Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW

19 Aug 2020
Prime Minister

NEIL MITCHELL: The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Neil. Just before we get started, could you give me the details of that hay transfer issue into New South Wales? I will raise that with the Premier today.

MITCHELL: I certainly will.

PRIME MINISTER: We’re working on a number of those issues with them and we've made a lot of progress. So look, if you get that to me, I will see what we can do.

MITCHELL: Well, that's good. You almost need a group of sort of border monitors, don't you, or envoys, people who can sort it out on the run?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there is a Border Commissioner, and that's where we have been able to resolve a number of these things. So let me get those details and we'll see if we can get that sorted out.

MITCHELL: Ok. I’ve got his name, I haven't spoken to him yet. But he's amused, I would say, at the least. Now, the vaccine. Key question to underpin it before you get to the detail, would you be prepared to make the vaccination mandatory?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, certainly we've got to get about 95 per cent and so we'd be applying that as well. Well, I’ll take the medical advice. That's the obvious answer to that, Neil, but that's what I would be expecting.

MITCHELL: You'd expect it to be mandatory?

PRIME MINISTER: I would expect it to be as mandatory as you can possibly make. There are always exemptions for any vaccine on medical grounds, but that should be the only basis. I mean, we're talking about a pandemic that has destroyed the global economy and taken the lives of hundreds of thousands all around the world and over 430 Australians here. So, you know, we need the most extensive and comprehensive response to this to get Australia back to normal.

MITCHELL: I take your point. We need a high level of uptake. But there's going to be, I think you'll get community resistance to mandating it.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we'll take that issue when it presents both when the clinical trials are finished and we have to understand what the medical issues potentially might be. And that's why we'll take advice on its application. But I'm certainly open to that suggestion but that is not a decision the Government has taken.

MITCHELL: Ok, so what's the deal? Everybody would get one free?


MITCHELL: Cost millions?

PRIME MINISTER: The cost we're working through. But no, that's not our anticipated costs. But we'll work through those costs with the manufacturer and we'll make sure that that will be made available to all Australians.

MITCHELL: Sorry. Go ahead.

PRIME MINISTER: I was going to say, we would hope that based on where we think the clinical trials are and if they're successful, then I've got to stress, Neil, it's still a big if. I mean, we don't know it works, but we've got to be positioned to move on it quickly if it does. And hopefully early next year, if it could be done sooner than that, then great. But I don't want to raise an expectation, you know, you'll be able to get a jab next week.

MITCHELL: Who would be first?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, again, that's the medical advice we’d take. I mean, obvious candidates would be health workers, those working in aged care facilities, things like that, as well as more vulnerable parts of the community. But that will be dependent on the medical issues that might present with some of those cohorts, those people, groups. But by and large, then trying to get it out as quickly and as far and wide as possible.

MITCHELL: Well, as you said, the most optimistic timeline in the UK, is the end of this year. How soon after they approve it would we be able? How long would our approval process take?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, we'd be moving very quickly. That's why I think we'd be in place early next year and the production process would take a month or two, I'm told, and we're still working through those details. But as soon as - as someone said to me this morning we get the recipe - we'll be making it.

MITCHELL: Ok. And are you optimistic or, sorry, is it your view that Oxford is leading everybody else? I mean, we've had the Russians claiming things, the Chinese, our own University of Queensland, which has more credibility is getting some CSL has been tied to them. Are you reasonably confident Oxford will be the first there?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's our advice at the moment. Things can change and we're not going to put all our eggs in one basket either. The expert panel we've established that Professor Murphy is leading is also advising on others that we will support. And that work is being done now and, in fact, is already underway. You mentioned the University of Queensland project, which we are also involved with, and that's looking promising. But AstraZeneca and Oxford’s project is more advanced.

MITCHELL: When is one of the most optimistic time you think you could see it used in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: Which one? AstraZeneca?


PRIME MINISTER: Early next year.

MITCHELL: Early next year. You know, you're going to have campaigns from the anti-vaxxers, don't you?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm used to that. I was the minister that established ‘no jab, no play’. So my view on this is pretty clear and not for turning.

MITCHELL: Ok. So and you also bought needles and syringes, all the equipment needed to…

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah. That's been done through an arrangement with Becton Dickinson to supply needles and syringes. So, you know, we're getting everything in order. But you've got to wait for the medical trials, clinical trials, to complete.

MITCHELL: Ok. Who would oversee it, state or federal?

PRIME MINISTER: It would be a federal programme.

MITCHELL: Ok. So it would be the vaccine…

PRIME MINISTER: But we would work with the states, as you do with any vaccination program. But it obviously would be overseen like all other vaccine programs.

MITCHELL: Ok. A couple of other things, if I may. The quarantine outbreak in Victoria, that's the reason that the country is being held back. Do you believe that came about because the defence forces were not involved?

PRIME MINISTER: It occurred, as my best advice is, because of the quarantine breaches and then there's obviously been very significant challenges on the tracing that has taken place in Victoria. And the comparison there is obviously with New South Wales and the different capabilities, and I'm talking about stuff which is on the public record. So I'm not making criticisms. I am just talking about facts and the individual contribution of whether this group or that group was responsible for breaches in quarantine, well, there's an enquiry going on into that. But certainly, as Lieutenant-General Frewen made very clear yesterday, the offer was there and the Victorian government made their own decisions.

MITCHELL: Did you personally make the offer to Daniel Andrews?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it was done at a press conference. It's on public record.

MITCHELL: Yeah, but I assumed it was brought up at a National Cabinet when he was present?

PRIME MINISTER: There was a discussion at National Cabinet.

MITCHELL: About the ADF being available on quarantine?


MITCHELL: What about contact tracing. Are you concerned about the level of contact tracing in Victoria?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes. And that's why when Commodore Hill was made available through the ADF at once to lead our effort in Victoria, I mean, so much of his early work has been about the information systems and the organisation supporting the Victorian medical team to be organising how they're getting their tracing done. Because more resources were being made available from South Australia and New South Wales to support those tracing efforts. But it's one thing to have the people available but you’ve got to have the systems to support them.

MITCHELL: So our system is failing?


MITCHELL: Is our system failing?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we've been doing a lot of work to improve the information systems together with the Victorian government.

MITCHELL: There's obviously a degree of disagreement between the state and federal government. And I'm assuming that Linda Reynolds, the Defence Minister, only puts out a statement with your approval?

PRIME MINISTER: I was aware of her statement that was basically providing facts.

MITCHELL: Have you and Daniel Andrews sort of thrashed this out and talked about it? Because tension is not constructive, is it?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think… I just deal with what we need to do each day. I mean, I'm not interested in having an argument about what was said two months ago. I'm interested in what we need to do today and I'm interested in the resources we need to get there and the support that we need to provide. I'm interested in getting that hay from Victoria to New South Wales. I'm interested in getting medical treatment across the borders. I'm interested in ensuring that we continue the inspections occurring at aged care facilities and over 60 facilities that have been put in place. The operations, the aged care response centre. I’m interested in getting the vaccine arrangements in place. I've got to deal with today and tomorrow. I frankly, and the Premier is in the same boat. So, you know, we've just got to get on with it.

MITCHELL: Yeah but the public also needs trust and to have trust they need openness.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don't think trust is built by premiers and prime ministers having public slanging matches about things. I think trust is built by them being assured that we're working together each and every day, even where there may be differences between our governments.

MITCHELL: Do you feel, well, guilt, responsibility, how would you describe it, for what's happened in aged care in this state?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm deeply distressed about what's been happening.

MITCHELL: Is it your fault, though, Prime Minister? Is it the fault of the Federal Government?

PRIME MINISTER: It is a federal responsibility for the regulation of aged care and public health is the responsibility of the Victorian and the state governments more broadly. So it's a shared responsibility there about how all this plays out. In individual facilities the Aged Care Victoria Response Centre, which is a joint effort of the Victorian and Federal governments, is addressing this issue and that's how it should be. I mean, responsibilities and federations are, you know, are shared in many instances. The reregulation of the centres, and we've had a handful of centres which have had just unacceptable experiences and outcomes. In over 350 aged care facilities in Victoria, there's been about a half a dozen where there have been very serious issues. And there'll be follow up in terms of the actions that need to be taken against a number of those facilities.

MITCHELL: You have apologised for that?


MITCHELL: I think that's constructive. Should our own Premier do the same?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that’s a matter for him. I’m responsible for what I do.

MITCHELL: What about disability services? Are you confident we can avoid the aged care disaster in disability services?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, my advice is there has been about 44 cases. There are in Victoria, I think, 13 in a residential setting. And they're in group homes and they're half run by the state. There’s about 7,000 vulnerable participants in the NDIS that have all had double contacts from us over the course of this. And so the minister responsible, Stuart Robert, there has been a plan in place. There has been constant vigilance in sort of checking on the welfare of those participants in the programme. And so, you know, I think we're managing that well. But it's a highly vulnerable group. We've always been aware of that. But so far, what's important is that the incidence of cases for those participants in the NDIS is less than we're seeing more broadly in the community. That's welcome news.

MITCHELL: Thank you so much for your time. Do you reckon that will be any chance in Victoria of having a normal Christmas lunch?

PRIME MINISTER: I certainly hope so, Neil.

MITCHELL: We won’t be at the Boxing Day Test, will we?

PRIME MINISTER: Again, I hope we do. But I think we are turning the corner, though, Neil. And I want to say that to Melburnians particularly and say thank you. The sacrifices you're making, are making a difference. I wish you never had to make them. I wish that the situation hadn't deteriorated to the level that it had. And certainly there'll be a big discussion in Victoria about how and why and where that all happened. But the actions the Victorians are taking, Melburnians are taking, in dealing with this are turning the corner. And so thank you.

MITCHELL: Thank you so much for your time. We'll get that detail of the farmer to you.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah. Thank you.

MITCHELL: Thanks very much for that. The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.