SUBJECTS: Vaccine rollout; Scott Morrison’s treatment of Christine Holgate.
MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Staying with this story – the Deputy Leader of the Opposition Richard Marles joins us now from Parliament House as well. Richard Marles good morning to you. So National Cabinet meeting twice a week. A good move by the Prime Minister?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well I think this is a standard play from the Prime Minister now. I mean, what he’s doing here is trying to spread responsibility, spread political risk, point fingers in different directions, pretend it’s not all about him, but the truth of the matter is that it is. This is a – this is a moment where we actually need to see the Prime Minister stand up. The Federal Government is responsible for procuring the vaccines that need to be rolled out in this country. That’s the fundamental question here. I don’t think talking to state premiers is going to see us procure more of the vaccine. The Government has completely botched this and they really need to be explaining to the Australian people, the Prime Minister needs to be explaining to the Australian people, what the plan is to actually get more vaccines here so that the country can be vaccinated.
ROWLAND: Okay. But it’s not the Prime Minister’s fault, it’s not the government’s fault that these blood clotting concerns have arisen around the AstraZeneca vaccine.
MARLES: It’s absolutely the Government’s fault they were complacent last year in terms of the way in which they placed Australia in the queue of the various vaccines that were being developed around the world. That was the moment when they needed to be spreading risk. Instead they bet the house on the production of AstraZeneca in Australia and that it would do the lion’s share of the work in vaccinating Australia. Now we’ve got the problems that have emerged and in a situation where the advice is not to use AstraZeneca on people under the age of 50, the Government obviously has a very significant problem in seeing Australia be vaccinated. But this stems from the complacency of the Government last year in the midst of its self-congratulation when it actually should have been putting Australia at the front of these queues rather than being slow out of the blocks. And the point here is that when you listen to the rhetoric of the Government, they talk about the fact that we’re not in a race. And what that suggests is that in their thinking there is no time imperative here, but there absolutely is. Seen through an economic prism – and that’s the critical way which we now need to look at this – we are going to risk watching the rest of the world open up, the rest of the world start doing business with each other, being at that table whilst Australia is not and is being left behind. And it’s not surprising to me that Australian business is deeply concerned about what the future looks like in a – in a world where we are, you know, at the back of the queue in terms of being vaccinated rather than at the front.
ROWLAND: Greg Hunt, the Health Minister, said yesterday that even if and when Australians are fully vaccinated that is no guarantee our international border will reopen because of what he says are concerns about the longevity of the vaccine and other global factors. What’s your response to that point of view and how long could Australia, I guess, stay shut off from the world?
MARLES: Well, again, I think what that – this highlights is the failure of the Government to be articulating to the Australian people, and I think particularly to Australian business, what its strategy is in respect of the end of COVID. How do we get beyond this? If that is really where the Government is at, that vaccination is not the key to getting us past this, then they need to be really clear with the Australian people about that and about how they see us getting to the other side. But I actually think you’re hearing double-speak from the Government because it was only a little while ago that the Government was saying that vaccination was completely tied to our economic recovery and obviously it is. But what we need to be hearing from the Government is what is the target, what are the milestones, what is the pathway out? And giving a sense of clarity to – understanding that they can’t know for sure what’s going to happen, but to the best of their ability giving a sense of clarity to Australian business about what the road out looks like, instead they’re doing none of that.
ROWLAND: There’s a big potential problem, Richard Marles, and we keep hearing this from our viewers, they say we’re not anti-vaxxers but we are concerned, we’re over 50, we’re concerned about the AstraZeneca jab. There’s a concern about so-called ‘vaccine hesitancy’ taking grip in Australia. You’re over 50, will you happily take the AstraZeneca jab?
MARLES: I will and that’s because that’s what the medical advice is and I think, you know, we can have confidence in the medical advice about the safety and the efficacy of the vaccines that are being presented. That’s not the issue here. And the Government is right to be obviously taking that advice in terms of who to give the AstraZeneca vaccine to and who not to give it to. But our point is that given what that advice now is, it highlights the fact that the Government was complacent last year, that it was slow out of the blocks and it didn’t spread its risk. That’s not something we have just been saying now. That was a point that we were making last year when the Government was actually establishing its relationships with the various programs that were developing the vaccines. We were specifically concerned about this scenario playing out and now we’re in a situation where we’re seeing Australia pay the price and the Government – you know, it’s fine for the Prime Minister to go and hold a National Cabinet meeting, that’s what he does, he will point the finger everywhere else but actually if there was ever a moment for the Prime Minister to stand up and take responsibility for something, it is now. Because if he’s got one job this year, it’s to vaccinate Australia.
ROWLAND: And finally, on Christine Holgate, the former Australia Post boss, Richard Marles, isn’t it weapon’s grade hypocrisy for the Labor Party to say anything critical of her treatment when you too were aggressively calling for her sacking last year?
MARLES: I completely reject that that’s what we were doing last year.
ROWLAND: Your leader was, various other people were.
MARLES: There is nothing on the public record, Michael, which says that. What we were doing which was our job to do, and we make no bones about it – and Christine Holgate I might say, in her evidence yesterday acknowledged it – was to hold the Government to account for public expenditure and we do hold a high bar there which is what we’re meant to do, which is what the public expects. We do think that the purchase of those watches as an executive bonus in a public enterprise context was inappropriate. Again a point that Christine Holgate has conceded. But at no point did we suggest that the way in which the Prime Minister should then behave was to humiliate Christine Holgate in the way that he has done and to bully her out of office and to effectively sack her on the floor of Parliament. We never said for him to do any of that. That was his call, that is his behaviour, that’s his character. That’s what the Prime Minister was doing. What we were doing was asking for, you know, there to be a holding to account of the expenditure of public money. What the Prime Minister then went off and did was, frankly, appalling. Christine Holgate is right in making her criticism and it ultimately is a total indictment on the Prime Minister’s character.
ROWLAND: Richard Marles in Canberra we’ll leave it there, thank you.
MARLES: Thanks, Michael.