This content relates to a former minister

Interview with Nic Healey from ABC Western Plains Breakfast about COVID in regional NSW

Read the transcript of Minister Gillespie's interview with Nic Healey from ABC Western Plains Breakfast about COVID in regional NSW.

The Hon Dr David Gillespie MP
Former Minister for Regional Health

Media event date:
Date published:
Media type:
General public

NIC HEALEY: David Gillespie is the Minister for Regional Health. Minister, good morning to you.

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Good morning, Nic. Pleased to be with you.

NIC HEALEY: Now, you made a special shout out in Parliament this week. You did congratulate regional New South Wales, including the west, of course, about how we're responding to the Delta crisis at the moment. I do have to ask, should the Federal Government have done more before now to prepare regional and rural New South Wales for the Delta outbreak and for this vaccination run?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Oh look, when you look at it in the big scheme of things, everything seems clear in hindsight. But I just want to reassure people there were plans and planning for regional Australia, including Western New South Wales, both at the state level and at the federal level. And you can just see that the speed with which the step up happened, that was because all these potential outcomes had been modelled.

It's disappointing that the outbreak has got away. But with the Delta variant it is incredibly much more transmissible easily just by, you know, shouting, singing in close quarters - in transport and in hotels. We've found this. It is like trying to prevent the wind from getting around. That's why all the traditional public health measures like masks are important, because while it doesn't, you know, stop it in its tracks, it certainly reduces the transmissibility rate from, you know, testing - sorry, mask wearing, washing hands, social distancing - all those practises can reduce the so-called R number from just below six to about one and a half.

But the virus is there in the community. Dubbo's obviously the biggest centre of it. But we've got extra federal support that has come across the region through the Flying Doctors Service, through more general practitioners, more pharmacies now. The state has got their big clinics happening, and also, we have got five ADF teams across the region - that's medical teams. We've obviously got the ADF in the other general support, you know, traffic, helping at vaccine centres and checking welfare, isolation and all those sort of things. And we have got AUSMAT teams, which are Australian Medical Assistance Teams that get put together and out into the field, usually overseas. But we've kept them here and they are helping in Western New South Wales as well.

NIC HEALEY: Minister, I appreciate that I think Delta has thrown a spanner in the works that not everyone saw coming, but nothing's changed. The fact that we always knew that vaccination was the key to getting out of this and there has been 18 months of pandemic for, for which we could've got vaccines, especially focused on the more vulnerable, remote, First Nations communities. And I think people are rightfully still a bit angry about how the vaccine rollout has gone now. You know, we were told it wasn't a race. We're very much feeling like it's a race now.

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Every, everything about this pandemic, Nic, is that it changes. And look, there was a plan, there was distribution both in Indigenous and non-Indigenous quarters across the nation, not just in Western New South Wales. A couple of months ago, there was a significant issue of vaccine hesitancy amongst the whole Australian population and Western New South Wales was not short of that. Look, Ken Wyatt, my good friend and colleague, he has said the same things to me and he said it in Parliament. A lot, a lot of Indigenous communities had a lot of misinformation blowing in their ears via, you know, Doctor Facebook and all these weird and wonderful stories about 5G - all sorts of things across the whole community.

But people realise now that vaccination is the way forward and it is ramping up. It's not at a level yet where we can take our foot off the massive rollout that's happening around the nation, and in particular in Western New South Wales. You know, there's another 5700 going out through general practices earlier last week and the week before. Flying Doctor was flying in extra PPE, extra 8700 doses into the region. And around the Darling run, all those smaller towns, they're all scheduled for visits -, Wilcannia, Lightning Ridge, White Cliffs, you name it.

The area has been covered or is being covered and we are just concentrating on keeping that basic principle - get tested; if you're unwell, most certainly. Even if you aren't unwell, but you want to know that you might be a silent carrier, the only way to find out is to get tested. And testing both PCR and the rapid antigen tests are distributed around that region.

NIC HEALEY: I think for many people living regionally - and obviously we're talking specifically around regional New South Wales, but I think this would go country-wide - I think what we've seen with the vaccine rollout, with the response to COVID 19, has echoed concerns that regional parts of the country have always played second fiddle when it comes to metro areas in terms of healthcare. Now, I know you're fairly new to the portfolio, but is that something you're hoping to focus on?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Having worked in regional health for 33 years, because I was a doctor before I was a pollie - I worked on the coast in Port Macquarie, I trained in the big smoke in Sydney and London, but that has been my life. The rollout, everywhere wants it to have been quicker, I acknowledge that. You know, we have got issues on the coast as much as you've got issues inland. We are catching up, the rollout is happening, and people will be reassured. You know about [indistinct], you know. General practices are the biggest point of care. Commonwealth vaccination clinics, there's eight of them in Western New South Wales. We've got the Flying Doctor, we've got the AUSMAT teams, we've got the ADF teams. We're doing a full bore press, trying to cover everywhere as quickly as possible.

And we have got Moderna, another 10 million vaccines that will start rolling into the country from Moderna. Moderna is like Pfizer, it's a quick interval of vaccination, as opposed to the longer one with AZ. But there's 10 million doses between September and Christmas coming, and they will be rolled out through another tranche. We've already got almost 800 across regional New South Wales in pharmacies, but the Moderna will be going out as well.

So, things are ramping up. As John Barilaro said, we've got to keep these suppression manoeuvres and keeping movement reduced, and people at home unless you've got essential stuff to do, like get a vaccine, or get a test, or get their food, it's going to go for some while because we will only see the peak drop off as we get up to those higher vaccination percentages mentioned in the national plan.

Look, everyone wants their life back. I want my life back. Everyone wants it back. But the way to get there is to get vaccinated, and Western New South Wales is certainly turning up and they're certainly rolling up their sleeves. And we have got as much, you know, firepower rolled in and active in the area as anywhere in New South Wales.

NIC HEALEY: Minister, appreciate your time this morning. Thank you very much. David Gillespie, Minister for Regional Health.

Help us improve

If you would like a response please use the enquiries form instead.