them tomorrow and we think of them tomorrow. But, first and foremost, I just think about the terrible tragedy that took place and so many people's lives.

WILSON: Yes, it’s absolutely shocking and so much heartbreak, and our thoughts go out to loved ones. As always, we appreciate your time, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Good on you, Jim. Cheers mate.

WILSON: Good on you.