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Interview with Paul Barclay from RN Drive on 17 August 2021

Read the transcript of Minister Gillespie's interview with Paul Barclay from RN Drive on 17 August 2021.

The Hon Dr David Gillespie MP
Former Minister for Regional Health

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PAUL BARCLAY: As you heard earlier, New Zealand will go into lockdown from midnight tonight after one case was detected in Auckland; the city's first in six months. But back home, five vaccination teams made up of Australian Defence Force personnel will be sent to Western New South Wales from tomorrow to boost immunisation rates, particularly among vulnerable Aboriginal Communities. An AUSMAT team will also be sent to assist with vaccinations. There were a further 16 COVID cases in the Dubbo region today. Broken Hill recorded one case. David Gillespie is the Regional Health Minister. Welcome back to RN Drive.

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Great to be back with you, Paul.

PAUL BARCLAY: More than 450 COVID cases today in New South Wales, 24 in Victoria, 17 in the ACT, lockdowns extended until next month, numbers expected to continue to rise. I'm sure you've been asked this question before, but what more can be done to bring this under control?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Well, I think what we're seeing now is the very nature of the Delta virus. It is incredibly easily transmissible.

The numbers are high, but I think particularly in New South Wales, the vaccination rate, which is ramping up incredibly over the last couple of days, it took four days to get a million jabs into people's arms. You know, 1.6 million over seven days. That is going to have a huge effect, because as the community develops in these people, there are less people who are likely to get it, and lower if they do get it. It's a mild illness and they spread it a lot less.

In Western New South Wales, it is a worry, because there is crowded accommodation in Dubbo, where the biggest numbers are.

The smaller places, they've got so many extra vaccines and so much support there now. I think people will get on top of this. It will ramp up incredibly quickly.

PAUL BARCLAY: Yeah. I suppose more and more of our eggs and the vaccination basket these days compared to lockdown's. But look, if I can just come to New Zealand, they've announced a three-day nationwide lockdown.

What does that mean for Australia? Will we tighten restrictions now for travellers from New Zealand?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Look, at the moment, I think it's not top of mind, but it will have to be assessed at a Federal level.

But one case, I think they wouldn't jump just at that. If it looks to be more widespread as they test, they might come to a different conclusion. But one case in the whole country, I doubt it.

PAUL BARCLAY: Yeah, at last I heard actually they hadn't confirmed it was Delta either, that case. So I suppose we'll wait for that as well. So one case has been infectious in Broken Hill and in Wilcannia for several days. That's causing elevated concern. Are there adequate health resources in these remote communities to manage this case and indeed to manage the prospect of more?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Look, that's a very good question.

I did ring a few of the local practises in Walgett and Collarenebri, and one of Aboriginal community controlled health service. They have got a lot more support, but it's a big burden to just put on these smaller healthcare institutions, whether it's the local general practice or one of bigger [indistinct].

That's why all those extra supports have been mobilised, both the ADF vaccine teams, all the AUSMAT teams. And look, the Royal Flying Doctor Service has also got vaccinators as well as delivering personal protective equipment and the actual vaccines.

So, look, it's all shoulders to the wheel. We've got a flood of vaccines into the area, they were already there, but now the uptake is, obviously, sped up considerably.

PAUL BARCLAY: Up until this point, Australia has done very well at keeping COVID out of Indigenous communities around the country. Wilcannia, of course, has a high Indigenous population.

What support is being sent there?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Well, look, there are Aboriginal community controlled health serive, which have had vaccines on site for some time. I, like many, question, why haven't they taken the vaccination up more than they appear to have. And it's exactly what (Minister) Ken Wyatt said today.

I got the same response a couple of nights ago when I rang these practises.

A lot of them thought, oh, no, it's something in Sydney or Melbourne. It's not going to get up to us. Plus, there was a level of distrust because of publicised concerns and also there was a strange lot of weird and wonderful tales circulating on Facebook, but now that it's popped its head up in these in these towns and areas, that hesitancy has gone out the window.

And I think you'll see a rapid take up of all the vaccines. Look, there's extra testing capability there as well. There's point of care testing, which is a very quick way of screening. And the ones that are being used are 90 per cent sensitive, and obviously these back up to PCR testing as well.

But look, Commonwealth vaccination centres are already there. They've got extra supplies, the general practices have got extra supplies and we've got extra PPE.

 And we have got all this extra support from the ADF vaccine teams, Flying Doctor, and they're standing up the AUSMAT teams, which are generally saved for going off to the islands or offshore, we are utilising that.

So there's a huge lot of support going to the region.

PAUL BARCLAY: Look, good to hear that that vaccine hesitancy is on the wane. But Labor was suggesting that as few as eight per cent of New South Wales Aboriginal population had been fully vaccinated. That is a disturbingly low figure.

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Well, if it's true, it is disturbingly low. But I've seen figures much higher than that, around 30 per cent, which is par for many areas up until recently, you know, even in South Western Sydney. Some of the highest rates, though, were in regional Australia, in other areas. There are…

PAUL BARCLAY: Yeah. I was just going to say there has been some criticism, not just of communications with Indigenous communities, but communications across multicultural communities in Australia. Does there need to be a greater effort in engaging on culturally specific terms with these communities?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Well, there has been an effort. Not all those cultural groups go to websites, but there has been extensive advertising on SBS, which a lot of the different non-English-speaking community rely on.

So there has been an effort, but it's a really complex mix because a lot of these people have been a bit suspicious because of that Dr Facebook advice, which is weird and wonderful.

There are groups in the cities and in the country that are very strong anti-vaccines in the far north and in some of the more wealthy suburbs. So, look, it's a complex amalgam, but the overwhelming response now is that there are people are rolling up their sleeves and getting vaccinated in absolute record numbers.

To get a million doses into Australian towns in four days when it used to take two weeks to do that. And we have more Pfizer coming in courtesy of our friends in Poland and the extra four million that Pfizer was able to supply.

And the Moderna is only weeks away. We're ramping up pharmacies as a delivery point, which are very convenient.

And there's 497 already in New South Wales and another 21 coming on next week. So I think we'll see these high numbers continue and we will get ahead of it. But it might have a few of these outbreaks dot it. But if we get a big enough pool of vaccinated people, it won't spread as quickly as it has thus far.

PAUL BARCLAY: Minister, thanks for your time tonight.

MINISTER GILLESPIE: My pleasure, Paul. Any time.

PAUL BARCLAY: That was Regional Health Minister, David Gillespie.

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