Transcript - Weekend Sunrise interview with Matt Doran

MATT DORAN

Acting Prime Minister, thank you very much for your time here on Weekend Sunrise. This morning, can we start with questions about the safety of this Pfizer vaccine. I want to put this into context because public confidence in vaccines is of course vital. Millions have received this without issue around the world, but it has been enough, Michael, for Norway to review whether in fact it is safe for the frail and the elderly. What's Australia's advice here yet, if any, will it affect the approval of the vaccine here?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well I spoke to Greg Hunt this morning, the Health Minister, who’s has asked the Therapeutic Goods Administration – they run the rollout of drugs and medicines in Australia – they will ask the Norwegian authorities, and moreover, they will also ask the Pfizer company for their answers in response to what has happened. But that is why all the way through the Federal Government has taken the best medical advice, whether it's from the chief medical officer Brendan Murphy and then of course Paul Kelly, through the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, and of course the Therapeutic Goods Administration. We've asked them, Greg Hunt has asked them to look into this and get back to him immediately.

MATT DORAN

Yeah that's interesting so Australia is on the front foot to double check whether this is safe for this subset. The vaccine was tested on tens of 1000s before it was approved. The average age was people in their 50s, which is interesting. There've been 10 deaths as well reported in Germany, so this is something that the Government is actively investigating and at least initially concerned about.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

And it's also why, Matt, we've not put all our eggs in one basket so of course we've got other options. And of course, Astra Zeneca as well, Novavax – we've got other options. We've got enough doses to, of course, roll out right across the nation, free of charge, and to also provide a vaccine, from February, for the Pacific Islands as well. So throughout the year, we're going to ensure that the vaccine is swift, yes, but safe. Absolutely paramount it will be safe.

MATT DORAN

Let’s look if we could at the Australian Open. I love the optimism of organisers here in trying to, I guess, hope that we're living in some sort of a normal world where an event like this could go ahead. Forty-seven players now told to isolate for 14 days. This was after positive COVID passengers on their flights. What's your view, Mr McCormack, should this tournament have been approved in the first place, should it be cancelled now.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

This has been entirely a matter for the Victorian Government and, of course, Tennis Australia and they've put in various protocols and processes to make sure the safety of players and to ensure the infection does not … they did not need any COVID cases, they didn’t want any. That’s why they’ve got their quarantining, that’s why they’ve got their various processes in place.

But if I were a Mildura stone fruit grower, I would be scratching my head how is it that this can happen when they can't get workers, isolated on their farms and quarantine and going through those various processes, they must be – and I know they are – very frustrated with the fact that Victorian Government has allowed the tennis players to come into the State to play in this very important event, it's an important international event and it does great things for sport and does great things for the economy. But when you've got already $38 million of produce left to rot, left on the trees. I know those Mildura, those Sunrayasia growers are very frustrated with the fact that they can't get the seasonal workers in on on-farm quarantining when we're allowing these tennis players – some with COVID – to come into Victoria play in a tournament.

MATT DORAN

It's not just the fruit growers, Michael, I can tell you who are scratching their heads. There are families across Australia who can't get into Victoria at this stage and there are Australians around the world who are looking at this thinking, oh my goodness how did 1,200 sportsmen and women get approval to fly into Victoria when we can't get home. What's your view on that?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Look, I couldn't agree more. And that's why we of course have with the situation with Australians overseas, stranded overseas that's why we've put on another 20 Government-facilitated flights from Europe, from Asia, from the United Kingdom and from other centres. They’ll start on January 31 and run for a couple of months and we'll keep assessing the situation. We've got 37,000 Australians registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who want to come home. And, of course, since the Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged, encouraged and, indeed, implored Australians to come home on March 13, we've had 443,000 Australians returned. But I get the frustration as well, understanding of course that this is a very difficult time for all. And that is why I say again to Australians, thank you for doing what you've done to keep our nation as COVID-free as possible.

MATT DORAN

Acting Prime Minister just finally could I ask you about an issue that will be put forward to National Cabinet on Friday. I guess it's about what Australia's called quarantine system looks like and our strategy moving forward. There have been calls for these remote quarantine hubs, how actively is that being considered do you think, and is that the way forward as opposed to having the hotel quarantine in our cities.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Oh, indeed it has been very actively looked at, and indeed I know that Premier Palaszczuk in Queensland is looking at setting up one up at Gladstone and that's been an option on the table all the way through. It's been very difficult indeed more up in Cairns and Townsville and those Tropical Far North holiday destinations, to have the same restrictions as Brisbane which is a long, long way away. It's been very difficult for particularly regional Australia. I’m on Wagga Wagga Beach, the ninth best beach in Australia. You could go to a new beach every day in Australia for 27 years and not have to go to the same beach twice. This is the ninth best of the 10 beaches in Australia. Regional Australia is a great place to visit, holiday and go to, but I know that Regional Australians were very frustrated when they're under the same pressures and same restrictions, as they were in metropolitan areas where COVID was rife. So, it's been difficult, appreciate that. So I say again, thanks to the Australian community for doing what you've done.

MATT DORAN

Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack, I will let you get back to the ninth best beach behind you there. It looks magnificent. Thank you for your time on Weekend Sunrise today.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Thanks for that; any time at all.

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