DAVID KOCH: PM, the Doherty Institute are the experts the premiers and the Federal Government has relied upon for advice to reopen the economy.
PRIME MINISTER: That's true. I mean, remember, this was the organisation down in Melbourne that were the first one to reproduce the virus in a lab and share that with the world.
PRIME MINISTER: So, these are the world's leading experts here. And, Sharon Lewin just confirmed again last night that at 70 and 80 per cent you can reopen safely, and that's the key point here. We're not just reopening because we want to reopen. We know that at that level, based on the expert scientific work that they have done, that we can reopen safely at that point and we can move forward. In fact, once you get above those levels …
PRIME MINISTER: … it is, it does more harm than good to have lockdowns, both economically and more broadly on people's mental health and other physical health issues that come from those type of restrictions. So, that's the advice. That's the basis for the plan.
PRIME MINISTER: We've all signed up to it. We all need to get on with it.
KOCH: Ok. Well, but you haven't all, you signed up for it back months ago. Why are some states now saying, “Ok, we agreed to follow these people's plan, but, oh, now we don't agree with it”. What's going on?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, well, if at not at 70 and 80 per cent, then when? I mean, when? I mean, and the point is, once you get to 70 and 80 per cent, what we also need to bear in mind is first dose rates will still be even higher than that. And, also, those in our most vulnerable populations, our elderly in particular, they'll be at even higher rates than that, double doses. And, that's why by getting the elderly vaccinated early that has put an additional layer of protection in. And, we're seeing that even with the Sydney outbreak now compared to the Melbourne outbreak last year, that the level of fatalities is significantly lower because we were able to vaccinate particularly those in our aged care facilities. So, look, look, I think there's some hesitation based on the fact that there's been more cases that have occurred in New South Wales. But, as the Doherty Institute made clear again yesterday, that that doesn't ultimately have an impact on the conclusion of their model.
PRIME MINISTER: What it does mean is, as you just, I heard in the intro, your previous person you were interviewing, of course, you've got to get things right in your public hospitals and your health system, and that's the work we need to do. We should just be preparing for that, walking into the plan, not walking back from it, because Australians are doing the right thing. And, seven, eight out of ten Australians who have done the right thing and got vaccinated, well, the plan was a deal for them. It wasn’t a deal with me. It was a deal with them.
PRIME MINISTER: And, so, that means we need to move into that, so families can be reunited, we can get into the new COVID normal in the future. We've got to get out of the cave.
KOCH: Ok, but Queensland and WA want to stay in the cave. They're saying, “We're backing away from that blueprint.”
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we'll see, we'll see. And, you know, there's a lot being said now, but several months down the track, you know, you've set out, I mean, everybody's got their predictions about when these marks will be hit. But, as each day passes and 300,000 more people each and every day vote to get with the plan, get vaccinated, and move Australia forward, I think as each day that passes, I think we'll be able to address any of the concerns and fears. And, I think the key concern, with great respect to my colleagues, is that we need to make sure that the public health response, because there will be cases. I mean, we've got to change our mindset. There will be cases. Of course there will be. But, as we're already seeing this year with the vaccine, that compared to the lockdown last year in Melbourne to what is occurring this year in Sydney, that we're seeing far fewer cases of fatality, far fewer cases of hospitalisation.
PRIME MINISTER: And, that is what the vaccine achieves.
PRIME MINISTER: And, that's why it assists us to get where we want to go. But, we're still going to have to live sensibly in a COVID world.
PRIME MINISTER: I mean, there's not zero restrictions. There’s common sense, a baseline sort of level restrictions, and I wouldn't even call them restrictions. It's just common sense behaviour about washing your hands and maintaining good hygiene and doing all that sort of common sense stuff, like you do with the flu.
KOCH: But, are you feeling a bit of a lame duck on this issue, that you really can't get Queensland and WA to toe the line? You can say, “Stick to the plan,” but if they say, “No, we don't want to,” there's nothing you can do about it.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, let's just see, David, that's my point.
KOCH: What can you do? What will you do?
PRIME MINISTER: I mean, a lot of noise, a lot of noise at the moment. Look, the point is this. The Australian people want to see it happen. The Australian people, seven out of and eight out of 10, right across the country, will have made their voice very clear.
KOCH: Do they? Yeah, but in those states ...
PRIME MINISTER: And, that’s why David I have confidence. Yeah, look, there's lots of hypothetical discussions about what people might and might not do. Let's just see what they actually do do.
KOCH: Yeah, but don’t …
PRIME MINISTER: And, we'll keep working together between now and then to open up the country. And, so, I'm not I'm not I'm not intimidated by it. I'm not worried about it. What I am focused on doing is ensuring that we continue to address issues that are raised, make it very clear that we can open up safely at those marks.
PRIME MINISTER: We prepare our health system, you know, we embrace this. We move into it. That's what Australian’s expect of us, around the country, to get it done.
KOCH: But, Mark McGowan, Mark McGowan and Annastacia Palaszczuk are extremely popular in their states. So, basically their communities are saying, “We back you.”
PRIME MINISTER: Well, let me be clear, there is nothing more powerful to deal with COVID than the vaccine. There’s no Government, there's no individual, there's no set of border protections that is more powerful than the vaccine. And, once the vaccine is there at 70 and 80 per cent, you do more harm than good to your people …
PRIME MINISTER: … by locking them down and locking them up and keeping them in the cave.
PRIME MINISTER: And, over the next few months, I think people will understand that very clearly. And, there's plenty of time to get ready. We'll keep working together. So, I'm not going to get drawn into, and I don't, you know, I'm not looking to get drawn into any sort of debate about this with the states. We've got a plan. We’ve agreed a plan. It's based on the best medical, health and economic advice. And, so, we've got to get on with delivering that plan. Others will try and draw us into conflict and debate and, and all of that sort of stuff. That’s what happens ...
KOCH: Well, you’re not agreed.
PRIME MINISTER: But, we'll just focus on the plan.
KOCH: Well, we want you to all do that. Can you guarantee that we’ll be able to have Christmas with family and friends interstate?
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, I believe we will be able to be in that position if we hit those marks of 70 and 80 per cent, because there's no reason why you shouldn't be. That's the whole point. I mean, you get to 70 and 80 per cent, what would, what what possible reason would there be to prevent that?
KOCH: Ok, yeah.
PRIME MINISTER: So, I mean, that's that's the compelling argument. It's not a deal with me. It's a deal with the Australian people who are keeping up their end of the bargain, and they expect the political leaders to keep their end of the bargain. Now, you're right, the Commonwealth doesn't have control over public health leavers. That's true. We've known that since the start of the pandemic. John Howard made that point himself. I mean, I think these powers of the states were not as well known at previous times because we didn't have pandemics running like we do now. I think people are very alive to the very important powers that states and territories have. But, that also means they have great responsibilities. And, those responsibilities are to, you know, support the health and the economic wellbeing of their states, which I absolutely believe they're committed to, and I, that's why I believe we'll get this done.
KOCH: Yeah, ok. So, you believe, but you can't guarantee, and that's the problem with the federation in a pandemic. Should you have imposed a health emergency so that the Federal Government can be consistent and we have consistent rules for everyone right across the country?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, there is not that power in Australia. It doesn't exist. It just doesn't exist. So, I can't sort of play fantasy government …
KOCH: State of emergency.
PRIME MINISTER: I have to deal with real government in Australia.
PRIME MINISTER: No, there is, there are no powers that enable that to occur in this country, David.
PRIME MINISTER: They just don't exist.
PRIME MINISTER: And, and that means that we have to work together. And, that's why on 52 occasions I've got the premiers and the chief ministers around a table, and now we're doing that every week and have been for a very long time, to make sure that we keep coming back to the issue. And, you know what happens every week before National Cabinet, every week the stories appear, oh, they're disagreeing, nothing's happening, etcetera, etcetera. Everybody lays in. Then we get together in the room on the Friday and we sort it out, and it all turned out to be …
KOCH: And, then they disagree the next week. Then they disagree when they walk out again.
PRIME MINISTER: And, then the cycle repeats itself …
KOCH: I know.
PRIME MINISTER: ... and then we all agree it again, and we keep moving forward, every single week we keep moving forward.
KOCH: Ok, alright.
PRIME MINISTER: So, that's what the job is and we'll keep getting it done. That's democracy in Australia.
KOCH: Yeah. Alright, Prime Minister, appreciate your time. Thank you.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, David.