Interview with Jim Wilson, 2GB Drive

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Vaccine roll-out; incoming traveller caps; quarantine.
05 July 2021

Jim Wilson: On the line is Foreign Minister and Minister for Women, Senator Marise Payne. Senator, welcome back to Drive.

Marise Payne: Good afternoon, Jim. How are you?

Jim Wilson: Good thank you. Thank you for your time as always. Let’s get into it. I mean, we’ve had a weekend to digest the four-point pathway program or road map as such out of this crisis. Will the states back your government, because I hate to say it, Minister, but their track record over the past 12 months doesn’t fill me with a lot of hope.

Marise Payne: Well, I think it’s a very important plan, Jim. It takes us through the next steps in the current phase of vaccination preparation and piloting, then a post-vaccination phase, as has been set out. Then into where we are able to consolidate the management of Covid-19 and then into that final phase, which will allow us to be much more opened up. And it is about working together, you’re absolutely right about that. And I know that through the process of the National Cabinet the effort is being made to come to that point. So hopefully we will see a transition through all of these phases, and I think that Australians are certainly willing the process on.

Jim Wilson: But the key to his road map, Minister, is obviously the vaccine roll-out. But supplies of the Pfizer jab or vaccine are in high demand around the world. Why didn’t we order more of the Pfizer when we had the chance over the past 12 months?

Marise Payne: Well, we made arrangements across a number of vaccines, as I know the Health Minister has been saying in some detail. That includes the Pfizer vaccine, and that will see us receiving a significant number of those doses – 40 million, in fact – due to be received by the end of the year. And that’s sufficient to vaccinate our eligible population.

Jim Wilson: How about the messaging around the AstraZeneca vaccine? It’s been pretty shambolic. Hasn’t exactly instilled faith in the vaccine amongst the general population. Do you think the messaging could have been better?

Marise Payne: Well, what we've seen, interestingly, is a strong take-up in the last week of AstraZeneca first doses in Australians under 40. And I do think the important messaging about consulting with your GP, being fully informed and then making a decision based on receiving that information is absolutely key. So, the processes that we are going through are processes I’ve seen, of course, around the world in recent months through my role as Foreign Minister, but, importantly, that consultation with your GP so that you can inform yourself and receive the advice that you need is vital.

Jim Wilson: But has that been lost, though, as far as people are more concerned or there’s been more of a message around the safety concerns around AstraZeneca rather than consult your GP, get the full picture from the medical expert and if it’s right for you, get the jab.

Marise Payne: Well, I think what we’ve seen in the last week certainly is a number of Australians taking that message up and taking that advice up. And what I’ve seen during the pandemic, not just here but more broadly, is the danger of disinformation and misinformation. So, yes, we have to be absolutely careful and what we have seen in the last week is a significant number of Australians going to their GPs and seeking that advice.

Jim Wilson: How about the fact that we’re so far behind other countries in the vaccine roll-out? We’re the last or the lowest in the OECD. Currently around about 8 per cent of the total population has been fully vaccinated. We’ve sort of just taken our – we’ve fallen asleep at the wheel from a roll-out perspective.

Marise Payne: Well, I think we come from a very different starting position as well. And it is a challenge to compare directly countries to countries. But if you look at Australia’s circumstances where we have seen the impact of Covid in Australia has been significantly less than it has been in many other countries around the world. Globally there have been, as you know, 182 million cases and over 3.9 million deaths. Here we’ve had 30,600 cases or thereabouts and, very sadly, 910 people have died, but our circumstances are very different. We’ve been working through this process based on expert medical advice, and I want to pay tribute to all of those health professionals – those who provide us with advice every day and those who are on the frontline every day helping our communities, including now in the vaccine roll-out. Their work is the most foundational of so much that is happening right now.

Jim Wilson: But did you feel as a senior minister that we’d be further advanced in July 2021 than just 8 per cent of the total population vaccinated, or fully vaccinated?

Marise Payne: Well, what I’ve seen in the last few months is this growing progressively through the roll-out of the vaccines and the numbers of people who have been vaccinated and are continuing to do so. And that is Australians taking up the vaccination process and making sure that they have the coverage that they want. I know that this has been for all countries, including for Australia, a challenging process, but in the last seven days we’ve had a record number of vaccines administered – 875,047. That means that we’ve got more than 70 per cent of our over 70s with the first dose, more than half of our over 50s with the first dose, more than 30 per cent of the eligible population aged over 16 protected with the first dose. So we are progressing this as we have said we will do, based on medical advice and as vaccines are available.

Jim Wilson: We’re speaking to Foreign Minister, Marise Payne. Now New South Wales Premier, Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, has expressed reservations about cutting returning Australians on commercial flights by 50 per cent. As Foreign Minister and someone who’s been a huge advocate of getting Aussies home, are you disappointed the cap has been drastically reduced?

Marise Payne: It’s certainly a very challenging environment. And I know that there are many Australians and many families who will be dealing with this news and this change and endeavouring to make sure that their family members are able to return. But what we have seen, Jim, in the last 12 to 15 months – and I think sometimes it’s easy to forget the number of people who have come back into Australia. Since March of last year we’ve seen over 617,000 Australians return, both through hotel quarantine and into Howard Springs. In terms of registered Australians who are registered with DFAT, 94,700 have been able to return, and of the vulnerables who are registered over 14,000. So, I would encourage any families who are trying to address these issues to make sure they contact our consular emergency centre if they do require support, particularly if the changes in arrangements have impacted them.

Jim Wilson: How many more repatriation flights are planned, and from where?

Marise Payne: We have 20 repatriation flights planned between now and the end of September and then we will plan the next tranche from there. They are coming from a number of locations – from Europe, from India. In fact, there is one landing from India this week. They’ll all come at this stage into Howard Springs. But that is in addition to the 144 flights that we’ve also done in the last 12 to 15 months. 50 of those have come from India and 20 from the UK.

Jim Wilson: I’m not sure if you saw this report over the weekend, this one-way flight from London to Sydney costing up to $38,000 for a ticket. I mean, this is not the time for airlines to price gouge.

Marise Payne: Well, I would agree with you that we have to be very sensitive about these issues and that we don’t want to see anyone trying to take advantage. But the restrictions that are in place in the international aviation environment due to Covid, the very, very difficult commercial environment in which they’re operating, I know that airlines that we’ve relied on have been doing all they can to return Australians. But those figures are very confronting and they are ones which do raise concerns.

We’ve been able to assist a number of Australians financially in terms of ticket prices in the last period of time. We’ve helped over 4,600 Australians and provided over $34 million to do that for those who have had either to pay costs in place if they were not able to find flights or to assist with ticket prices as well. And I really appreciate the engagement of airlines with my department to help those Australians return, but, of course, this is a very difficult time for many Australians still.

Jim Wilson: Minister, before I let you go, what do you think of this whole idea as an incentive – I think it’s a very good idea, and it’s certainly worth a discussion – about the incentive of those returning home from overseas who are fully vaccinated being able to home quarantine over 14 days rather than hotel quarantine?

Marise Payne: Well, I think the current phase that we’re in is going to allow us to trial and pilot that with particular jurisdictions. I understand both South Australia and New South Wales have indicated their interest. And this is something we’re able to do now given the position that we’re in. Apparently, the work that we have already done shows that a vaccinated person doing quarantine for seven days is in a stronger position than an unvaccinated person doing quarantine for 14 days. So, we will do that trial. We will do an evaluation and if the evaluation is supported by the medical advice, then I would hope to see that taken up more broadly. And we’ll also continue to look at those commercial trials for limited entry of student economic visa holders. They will also assist with the data for that.

Jim Wilson: Minister, as always, thank you for your time.

Marise Payne: Thanks very much, Jim.

Jim Wilson: That’s Foreign Minister and Minister for Women, Senator Marise Payne.

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