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Interview with Kieran Gilbert from SKY News on 6 October 2021 with an update on COVID-19 vaccination rollout, healthcare system in Queensland and lockdown changes

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's interview with Kieran Gilbert from SKY News on 6 October 2021 with an update on COVID-19 vaccination rollout, healthcare system in Queensland and lockdown changes

The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Former Minister for Health and Aged Care

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KIERAN GILBERT

Now on all of that and this very encouraging number of more than 350,000 doses in one day, I caught up with the Federal Health Minister a bit earlier in the day.

GREG HUNT

So I am optimistic that we can continue to go further. We’re at well over 90 per cent in the ACT, we’re on the cusp of 90 per cent in New South Wales and I think Victoria will get there as well.

Our real challenge will be to keep the vaccinations going in Queensland and Western Australia, and the Northern Territory.

And so I want to say to people in Queensland and Western Australia, and the NT, you've done a fantastic job but if you want a vaccination, there is a vaccination and every Australian has to presume that at some point they will be exposed to COVID. That's simply the reality around the world.

And the best protection is to come forward, to be vaccinated, to join those record numbers, to join the more than 80 per cent of eligible Australians that have come forward to be vaccinated.

KIERAN GILBERT

These other developments we've seen on the treatments for COVID-19. You've said that these have got to work alongside the vaccinations. Can you explain your thinking on that?

And once you get those high levels of vaccination, what sort of contribution do these treatments make to the health system?

GREG HUNT

So the treatments work to reduce the consequences of COVID-19 for those that catch it. We already have sotrovimab, which is a monoclonal antibody, that's given us an infusion in hospital, and now we have molnupiravir or molnu, which is an oral pill.

Basically, if you get COVID and you're in a group which is at risk of progressing to a hospitalised or more serious condition, then it would be prescribed for you. And we've purchased 300,000 courses or treatments of molnu. And what that does is it reduces by about 50 per cent, the risk of hospitalisation or death.

It doesn't reduce it by 100 per cent. So it's very important to be open and upfront about that. But if there are vaccinations and there are treatments, these are the things that will protect lives and save lives, which is the first task, but also reduce the ongoing risk of high numbers in hospitals.

And so that's what we have to do as a country. And so our job is to ensure that those treatments, the best of the emerging therapies, are available from around the world.

But the task for each and every one of us is to step forward to be vaccinated and to encourage our friends and family to step forward to be vaccinated.

KIERAN GILBERT

How worried are you that just yesterday, four of the big, well the four big hospitals in North Queensland all issued code yellow alarms that they're under stress already, and we know there's very little COVID in Queensland.

GREG HUNT

Well, none of these hospitals have been affected by any COVID pressures. These are all Queensland Government problems.

They have had ample chance to remedy it. It's got nothing to do with COVID. We have increased funding for Queensland hospitals on our watch by 99 per cent and at the same time they've increased by 55 per cent.

So today they could match our funding and that's what I'd be encouraging them to do. Match the Commonwealth’s funding increase.

But having said that, we do know that every state and territory has prepared. New South Wales has faced a test and has passed a test.

And what we've put in place to support is not just an agreement with the states and territories, which has delivered $6.3 billion for COVID hospital state partnerships and other elements related, private hospitals guarantee where we pay 100 per cent.

We're covering 100 per cent of the costs of the vaccinations and we're also covering 100 per cent of the cost of telehealth. That's an almost $4 billion investment and over 70 million consultations.

So we've prepared as a country and New South Wales has been through that test. Victoria is facing it.

And for Queensland, the message is very simple. The challenges they are facing at the moment have nothing to do with COVID and everything to do with state hospital management under this government.

KIERAN GILBERT

I've got this copy of the National Partnership on COVID-19 Response and in it, part five, you're alluding to it there with that $6.3 billion.

But just to clarify for our viewers, the Federal Government is providing 50 per cent of all costs when it comes to COVID-19. There were suggestions that the funding might have reduced mid-year.

Is there any truth to that? And is this agreement basically in place until the end of the pandemic?

GREG HUNT

Correct. So the COVID partnership with the states is ongoing. It was reported on the 7.30 Report last night that it had ceased. That was false.

So I’ve provided that advice to Laura Tingle and to Leigh Sales at the ABC, I've yet to receive any confirmation that they'll correct it tonight, but I'm correcting it.

The statement made last night was incorrect. This is an ongoing partnership. Payments are continuing. It lasts for the duration of the pandemic. But over and above that, we're paying 100 per cent of the cost of vaccines, 100 per cent of the cost of telehealth, 100 per cent of the cost of the private hospital agreements.

So that's why we've put in over $30 billion just for COVID health investment. And what's it all led to? It's led to the third lowest rate of loss of life across the 38 OECD countries. Not just this year, but across the entire pandemic.

So for each of those periods, and so that manifests itself in 30,000 lives saved. It manifests itself in jobs that have been saved and protected. And yes, there are difficult moments, but the fundamental task of saving lives has been bolstered by all of the steps that we’ve taken.

And in reality, there is a deep, profound partnership that’s working with the states. And yes, there are political points that, from time to time, individual states or others may make.

But the truth is, Australia has saved lives on an enormous scale, and that's come from the measures and the investments.

KIERAN GILBERT

The AMA president, Omar Khorshid, has said that he wants to see more funds into hospitals as well. Is it time that both the states - but the Commonwealth as well - have to look at this, these numbers going into the system and elevate them?

Particularly, I ask you that in the context of this situation, as you responded in Queensland, saying it's a Queensland issue. But surely it needs more resources if they're already at code yellow before they even get hit by COVID.

GREG HUNT

So the answer is that the COVID partnership is uncapped. And we already provide 50 per cent for that. And contrary to the reports, it's ongoing. Contrary to the reports, it's 50 per cent and contrary to the reports, it's uncapped.

And so I think those are really important things. In terms of overall hospital funding. We've gone from $13 billion to almost $26 billion over the course of our watch on a per annum basis and then 27, and then 29, and then $30 billion plus we pick up 100 per cent of this year, the $30 billion Medicare cost, and similarly aged care. And so these are the things that we are doing.

In terms of Queensland, that's very much an issue relating to their own governance, and there are no barriers to them increasing their funding to match the Commonwealth increase. But what is important; all of the states and territories have prepared for surge. That's certainly the undertaking that all of them have given.

But also, our observation that nurses, ICUs, the preparation on other fronts have been done, unless we're being misled and the public's misled. But I don't think that is the case.

So, the truth is, it is very important to know that since February of 2020, everybody has been preparing. Where there are questions about a state under-funding its own system - in the face of a Commonwealth increase which is almost double what has occurred in the state - that's something that the premier of Queensland can rectify and rectify today.

But our deep goal is to give people the support. As we've seen in New South Wales, they've done a magnificent job of dealing with the surge. Cases are coming down, and their hospitals that have faced the challenge, and they have really done a magnificent job in protecting people.

KIERAN GILBERT

Now, we've seen the situation, a couple of specific things I want to ask you about. First of all, your friend, the Treasurer, he's in quarantine again, in isolation, because of this case in his office. He's been tested, he's double-vaxxed.

Should he- do we have to move on from a situation where then someone in that scenario has to be in isolation for two weeks, given the vaccination rates which we're hitting at the moment?

GREG HUNT

Sure. So, look, I won't deal specifically with the Treasurer's case because Josh was adamant that the rules that apply to the state, are the rules that should apply to him. So he was very proper in saying; well, these are the rules for everybody, so they're the rules for me.

But more generally - and I'm certainly not critical of Victoria on this front - more generally, states that have high vaccination rates, are now reviewing their furloughing rules for health care professionals and for others, and their isolation rules.

And they are now going through the process of reassessing whether or not somebody who has been double-vaxxed, in an environment where people have been double vaccinated, should have to isolate for 14 days, or whether there is a new level. Whether it's seven days, or otherwise.

And so I’d encourage all the states to continue to do that through the medical expert panel as well as through their own assessments.

New South Wales is well advanced on that front. They're on the cusp of a 90 per cent first vaccination rate. The ACT is at 94 per cent first vaccination rate. So those two jurisdictions are in a strong place to do it. And frankly, Victoria is trending towards 90 per cent at a rapid rate.

There's an absolute sort of huge number of vaccines that are available there. And the vaccination rates allow these greater freedoms and a different response when there has been a contact.

And Victoria is moving on Tier 2 sites, and so I think that's appropriate and I'm frankly being supportive of that direction.

KIERAN GILBERT

And finally, Minister, before you go, I know you've got Cabinet. The Prime Minister has got this trip, or it may be a trip, scheduled to Glasgow and the G20.

Are you aware of any efforts to try and reduce his quarantine requirements? He's done three in the space of half a year of 14 days. Are you aware of any efforts to try and reduce that 14 to a week to try and enable him to make that visit?

GREG HUNT

Look, I'm not, so I can't answer on that. But his approach has been the same as the Treasurer's, and that is that the rules for one of the rules for all.

And the very fact that the Prime Minister of Australia has done three recent quarantine sessions, I think speaks to that commitment.

We are facing significant numbers in Victoria in the transition. And so the PM is very cognisant that as we move through the 70 and 80 per cent marks, that he has many duties, but his first duty is to focus on that transition and to make sure the Australians are both safe and that they are able to make that transition.

But we're deeply committed at the same time to the Paris process. I was the person who signed the agreement on behalf of Australia, and helped negotiate it at the Paris conference. And we're on track to meet and beat those targets, and we'll play an important constructive, fundamental role as part of the next round of discussions and negotiations.

So we'll be present, and we'll be deeply engaged, and I think it will be a very positive outcome. And I think Australians should rightly be proud of our achievements in having reduced our emissions significantly, consistently and having met and beaten our targets.

KIERAN GILBERT

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, thanks so much, appreciate your time, as always.

 

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