Interview with Natalie Barr, Sunrise

24 Jun 2021
Prime Minister

NATALIE BARR: Prime Minister Scott Morrison joins me now. Good morning to you. How concerned are you about the situation in Sydney? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, obviously concerned but also very confident in the ability of the NSW Government which they've demonstrated time and again in dealing with these situations. I think the restrictions they put in place are understandable and common sense, and I commend Premier Berejiklian for resisting going into a full lockdown. I think New South Wales and particularly Sydneysiders, my family is up in Sydney at the moment, going through the same thing, will do the things that are asked of them, as is always the case, I thank them for their patience. I thank them for working with the instructions of the State Government and once again, they’ll get through this like they always have.

BARR: It’s a nearly $200 million disaster for business though, off the back of a driver who was transporting international crews, who apparently wasn't vaccinated and apparently wasn’t wearing a mask. That's a real problem. Do you think those two things should be compulsory?

PRIME MINISTER: The vaccination for all those associated with quarantine work is a requirement, and the system on this occasion in these two areas, obviously that hasn't been met, and that's disappointing. But we’re talking about large numbers of people, hundreds of thousands of people have been coming through the system, and the virus is insidious and it will find those points of weakness, but I know the NSW Government will continue to double down on their processes. It's been a common issue that we've raised around the National Cabinet table, that was our first priority to get those working around quarantine vaccinated, but clearly on this occasion that was not met.

BARR: So the NSW Premier says we may not see such harsh restrictions if more people were vaccinated. I think we have about 3 per cent of Australians who have had those two doses. Why is our rollout speed so slow, and our supply so low?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’ll correct you on a couple of things. We've had two thirds of those over 70 have received their first dose, we've got about a half of Australians aged over 50 having their first dose, and more than one in four Australians aged over 16 have had their first dose. All residential aged care facilities have been provided with their first dose, and 99% have had their second dose. This week, we will hit 7 million doses, having been delivered. Obviously, early on in the program we were frustrated by two things, one was the non-delivery of AstraZeneca vaccines from overseas, several million of those in the first few weeks, and then on top of that, we’ve had two decisions from ATAGI that has significantly constrained the use of AstraZeneca now to those over 60. In the second half of the year, as General Frewen outlined yesterday, General Frewen is heading up the operation for the vaccination and we will see the doses that are available from July escalate significantly, and that will rise again in September, in October when the rest of the vaccines will become available. But obviously, the challenges around the ATAGI advice on AstraZeneca has had an impact over the last few months, but even that said Nat, 140,000 people yesterday had a dose of the vaccination, and that was a record day, so it continues to escalate and it continues to improve, and the supply continues to rise.

BARR: So, isn't it 3 per cent who have been fully vaccinated in Australia, though?

PRIME MINISTER: The reason I’d caution you in using that number is that it suggests if you've had your first dose, that you have no protection, and that's simply not true. And it would be wrong for people to think that the first dose doesn't provide you protection, because the scientific evidence shows it clearly does.

BARR: Ok, so if we go with that, we've had 6 million Australians who have had some form of vaccination. 

PRIME MINISTER: 7 million.

BARR: Ok, 7 million.

PRIME MINISTER: We’re getting to 7 million, pretty close.

BARR: Ok, so that’s great. They’ve got some form of protection. America have got, what, 140 million, they are opening up, they’re in night clubs, we got the Foo Fighters performing in New York City. We have got states around Australia closing their borders and holidays ruined, and hundreds of millions of dollars of businesses in disarray today. What are we doing wrong, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: I'd offer you this comparison. In the UK today, we have got people dying every single day. In the UK, 12,000 cases a day, we had 27 deaths yesterday. They have a vaccination rate of 81 per cent on their first dose. Now, Australia has got not one person in ICU today because of COVID. If we’d had the same fatality rate of other countries around the world similar to ours more than 30,000 additional Australians would have died. Our economy is bigger today than it was before the pandemic hit, and we’ve got more people in work today before the pandemic hit. Now, that compares favourably to any other country around the world today. I've just got back from the G7, and the world is amazed at how Australia has been able to both keep, save lives and save livelihoods. In the United States and in the UK, it has been an absolute fatal calamity. That has not occurred in Australia. Yes, will get outbreaks from time to time Nat, and we will deal with those outbreaks, but it would be a mistake to think that if you get high rates of vaccination that you won't get cases. The UK is proving the exact opposite of that.

BARR: Yeah, no you’re right. We have done so well in this country and you know the death rate has been low, and it's been a remarkable achievement. But, I guess, now people are saying how do we deal with this interstate border situation, where everything is shut down on a whim, people’s plans are thrown into disarray and businesses are suffering. Do you think there needs to be a national approach to stop what's happened overnight here?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, when you have an outbreak, the States will seek on their own decision to ensure that does not spread to other states. And that should only be done for as briefly and as necessary as possible. This is why I commend the work of the NSW Government who haven’t gone to those levels of restriction, but I would add this caution. In Australia, we don’t have the virus at the rates that we have in other countries. I mean, if we were to take those steps that seem to be suggesting, we would have to be comfortable with 5,000 cases a day. Now, I don't think Australians would be happy with that. What we are doing is we are keeping our economy growing and we’re keeping people safe and we are doing that behind international borders, and I agree with you. We should keep Australia as open as possible behind those borders, but with virulent strains that are coming out of the developing world now, as the virus goes in to the developing world, and this is what we were discussing when I was over in Cornwall. The strains are unpredictable, the variance and their impact on future vaccines and all the rest of it is unpredictable. And once you let it in Nat, you can't get it out. And I'm not going to recklessly exchange places with countries in the rest of the world who are suffering from that problem where they’ve got people dying every day. That is not happening in Australia.

BARR: Ok, on an interstate basis, what is the point of being vaccinated, when you have got people being thrown out of states, you know overnight, when they're fully vaccinated?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we know at the present time, that people who are vaccinated can still pass on the virus. What the vaccination does is it prevents you from getting a serious illness. The key figure going forward will be is how many people are suffering serious illness, and that's what we are watching closely in the United Kingdom. The reason why the United Kingdom extended out their restrictions, was despite the fact they have a high level of vaccination, they were seeing hospitalisations from the new variant increase, and so we can't kid ourselves that this virus is not unpredictable, it is unpredictable. And we learn more about it each day, but equally it mutates and it causes new strains all the time. And so we have to deal with the information as we understand it and watch the experience in other places and have to take decisions that keeps Australians safe and protect lives and protect livelihoods. If the virus was riddling through our country Nat, we wouldn't have more jobs today than before the pandemic. Our economy wouldn’t be bigger today than it was before the pandemic. The only other country that sat around that table at the G7 Plus, that could say that was South Korea. So, Australia and South Korea has been able to protect their citizens from the deadly elements of this virus, and preserve our economies. And that's what we've got to keep doing to get the balance right. But, I appreciate the border issues are incredibly frustrating, of course they’re frustrating, that's the challenge of dealing with a global pandemic.

BARR: Ok, Prime Minister, thank you very much for your time today.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot, Nat.