SUBJECTS: UQ vaccine trial cancelled; National Cabinet; Industrial Relations laws; Christmas plans.
ALLISON LANGDON, HOST: It is a big Friday for pollies. And a big topic for today’s in person National Cabinet will no doubt be the cancellation of the Government’s order for that Queensland COVID vaccine. Joining me now from Canberra is Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, and Deputy Opposition Leader, Richard Marles. Nice to talk to you both. Peter, this is massive news. It is a big blow this morning. What will it mean for our confidence in the COVID vaccine?
PETER DUTTON, MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Ally, a couple of points. Obviously the Prime Minister and Health Minister will make a comment later this morning, but the Government was very deliberate in not just backing one vaccine, because as we know, there are many cases where there is a problem through the trial process or there is some other issue that comes up. So, I think the first and most important message is that we will only make decisions in our country’s best interests, both in terms of the roll out and the timing, etcetera. We will only ever do what is in our country’s interests in terms of getting the health issues right. And we, I think, have made a prudent decision to back a number of vaccines and the PM will make further comments about that this morning.
LANGDON: Richard, one of the issues here of course is when the Government is trying to convince the entire population to get vaccinated, hearing things like this doesn’t help, does it?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, I think you used the word confidence, and I think that is absolutely what needs to be front and centre in the way we are thinking about this now. I mean, obviously this is very disappointing. The Government will take, I’m sure, into account all the best medical advice in terms of how to roll out other vaccines, and it has obviously made a very big decision in respect of this. But I think what’s really important is that we get a very clear explanation from the Government this morning about what’s happened, about what the plan is going forward, about how other vaccines will be tested to ensure that they are safe, before they are released to the public so that we can have the confidence to have the vaccine roll out whenever it ultimately occurs, because vaccines are going to be a very important part of getting us past this crisis.
LANGDON: Peter, do you have any idea yet as to what that new plan is? Obviously this is breaking news. It has only happened overnight. What impact does it have on our vaccine being rolled out? Does it jeopardise our access and ability to vaccinate everyone in this country?
DUTTON: The short answer is no, Ally. So, we are still on track to have TGA approval for one of the vaccinations by the end of January, roughly, and still the roll out toward, you know, February-March. That’s been the plan all along. There is no deviating away from that. But we have put the health of Australians first right from the start of the pandemic. Every decision we have made has been about how we can keep our country safe, keep Australians safe, and we are not going to be pushed in terms of trying to condense time lines. We haven’t been rushed. Obviously, the United Kingdom has rolled out their vaccine and they have got their processes to go through, which is fine, but we were very clear I think on the program, even last week, that we weren’t going to condense the time lines. We wanted to make sure the doctors and the scientists had the best possible advice, and we’ll act on that advice.
LANGDON: Yeah, I mean that vaccination you are talking about of course is the Pfizer vaccination, which we have 10 million doses available to us.
LANGDON: Anyway, we will see how that plays out. At least we are in a position where we don’t have community transmission, we are not dealing with what they are dealing with in the northern hemisphere so we have time on our side. But this year the federation, I tell you what, has been tested. The States have been divided but the National Cabinet, as we know, is meeting today in person in Canberra. It was nice to see them altogether, late yesterday, I know they all had dinner. But no WA Premier. Peter, should Mark McGowan have been there?
DUTTON: I actually – it is so ridiculous it is funny, Ally. So, the WA Premier decides that he can’t come to Canberra because he might catch the virus off Steven Marshall, the South Australian Premier. I mean, it is a joke, really. Richard will defend him, of course, because he is one of Richard’s dear Labor mates, but it is just illogical. So, I think people see through it, they see these stunts, but I think the PM’s leadership at the National Cabinet has been quite remarkable this year. It has resulted in pretty significant outcomes, that as you point out, put our country in a very different position, a much more positive position than what we are seeing in most other comparable countries around the world.
LANGDON: Richard, he has kind of painted himself into a corner in a way, hasn’t he? Mark McGowan.
MARLES: Mark McGowan is acting in accordance with the advice he has been given so-
LANGDON: Do you think that’s good advice?
MARLES: I’m not a health officer-
LANGDON: Come on, you have been watching this pandemic play out all year.
MARLES: I’m not going to question the advice but can I say, what has been laughable-
DUTTON: Richard, he could have worn a full bodysuit. He could have worn like a full body suit and a space helmet. That would have been the next logical step for him.
MARLES: Okay, it is our last one-
DUTTON: Go on, defend him.
MARLES: But I just want to make the point, if I can, is that what’s laughable is the idea of the Prime Minister’s leadership this year. I mean, I think Ally, you are right, the federation hasn’t been put under more stress since we have had it. And that’s been a function of a lack of leadership on the part of the Prime Minister. I mean, he’s there when all the Premiers agree on an issue and will claim credit for it, but if there is any disagreement, his ability to get people around the table and work their way through has been very limited.
LANGDON: You know your issue with saying that, Richard, if you look at his approval ratings, the numbers there suggest people are very happy with the job he has done. But I imagine Anthony Albanese, it has been hard for him as a leader during a pandemic. For each of the states, Opposition Leaders have had a very hard time getting oxygen or air. However, this week, this stoush over industrial relations reform. Finally, Anthony Albanese has something to talk at because the unions and Labor aren’t happy with and neither are businesses. Richard, I mean, is this a good thing for you? Are you happy that this has come up?
MARLES: No, it is not a good thing. I mean, this is the Government seeking to make it easier for there to be a pay cut for working Australians at the end of the year when they have sacrificed so much to get us through this crisis. I mean, the real heroes of this year has been working Australians and they have faced enormous difficulties, and the Christmas present they are getting is a piece of legislation from this Government which is going to make it easier for their pay to be cut. And I think that’s absolutely appalling and we will be doing everything we can to make clear what the Government is seeking to do here, and to try and protect Australian workers.
LANGDON: Did you stuff it up, Peter?
DUTTON: No, look, Ally, it is just not true. Honestly, Richard is reading from the talking points. It is just not true. We are not cutting the pay of Australians. I mean, it has been very clear and that’s been pointed out by Christian Porter during the week. But if you are the Labor Leader and you’re about to be shoved off the edge by your trusted deputy, silent assassin, Richard Marles then, you create this red herring, this big issue and say, “Look at this, it is an industrial relations issue.” That’s what unites the Labor Party. Look, Albo has limped to Christmas. He has been lucky to get there. I don’t know what present Richard has got for him for Christmas but I suspect I know what Albo is getting from Richard in the new year so we’ll see.
LANGDON: Hey guys, it is the end of the year. Parliament has finished. We have got to end on a nice note. I want you both to have a lovely Christmas. And Richard, a little birdie in Canberra tells me you love water slides and that you are hitting the theme parks in Queensland.
MARLES: I am hitting the theme parks. The Gold Coast. Family, water slides, maybe a couple of beers. What could go wrong?
LANGDON: Okay. Maybe invite Peter down and you could have a nice day together, you guys. Have a nice Christmas.
MARLES: You too, Ally.
LANGDON: Nice talking to you.
DUTTON: Ally, thanks so much for having us. And Richard, wear the top, of course, not just the togs.
MARLES: I don’t want to scare any of the children, you can be assured I will.
DUTTON: I’m trying to be subtle alright. From one friend to another.
LANGDON: See, because you are friends. Lovely, guys. We will see you in the new year.
MARLES: Merry Christmas, Ally.