June 30, 2021

Click here to listen to the interview.

RICHARD KING, PRESENTER: A lot has been said about the confusion – well not just amongst Aussies in wondering, you know, which vaccine we should get et cetera, but there seems to be a bit of confusion amongst our politicians. Let’s just recap a little bit about what our Prime Minister Scott Morrison had to say on Monday.

GRAB OF SCOTT MORRISON: The ATAGI advice talks about a preference for AstraZeneca to be available and made available to those as preferred for those over 60. But the advice does not preclude persons under 60 from getting the AstraZeneca vaccine.

KING: Now let’s listen to the president of the AMA.

GRAB OF DR OMAH KHORSHID: The advice, though, from the AMA, and from doctors, is the same. The experts have said that the preferred vaccine under the age of 60 is the Pfizer vaccine.

KING: Okay, so you can understand why people are a little confused, you know, who is eligible and who should have it? Well the confusion is highlighted by a letter that was sent by a constituent of Pat Conroy, the Member for Shortland, Col from Blacksmiths, who emailed both the New South Wales Premier and the Prime Minister about the slow Pfizer rollout locally.

And the response he got? Well firstly from the Prime Minister’s Office: “looking at the issues you raise in your letter, the New South Wales Government would be best placed to respond to you”. And then they say, “to assist with that, we’ve referred your letter to the New South Wales Premier’s Office”. And the New South Wales Premier’s Office in response to Col’s letter said “as the matter raised falls under the primary responsibility of the Federal Government, it is appropriate that they consider your correspondence”.

So the Prime Minister’s Office said ‘you better contact the State Government’, and the State Government said ‘no, no, this is one for the Feds’. 

SHANNA BULL, PRESENTER: And they’re running the country, it’s a bit of a worry.

KING: Yeah. They’re confused, no wonder why we are confused. And with more on that, joining us now is the person who received that letter from one of his constituents, the Member for Shortland, Pat Conroy.

Good morning Pat.

BULL: Good morning.

PAT CONROY, MEMBER FOR SHORTLAND: Morning Richard, morning Shanna, how are you?

BULL: We are well thank you Pat.

KING: Confused like a lot of Australians unfortunately Pat.

CONROY: Yeah it is just a massive stuff up, and that’s why we’ve got 11 million Australians at the moment in lockdown, because of what is occurring with the Federal Government and the State Government. It’s just a shambles.

BULL: Earlier this week Pat, obviously that crisis National Cabinet meeting was called, and the Prime Minister came out and said the AstraZeneca now – anyone who wants it under 60 can speak with their GP. If they say you’re okay, basically you can get it. Then the following day, we see the AMA come out and basically say that they’re against this advice according to the vaccines safety body. It’s really inconsistent messaging we are getting here and they need to be in some sort of alignment for the public to have any confidence.

CONROY: That’s absolutely right. It’s almost like the Government is actively discouraging people from getting vaccinated. And it’s very clear that Mr Morrison made this announcement without consulting with the National Cabinet, certainly without consulting with his medical advisers or the Australian Medical Association, and the confusion’s everywhere.

I read in the papers today about someone locally who took his advice and rang his GP surgery and the GP says ‘well we’re not giving out AstraZeneca to those under 60 at all because of the risk’. And I think this all goes back to why did he make that announcement - it’s because he stuffed up the rollout of the Pfizer vaccine.

This Government had two jobs: get the vaccine rollout right, and have a national quarantine system, and they’ve failed at both.

KING: Look a lot of people have spoken about vaccine hesitancy. How do we overcome this vaccine hesitancy?

CONROY: Well I think in most cases there isn’t hesitancy, people just can’t get access to the supply. There’s lots of confusion out there because of the mixed messages from Mr Morrison and Mr Hunt who have said it’s not a race and you can take your time when clearly we can’t take our time, and when I talk to most people about this issue, there’s a real frustration that they can’t get the vaccine.

So I think there’d be about 10 per cent of the population who is nervous about getting the vaccine, but for the vast majority, they want the vaccine and they want it yesterday, and unfortunately we are in a position where this Government is just unable to deliver it.

KING: Given that this new Delta variant has come from overseas arrivals, both the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Annastacia Palaszczuk the Queensland Premier came out and called for a massive reduction of overseas arrivals. Do you think that would be a good idea Pat?

CONROY: Well we need to change something because what’s clear is that the quarantine system, the hotel quarantine system, is broken. We’ve had 26 outbreaks from hotel quarantine including five in the last month. The lockdowns we’re in now are because of hotel – national quarantine outbreaks in Brisbane, Sydney, and Adelaide for the Melbourne lockdown.

So we need a national quarantine system and the Federal Government needs to be working with the States to build purpose-built facilities so that we can get people home safely. Because we’ve still got tens of thousands of Australians stranded overseas, and they’ve got a right to come home, but we’ve got to do it in a safe way. That’s why the Premiers are saying ‘hold on, we need to slow down’, because the Federal Government haven’t got that national quarantine system which is clearly their responsibility under the Constitution.

KING: So you think it would be a good idea to reduce the number of overseas arrivals just temporarily?

CONROY: Well I think we need to fix the system and if that involves a temporary reduction, that might make some sense. I am not getting the briefings that the State Premiers are getting, but what I can say to you with 100 per cent certainty is that unless we get a national quarantine system with purpose-built facilities, we will get more outbreaks if we use the hotel system. And that’s leading to 11 million Australians under lockdown, so this system desperately needs to be fixed quickly.

BULL: Pat, your electorate of Shortland is one of the oldest demographics, so I am sure that you’ll be pleased that the Government has finally made it mandatory for aged care workers to get vaccinated considering they work with the most vulnerable people in our population.

CONROY: Absolutely, and I was amazed they’ve taken so long to do that. Only 16 per cent of aged care workers are fully vaccinated, and the vast majority of those unvaccinated aren’t because they’ve refused to, it’s because they can’t get access to the vaccine. Mr Morrison said that the entire aged care workforce would be vaccinated by Easter. We are now into practically July and it still hasn’t occurred, and we need it. We need it desperately. As the sixth oldest electorate in the country, Shortland is very vulnerable and we need to make sure that every single resident is vaccinated and people like aged care and healthcare workers have priority access to the vaccines.

BULL: Richard and I have been speaking on the show about overall how positive it has been to see the majority of people doing the right thing around the Hunter, you know, wearing a mask. But it’s not a good look is it Pat when one of our own politicians, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, is caught out flouting the rules, but on the other hand I suppose it’s good to see he didn’t get away with it.

CONROY: Well I am glad to see someone called Crime Stoppers to report him, and it just amazes me. I went to the shops yesterday – I had to do some grocery shopping – and it was no issue putting on a mask so I am not sure why Mr Joyce couldn’t put on a mask to go into the petrol station and pay for his petrol.

This guy is the Deputy Prime Minister. He has got a responsibility to set an example, and him flouting the rules and then joking about it on television was just amazing.

KING: Yeah we might just have a listen.

GRAB OF BARNABY JOYCE: I went into the Caltex service station, I was going to the airport, I forgot to get fuel for Vikki, filled the car up with fuel, went in, 30 seconds later, 200 bucks it cost me, because I didn’t wear one of these. But that’s life.

KING: Ha ha ha, very funny. Yeah.

CONROY: That’s right, and he’s just got a $200,000 pay rise for knifing Mr McCormack in the back so he can probably afford it. But again, what sort of example is it to joke about flouting the rules? The masks are a critical instrument to keeping people safe until we get the population vaccinated.

KING: A lot of discussion - our Lord Mayor here in Newcastle Nuatali Nelmes has come out very strongly in favour of State of Origin III should be here in Newcastle. We’ve had a lot of Knights greats – Danny Buderis, Andrew Johns et cetera. Do you have an opinion on whether or not State of Origin III should come here to McDonald Jones Stadium Pat?

CONROY: Well I’d love it, as long as we can do it safely with proper social distancing and we would have to make sure it’s done properly, but we are the perfect location. Quite frankly, I was really annoyed when the NRL sent the first match up to Townsville. We’ve got a beautiful stadium here, we’ve got diehard rugby league fans, and we’ve got some quality players in the team, and we should have a right to see the Blues hopefully go for a clean sweep.

KING: Yes indeed.

BULL: And are you going for the Knights Pat this Saturday when they’re taking on the Cowboys?

CONROY: Well I must confess the Knights are my second team, and so unless they play my first team I always go for them, and hopefully they can bring home a victory on Saturday.

BULL: What’s your team Pat?

CONROY: I’ll give you a political exclusive, it’s the Roosters.

KING: The Roosters?

BULL: The Roosters? Oh...

CONROY: I think I’ve just lost two per cent of my vote.


But you can’t change teams in my view –

KING: Yeah, good on you.

CONROY: And I started going for the Roosters in rugby league before the Knights came in. But they’re my second team, and my kids I suspect will end up going for the Knights.

KING: Well they will be playing tomorrow night here in Newcastle - your Roosters - against Melbourne. Good to talk to you as always Pat and have a great day.

CONROY: Thanks guys, have a great day.