The Times
The Times

Scott Morrison's interview with Sylvia Jeffreys, Today Show

SYLVIA JEFFREYS: And we're joined by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Canberra. Prime Minister, thank you for your time this morning. How worried are you about this variant? 


PRIME MINISTER: Good morning. Well, it's obviously a variant of concern, but it's not the first one we've had. We've had 13 variants of concern over the course of the pandemic, 13 variants, I should say. And I think what's important is that we stay calm. Australia has 86.7 per cent vaccinated. Congratulations to all those down in South Australia. They went over the 80 per cent mark over the weekend. We have got our public hospital system and our health systems have been standing up very well. I mean, down in Victoria, there's over 1,000 cases a day, but our hospital system is coping. Now, that's the key thing here. It's no longer about cases and how we're managing COVID. It's about the severity of the illness that people have and how the public hospital system in the health system is managing and it's managing very strongly. So I commend the work that's been done there. And so with this variant, we know it could be more transmissible, but we also know that it's proving to be less severe. And so we just take this one step at a time, get the best information. Make calm, sensible decisions and the fact that 86.7 per cent of Australians are double vaccinated and we have one of the few whole of population booster programmes already underway. So if it's been six months since your second jab, please go out and get your booster shot. And these booster shots also obviously get updated all the time as as the drug companies work on improving those. 


JEFFREYS: So there are two confirmed Omicron cases in Australia at this stage. Are you aware of any more cases being confirmed in Australia overnight? 


PRIME MINISTER: No, but what I would stress, though, is our borders are shut with the exception of New Zealand and Singapore. There are many, you might, your viewers might have been seeing, other countries are shutting the borders, they're bringing their systems up to where ours already is. Only Australians, citizens and residents and their close family, as well as exempt travellers coming into Australia. And there aren't a large number of those. That's the only people who can come into Australia, and our border arrangements have been one of the key things that have protected Australia throughout the course of the pandemic, which means we've got one of the lowest fatality rates in the world, one of the highest vaccination rates in the world and the one of the strongest economies. Now we've achieved that just by doing calm, sensible, practical, balanced and getting the best information and then making good decisions. 


JEFFREYS: Your Minister Dan Tehan hasn't ruled out further restrictions on international arrivals though, is a suspension on all international arrivals on the table. Is that an option at this point? 


PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, we never rule anything out, but no one should read anything into that. We just, we will take decisions based on the best information. The National Security Committee is meeting again this afternoon. This morning, I advised premiers and chief ministers that I'd like to get them to get together over the next 48 hours so we can all be looking at the same information and make the decisions that are necessary based on the same expert medical advice. And there's a lot of information starting to come in, but it's still very early days with this variant. In all states except New South Wales and Victoria, there is 14 day hotel quarantine and there are capped arrivals into those states and territories. In New South Wales and Victoria, there is a 72 hour home isolation for those who are arriving, and if they've come from those any of those affected countries in the last 14 days, well, they're going into 14 day health quarantine there. The measures we put in place on the weekend and that started early Saturday morning when I received that information from our health advisers, the Health Minister made those announcements. The states in New South Wales and Victoria followed that up. I've literally just got off the phone from the Premier of New South Wales again this morning now, and we're just aligning our decisions and ensuring we're all working off the best information to keep people safe as we always have. 


JEFFREYS: So you're calling an emergency National Cabinet meeting within the next 48 hours. What will be your message to the premiers regarding domestic borders? 


PRIME MINISTER: Well, I wouldn't describe it that way, I wouldn't describe it as an emergency meeting, I would call it just a normal meeting that we would convene in these circumstances just to bring everybody up to speed with the same information. That's my primary concern at the moment. I want to make sure that we're all working off the best information that we all have, that we're drawing as a federal government from our partners overseas and making sure that their chief health officers are feeding into that conversation. So we'll be looking at that and making an assessment of it all. And if there are decisions that further decisions that need to be taken, then of course we will. But what I'd say to everybody is it's just important we remain calm about this. There's no evidence to suggest that this leads to any more severe disease. If anything, it's suggesting a lesser form of disease, particularly for those who are vaccinated. So the one thing everybody can do is to get vaccinated. And if you're not, if you've been vaccinated and it's been more than six months, then to go and get your booster shot. 


JEFFREYS: Is the government looking at bringing booster shots forward to, say, four or five five months after your second dose? 


PRIME MINISTER: No, that's not the medical advice. The medical advice is it's effective after the six months, and for many people, that will be you should be going and getting your booster shot now. I had mine the other week and I'd be encouraging those who are ready for those booster shots to go and get it. Australia is only one of a handful of countries where we have a whole of population booster shot programme. There are plenty of vaccines for people to do that and we'd encourage people to do that. And that, I think, continues to provide the defences that we need to deal with, not just this variant. As I said, we've had many variants and we've dealt with those and our hospital systems are coping extremely well, particularly in places like Victoria, where I said we've got many cases and those cases are there, but the hospital system is doing well. They plan for it. We modelled it. And so it's about living with the virus, living together with the virus and remaining safely open. We want Australia to remain open, open safely within Australia. And where we need to have controls on the borders than we already have them, and we'll keep those under close review to keep people safe. 


JEFFREYS: I'm sure you can sense some frustration in the community, given we thought that the worst was behind us and that we had some final, some finally some clarity around borders and and reuniting at Christmas as well with loved ones in various states and areas overseas as well. On the Queensland border, do you think it's safe for that to still open at 80 per cent? 


PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's what all of the work that we've done and the scientific modelling done by the Doherty Institute says, and particularly if this variant, which is it seems to be the case, is, has a less severe impact on people than they are the key issues to consider. Case numbers of themselves are not the issue. It's about whether people are getting a worse illness or it's going to put stress on your hospital system. And what we've seen in the states that have had these high case numbers is that the hospital impacts have been less than we anticipated on that modelling. And I think that augurs well for sensible decisions. I mean, we have to live with this virus. I mean, the fact that we've had a new variant, that is not a surprise. We've been saying all through the pandemic that new variants will come and we'll deal with them as they turn up. We'll get the best information. We'll work together. We'll make sensible, practical, balanced decisions. And my key message to people is to remain calm. Do what you're doing. Follow all the same usual procedures. Get your booster shot. Get your second vaccine. Let's get that vaccination rate up over 90 per cent. We're on track for that. That makes us one of the most highly vaccinated countries in the world. We're not in the situation we were back in March of 2020. We're in a very different situation to deal with these things now. And Australia has done very well through this pandemic. 


JEFFREYS: So keep calm and carry on to Queensland, is what I'm hearing. In other news, you've also announced new anti-trolling laws aimed at stopping online abuse. Are you worried that Facebook might pull the plug on Australia over this? 


PRIME MINISTER: Well, if they were to do that, I would think that would be an admission that they have no interest in making the online world safe. They have made this online world and the rules that exist in the real world should exist in the world that they've created. I mean, it's not free speech to hide in your basement as masked troll and abuse and harass and stalk people. That's not freedom. That's harassment and stalking. And there should be no place for that. All we're simply saying is, is that if you want to say something, then you should say who you are. And if the social media company lets you do that with a mask on, then we'll hold them to account. And we'll also lean into court cases where we think it's in the public interest to ensure that we hold these companies to account. Bad behaviour on social media is destroying lives. As a parent, I can tell you, it's one of the things that greatly concern me as my girls grow up. And I'm sure all parents feel that way about the impact and particularly on girls. Women are some of the biggest targets for this type of abuse on social media, and we need the online world to be safe. It offers so many opportunities, but it has to be safe for it to be successful. And what we're doing is taking on those big digital media and social media companies to ensure they make it safe for our kids, for our families and our community. 


JEFFREYS: I think there's a lot of support out there, particularly amongst our viewers, for cracking down on trolls. So we do wish you luck on that front. 




JEFFREYS: Before I let you go, though, PM, I couldn't, I couldn't let you go without mentioning last week in Parliament you were in some sort of disarray. The government was in some sort of disarray in the second last sitting week of the year. Are you going to be able to rally the troops for this final sitting week and before the March election? 


PRIME MINISTER: Well the election is next year, I don't know where you got that date from, but the election is due in the third week of May …


JEFFREYS: Oh come on, it's in March, isn't it? 


PRIME MINISTER: But the election is due by the third week in May. 




PRIME MINISTER: But the point about this look, there's all sorts of political games and theatre that goes on down here, but can I tell you I'm not distracted by it. Last Friday, last Thursday, I should say, we had to send troops into the Solomon Islands and AFP officers, and they're there right now dealing with a very concerning situation there. We're dealing with the Omicron variant here. We're dealing with other very serious issues in our region. We're getting people back into jobs. These are the things that I'm focused on. People will play the political games down here in Canberra and they'll carry on. I'm not distracted, but our team is focused on ensuring that we secure this economic recovery, we keep Australians safe, whether it's from the virus or the other threats we face. 


JEFFREYS: Ok, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, we appreciate your time this morning. Thank you very much. 

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much, good to talk to you.