Interview with Rebecca Levingston, ABC Brisbane

22 Jul 2021
Prime Minister

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: How good are the Olympics?

PRIME MINISTER: How good. It is just tremendously exciting. I was just listening to that back end of the discussion you were having with Kieren Perkins, and it’s absolutely right. There’ll be kids down the Valley pool this morning, been there from very early. Parents bringing them along there. They’ll be up at Rockhampton and Townsville and, you know, up at Spring Hill, down in Brisbane. It’s so exciting. And they can look forward to a home Olympics. It’s going to light a lot of them, you know, aspirations and excitement about, you know, sport in Australia and just what it means to us.

LEVINGSTON: Who’s the first phone call you took or made last night?

PRIME MINISTER: I did call the Premier last night. I left a message for her last night, but obviously also got in touch with my Sports Minister last night. The first one, though, was John Coates. And anyway, look, it’s been a team effort and this is a real partnership. It’s very different to what happened in Sydney. I’ve got to stress, Sydney, the New South Wales Government put on those Olympics basically. Of course, the Federal Government supported it, but not not in this way. When Queensland came to us and said they wouldn’t be able to do it on their own. And then we put the partnership model in. So it’s not just about 50/50 funding, it’s about 50/50 decision making.


PRIME MINISTER: Everything from the organising committee to venues and how they’re planned and scoped and the procurement and the tenders will all be done together.

LEVINGSTON: Yeah and as you know, whether it is COVID or the Olympics, Australians really like it when levels of government seem to get along so that, you know, your fist pumping last night, does that guarantee 50/50 funding on all Olympic infrastructure?

PRIME MINISTER: It’s all the projects that we need to get done as part of this part of the bid and what needs to be delivered. And that will be delivered through that. We haven’t given a name yet, but a sort of Olympic coordination authority that is jointly owned by the Commonwealth and the State Government. And let’s not leave our local government here as well. I’ve got to say, Adrian and all the regional mayors from southeast Queensland, they were real drivers from this state. They were really there at the outset. And, of course, we came on very early. I remember meeting Dr Bach, when I was in Tokyo some years ago with John Coates and, you know, that was before there was even an official bid or decision in place. And so, you know, we were already there spruiking for Brisbane and Queensland at that time. And it’s great to see, you know, the partnership formed with the Queensland Government. I mean, levels of government work together, I think a lot more often than people appreciate. I mean, yeah, you see that the tensions and that gets a lot of, you know, coverage. And that happens. Of course it does. But we actually work together a lot all the time. And this was a good example of that.

LEVINGSTON: The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison on ABC Radio, Brisbane. My name is Rebecca Levingston. PM, the euphoria of the Olympics win is in stark contrast to the lockdowns of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia. Long queues, frustration, anxiety that you’ve acknowledged from people worried about lives and livelihoods. To the solutions that you’re focused on, why doesn’t Australia use rapid COVID tests?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we are and particularly using them down in Sydney at the moment. And we’re seeking to get further approval, medical approval for those tests. And that’s something that has been regularly pushed through the medical expert panel …

LEVINGSTON: But not to the scale that other countries are using them. Prime Minister, I mean, we’re still we’re still seeing queues of, you know, five, six hours. Are you saying we’re going to use rapid COVID testing en masse?

PRIME MINISTER: What I’m saying is we want to see that as part of the armoury of testing that we have available to us to be used in many different situations. That will, of course, be guided by the medical advice that comes through the medical expert panel that can give us the certainty and surety about the veracity of those tests. And there’s PCR test, there’s the saliva test, there’s rapid antigen testing. I mean, I’ve had them all. As a result of, you know, the various things I’ve had to be doing. And they also provide some support. They’re all different, they’re not as precise as each other, but they all have a role to play. But you’ve got to do it with the authority of the medical advice, backing up the use of those tests. And that’s what, you know, as a federal government, we’re very keen to see those views more and more widely.

LEVINGSTON: Prime Minister, will we have to have children vaccinated before you open the borders to international travellers?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the TGA, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, is still considering that issue. So I don’t want to pre-empt anything that they might decide on that. And we’re waiting for their advice. And we have a Cabinet meeting of those involved in the COVID response today. And we’ll get further updates from Professor Murphy and Professor Kelly on that. And we’re working through those issues. But, you know, different countries have had different approaches on this. So the TGA is working through that. And I’ll wait to see what their recommendations are. But we’re already sort of working through those issues and have been for some weeks.

LEVINGSTON: Yeah, the concern from epidemiologists seems to be that, you know, even if we hit a certain target in the adult population, if we then open up and allow international visitors in, that children may be the most vulnerable and of course, you know, kids are always front and centre of your life, of family life. Yeah. I wonder, do you do you have a percentage in mind in terms of the population to be vaccinated before we do start to see lockdowns stopping and more freedom around the place?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, first, on the last point, you know, well, we have been cautious when it comes to the approval of vaccines and ensuring that our proper processes were followed. And we’ll take the same approach here when it comes to the impact on younger Australians under the age of 18, under the age of 16. And, of course, we’re going to be cautious about that. That’s the reason we’ve been cautious is why we’ve been able to save over 30,000 lives. You compare Australia to other countries, similar countries to us. If we’d had their experience, more than 30,000 people would be dead in Australia right now because of COVID, so that cautious approach saved tens of thousands of lives. When it comes to the thresholds that we need to meet to be able to move to the next phase, step two of that plan we announced a few weeks ago out of National Cabinet. The Doherty Institute is finalising their modelling advice on the Delta strain to us this month that will be brought together advice from the various treasuries, including the Commonwealth Treasury and the State Treasury, the economic advisors, advice from the Department of Health, which looks at the health system capacity. And that will be able to give us a scientific way of determining what those thresholds are that we have to hit, not just at the headline rate, but for the vulnerable populations over 70s and so on. That will enable us to know what those benchmark thresholds are of vaccination that enables us to do all the things that you just said.

LEVINGSTON: PM, I know you’ve got to go …

PRIME MINISTER: No that’s fine.

LEVINGSTON: Oh really, OK. While I’ve got you then, in terms of what’s happening in the UK and opening up there. What are your thoughts on that strategy?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, everyone in the world is watching closely. I mean, we have seen that the deaths and the hospitalisation and ICUs are rapidly rising. And this is a country with I think about 68 per cent double dose vaccination, predominantly with AstraZeneca. And so we are watching closely. Now, it is true that, coming into this, they already had high case rates already existing. I mean, in Europe and the UK, in the US, they lost the battle on suppression a year ago, more than that. And they’ve never been able to recover from it. Here in Australia. We have been winning that battle of suppression. But it is really tough at the moment with this Delta strain, as we’re seeing in the southern states. So we will be watching what happens very closely there in the United Kingdom. We hope for the best for them. We certainly wouldn’t want to see them realise what happened last time. What I do know, though, is with vaccination is you’re less likely to get COVID. You’re less likely to transmit it. You’re less likely to get a serious illness, very much less likely, and you’re less likely to die from it. So it is, if you’re vaccinated, you’re a greater protection for yourself, your family, the community than otherwise. And so that’s why it’s so important.

LEVINGSTON: And our strategy here is really to lock down any sort of cracks in the system. I had truck drivers calling me this week, Prime Minister, saying the rules in different states are really confusing. They’ve got unmanned testing stations that are dirty. They’re sort of appealing, saying we need a national strategy for truck drivers. What do you think?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there is a National Freight Code that was put in place, it was one of the things we took through the National Cabinet last year, it was one of those early areas of national cooperation to get as much consistency on that as possible. That was the former Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, through that, with all the transport ministers of all the states and territories. Now, you asked the question before about rapid antigen testing. You know, potentially these are things that can be used more often there. I mean, right now here in Canberra, I’m in quarantine for Parliament sitting in a fortnight’s time. We’re doing saliva testing here on a daily basis to enable me to keep doing the job I’m doing.

LEVINGSTON: Yeah, I guess what the truckies are saying is that there may be a national strategy, but in practical terms, it’s not working because they’re saying they’ve got to have multiple border passes. There’s different rule changes that often happen at night when they’re sleeping.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, well, look where that’s happening, I’d be expecting the transport ministers from right across the country to be, we have a transport subcommittee of National Cabinet that deals precisely with that. We’re meeting tomorrow again, as we do on Fridays. And I’ll certainly raise that with the other Premiers to make sure that the freight code and how that’s working is addressing those issues. But where there’s feedback, we welcome it and they should get on with it and fix it.

LEVINGSTON: Brilliant. The truckies of Queensland will be pumping their fist to that comment, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Can I thank them, though. I mean, they’ve kept Australia moving through all of this, the job that has been done by our truckies through some really difficult periods and even right now within states hit by lockdowns. Still getting food to the grocery shops, getting them across borders. You know, distribution centres in Sydney at the moment, highly affected. And, you know, just like we saw in Melbourne last year, their big distribution centres, that doesn’t just matter for Melbourne. They are distribution centres for the whole country, and so that’s really important. So to the truckies, thank you for keeping Australia moving.

LEVINGSTON: Prime Minister, we kicked off this conversation talking about the Olympics. You know, we’ve got 11 years lead up. Much will be talked about in terms of the legacy for you personally, Prime Minister. Tomorrow, you will surpass Gough Whitlam as the 16th longest PM. And there’s a series of quick successive milestones. You’ll surpass Turnbull next week, Gillard next month, John Gorton in September. If you serve a full term and win the next election, you could end up Australia’s fourth longest serving Prime Minister behind Menzies, Howard and Hawke.

PRIME MINISTER: You’ve certainly done your research. You’ve done a lot more than me. Well, there you go. But a lot of work still ahead. But, you know, in this job, you focus on what you’ve got to do right now. And those decisions have a lasting legacy as Prime Minister on any decision you take each and every day. So that’s why I am just focusing on the challenges we have right now.

LEVINGSTON: True. But I have got two quick questions for you. When is the next federal election?


LEVINGSTON: What month?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that’ll happen when we’re ready to make that announcement.

LEVINGSTON: What do you think you’ll be doing in 2032?

PRIME MINISTER: Attending the Olympics in Brisbane.

LEVINGSTON: Good to talk this morning. Thanks so much.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot, cheers.