Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM

09 Jul 2021
Prime Minister

SABRA LANE: Good morning, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Sabra. Good to be with you.

LANE: The boost in Pfizer supplies that the Government's negotiated, is that a tripling of initial supplies or the overall order? What will that mean from Monday week?

PRIME MINISTER: What it means on the 19th of July is that we'll have a million doses coming in every week from Pfizer. And that means, to put it in perspective, we had in the month of June, we had 1.7 million Pfizer doses. This month we'll have 2.8 million. And in August, we'll have 4.5 million. That's what's been outlined to us by Pfizer and Pfizer have been hitting all their marks for us. When they said they're going to send something, they send something. And to be able to confirm this publicly also is important. And so those additional doses, the bring forward of those doses, which I commend Minister Hunt for and Professor Murphy and General Frewen, we've been working on this for some time to get that bring forward. We've also got 1,300 additional GPs coming on stream this week, sorry this month, to deliver those Pfizer doses that are coming through. And so we really are hitting the marks we now need to hit. We've done a lot of catch up in particularly over the month of June, and that's seen us now hitting the levels we need to get this job done and have everyone offered a dose by the end of the year.

LANE: Okay, so that means everyone will be offered a vaccine by Christmas?

PRIME MINISTER: This is our, this is our plan. And if we keep these rates up, Sabra, we'll hit that.

LANE: There is a debate about what level will be regarded as herd immunity in the community. The New South Wales Chief Health Officer, Kerry Chant says only when 80 per cent are actually offered a vaccine, can we have that conversation. Do you agree with that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we'll be guided by the Doherty modelling, which is being done right now. And there are differing opinions and views on this. If you ask different epidemiologists or others, you go around the country, around the world, in fact, and there is no single view on that. And with the new strains that are emerging, that also has an impact. It's also important to bear in mind in Australia, Sabra, that because we haven't had the number of cases they have had overseas, I mean, in the UK the other day, they had more cases in one day than we've had in total. And that means there's a larger number of antibodies that are present in those communities just because more people have had the virus.

And so, you know, every country's situation is different. And so that's why we are getting Doherty Institute. They are the best modellers, we believe, the best anywhere in the world. And they are providing us with that advice. But it's not just about what the headline rate is as well. I mean, one of the reasons that you focus so much on the older population is they're the ones most at risk. Now we have over 70 per cent, in fact, 72.6 per cent based on yesterday's numbers of first dose vaccinations of those aged over 70. And it's the most vulnerable population where you need to have the greatest protection. So it's not just about one number. There are many numbers.

LANE: So that might mean, given that we don't have the virus as prevalent here as it is overseas, you might need to consider different levels of immunity or what herd immunity is for different cohorts, like a different level for aged, first Australians, kids?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, no- sorry Sabra- that's exactly right. Because what you're looking at is what is your level of protection against serious illness and fatality in your community, in your population. Now, it is true that those who are younger don't experience more serious illness. Now, that doesn't mean it can't happen. I mean, of course it can. And young people shouldn't consider themselves immune from serious illness. That's why it's important that in the suppression phase in particular, that we continue to be vigilant. But those obviously most at risk are those who are older. And if you can protect your vulnerable populations, then that obviously gives you greater opportunities as we move into phase two and phase three that I outlined last Friday after National Cabinet.

LANE: The nation's crossing its fingers for the Sydney outbreak right now, given it is the Delta virus and given we've had new research overseas this morning showing that even Delta, with one jab of the virus is not very effective, that you really need two jab's of any vaccine. If this…

PRIME MINISTER: Oh no, I wouldn't agree with that, Sabra. That's not the advice I have. It's not I mean, one dose does give you serious protection, but two doses is obviously better.

LANE: There is a new paper that's out this morning in the Nature Magazine that actually shows that one dose of the vaccine barely inhibits it, quote unquote, that only two doses are strong enough to neutralise it…

PRIME MINISTER: That's, that's not our advice. That's not the medical advice I'm receiving from the Chief Medical Officer or the AHPPC.

LANE: The nation's crossing its fingers for the Sydney outbreak that it can be suppressed. If this goes beyond three weeks, what additional help can the Federal Government offer workers and households?

PRIME MINISTER: What's needed. And that's what the Treasury is working on right now. The Treasurer and I have been working with the Premier and the Treasurer in New South Wales. And if it is necessary to go beyond three weeks, then we will have the sort of targeted, well-designed support that we've provided in the past. We're in a different situation now. I mean, the difference between before and now is we're dealing with a very specific population in the Sydney metropolitan area, and that means we can be more targeted in our support and to the Sydney area, and that means we can deliver that support directly and which is what we're doing through the disaster recovery payment, the same thing we did in Victoria. Thankfully, the Victorian lockdown didn't go past two weeks. We're about to go into a third week here in Sydney. And that's why in the third week we've alleviated the liquid assets test as we go into that third week and we'll be looking at other measures and considering those in the days ahead.

LANE: 100 extra police are now patrolling south western Sydney to make sure that people abide by the stay at home orders. Are you comfortable with that, given that the region feels like it's being picked on when the eastern suburbs and northern beaches didn't see that kind of level of policing?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we're seeing the issue escalate. And this is what we saw this in Victoria too Sabra, you recall last year when we when into the second wave in Victoria. Police are just doing their job and it's important that they do. And there's nothing more to it than that. And I think we need to look at that in good faith and not cast aspersions in any way, shape or form on the operational decisions that the police are making to ensure compliance in those areas. The challenge we've had in New South Wales, in Sydney over the last 10 days, has been compliance. That's been the problem and that's what we need to address. The virus doesn't move by itself. It moves from one person to another. And while people may feel that you know, family gatherings are quite innocent, maybe birthday parties or whatever they might be, they're just as dangerous as footballers celebrating a win down in the Illawarra. So, you know, these things are very important. We're at a very sensitive phase of this outbreak and it's very important we do all we can to contain it.

LANE: It was different, though, in Victoria. They had very strong rules about not moving within five kilometres of home, only essential shopping. Other retail outlets were shut. This is a different situation.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, every response is calibrated to the needs of that community. And that's what the New South Wales Government is doing. I mean, you know, there were some who thought some of those restrictions may have been too much back then, but you know, I'm not getting into that debate. I mean, these things will always be discussed. The rules, as they are, have been set out in Sydney and compliance with those rules, all the medical evidence suggests is that will be effective. The problem is we haven't been getting that compliance. It's not about the rules. It's about compliance with the rules. And that's why you're seeing the New South Wales Government take those steps.

LANE: National Cabinet's meeting today, it'll discuss mandatory vaccination for workers in the disability sector. Are all governments in favour of this? Is anyone pushing back?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they agreed to [aged care worker vaccinations], but they haven't done it. And I'm somewhat frustrated about that. And I believe we'll see the overwhelming number of states actually follow through on that. I mean, the reasonable point that was made by states is that the Commonwealth Government will need to be taking the lead on compliance with that. And we will. And I've written to Premiers to assure them of that. So it's important that the most effective way to do this is state public health orders. That's what, that's what was being used for flu vaccinations. And in the past, that is the most effective way to do this. And so we're seeking their cooperation to follow through on the National Cabinet agreement that this be done on the advice of the AHPPC, the medical expert panel. This needs to be done. I've been pursuing this for months.

LANE: Who's resisting?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm not going to go into that today. I'm going to work those issues through National Cabinet. That's where I have those discussions. It's not my practise to get into those sort of tit for tat discussions in public. I deal with the Premiers directly.

LANE: Prime Minister, there are hundreds of Afghans who worked alongside our soldiers who would like to be here in Australia. The former Prime Minister John Howard, says Australia has a moral obligation to bring them here to avoid making the same mistakes that we did with the Vietnam War. What are you doing about fast tracking that process and getting people out, given the Taliban is advancing so quickly?

PRIME MINISTER: We are doing everything we can. And I agree with Prime Minister Howard and in fact we've had over the course, it's been some time now, some 1,400 Afghan workers and their families who work for the ADF. And [inaudible] support to Australia over quite a number of years. And we're also accelerating that process now. Hundreds are in that process right now. We're doing it on the basis of the rules that were set actually in place by the previous Labour government back in 2012. They're the right rules. And we're doing that as fast and as safely as we can. So I absolutely agree with him. And this has a high level of urgency within the Government. And we're moving on that as quickly and as safely as we possibly can. It's obviously an environment which is difficult to operate. And I think people would appreciate that, as it has been, when I was Immigration Minister some years ago, we were involved in exactly the same task and we are applying exactly the same focus.

LANE: Some requests have been rejected on technicalities on the basis that some people had been subcontracted and therefore were not directly employed. Is that a technicality that, you know, ultimately it's a life and death thing here?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there are two streams, there's the employee stream, and then there's also the normal humanitarian visa stream and we work through both channels and the rules around contracting and those, they are exactly the rules that Chris Bowen put in when he was Immigration Minister. And so we've been following those rules and that's why we've bought 4,500 people already and to granting visas and certifying them over the course of what has been a long and arduous conflict in Afghanistan. So we're applying those rules. There are other channels that are also available. And we're, I absolutely agree that this is urgent. And that's what the Ministers have been tasked with and Departments. And they're doing that as safely and quickly as possible.

LANE: Prime Minister, thanks for your time this morning.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, Sabra.