The Times


Prime Minister's Interview with Paul Murray, Sky News

  • Written by Paul Murray & Scott Morrison

PAUL MURRAY: Prime Minister, g'day and welcome to Gladstone.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, g'day Paul, I'm envious. I was up in Gladstone not that long ago. It’s an absolutely very special part of the world and it makes an enormous contribution to our country, particularly over these last 18 months, we’ve relied heavily on regional towns, regional centres like Gladstone.

MURRAY: PM, elephant in the room, let's talk about the Sydney situation and how other places have reacted. I think we're getting close to a line in the sand moment here where, as I explained a bit earlier in this show before this conversation, there are availability to get vaccinated in every capital city tomorrow. Right? Every five minutes, literally in some places. So if people want to get vaccinated, they can get vaccinated. They can do it as early as tomorrow. But for whatever reason, they aren't doing it. Why can't we get an arrangement, an agreement at all the states, that people who have been vaccinated won't have to have border bans applied, won't be held back from being able to see relatives at birth, death and marriage? Why can't we at least say that now, as one of the benefits on top of not getting the virus?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let me just sort of back up a bit first. I mean, the vaccination programme is really starting to ramp up. I mean, we're getting around 140,000 doses happening a day. And, you know, we're getting through about a million doses in about seven, eight days now. So this is a much stronger performance. And that's because, you know, more people have been going out and doing it. But the system has been really ramping up. Operation COVID Shield - it was about, several weeks ago, about a month ago now - I put Lieutenant General Frewen in charge of the vaccination rollout and we’re basically running it like I ran Operation Sovereign Borders many years ago with Lieutenant General Campbell, as he was known back then, now the Chief of the Defence Force. And so you bring the sort of logistics, strategic planning mind of these great people in our Defence Forces and you apply them to, he has command over all the resources he needs, the distribution, the strategic communications, the interactions with the GPs and the states, and we're seeing a real response to that. And he's laid this thing out for the next six months. So I think that's been a good change and it will really get us into the next gear.

But the point you make about people being vaccinated, they've had the two, if they’ve had the two doses, now we're still some way away from those two dose positions coming in. Right now with the vaccines, two thirds of those who are aged over 70, so our most vulnerable population, they have had their first dose. Half of those aged over 50 have had their first dose and over a quarter, now pushing 30 per cent, of those aged over 16 have had their first dose. You'll see the second doses then kick in at the three week, three month mark, depending on which vaccine they’ve had. So we are seeing those overall vaccine levels rise. But until, you know, that happens, then obviously you've got to wait for those two doses before you could consider what you're talking about.

Now, I did raise this a few months ago when I was over in Perth and discussing it with some people over there. It got sort of written up as, and when I went up to Queensland, it got written up as a sort of a vaccine passport. That's not what it is. It was just simply saying that if you've been vaccinated, that the state governments would recognise that, and you'd be able to move around in times like this. Now, the states aren't ready to accept that. I’ve put it to them, they're not ready to accept that as a, as something you can do. It happens a fair bit overseas, well, quite frequently overseas. They do it in the United States and in some parts of Europe and the United Kingdom when people are vaccinated. The difference there is that COVID’s right through all those countries, and that's not the case in Australia. So, you know, these are the steps that we've asked the states to consider, both to support the vaccination programme, but also that when people get vaccinated, then, you know, we can keep Australia as open, behind international borders - no one's talking about dropping those …


PRIME MINISTER: … but if we can keep Australia as open as possible behind those international borders, then we'll continue to see our economy do as well as it has been.

MURRAY: But given that that, you know, the best part of six million doses that are out there, within a few weeks, those people become fully vaccinated. I get it. It's not 10 million, it's not 15, but eventually it will be those numbers. Have the states given any indication that when we hit X number of vaccinated people, they will consider the situation that you first suggested, and I'm doubling down on at the moment, because it feels like you need more incentive than just you won't get the virus. While obviously that is the main incentive …

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, when I spoke to the South Korean President, President Moon, they've had a strong increase in their vaccination rates. And the principal reason for that is exactly this - this is why it's actually increasing - that if people are vaccinated then they're not subject to the restrictions on, you know, going to see family and things like that, how many people go to a restaurant, attending events, things like that. Now, I know there are real reservations in Australia that, you know, the idea that the vaccine entitles you to do something and doesn't allow others to do it. There is a concern about that in the community, and I acknowledge that, I understand that. I mean, the vaccine is not compulsory and we would not make it compulsory. But at the same time, if the health risk is lower after someone's been vaccinated, and that has to be established, then that does provide, you know, those things for states to consider. Now, we are moving towards that. We've been running a process now for the last couple of months with the premiers, through my Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, looking at the modelling and looking at the epidemiology and what would need to happen with vaccination rates and so on. That hasn't landed on any conclusions yet, but that work is going on. And I want to assure people that we're always trying to look at what's the next thing, what's the next thing, what's the next thing. But the virus, you know, proves to be quite a formidable opponent, and it keeps changing and there are new variants, and that creates new risks.

MURRAY: I want to turn to the longer term solutions about how to live with this, I don’t want to use that stupid term ‘the new normal’, but there was an opinion poll that came out that was, showed just nine per cent of Australians believe that hotel quarantine is a long-term solution to the quarantine system. Allegedly, 65 per cent of people suggesting we need purpose-built quarantine facilities. Now, I know that there's political advantages in certain states pushing that, and let's not bore everyone with those side issues. But have we hit a moment now of critical mass that we need to move on from the system that, yes, has worked well, but we need to move on from that?

PRIME MINISTER: The thing that was concerning us, the premiers and certainly myself, was that our health system would be overrun - that there wouldn't be enough ventilators, that the ICUs would collapse and we'd see large scale death. Now, we have avoided more than 30,000 deaths in Australia because of how we've managed COVID, and when I was with the other leaders, they are still just amazed about how Australia has been able to avoid the fatal calamity that inflicted so many of their countries. And right now, Paul, right now, there is not one person in an ICU with COVID, not one. Now, that's not the case in so many other parts of the world. But on the issue of quarantine, you know when this first hit, we needed to put in place a quarantine arrangement as quickly as possible. You know, we had people coming in on planes, we had borders going up. It was a lot of uncertainty. And so we agreed, amongst the premiers and I, that we would put this hotel quarantine system in place. Now, it's had a lot of critics. But I tell you, not too many outside this country, because about 370,000 people have been through that system, and I think there's been about 26 breaches and less than ten of those has led to community transmission. So if I told you a year ago when we did this that, you know, I reckon we do this, we'll get a 99.9 per cent success rate, I think you would have told me that, mate, I know you believe in miracles, but that's a bit of a stretch. But that's actually what's happened. So I think we should be aware of just and, you know, the rest of the world looks on at this and goes, that's incredible. I mean, New Zealand's had a similar experience. They run exactly the same hotel quarantine system as Australia does, and they've had breaches there too. The breaches in any system would occur. It's what you do when they occur. And this is what's happening in Sydney right now. New South Wales, I have no doubt, has the gold standard contact tracing system, not just in Australia, but I think in the world. That's how good I think they are. And that's why I think, you know, fellow Sydneysiders, you and I, can feel very confident that if anyone’s going to get on top of this with their tracing and not have to shut the city down, it's the New South Wales Government.

MURRAY: When we talk in the future, I'll talk about China, Murray-Darling, all the rest of it. I'd love to get you into one of these pubs to talk to good people, like the people that are in this room. So I’ll ask you one last question before you go.

PRIME MINISTER: I wish I could. Plenty of time mate.

MURRAY: Yeah, well, when it's possible. Yeah, correct. So how does Barnaby help you win the next election?

PRIME MINISTER: By working together, I mean, that's it. I mean, the Liberal and Nationals have been in government more often than not since Robert Menzies founded the Liberal Party. And he said himself that, you know, we do our best for the people of Australia when we work together. We come from slightly different perspectives, we have a different take, and there are a lot of rural and regional people in the Liberal Party, as there are in the Nationals. But we do our best when we work together and when we come together and focus on the things. We do our best work when we don't try to be separate from one another, but when we get together and knuckle down and work hard for the country, and that's what we've done as a Government. I mean, Barnaby and I worked together when I was Treasurer and he was Deputy Prime Minister back some three years ago, so we’re quite used to working with each other. We know each other very well and I think we can get a lot done, but we get it done together, heading in the same direction.

MURRAY: PM, nice to talk to you. I was going to say enjoy the next couple of weeks, but you're at home.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm looking forward to getting back to Sydney and seeing Jen and the girls. I've already been away for several weeks and more, so a bit more to go, but staying in touch with them. But you enjoy yourself up there. I mean, it's a wonderful place to be up there in Gladstone. Kenny O'Dowd, you might pop into, he'll be on his way back home after Parliament's been sitting these last two weeks. He's done a terrific job up there, Kenny, and he's a great fellow. So, say g'day everyone up there at Auckland House or and at the other places, down at the local swimming pool, where I got up there one afternoon and swam with the kids during squad. They left me behind a long way, I must confess. But it was a great, it's a great town.

MURRAY: Good stuff, thank you PM.

PRIME MINISTER: See you, Paul.


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