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Interview with Michael Rowland from ABC News Breakfast on 10 September 2021

Read the transcript of Minister Gillespie's interview with Michael Rowland from ABC News Breakfast on 10 September 2021.

The Hon Dr David Gillespie MP
Former Minister for Regional Health

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MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay, let's get more now on the situation in regional Australia and bring in Federal MP, Dr David Gillespie. He's also the Regional Health Minister and he joins us now from his electorate. Good morning to you Dr Gillespie.

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Good morning Michael. Pleased to be with you.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Now, parts of regional New South Wales, including your electorate, are coming out of lockdown from midnight tonight. How do you feel about that? Is this the right thing to be doing at this point in time?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Well, in the areas that have been identified as being case-free, yes, it is. We've got to think of everything in this COVID pandemic, not just the health cases which are tragic and serious when people die from it, but there are many businesses that are dying. There's people with mental health, there's the education of our children, we have to get moving on a pathway out of these lockdowns. But we're doing it in a safe measured manner and I'm looking forward to it. Not all of my electorate, unfortunately, comes out. Just the northern part.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. Now, what advice have you got as a regional MP for people in those areas coming out of lockdown? Because we do know the New South Wales Government has made it very clear that all it takes is one, one active case before the relevant area plunges back into a 14-day lockdown.

MINISTER GILLESPIE: The advice is make sure you wear your mask as directed when you're inside and in venues. Make sure there's social distancing. Get yourself tested if you're sick. But the most important thing is, make sure if you haven't got vaccinated, please get vaccinated.

Now, with the bring forward doses from the UK and Singapore and Poland, there are going to be another 2500 GPs in the next couple of weeks being on boarded with Pfizer doses. They're being distributed around regional Australia as well as metro. But the preponderance of those GP clinics with Pfizer and existing AstraZeneca is in regional Australia.

Because we want to make sure regional Australia gets their vaccination rates in sync with those in metro Australia. That is a really important message. Get your vaccinated, protect yourself, your family, your kids, and your business, and we'll get our freedoms back in a structured safe way with good vaccination rates.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: That's such a great message to people in regional Australia because we have kept hearing over the past few months from viewers in various regional parts of Australia, not just New South Wales, about long delays for Pfizer, simply because there weren't enough supplies, which brings me to those Pfizer emails revealed this week.

Why didn't the Federal Government, of which you're part, act more quickly, David Gillespie, in signing that deal with Pfizer, in the middle of last year?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Well, just to put it on the record, we were meeting with Pfizer, and you've seen the emails about departmental conversations.

You know, I was even approached as a backbencher by Pfizer. And it wasn't when you sign the deal, you've got to understand, Michael, the vaccines turn up once they're available.

And we could have had 10 deals with Pfizer in North America but we wouldn't have got one dose sooner because all their production in America was kept as a moral imperative in North America.

New Zealand only got their Pfizer even though they signed before us- at the same time as us. Japan, who signed before us, only got their doses weeks before us. It's vaccine availability, not just the contract. But we're engaging with lots of vaccine suppliers around the world, not just Pfizer.

We had AstraZeneca, we had Novavax, and we had a whole committee of experts looking at other potential vaccine purchases.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Delays aside, but wouldn't signing the deal at least offer that level of security, that level of insurance, I guess, with this other global vaccine manufacturer?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Look, that's why we've had a multi-contract strategy. If you recall, we had a contract with AstraZeneca, but there were other players in this space, the EU Commission prevented AstraZeneca, even though we had a signed contract, and 3.5 million doses allocated for us, we had them blocked by the EU.

So, you've got to realise the manufacturers are like us in the Commonwealth, we move our assets, which are the vaccines, around where they're needed.

Extra doses going into New South Wales, or Queensland, or Victoria, haven't been at the expense of the population ratio deals. They were allocated across many states, not just New South Wales, where there were outbreaks.

And in the world stage, the vaccine manufacturers, if they've got thousands of people dying every day in North America, it's very hard for them to say, let's send a couple of million to Australia.

Look, we were victims of our own success in a way, Michael, because we had such a stellar flattening of the curve that people overseas making vaccines looked us, and they looked at themselves and they said, hang on, you can't send stuff down there, they've hardly had a blip on the horizon compared to the carnage in Europe, or North America, or Africa, Asia.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay, we'll leave it there. David Gillespie, thank you for joining us this morning.

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Thanks very much, Michael. My pleasure.

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