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Interview with Paul Culliver from ABC Capricornia on 15 October 2021 on regional health and COVID-19 vaccinations

Read the transcript of Minister Gillespie's interview with Paul Culliver from ABC Capricornia on 15 October 2021 on regional health and COVID-19 vaccinations

The Hon Dr David Gillespie MP
Former Minister for Regional Health

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PAUL CULLIVER: Well, yesterday at this time, you might have heard from Mark Butler - he's the Shadow Minister for Health. He's been travelling through the region; he was in Gladstone yesterday. Well, another person very much responsible at the federal level for your health is the Minister for Regional Health - his name is Dr David Gillespie. Not physically here because, of course, COVID and borders, but he's been doing a virtual tour, hearing from people. Let's find out what he's heard. Dr David Gillespie, Minister for Regional Health, good morning.

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Good morning, Paul. Good to be with you.

PAUL CULLIVER: Talk me through this virtual tour, who have you heard from?

MINISTER GILLESPIE:       Well, I've been hosted by Michelle Landry, the Member for Capricornia. Michelle and I came into Parliament 2013. She's done so many good things. But obviously her concern, looking after her electorate with medical issues with the flavour, and we talked about workforce retention, getting new doctors into the regions, the vaccine rollout, doctor visa issues, specialty care as well in Rocky, and all the things that we've been doing. And we engaged with a couple of practices, of pharmacists, a community group that's working to get more doctors into country areas. And we had a round table with all those groups individually by the internet, and its amazing technology.

PAUL CULLIVER: It is. What are your takeaways?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Well, first of all, it's great to see what Michelle's already done. Michelle Landry has got $8 million for the Fitzroy Community Hospice, which is the first community regional dedicated, you know, total holistic end-of-life care in a regional centre. And also she's with the- my former- my predecessor, she organised a special remote vocational training scheme to get registrars into Claremont, into Claremont.

PAUL CULLIVER: [Interrupts] Minister, with respect, I- Minister with respect, I don't really want to spend this whole interview talk about what Michelle Landry has done in the region. She's on this program very often, and that's fine. But I'd like to talk about what you've learned while you're here.

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Well, what I've learned is that people want more doctors in the region. I didn't learn it; it's just confirmed what is pretty much a universal thing around the country. The vaccine rollout is working well in the region with pharmacies on board, and general practices on board, and the state-run clinics. There is still a bit of delay in getting the figures of other areas around the country, but it seems to be ramping up now You've seen the figures in the southern state, and there's a way to go before they'll reach those 70 per cent and 80 per cent. Some of the figures for first dose in this area, 62 per cent, 53 per cent, 61 [inaudible] ...

PAUL CULLIVER: Minister, you seem...

MINISTER GILLESPIE:       ... going to message all the groups. All the groups I spoke to is the best vaccine to get is the one you can. And now you've got Moderna in pharmacies, you've got Pfizer and AstraZeneca in GPs, and the state-run clinics have got AstraZeneca and Pfizer as well.

PAUL CULLIVER: Sure, yeah, they're- obviously, our concerns about the rates in central Queensland, they're not nearly as high as other parts of the state and other parts of the nation. What do you think is got to encourage those people that haven't yet got a vaccine to get one?

MINISTER GILLESPIE:       Well, I suspect once they realised they can't be immune forever from getting the virus. There's no way that we can permanently lock states or communities up, because it's sort of like trying to catch the clouds. The virus will go where viruses go, it's very, very easily transmissible, the Delta variant in particular. So the best protection is for large numbers of the community, you know, the higher above 80 per cent you go, the less chance that it will take hold in the community. And it's best to have that vaccination done before it gets away. Like you've seen in Victoria and in Western Sydney and in the west of New South Wales, where a lot of vulnerable communities had it. It goes through the community so rapidly before people realise, oh gee, even though we're in a remote part of Western New South Wales, the virus has made its way out there. So that's the take-home message from our experience with other states. And that's the advice I give to Queenslanders and those in Central Queensland.

PAUL CULLIVER: Obviously COVID's got to come in when the border opens. When should that happen?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Well as soon as they get up to that 70, 80 per cent mark there's a really good plan…

PAUL CULLIVER: [Interrupts] Well, which one?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Opening up? That will be at the, at the decision of the state government, but I'd like to see them open up as soon as we start getting that 70-plus per cent range, and definitely after the 80 per cent range.

PAUL CULLIVER: The double dose?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Yeah, for double dose, yeah. And look, it's as much an economic crisis as well as a health crisis. People's health is being destroyed, but so many more people have lost their income and their livelihood. And the whole Queensland tourism industry is on its knees, and we can't perpetually prop it up. They are crying out to get their normal market back, and that involves people from New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, all over the country. Perfect one day, or brilliant on one day, perfect the next. Queensland is a great place for a holiday, but if borders are closed- you know, it's really devastating for hospitality and tourism.


MINISTER GILLESPIE: And all those regional, regional areas that rely on tourism as well.

PAUL CULLIVER: Does the Federal Government take responsibility for how slow this rollout has been and the fact that we don't know if borders will be open by Christmas?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: No, it's a joint effort. The Commonwealth vaccination program has been available in regional Queensland, like it has been in every other state, for ages. And there has been a combination of vaccine hesitancy and a question of vaccine complacency. Because there was no big outbreak, people thought: I don't really need that. You know, that's something that's down in Melbourne or something that's down in Sydney. But it's not. It's just a question of when- you only need a couple of people to seed into an area, and it can get away before you realise it, because a lot of transmissibility happen with people who aren't necessarily that sick. And so you can temporarily hold things back while you build up your capabilities and you get the vaccine out. But that's not a permanent solution. And Queenslanders know that, and I'm hoping that they get on board and get themselves vaccinated.

PAUL CULLIVER: 7:52am, you're hearing from the Minister for Regional Health, Dr David Gillespie. He's been doing a virtual tour of Central Queensland. He's here on ABC Capricornia this morning. You'll remember yesterday we actually spoke to the Shadow Minister for Health, Mark Butler. I asked him about federal funding, more federal funding for Queensland hospitals. He said in order to sort of have that conversation, we'd need to see the detailed modelling that the federal government has. I just want to play a little bit of him talking about that.

PAUL CULLIVER: Minister Gillespie, why won't the Federal Government released that modelling?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Well, look, there's- Burnett modelling has been released, and that is what the Federal Government has been basing- and the state governments were privy to those modelling as well. They're not secret squirrel stuff. They're publicly available. [Inaudible]…

There's detailed plans that have been in place for months about surge capacity and public hospitals. As you know, the Federal Government stumped up and changed the funding model to increase funds from 40- instead of 45/55 per cent split, it's a 50/50. There's been extra funds. We paid for all the vaccines. We paid the states to inject the vaccines, just like we've paid pharmacists and doctors and all these contracting firms to vaccinate. We've had our flying doctor service. We've had army health teams contributing. And we've had special AUSMAT teams, the teams we get together when there's- say, there's a medical disaster or a disaster up in the islands, we send them overseas, but we've kept them in the country.

So, we have got all manner of help, like, 13 billion support for- just in this last wave of the coronavirus pandemic around the country, supporting the state, supporting businesses. And the health spend is over 30 billion. And a lot of that is washing through the- all the states, not just Queensland, but all the states.

PAUL CULLIVER: [Interrupts] Sure. Does the Federal Government have detailed modelling it hasn't released?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Detailed modelling? No, the detailed modelling that we are relying on is the Burnet Institute, which has been released already.

PAUL CULLIVER: I just want to get to the bottom. Mark Butler is saying there is detailed modelling that has not been released. Is that true?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Well, I don't know everything that goes on in National Cabinet, but my understanding is that they talked about the Burnet modelling. So if there's other modelling, I'm not privy to it. But that doesn't mean it's secret. People have got to realise this has been worked on for 18 months. There's been all number of very eminent scientists modelling what will happen. And that's why that 70 per cent and 80 per cent thresholds have been chosen because the reality is there will be infections. There will be people coming into hospital. But if you're vaccinated, the chance of that happening is vastly reduced because it changes a very serious illness either into not getting it at all, or if you're one of the leaky ones that don't get full coverage by the vaccines - and the vaccine coverage rate is about 90 per cent - you will get a mild illness, there's a much less chance you'll be in ICU, there's much less chance you'll be on a ventilator or die.

But unfortunately and sadly, that is the nature of- same as influenza and pneumonia, it can be really serious and you die from it. And COVID, because it's a new virus, the only way we get to fight it is our immune system has to recognise it, and that's what vaccines do. Other countries have seen what happens. The death rate in places like America and Canada are 10, 20, 30 times higher than what we've seen in Australia. We've had a very effective campaign, and it's always been based on scientific modelling. And that's why we have set these thresholds at 70 per cent to 80 per cent.

But look, around the country in that Burnet modelling, which is not secret, they estimate that there's about 1,000- I think the exact figures, I'm a bit- 1453 or something like that, deaths over the coming years. But in a normal flu season, you will get deaths from flu. But the thing with this is, in a normal flu season, not everyone gets it, because most people have a higher degree of immunity to the flu, because they've had the flu before, or they've had a flu vaccine. And that's why pandemics are called pan rather than epidemics. You might have a flu epidemic, but it's not a brand new virus.

PAUL CULLIVER: [Talks over] Understand. Minister, I think we're going to have to leave it there. I do appreciate your time today though. Thank you.

MINISTER GILLESPIE:       Okay. Thanks a lot.

PAUL CULLIVER: The Minister for Regional Health, Dr David Gillespie.


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