Interview with Oliver Peterson, 6PR

03 Aug 2021
Prime Minister

Oliver Peterson: Prime Minister Scott Morrison, good afternoon.

Prime Minister: G'day Oly, good to be with you and g'day to everyone in WA.

Peterson: G’day to you too. We've got a target - 70 per cent, 80 per cent of Australians to be vaccinated. But, do we have a date, Prime Minister? Do we have a timeline?

Prime Minister: We've got clear targets and how soon we get there is up to every Australian, from the west to the east to the north to the south, and we are really starting to hit our marks and our pace now. Just in July, we've had 4.5 million doses that were delivered. That's up on 3.4 the month before and 2.1 the month before that. We've got one in five Australians who are now double dose vaccinated and two in five that have had at least their first dose. So, now we are really starting to get this done with over a million doses being done every week. So, a lot of supply, a lot of GPs, a lot of pharmacists now are starting to come on board, together with the state clinics. So, this is totally doable. And, as many have already said, certainly achieving that first step at 70 per cent, which is where we need to get to to start saying goodbye to lockdowns, and then 80 per cent to hopefully then make them a thing of the past.

Peterson: Do we get to a point, though, if we reach those targets you just mentioned - 70, 80 per cent - but if there's also enough vaccination in the country, because supply’s obviously been an issue, these mass hubs, you mentioned pharmacies there as well, the GP network. So, if everybody gets a chance to get a jab within, say, a week or two, and hypothetically speaking it's February 1 2022, you go, okay, we open up on this date regardless of whether or not we've hit that 70 per cent or 80 per cent benchmark, if there is enough supply of the vaccination in the country?

Prime Minister: Well, the supply won't be an issue to the end of this year. Everyone who was looking to have a vaccine will certainly have that opportunity, that's what Lieutenant General Frewen has assured me. So, that won't be the issue. The only issue will be ensuring that everybody comes forward, and I'm very confident they will. We're already seeing that happen right now. But, what the medical advice, what the science is telling us is that if you go and try and open up and take away from you the tools that have kept people safe and healthy through the course of the COVID pandemic, at vaccination rates at less than 70 per cent, well, you're taking a big risk with people's health. And, that's why we waited to ensure we got the right advice from the Doherty Institute. It's one of the best medical advisory teams in the world. They're advising not only the Commonwealth Government, states and territories, but people around the world, and their advice is pretty clear. To enable you with this Delta variant, and that's the key Oly, the Delta variant is a game changer, whereas before you could stay ahead of this thing with tracing and testing, this Delta variant knocks that right on its head. So, these short, sharp lockdowns are the way to manage that when you're in this phase we're in right now. If we get to 70 per cent, that changes the game again for us and we're able to go forward. And it's certainly at Phase 3, Phase C, when we get to 80 per cent, well, you know, we can really start moving ahead, and that's when things will be a lot more back to normal.

Peterson: When you say everybody, everybody above the age of 16, or does this include children as well?

Prime Minister: Correct, no, everyone over the age of 16, that's the advice we had. For children under 16, we're still working through the issues that have arisen there most recently. And, the advice we have at the moment is the way the virus works amongst those under 16 is a bit different to those above. And, so that's why they're advising that the vaccination targets should be set as a percentage of the population aged over 16.

Peterson: What sort of privileges will vaccinated Australians have - avoiding lockdowns, going to the footy, for example?

Prime Minister: Well, we're still working on those details. The states ultimately are the ones that will determine those because they have the powers to enforce it. The Federal Government doesn't have any power to stop someone going to the footy or not going to the footy. That has to be done by public health orders. And, so, that's what's being worked on by a group of states, which includes the Northern Territory and Victoria and Tasmania. They're working through all those options and they're going to bring those back to us. But, in Phase B, if you're vaccinated, you'll have exemptions to restrictions and which specific ones, well, we'll get to those very soon. 

But, there is a reason for that. If you've had the vaccine, you know, you are less likely to get it. You're less likely to pass it on. You're less likely to have a serious disease putting you in hospital, and you're less likely to die. So, for people who've got the vaccine, they've had the vaccine, they present less of a public health risk to themselves and others. If you haven't had it, you're vulnerable and COVID hasn't got any less infectious or any less able to impact on your health. And, if you've taken the decision not to protect yourself, well, state governments will have to take steps to protect you.

Peterson: Yeah, well, that's already what Mark McGowan, the Premier, has said here in WA. He's indicated on Friday that even at 80 per cent vaccination he will still go his own way on lockdowns, Prime Minister.

Prime Minister: Look, we had a good discussion about that on Friday, and I don't think people should take Mark out of context. I mean, at the end of the day, if there's something terrible happening, well, of course, no Premier is going to say they're going to stand by and let people get sick and get seriously ill. But, the facts are, when you're dealing with a population right now where one in five people are double dose vaccinated compared to four in five double dose vaccinated, it's a bit like the difference between standing outside at zero temperatures wearing your budgie smugglers, and standing outside wearing your Gore-Tex coat. I mean that, sorry to give you that graphic image, but that is what it's like. And, to try and cast forward and think that you have to take the same sort of precautions when you're at 20 per cent as at 80 per cent, it's chalk and cheese. It's another world. And, that's what we're seeing overseas as well. And, so, it would be, it would have to be a fairly extraordinary circumstance that would warrant that. But, I understand what the Premier was saying. But he was, you know, he was worked very constructively with us on Friday and I appreciate that.

Peterson: What about the shy-vaxxers Prime Minister? Not the anti-vaxxers, but the people who are listening to our chat this afternoon, they want choice, they want Pfizer. They don't want AstraZeneca. What do you say to them? Do they wait?

Prime Minister: Well, I encourage all Australians to take the vaccines that are available to them, and what we're seeing in other states, and Western Australia should not think they're immune. I mean, we've just had south east Queensland had to go into a lockdown, we've got New South Wales in one now and Victoria and South Australia have been there as well. They're out of those now, and let's hope Queensland comes out quickly, too. 

But, once these things happen, I mean, Western Australia could find themselves in that situation. I know everyone's doing everything they can to prevent that. But, the only way to be protected from this virus, is to be vaccinated. And, so, I would encourage people to get that vaccine and the vaccines that are available to them and in New South Wales, that's exactly what they're doing. People of all ages talking to their doctors, getting informed consent. Remember, if you don't have the vaccine, you are more likely to get it, transfer it, get very, very sick and be in a respirator on it or die. So, they're four pretty good reasons. The other one is the sooner we get the country vaccinated, the sooner we can be where we all want to be.

Peterson: Speaking of New South Wales, do you regret that that state did not go harder and faster earlier and lockdown?

Prime Minister: Well, I think that's the clear lesson, and that's not a criticism. That's just the reality of the Delta variant. And, you know, all through the COVID-19 pandemic we've had to learn and we've had to change our responses and adjust to what's going on. Now, you know, that’s, New South Wales made the decision based on the best advice and understanding that they had. They'd made plenty of decisions earlier in the pandemic where they didn't do those things and they were proven to be right on those occasions. 

So, you know, the Delta variant, the virus sets the rules here and you've got to adapt and respond. And, I think the response is now in, with this variant, as opposed to what have been happening earlier, I think requires that approach until we can get to 70 per cent. And, the way it works is, is this. The whole country has to get to 70 per cent and your state has to get to 70 per cent for you to, for your state to go into it. So, when we get to the point where people can travel overseas again, it won't be enough for the whole country to be able to achieve that if you're in Western Australia. Western Australia will need to get there as well. And, one of the challenges both Australia has and Western Australia in particular has, is when there hasn't been many cases and where there hasn't been many outbreaks, that's where vaccination rates tend to be lower. That's why Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, countries that have had very low death rates, their vaccination rates haven't been as high as in other countries where literally hundreds of people were dying every day. So, in Western Australia, you know, we've got to roll our sleeves up and get vaccinated and have that sense of urgency because we wouldn't want to see WA left behind.

Peterson: How do Australians though go, Prime Minister, from accepting nothing, no cases, we’re on this elimination path, to getting to that point where we open up, the virus obviously will spread. How do we start to change our thinking and accept living with the virus? Do you see that as a big logistical challenge for the entire country?

Prime Minister: Well, the key thing is, is that people can feel safe in that environment and that's why the vaccine is important. Now, I don't subscribe to the elimination strategy. Never have. And, neither has the National Cabinet. Suppression has been what we've done, and we've done it very effectively. But, when we move to the next phase, that's when we're managing how many cases we're seeing that require hospitalisation and serious illness. And, certainly in the third phase, you know, that's when we're really starting to manage it like any other virus. And, what the scientific modelling shows us is when we get to 80 per cent plus that puts us on the same level of other infectious diseases, and with other infectious diseases, yes, there are serious cases. There are hospitalisations. And, sadly, there are also fatalities that result from that. But, when we get to 80 per cent plus, that means, you know, COVID-19 is like any other infectious disease, largely. It is still highly infectious and you still have an unvaccinated population, which we have to be very careful of. We're seeing that in the United Kingdom even now. I mean, they're at, they’re not at 80 per cent yet, I stress, but they're not too far away from it. But, in the UK, where they're still seeing cases, I can tell you that right now, yesterday, the most recent figures on their website are 65 people died yesterday, and the hospitalisations increased over the last week by almost 15 per cent and 911 each day. So, they're not quite at 80. But, remember, they had the virus out and about and not under control, like we've had it here in Australia. So, here we have the opportunity to get the trifecta - saving lives, saving livelihoods and getting vaccinated.

Peterson: Before you go, Prime Minister, politically, do you regret not calling an election last year?

Prime Minister: Last year?

Peterson: Mm.

Prime Minister: That would have been 2020.

Peterson: Yes.

Prime Minister: That was not even constitutionally possible.

Peterson: But you regret the fact that National Cabinet now has just become a political weapon to really make it all about team red versus team blue?

Prime Minister: Oh, I don't accept that. I think the National Cabinet has worked well together. I mean, conflict makes the headlines, but the day to day working together and agreeing and getting things done doesn't tend to make the headlines, and there's been plenty of that. And, I appreciate the role that Premier McGowan has played both with myself and as part of the National Cabinet. And, the election, I've always said, will be next year, and that’s, we'll focus on that next year.

Peterson: Sure.

Prime Minister: Right now, and throughout all of this term, I've just been focusing on saving people's lives, saving their livelihoods, keeping Australia safe and secure - not just from COVID, but from the many challenges we face in our own region - as well as keeping our economy strong so we can support the big changes we're making to support those in aged care and disability care, expanding our mental health support, supporting our veterans. So, you know, you get on with the job of government every single day. The election's next year.

Peterson: Well, the local federal election posts already for the Labor candidate here in Perth, Tania Lawrence - this is running against Ken Wyatt in Hasluck. It doesn't actually have a picture of Anthony Albanese, but a picture of Mark McGowan. So, is he your biggest ...

Prime Minister: Well, Mark's not running for Prime Minister.

Peterson: I realise, but is he, is he your biggest threat in the battleground here in Western Australia? Mark McGowan versus Scott Morrison?

Prime Minister: No, no, I think Western Australian voters understand the difference between state and federal politics, and they know if they vote Labor in Western Australia they'll get Anthony Albanese, and if they vote Liberal in Western Australia they'll get Scott Morrison. That’s, I think Western Australian voters understand that. They know that Mark McGowan and I work very well together. They've seen that not just during COVID, but they've seen it over a long period of time, whether it's been on infrastructure or many other things. We have a positive professional working relationship. We're from different sides of politics. But, that doesn't matter. When you lead a government, you work together, and that's what the Premier and I have done, and we have a healthy respect for each other. What I have noticed is that the Labor Party at a federal level, they're happy to have a crack at the government every other day about the vaccination program. I'd just be happy if they encouraged people to get vaccinated, and maybe if they spent their efforts doing that, we’d be doing a lot better.

Peterson: Sure. But, Albo's now got a very small alternative as an opposition - negative gearing policy’s dead. They support your tax cuts now as well. So, does it make the situation harder for you in the lead up to that campaign?

Prime Minister: Look, you never believe what Labor says on taxes. Remember the, ‘There'll be no carbon tax under the government I lead’? Even some of your older listeners will remember Paul Keating's L.A.W. - law - tax cuts, which were then reversed on the other side of the election. Labor Party will tell you anything you want to hear about taxes before an election. And, on the other side, you know what their form is. So, look, I think people understand Labor in the economy, Labor on national security. They know they're not the party that can be trusted on those issues. The Coalition has always demonstrated our form on those things. We're about keeping Australians safe. We're keeping our economy strong and keeping Australians together as we meet the very significant challenges that we have. And, next year, people will have the opportunity to make their decisions on those things. And, but right now, we've just got to keep focusing on the job and a very serious one it is.

Peterson: Final question before I let you go, Prime Minister, and I do appreciate your time. Christmas this year, will 70 per cent of Australians be vaccinated?

Prime Minister: I think that's very achievable, I really do, and I'm not the only one who's saying that. But, the only way we can really realise that, Oly, is if everybody turns up to the task, just like our Olympians have shown us. We all turn up to the task and we have a gold medal run till Christmas, then I think that's absolutely achievable. So, that's really our shared task altogether. And, the other thing I want to ensure is that everybody we want sitting around that Christmas dinner table is there and that we're protecting people's health and we're ensuring that, you know, this idea that you just let it rip and it's all okay, COVID, with Delta, gets into a community, it wreaks terrible havoc. We've seen that all around the world. It's still happening. As good as things have been in Western Australia, as we've seen so many other states, that can change quickly. That's why we need to get to those vaccination rates as soon as we can.

Peterson: Prime Minister, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

Prime Minister: Good on you, Oly. Thanks for the time mate. Cheers.