SUBJECTS: Fit for purpose quarantine; Scott Morrison bungling the vaccine rollout; state lockdowns
KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Richard Marles, thank you very much for your time. You’re at Mickleham in northern suburbs of Melbourne. Apparently, this purpose built quarantine facility will be built towards the end of this year. Will it still be used if we’re up around herd immunity anyway, in terms of the vaccine rollout?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, let’s hope we get to that point at the end of the year. Although where we’re at now, with something like 4 per cent of the population being vaccinated, there is an awful long way to go. But what you see behind me here, is an empty paddock. And if the government had been listening to its own advisors this time last year, what we would have now is a purpose built facility operating right now. And in fact, what we’ve got is the bulk of people coming in through quarantine using hotel quarantine. We’ve had 25 breaches of that, that’s almost one a fortnight, and right now that combined with our low vaccination rate, is why we are living in the land of the lockdown.
GILBERT: Do you think we will still use that facility though? It is a paddock now, but when it is built, is there a potential that it becomes a white elephant once we do get the population vaccinated? Are we really going to be sending people into quarantine for the foreseeable future? Because if we do, we’re going to lose major events aren’t we, like the Grand Prix, like the Australian Open?
MARLES: We need to get vaccinated. That is the principal challenge which is facing the country. And the reason our vaccination rate is so low is because the Prime Minister has declared that this is not a race. I think everybody who is experiencing lockdowns around Australia right now knows that it is a race. It is a race against this virus. I think we will be using purpose built quarantine facilities for some time to come. So, I think there will be a use for these facilities beyond the immediacy of what we’re facing right now. But the real point is, we’re relying on hotel quarantine. With 25 breaches, we are seeing one almost once a fortnight. And that’s also why we’re living in the land of the lockdown. And the federal government, Scott Morrison, were advised to build facilities last year, and instead what you can see behind me right now is an empty paddock. And that says everything about why we are facing lockdowns around the country right now.
GILBERT: Now, Gladys Berejiklian talks about 80 per cent of the population- 10 million residents of all those that are able to get the vaccine in New South Wales- as a potential benchmark for reopening. What are your – what are your thoughts in terms of that 80 per cent figure? Is that a reasonable number, or percentage to be able to look to, to say, okay, when we get to that we can start to think about reopening? Will you provide more clarity, the Labor Party, in terms of your view, as we head towards the next election?
MARLES: Well what we need is that end of COVID conversation. I mean, it goes to all the points that you just said; about how the international events work? How does travel work? How does our economy work? How does the nation work when something like one in four Australians are born outside of the country? How does, you know, their relationship with their family occur? Gladys Berejiklian, saying 80 per cent- we’ve had Victorian Ministers talk about 70 per cent- you see this number being debated around the world. Ultimately, it’s not for the Opposition, we don’t sit there with the medical advice at our fingertips, but Scott Morrison does. And that is precisely the end of COVID kind of conversation, which Scott Morrison needs to lead. But instead he’s been totally silent. I mean, in the midst of outbreaks around the country, you know, we are hearing silence from Scott Morrison. This is a man who shirks responsibility when the going gets tough. And Australians need to be hearing from him right now, about what is the plan for the future. How do we get to the other side of COVID-19? What does normality look like? And surely getting the country vaccinated is at the heart of that. And here we are languishing at something like three to four per cent of the population on this day, who are fully vaccinated. And all we have in terms of, you know, purpose built quarantine facilities is Howard Springs in the Northern Territory, and a paddock behind me in Victoria, right here.
GILBERT: AstraZeneca is now available to under forties as of today; indemnity provided for GPs. Anecdotally, at least, there’s been a flurry of younger people booking their jabs- we hope that continues. Should this have happened sooner?
MARLES: Well, I think what we again have been crying out for, is consistent advice from the government around, you know, what the medical advice is in respect of all the various quarantines including – in all the various vaccines I’m sorry – including AstraZeneca. Instead, we’ve had quite varied advice from the government in relation to AstraZeneca. I mean, anything which sees the population getting more vaccinated is obviously very important. But what’s also really critical here is a public campaign, which builds confidence in the vaccine rollout and the various vaccines that are on offer. You see those sorts of campaigns playing out in other countries around the world. There’s been hardly anything in the form of a public campaign that’s been done by this government. And we need to see that.
GILBERT: We’ve got now about 12 million Australians, around half the population under lockdown. South-east Queensland now in a snap three day lockdown. This situation where we’ve got a low vaccination rate as well. In that context, do you accept though, that the government has done everything it can in terms of getting the supply? Could they be telling the truth in terms of just saying simply more was unable to be done given the hiccups with AstraZeneca and other supply issues?
MARLES: I definitely do not accept that. I mean, what we had last year, in the midst of the government’s own self-congratulation, was complacency. And rather than putting Australia at the forefront of the queues of the various vaccine projects that were going on, around the world, instead, we saw this government bet the house on AstraZeneca. I mean, that’s really how they imagined that the kind of supply would be provided, which would enable the country to be vaccinated. And instead, we’ve seen the advice flow in relation to AstraZeneca. They bet the house on AstraZeneca, rather than spreading their risk, rather than getting us in the queue properly of Pfizer, or Moderna. It wasn’t until the beginning of this year that we were ordering the sorts of quantities of Pfizer that we needed. It wasn’t until this year that we’re in the queue of Moderna at all. So you know this, this government failed to get us properly, in a position so that we were actually at the front of the queue, which is what Scott Morrison promised. And this is not a point that we’ve just been making, this is a point we were making last year, when the government was really complacent in terms of dealing with this question, which was always going to be the pathway out for Australia in respect of COVID-19. And while you know, we have been very fortunate not to have had the levels of COVID-19 in Australia that we’ve seen in other parts of the world, the fact that so many Australians are in lockdown right now, speaks to the fact that we are still dealing with this virus in our own way. And we don’t get to the other side of this until we are properly vaccinated.
GILBERT: Deputy Labor Leader Richard Marles, live from Mickleham today. Thanks very much for your time. Appreciate it.
MARLES: Thanks, Kieran.