SUBJECTS: Vaccine rollout; Australians stuck in India; Vaccine passport; Getting the Jab; State of the economy; Employment; Gas.
LISA MILLAR, HOST: Well, the federal Opposition has also been critical of the vaccine rollout. Deputy Opposition Leader, Richard Marles joins us now. Good morning to you. Welcome to News Breakfast.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good to be here, Lisa.
MILLAR: What needs to change here with this vaccine rollout?
MARLES: Well, it needs to be done more quickly. I mean, there is a time imperative here. So, when I hear the government talk about the fact that there is no race, it says to me that they don’t see that it needs to be done with any particular speed. I think that’s wrong. You know, we risk seeing the rest of the world open up and move past COVID, whilst Australia is left behind. We’re at a fraction of the rate of vaccinations that is occurring in North America and Western Europe and we need to get on with it.
MILLAR: Yeah, but the vaccines are sitting there. We now have 1.5 million. People are hesitant. How do you fix that?
MARLES: I mean, Greg Hunt is right, that people over the age of 50 and those who are eligible should go and get vaccinated but I do think we have an issue, and I think it is really important that the government is doing everything it can to bolster confidence in people getting the vaccine. There’s a sense in which the vaccine is an individual protection, but this is a society-wide program. There’s a societal-level benefit to this which requires the bulk of the population to do it.
MILLAR: It’s all very well to say, “We’ve got to try and encourage people, we’ve got to try and end this hesitancy.” How do you do it?
MARLES: I think the AMA’s talking about the government doing more in terms of campaigns to get people to take up the vaccine, to increase confidence in it. I think there’s merit in that. But at the end of the day, the government has really one job this year- to get the country vaccinated. It’s about building confidence, it’s about getting the logistics right, it’s about getting the supply. It’s the whole thing. Because until that happens, we are not going to be able to get to the other side of COVID, and to get back to some normality.
MILLAR: Mmm. We saw overnight the news that Sunil Kunar, an Australian man in India, had passed away. His brother is wanting his elderly father to come to Australia. 11,000 Australians apparently still there wanting to get home. What should the government be doing?
MARLES: Well, again, a difficult issue. We need to be taking the medical advice about how people coming from India come back to Australia. But this bears out a whole lot of problems that already exist in terms of the way we’re set up. There aren’t enough purpose-built quarantine facilities in Australia right now. It’s a responsibility that the Commonwealth government has completely abrogated. That is one of the issues about enabling a better response to the situation going on in India. And the appalling circumstances of lots of Australians seeking to come back from India who, you know, are struggling to come back, because we don’t have the facilities in place to enable that. At the end of the day, that’s the Commonwealth’s responsibility.
MILLAR: Would you be comfortable having a vaccine passport on your phone, a digital passport, for international travel and also, as has been raised, perhaps domestic travel?
MARLES: Well, ultimately, I think these are ideas which are – we’re all going to have to face going forward. And in a sense, they’re not new. We have vaccination-type passports already in terms of the yellow book that we used to have, visiting various parts of the world – we need various vaccines.
MILLAR: You’re okay on the privacy factor of it being on the phone?
MARLES: I think new technology needs to be built into the way in which we live. We’re doing more and more financial transactions on our phones, so I think that’s a reality. But the idea that there is going to be some level of recognition in terms of whether or not we’ve had the vaccine and what that means, I think, is where we’re going. But at the end of the day, what the government needs to do is get us vaccinated. We need to get vaccinated, we need proper quarantine facilities. That’s how we get to the other side of COVID. I think the other point that’s really missing here, Lisa – I don’t hear an end-of-COVID conversation that the government is having with the Australian people. What does it look like to actually get to the other side? I think that’s one of the problems here. Because, clearly, proper quarantine facilities, getting vaccinated is central to that. But you don’t hear the government talking that through. So there are quite confused messages about what we need to do.
MILLAR: Have you been vaccinated?
MARLES: Well, I got my first injection yesterday. Sorry, two days ago-
MILLAR: How do you feel?
MARLES: I’m okay. I got the AstraZeneca and it was in the mass vaccination site at the old Ford factory in Geelong. So it was a really easy process. It was very efficient. Yeah, I felt a little kind of off that night, but I’m fine.
MILLAR: Yeah. Let’s move on to a couple of other things, because job figures are coming out today. It’s going to be the first full month post-JobKeeper. The job losses are expected to be cancelled out by jobs that have been created. We haven’t seen the terrible situation that some were anticipating. It would seem – everything’s pointing to unemployment continuing to track down.
MARLES: Obviously we hope that that’s what comes from the figures today. We really want to see low unemployment numbers.
MILLAR: So the government’s on the right track?
MARLES: Well, the question here really is – what kind of jobs are coming back? We want to see, obviously, the lowest unemployment rate we can possibly have. Certainly the dip in the economy was not as much as people thought, and that’s a good thing. But the real question here is – what kind of jobs are coming back? Are permanent, secure, well-paid jobs being generated within our economy? And one of the real concerns – and this really flows from the budget last week – is that, for all that is being spent, the budget is still predicting that real wages are going to go backwards over the next four years. I think it’s the kind of jobs that the post-COVID economy is going to generate which is the real question. I don’t see this government thinking particularly hard about that.
MILLAR: Just finally, how difficult is it to argue against the Kurri Kurri gas-fired power station when you’ve got your own members who are supporting it?
MARLES: Obviously I’m keen to hear from those members about their-
MILLAR: Certainly speaking out in the papers this morning! There’s no doubt about how they feel. It is very difficult for you, isn’t it?
MARLES: Well, as I say, I’m very keen to hear from them. At the end of the day, we need to be listening to the market. The market has to be the one that is fundamentally making the decision here. The viability of jobs going forward is about the commercial viability of these projects. We need to see transparency from the government in the way in which it’s putting this money up. It’s not about being pro- or anti-gas. It’s about letting the market lead the decisions here in terms of how we generate our power, because actually that is the pathway to long-term viable jobs.
MILLAR: Richard Marles, we’ll leave it there.
MARLES: Thank you, Lisa.