Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

07 Sep 2021
Prime Minister

KIERAN GILBERT: Ashleigh, thank you very much. Prime Minister, appreciate your time today. We’ve seen a fair bit of flack for you, in terms of your trip to Sydney for Father's Day. I want to start with that before we get to matters in relation to the pandemic. Can you understand why some people look at that trip and think it's unfair, given many families were unable to catch up on Father's Day themselves? 

PRIME MINISTER: I can understand people's frustration, but I do think that there has been a lot of misinformation about this. I mean, I live in Sydney. I often have to be here for work. There was no requirement to get an exemption to go to Sydney. Like all members of parliament, the parliament session ended on Thursday. I had further meetings here with National Cabinet on Friday and I returned home. There was no exemption required for me to return home, as I do on any occasion that I do have that opportunity. The exemption I require is to come back here to the ACT. And as Prime Minister, of course, I need to come back to the ACT to have various meetings, there's very secure information that I can only receive directly, access to individuals. 

It's an important part of my job to be in Canberra and I'll be heading back home this weekend as well. And later in this week when I'm no longer required to be here in the ACT. So the issue is about having exemption to being Canberra. Members of Parliament have all gone back and I went back to my home like they all did. But it requires me often to be back here in Canberra more often than other ministers. These arrangements have been in place with the ACT to enable ministers, whether it's myself, and indeed, if the Leader of the Opposition is required to be here in Canberra, they would get, they would get similar treatment. 

GILBERT: But it's isn't about the fact that so much of the nation, so many of us are doing it tough in terms of not seeing our dads, our granddads. And yet you're talking about moving between two places that are in lockdown and you were able to because of your position? 

PRIME MINISTER: All Members of Parliament and particularly those who have special responsibilities in Canberra, just like essential workers need to be able to leave their home and go and work in their workplaces. And they have to be subject to testing, just as I'm subject to testing here, just as other members, ministers and others have had to be here in Canberra going back to last year's lockdown in Victoria. I mean, the government still needs to function and we return home when we're able to return home. That hasn't happened that often this year, I've got to tell you. But, you know, that's the nature of the job and we all accept that. But the suggestion that somehow this was an unusual arrangement for members of parliament, indeed ministers, well that just wouldn't be true. 

GILBERT: Bill Shorten, the Labor frontbencher, says that you've been guilty of appalling judgement on this. What do you say to that sort of criticism? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's a bit of a cheap shot, to be honest. I mean, Bill knows full well what these rules are. In fact, he took advantage of them. Three weeks- he went home and spent the last three weeks rather than being in parliament because he could return to Victoria. Now, he chose not to come back here to Canberra for the parliamentary sittings. My ministers stayed here, bar one who had particular family reasons to still remain where they were. But, you know, we got on with that job. I mean, Bill knows that. Bill knows that the Prime Minister needs to go backwards and forwards between these places to do the work. He understands that secure documents, secure discussions that need to be held. So he knows all of that. And so, frankly, it's a bit of a cheap shot, particularly given the leader of the Labor Party and I, you know, both understand these arrangements and don't take issue with them. So, you know, it's just cheap politics. 

GILBERT: When you look at this broader issue, though, you were asked about the NRL families. I know it's a very different matter, but I guess the perception amongst many is that there's double standards. If you know the right people, you get special treatment. And you were asked about them on 4BC, about those families from the NRL, about cricket teams getting exemptions while people who are grieving family members and so on aren’t. And you said, "well, I share people's frustration about that. No doubt about that." That's what you said last week. 

PRIME MINISTER: That's right. 

GILBERT: Aren't we seeing another episode of people being frustrated by double standards? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, if I brought my family here to Canberra outside those rules, I would understand that. But I haven't done that. My family has remained in Sydney in lockdown. I haven't brought them here to Canberra. There has been no special rules or exemptions provided to my family. They've remained there and they've remained separated from me for quite a long period of time. And when the rules enable me to come back to Canberra, having returned home, then they're the rules, as the ACT Chief Minister himself has set out today. So my family has received no special rules. As Prime Minister, I have a job to do. I'm doing that. It also requires me to be here. 

GILBERT: You're also being accused of of not being upfront about it with the Instagram post on the day. For our viewers who aren't familiar with it, it was a post, a very nice photo of you and Jenny and the kids, but it was from many months ago. And the argument is that you were trying to be misleading about that and not being up front, that you did actually go to Sydney for the day. What do you say in response? 

PRIME MINISTER: I think that's very cynical. I mean, the only official engagement I had on the weekend was the South Australian State Council of the Liberal Party, which I beamed in from Kirribilli House from a very, you know, publicly recognisable office in Kirribilli. And there are journalists who were there in South Australia who saw those images. 

GILBERT: So you weren't trying to cover it up then?

PRIME MINISTER: No, of course not. I mean, you know, in politics, people like to take a lot of swings at you and you get pretty used to that. But sometimes those jabs can be low blows. 

GILBERT: Are you confident that Sydney and New South Wales is up to it in terms of hospital capacity with the numbers we're seeing. Already ICU is under strain in terms of personnel and so on, is it up to it? 

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, that's the advice we're getting. And I speak regularly with New South Wales, as does Professor Murphy and Greg Hunt. I mean, of course, it's going to come under pressure and parts of the system are under more pressure than others. And so the workforce, the systems are being optimised to deal with that pressures. They've done very good modelling on the peaking of cases and then the peaking of what the pressure will be on the hospital system. And that's very important. And I think the Premier's been very clear that she's expecting those peak demands on the system to occur in late October after the peak of cases has actually occurred. So they're planning for it. They're preparing for it. Will it come under stress? Of course it will. Of course it will, as it has all around the world. But this is part of our passage through to live with this virus. And that's the challenge all states and territories will have. You know, if we want to move forward and live with the virus, this is one of the things we're going to have to pass through. And that's why under the national plan, the preparation of the hospital system and the public health system to deal with cases which will inevitably arise …

GILBERT: But particularly about the personnel levels, though, are you are you being reassured that we have the people? Because I know the ventilators are there, that the beds are there, but do we have the right people there?

PRIME MINISTER: That is the right challenge to be looking at. I mean, yes, the beds and the bricks and mortar and all of them and the ventilators and we've done very well on all of that. And the management of the workforce is the challenge. And that's why the private hospital system agreement that we put in place as a federal government, which has already freed up 300 nurses to support the system and further support is provided. The other key thing is this Kieran, and that is moving into a different phase about how you isolate close contacts. Now, currently, you know, your furlough and have, we have in the past furloughed large sections of the health workforce because they've been close contacts to cases. Now, when they're double vaccinated, the need for that disappears. 


PRIME MINISTER: And so you can take greater advantage of the movement and the scale of your workforce because they are vaccinated. That is a great advantage we have this time round and dealing with this pressure on the system than we did, say, last year. 

Now, I remember last year dealing with the Victorian crisis. That was a major problem both in aged care and within the public health system because there wasn't a vaccine. And so you had to isolate health workers. This time around, the vaccine gives us that added strength in the system. Now, I'm sure the Premier will tell you the same thing. We're not thinking it's not going to be without its challenges. It is. But they're up to it and they're planning for it. They're readying themselves for it. And all states and territories need to be engaged in the same process. Now, I know Victoria is, I've had those same discussions with Premier Andrews at National Cabinet. We have just put- this has been on the agenda every single week as we're seeking to prepare. 

GILBERT: On Daniel Andrews, you mentioned him, because just a few moments before we began this interview, he had a red hot crack at the federal government after the reports that Victoria received less than what they should. And it's a similar sentiment coming from other states, Queensland amongst them today after data was reported by the ABC showing that Sydney got more than its fair share, more over and above the amount that had been declared. Daniel Andrews says "Gladys Berejiklian is in a sprint, they're in an egg and spoon race" because they've been dudded, essentially. What do you say to that? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don't share the view. I mean, Victoria had doses brought forward in their case as well on two occasions. In their first crisis that they had and which they were able to come out of. And when they were hit again, we brought forward doses for Victoria. 

On top of that, four million doses coming from the United Kingdom, half a million that have come from Singapore, and another half a million that were able to get from Poland, which was shared right across all the states and territories, excluding New South Wales. New South Wales got the 500,000 because I made it very clear you might recall going back, I think it was June or early July, sorry, in July. And the argument was being put forward that New South Wales should take doses from other states. Well, I'll tell you who said no to that. It was me. It wasn't the states and territories ... 

GILBERT: So nothing? There's been no underhanded arrangement with New South Wales?

PRIME MINISTER: It was me, because I wasn't going to have doses moved from other states to New South Wales. I went out and got more doses from Poland and that's where the additional doses …

GILBERT: Mr Andrews says he's been blindsided by this, that they weren't aware of these ...

PRIME MINISTER: Well I don't share his view. What we need to get on and do is vaccinate. Now, when I often refer to Tasmania, now Tasmania, South Australia, both states that have had, in fact, they didn't get the bring forwards that Victoria got that Queensland got that New South Wales got. But their vaccination rates have been in many cases higher, particularly in Tasmania's case, ACT's the same. They haven't had any bring forward of doses. And theirs is one of the highest in the country, Northern Territory also. So what we all need to get on and do, we've just gone from four and a half million MRNA doses, Pfizer doses, to nine million in one month. That's all been delivered not by state governments, by the federal government. And we're getting it out to all of them and we look forward to getting them into arms.

GILBERT: Have you got any other pipelines for other deals like that? [Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: We're working on some other issues, but the, the crunch time was this month, and that's why the UK deal, the Polish deal, the Singapore deal were so important ...

GILBERT: There might be other deals coming [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER: … because, because it got them in this month. Now, next month, you know, we've got 11 million mRNA doses next month …

GILBERT: Gotcha.

PRIME MINISTER: … and the month after that. So, the real crunch was on this month, which we've been able to alleviate. Now, what does that mean? It means we've been able to effectively pull forward the supply, the supply constrained period by a month.

GILBERT: But, then you see the likes of Craig Kelly with his interventions. He's a, he's a public health menace, isn’t he?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, I’ve no time for anything he's saying, and I'm not going to give him anything he's saying any publicity. I suggest you don’t [sic] do the same.

GILBERT: Well, can you reign him in?

PRIME MINISTER: He doesn’t, he’s not in my party. 

GILBERT: I got a, I got a text message this morning from him. It is annoying me, I'm sure it's annoying many around the country with this misinformation, the anti-vax rubbish. Why, why don't you say, ‘I won't accept his vote in the House of Representatives’?

PRIME MINISTER: It, what he's peddling is rubbish and it's dangerous. We don't support it and he does not sit in my Party Room.

GILBERT: You talk about the reopening, that we're going to come out of this together. But, WA says 90 per cent vaccination. Queensland wants kids vaccinated. Tassie, ACT want around 90 per cent. We're not really going to come out of this together, though, are we?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, I think that a lot is being said now, but let's, let's be clear about what the plan says. When you get to 80 per cent, what it says is domestic restrictions on vaccinated persons should be lifted. We're not talking about willy-nilly movement of people who are unvaccinated around the country. We're not talking about planeloads of COVID going from one state to the next. That's a nonsense. That's not what is under contemplation …

GILBERT: So, there’ll be different paces, is it?

PRIME MINISTER: … And I don't, and I don’t think any premier thinks that's the case. We're going to have some states that go into 70 and 80 per cent with low levels of cases. Good, good. And, what the Doherty modelling shows is that for those states, the restrictions that are needed once you go into 70 and 80 per cent, are much, much less than what needs to be in place in cases like New South Wales and in Victoria, where the caseload - and, oh arguably in ACT, but their case numbers are becoming more under control - in those two states - in New South Wales and Victoria - when you go into 70 and 80 per cent, well, obviously they won't have the same level of of eased restrictions that you'd see in Western Australia or Queensland. So, I've accepted and we all know, we all understand every state is coming from a different place. But, this is where we need to end up, Kieran. To enable Australians to travel again, overseas, vaccinated Australians, for vaccinated Australians to come to Australia, for people to be able to move around, then home quarantine needs to work. And, the QR code readers that the states have, they need to work to be able to show whether someone has been vaccinated or not. Now, we're working with the states and territories to enable that. In New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia they have very good systems that can accommodate that.

GILBERT: Is that just for travel or you thinking for sporting events, restaurants, across the board?

PRIME MINISTER: All of the above, because as you know, any venue, any venue, any pub, any cafe, any restaurant, any shop can, has every right under Australia's property laws to be able to deny entry to people who are unvaccinated.

GILBERT: Like a vaccine passport?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they have that right to be able to deny that. And, so, the QR code reader can be used as a way of just, so it's easy for people, you just go in like you normally do right now …


PRIME MINISTER: … and it will show whether you're vaccinated or not. Now, for premises that are allowing unvaccinated people in, it also helps us because when they log in and we know they are unvaccinated, they’re the first people we're going to call, for their safety. So, these QR code readers that tell people whether you're vaccinated or not are actually helping those who are unvaccinated as well, where they're allowed to go to places.

GILBERT: Do you want to see these sort of certificates, though? Effectively, it’s, they’re passports, essentially?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's not how I refer to them. What I refer to them, people have certificates of vaccination. I have one. We all have them. Of course, we have them for many other things as well. And, you're going to need them for international travel as well. But, for international travel to work, we need home quarantine done, and I'm very encouraged by what we're seeing in South Australia and the technology trial that's underway there. New South Wales going down a same path. In Western Australia as well, they've been working with an app for some of their domestic-based home quarantine, which has been quite effective. Home quarantine is where we go next. And, the length of that quarantine also was what we're looking at. Now, I'll be following up last Friday's meeting with the premiers, writing to them, looking to get some timetables about their introduction of home quarantine.


PRIME MINISTER: Also, following up this issue of the integration of our technology that can enable fully vaccinated theatres, fully vaccinated events, you know, a Bluesfest which is fully vaccinated. So, these events, people can get back on stage, restaurants can get back and open their doors to their patrons and be able to operate under much less restrictions. But, those two things have to be enabled by, you know, the integration of that technology on the QR code reader app that people have at a state level. And, secondly, for people to be able to leave the country if they're vaccinated and return, to lift the caps on airports for people returning back from overseas, home quarantine needs to be at scale and needs to be tested and ready. And, that's what's happening now, and that's what I'll continue to push to open the country up, because that's what enables the national plan.


PRIME MINISTER: I’m now, I'm focused on the things that are going to enable the implementation of that national plan, and home quarantine does the job.

GILBERT: Two very important issues I want to wrap up our discussion with, and I start with the ‘shadow pandemic’, as Pat McGorry calls it, the mental health crisis.


GILBERT: Hundreds of kids in Melbourne alone being admitted to hospital every week. Do we have to start - and I know you've invested a lot in it, in the Federal Government’s invested a lot of dollars - but state officials, media, everyone, do we have to increasingly focus on the cost of the restrictions, because it is a tragedy we’re seeing?

PRIME MINISTER: Of course, of course. I mean, a lot has talked about the cost of the lockdowns, obviously, on small businesses and livelihoods, and that's devastating. But, the mental health toll on Australians from these lockdowns is to the point of unbearability. And, it is, it is affecting in some states even worse than others, particularly those who’ve been through more lockdowns, and I have no doubt the premiers are very aware of that. I'm in regular contact with Pat McGorry. He's one of my most important sources of counsel on these issues, as he has been for many, many years. And, that's why we’ve poured the resources in. And, can I tell you, there are a lot of heroes in the pandemic, but those who are on the other end of the phone - on Lifeline, Kids Helpline, Beyond Blue, the Butterfly Foundation - we've seen, you know, a surge in some disorders over the course of, particularly amongst young people. This terrifies every parent. But, this is the urgency that should be, you know, pushing us on to implement the national plan. 

Lockdowns will do more harm than good once we go past 80 per cent. Seventy per cent gives us the opportunity for the soft opening, to ease into that 80 per cent. There's no freedom day. That's not what this is about. This is about a smart, science-based way to ease-in to that living with the virus stage above 80 per cent. We're making great progress on it. The vaccines are there, the supply is there. Please come forward, everyone, and get that vaccine. Your second dose of AstraZeneca for those over 60, your first as well, continuing. But, those vaccination rates amongst our older population now, which I now include myself, is, you know, they're going very, very strong, and that provides a layer of protection. And, the kids - September 13, 12 to 15, they get to have those vaccinations as well. That's an, also a very important part of the plan.

GILBERT: Now, as we speak, the Women's Safety Summit is in to day two.


GILBERT: The Gillard National Plan, ten years ago, 2011 was when it began. It's not seen, well, it’s, basically what we've seen is sexual violence rates go up since then. How will your plan be any different? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, first of all, the goal is to end that violence. It's an even more ambitious goal. It's a bit like, you know, when we adopted the suicide prevention goal, and we all understand that these remain big challenges. But, you have to go for the, for the absolute outcome and use every effort. Now, I know that Julia Gillard's plan was the best of intentions plan, just as mine will be. And, we invested in the Gillard plan over all those years in a bipartisan way. 

What I want to see, Kieran, is just us continue to deal with this in a, what I said yesterday, an a-partisan way. There should be no politics in this at all. This should just be about supporting the services and the resources that are needed, not just at a Commonwealth level but at a state level as well. And, that's what the national plan does. It brings all of those governments together, all of those agencies together. Now, we have put down $1.1 billion on women's safety alone. That's the biggest investment in a national plan there has been. But, I described it as a down payment. The scale of this problem, like so many others we're dealing with - mental health challenges we’ve just talked about, national suicide prevention, mental health more generally in the population, aged care, national disability. These are all big problems that we are solving, but they're tough and they're complex. And, you know what, I think the Australian people understand there are not simple answers to this. They know because they live with these problems. They know the complexity of what contributes to it, and they know how hard it is to to unravel and solve those things, often in their own lives, let alone trying to do that at a national scale. So, I think there is just a, an absolute momentum of dealing with this, and I think what we have to do in this, Kieran, is start accepting each other's good intentions in this. No one has a mortgage on good intentions when it comes to dealing with these very difficult issues. We all come to the table trying to do our best. We, you know, it's like on Closing the Gap and dealing with Indigenous disadvantage. I think one of the reasons we've been able to push forward in some of the things we've done there over the last few years, is we've stopped, we've stopped this process of trying to judge each other's intentions and motives. You know, we're all just trying to do the right thing here.

GILBERT: Prime Minister Scott Morrison, appreciate it.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot, Kieran.