Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW

Transcript
29 Jul 2021
Prime Minister
E&OE

Neil Mitchell: Prime Minister, good morning,

Prime Minister: Good morning Neil.

Mitchell: Thank you for your time, if we are going to be open by the end of the year, will that mean everybody has had both, is properly vaccinated with both vaccines or both shots, or just one?

Prime Minister: Well, two shots, but not everybody. I mean, there's no country in the world where everybody would ever get it. 

Mitchell: No, anybody what who wants it. 

Prime Minister: Everybody who wants it. That's the key point. And we've got to get the vaccination rates to the thresholds that are needed to to go to that next phase. And that's the next key thing we have to decide, is those vaccination rates we have to achieve to enable that very outcome. But certainly in terms of the supply of vaccines, the rate of vaccination, we're achieving now more than a million a week, almost 40 per cent of Australians have now had their first dose. And those second doses are now under the advice where you can get your AstraZeneca second dose from between four to 12 weeks and your Pfizer was already three weeks. So we will see those continue to rise in the months ahead …

Mitchell: You've got it all to do, though. I mean, if you're going to have people take AstraZeneca, then you've got about eight weeks to get the first shot into them. If they're going to get their second shot by the end of the year, they've got to have their first shot in by October. 

Prime Minister: Well, and that's why we're pleased to be seeing ... 

Mitchell: And you can do that, you reckon? 

Prime Minister: Well, we're at 196,000 a day. And that is the massively up from where we were before. And as the supply continues to ramp up and the take up continues to ramp up, then, you know, the United Kingdom was, was at 65 per cent recently, just over 70 per cent. So these are the sort of levels you're talking about to try and …

Mitchell: So how many millions of people have to be vaccinated with at least once with AstraZeneca, if possible, before October, the how many millions are still waiting? Because it's about well, you've got 31.6 with the first dose, 13.9 with the second one in there, about ... 

Prime Minister: Well, it's actually more than that now, Neil. I mean, it's 38.96 on a first dose. And we've had over 17 per cent, almost 18 per cent on a second dose. And I've got to say, Victoria is just doing a bit better than that, which is very welcome. They've had a much higher take up, particularly in state clinics of the AstraZeneca vaccine, as the Victorian Government has done a really good job with that, which has really boosted their vaccine levels. But we saw this in Canada. We've seen it in other countries that once it gets its roll on which we're really seeing now, we've really turned the corner on that programme and dealt with some of the earlier problems we've had. And it just keeps increasing from here. But it needs everybody else to cooperate, obviously, we can offer it but only people can take it. 

Mitchell: OK, but that means everybody who wants it will have had at least the first shot by October. 

Prime Minister: No, it doesn't mean that at all, Neil. You can have an AstraZeneca second dose within four weeks. 

Mitchell: Oh, so you'll bring that forward? 

Prime Minister: We already have. 

Mitchell: But you've only brought it forward because of the situation in New South Wales. Well, look, I'm not due to have my second AstraZeneca until the middle of August. Should I go and have it now? Is that what you're telling me? 

Prime Minister: Well, I'm saying is that it's under the the licence for AstraZeneca. It can be four to 12 weeks. 

Mitchell: Yeah, I know. But the advice is 12 weeks gives you maximum coverage. 

Prime Minister: But they've also said that it can happen between four and 12 weeks. Jenny, my wife, she had she brought us forward just the other week. 

Mitchell: Why? Because she's in Sydney? 

Prime Minister: Well, she is in Sydney. But I need to get the whole country vaccinated as well. And the sooner we get there, and it can be done safely …

Mitchell: So are you asking everybody to bring forward their AstraZeneca dose? 

Prime Minister: I'm just saying we should get vaccinated as soon as possible. 

Mitchell: But is that the way, do you want everybody to, Prime Minister, people are screaming for leadership on this, as you well know. Do you want everybody to bring forward their AstraZeneca dose? 

Prime Minister: Well, if they are in a position to do that, well, that that is consistent with the licence for AstraZeneca. 

Mitchell: What do you mean in a position to do that? 

Prime Minister: Well, you've got to give informed consent, one, particularly if you're under the age of 60, and that's the advice and the advice on AstraZeneca is it is an effective and it is a safe vaccine. And, you know, a lot of people have tried to put a lot on AstraZeneca. And I think they've been proved wrong. I mean, this is the vaccine, Neil, that vaccinated the United Kingdom. This is the vaccine that is the most recognised vaccine in the world and has saved millions of lives. And we have it, we're producing it in Melbourne. And it can really help us hit the targets that we want to hit. That's simply what I'm saying. 

Mitchell: When will there be enough Pfizer available for everybody?

Prime Minister: We're ramping that up to a million doses a week that's been brought forward. That will continue to increase as the weeks go forward. So ... 

Mitchell: When will enough be available? I've got people ringing me wanting it and they can't get it. When will enough be available? 

Prime Minister: Particularly when we get into September, October, November, December. The supplies increase even further, but we're already at a million doses coming in every week. 

Mitchell: Okay, so but there's not enough there yet. What about Moderna? When does that arrive? 

Prime Minister: That starts in September. 

Mitchell: Okay. And you expect people to be taking. Okay, let's lock it in. What people are looking for is some hope, some planning for the future. 

Prime Minister: And that's what we were doing. 

Mitchell: Do you reckon you can guarantee we will be open by the end of the year? 

Prime Minister: No one can give those guarantees, Neil, because the virus is unpredictable and it would be irresponsible to do so. What I can do is say that the supplies that we have, the rollout that is hitting the marks that it's hitting now is that by the end of the year, people who have wanted to have that vaccine will have had that opportunity. And how high the vaccination rate is that we achieve, that's up to all of us to come forward and get those vaccines. 

Mitchell: Now, if we do open and we've got, you know, a significant percentage vaccinated, which would be great. I agree. Peter Doherty said the other day, we'll see an epidemic amongst those who aren't vaccinated. So if people choose not to be vaccinated, is it on their head if they get sick or die? 

Prime Minister: Well, it's ultimately everybody's own personal decision about their health. If you're vaccinated, you're less likely to get it. You're less likely to transmit it. You're less likely to get a serious illness and you're less likely to die. They are four good reasons why people should get the vaccination. 

Mitchell: Does that mean we face an epidemic amongst the unvaccinated, as Peter Doherty suggesting? 

Prime Minister: Well, we're seeing this play out in other countries like the UK, and there are still people dying every day in the United Kingdom. But I'm pleased to see their numbers of cases and these are coming down. But of course, if you're not vaccinated, Neil, well you don't have that protection. And that is just a simple fact. And what that would mean is, is that particularly when we go into the next phase, not the full phase where we can get back to a lot more normal than we are certainly now, where we'd all hope to be. But the next phase, which is what we're discussing at National Cabinet tomorrow, then in those circumstances, the people who choose not to get vaccinated, well they can't expect to have the same restrictions not imposed on those who, I should say, who are vaccinated …

Mitchell: It sounds like you're talking about a vaccine passport of some sort. 

Prime Minister: No, I wouldn't use that phrase. 

Mitchell: Well, how will an unvaccinated person be treated differently? 

Prime Minister: Well, what I'm simply saying is, is if you're not vaccinated, you've made a choice and you're entitled to make that choice. If you're not vaccinated, you present a greater health risk to yourself and to others than people who were vaccinated ... 

Mitchell: Yes, but I thought you just said, they would face different circumstances? 

Prime Minister: That's just a simple fact. And those health decisions would have to be made on that basis. 

Mitchell: So what does that mean? 

Prime Minister: Well, it means that people unvaccinated, they're more at risk and would have to have more restrictions on people who are unvaccinated because they're a danger to themselves and others. 

Mitchell: What sort of restrictions? 

Prime Minister: Well, these are the things we're still working through, Neil, because we're not at that point where we have a high enough vaccination rate across the country that enables those choices to be made. But when we get to that point, I think Premiers and I have been very clear. Your own Premier in Victoria has been very clear about this, that if you choose not to get vaccinated, well, that by your own choice, that means we would have to be careful that you're not putting yourself in a position of risk of getting serious illness and fatality. 

Mitchell: Okay, so some sort of restrictions will be discussed, obviously. Well, you and I at the very beginning of this, talked about making vaccination compulsory. You said you'd look at it and then decided not to. You still have the power to make vaccination compulsory. Will you revisit that? 

Prime Minister: No.

Mitchell: Why not? 

Prime Minister: Because I think it's the wrong decision for Australia. It's just not how we do things and I believe we'll achieve the vaccination rates that are essential, that do not require that. 

Mitchell: So do you support the companies who are making it compulsory? Several companies in the States, Google, Netflix, Washington Post, Qantas is looking at it here. Do you support companies making it compulsory for staff? 

Prime Minister: Well, you can't make compulsory things that aren't able to be made compulsory under our laws. That's the first point I'd make. So any decisions that companies make have to be consistent with our laws and particularly our employment laws. And I know they would be looking very carefully at that. But I'm responsible for the decisions that we make, and the decisions that we make is that it's not mandatory. And there is only one area where that has been recommended, and that is for aged care workers. State governments as yet have not done that. So we've just got on with that job and and we're over 50 per cent first dose vaccinations for aged care workers now. But I would say in New South Wales, as we're going through the outbreak here compared to last year in Victoria, which was just so terrible, in aged care facilities we've got them all vaccinated as we have in Victoria and around the country, double dose. And that means that we haven't seen the same devastating effect in New South Wales from this recent outbreak. 

Mitchell: The, by the way, the numbers, just through, seven is today's number, the latest infections overnight, one mystery case they announced yesterday, but the other six have all been quarantining during their infectious period, which is good. We've got one …

Prime Minister: It's very good news. 

Mitchell: Yeah. 

Prime Minister: And it's great to see Victoria coming out. And during that, if you allow me just to make this point, Neil, on financial supports, just under $80 million has already been paid to Victorians, some 140,000 of them under that COVID disaster payment. Victorians will also get a second payment. And that will be made on a, it's an automatic payment and that will come through, I understand, on Friday. 

Mitchell: I'd like to get more on that in a moment. Prime Minister, just before we leave the vaccine, if you like. You've also got the power to quarantine. The State Premier here is talking about a ring of steel around Sydney, which I know has been rejected. But you have got the power to quarantine parts of New South Wales or indeed Sydney. Would you consider that? 

Prime Minister: Well, no, those powers aren't as clear cut as that, Neil, I would say. So, no, it's not as simple as that. And it is important the lockdown in New South Wales works and that the New South Wales Government ensures that that's the case. That's why we've provided every support to assist them do that with federal resources. And obviously, Operation COVID Assist, the ADF programme, which was so successfully used in Victoria. 

Mitchell: So you don't have the power under the Biosecurity Act 2015? 

Prime Minister: The way you're describing it? I don't think it's as simple as that, Neil. No. 

Mitchell: Okay. But you wouldn't want to do it anyway. 

Prime Minister: Well, Neil, it's sort of a moot point, given it's not as simple as you suggest. 

Mitchell: Look, I think a lot of people are getting frustrated by the lack of unity. Gladys and Daniel belting each other every five minutes in their press conferences. The National Cabinet does a lot of discussing, but not much else. We need leadership. We need leadership. Can you not get the New South Wales and Victorian Premier and bash their heads together and say, hang on, come on, we've all got to go the same way on this? 

Prime Minister: Well, I'd say this first, Neil. I know National Cabinet has its critics. I mean, what's the alternative? Premiers and Chief Ministers and the Prime Minister don't meet?

Mitchell: What's it achieved? Hotel quarantine? What else? 

Prime Minister: Can I tell you what it's achieved? 

Mitchell: Yeah. 

Prime Minister: We've saved 30,000 lives and got a million people back into work, Neil. Now, that didn't happen by accident. That happened by governments working together. It ensured that we had kept trucks moving. We kept planes moving. We ensured that support was delivered. We ensured that we got consistent advice coming up through our medical teams that are meeting almost every single day during the pandemic and feeding up to the leaders. Most of what happens between the state governments and the leaders, no one out there sees, but every single day we're in contact ... 

Mitchell: Well, we need this public unity ... 

Prime Minister: No, let me finish, Neil, because he made a pretty strong point. 

Mitchell: Yeah, I think there is a lack of unity, the perception of the public is we are not being led.

Prime Minister: Well, what the public sees are the disagreements. What they don't see is all the agreements …

Mitchell: Well they should see that leadership, Prime Minister, because they're screaming out for leadership. 

Prime Minister: Neil, tell me a family that gets together every single week and doesn't have a disagreement. People are no different, whether they're premiers or whether they're in a family grouping. And what we do is we keep meeting. I'll tell you, it would be a failure if it didn't meet. It would be a failure if people didn't talk and didn't work through difficult issues, which we do every single week. We have met more times as a team of premiers and chief ministers and the prime minister than COAG met almost over 30 years. Now, that has happened because I've kept pulling them together and getting into the room and sorting things out every single day. 

Mitchell: So, you are bashing heads together already? 

Prime Minister: Well, I wouldn't put it like that, Neil. 

Mitchell: Well, who's the annoying uncle in all this family? 

Prime Minister: Well, I'll let others make that judgement. 

Mitchell: I think we've decided. 

Prime Minister: I have no doubt, and I know it's frustrating when people see premiers taking pot shots at each other and the state governments taking pot shots at the federal government. That doesn't help anybody. I agree with that. And I often make that, give that counsel to, to our group. But what's important is they keep working together. I think people in Victoria know that I and the Premier have a very good working relationship, we're certainly not political bedfellows. We both understand that. We're professional leaders who work together just like we did to sort out the payments when Victoria went into this most recent lockdown and the arrangements which the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, did with Tim Pallas for this additional support as Victoria's coming lockdown, that's people working together, Neil. And so to suggest that people aren't and there's no outcomes, I think is just a bit of a cliche which doesn't hold up. 

Mitchell: Well, I can tell you the cliche from the people, from the public, from my audience is we need leadership. We're screaming for leadership. We're sick of disunity. We want a plan. We want a strategy. Leading to that, what about a freedom day? If we do open, say, January or sometime, Freedom Day or Freedom Month, something to hang onto, would that work? 

Prime Minister: Yeah, and that day won't be decided based on some arbitrary figure that someone dreams up, Neil, it'll be based on the advice that we're getting from the Doherty Institute that I commissioned ... 

Mitchell: But, would you promote a national, would you say OK here's a Freedom Day coming? 

Prime Minister: Neil, let's talk about what enables that to happen. You don't just pick a day and, you know, get some fireworks. That's not science. It's not medicine. It's not policy. What you do is, is you get one of the world's best scientific organisations, the Doherty Institute, to tell you what the rates, risks are against various vaccination levels for the general population. And then you get the best economic advice from your Treasury to work out what the cost of various restrictions are. And you come up with what the right vaccination rate is to enable that to happen. That is what we are doing right now, and we've been doing it for many weeks to get that right. And so on Friday, we will have the first of those discussions based on that Doherty modelling and on the advice of the Treasury across all the states and territories. Now, will we get there in one meeting? No, I don't think we will. If we do, great. But if we don't get there in one meeting, we'll keep meeting until we work out what those rates are. So I can tell you what is the vaccination rate Australia has to achieve, Victoria has to achieve, to get to the next level. There'll be a straight answer on that. But I won't be making it up, I won't be pulling it out of the air.

Mitchell: Have they provided that yet? 

Prime Minister: They have provided the base advice, which comes together with the Treasury advice, and that's what we're working through right now. So as you say, Neil, have to make the decisions about what those levels are, and we will make those decisions. It's not something you do in a rush. It is something you do carefully  and that's what we're doing and we've been doing it for weeks.

Mitchell: But the Doherty Institute has come up with a percentage figure have they?

Prime Minister: No, I wouldn't put it like that, because it's not just that. It's your scientific modelling. The way you come up with the number is you've got your epidemiological advice. So your science based advice on how the virus moves. You've got to look at the capacity of your health system and how it can respond to outbreaks to manage hospitalisation and ICU and ventilators. You've got to look at the economic advice about what it potentially means for lockdowns and other forms of restrictions. And that's how you come up with the answer. And that's exactly what we're doing, doing the homework to get the decision right. And we're doing it together as a National Cabinet. 

Mitchell: I really appreciate your time. On financial matters with what's happening in New South Wales, it's going to be very difficult to avoid a recession, is it not? 

Prime Minister: Look, and I don't share that view because what we know is, of course, the September quarter will be massively hit, not just obviously by the New South Wales lockdown, which will be most significant. It's the biggest economy in the country. But also we've had lockdowns, a brief one in South Australia and in Victoria as well. So that will take a toll. But what we do know, the economy is fundamentally strong. What has happened is you get an artificial restriction that comes in through these lockdowns caused by the pandemic. But what we know is on the other side is the economy comes back very quickly. And because the restraints are lifted and the reason we're putting so much economic support in, as I said already, there's that $200 million additional support we're doing with the Victorian Government, which was announced yesterday by our Treasurers, that Dan and I discussed, and there's the $80 million, which will double pretty much ... 

Mitchell: Do you reckon ... 

Prime Minister: Let me finish, $80 million, which will double to $160 million for the most recent Victorian direct support to individuals. What that does is keeps your economy as whole as possible. So on the other side of the lockdowns, it comes back. That's how more than a million people got back into work after last year's COVID recession. It's how our economy was bigger than it was before the pandemic. On the most recent national accounts. It will take a short term hit, there's no doubt about that. But our experience is the economy comes back strongly if you keep it as whole as possible, which is what we've done. 

Mitchell: I understand and a lot of Victorian businesses have fallen through the cracks. And I know, I accept that what you and the State Government put together here looks pretty good. And I'll go through the detail later. Do you reckon we can be sure there'll be nobody else falling through the cracks, or as sure as we can be? 

Prime Minister: Well, of course that's what we endeavour to do, of course that’s what we endeavour to do. We can't replace every dollar that people have lost. And I don't think that's what people expect us to do. They expect us to do what we can to help them get through, which is what we did last year. I mean, the IMF, the International Monetary Fund, just this week said Australia had one of the best, if not the best economic responses to the kind of a pandemic of any country in the world. So you marry that up with saving over 30,000 lives, which is if we'd had the same death rate of COVID-19 as other countries around the world, just like us, 30,000 more people would be dead in Australia today. It's a startling figure when you think about it. 

Mitchell: Horrifying. Just very quickly, finally, because I know you're at a time and so am I. 

Prime Minister: You're right. 

Mitchell: When will we actually put a hole in the ground for this quarantine facility out at Mickleham?

Prime Minister: We've already let the tender to multiplex and and they're getting on with it and the Premier and I are keen to see that happen and see the first 500 rooms come on well before the end of the year. 

Mitchell: Great. Thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it. Thank you for speaking with us. 

Prime Minister: Thanks, Neil. Thanks for the opportunity.