E&OE TRANSCRIPT | SUBJECTS: Holiday Inn; Hotel Quarantine; Vaccine rollout; Liberal Party rorting of community safety grants

KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: Well, for more on Melbourne’s lockdown threat, we’re joined by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton in Brissie and Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles. Richard, to you first of all, it doesn’t look good, does it. What do you think is going to happen?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, I’m not about to make predictions, but I do think we can draw some confidence from what’s happened around Australia really over the last few months. I think that we have got our systems across the country in a better place. So I, you know, when you look at what happened on the Northern Beaches here, we’ve all learned from that around Australia. And, you know, I’m hopeful that this can be managed.

STEFANOVIC: Have we learned from the quarantine fiascos?

MARLES: Well, I think one of the things that – about quarantine is the hotel quarantine, as far as it goes, has played an important role. And we just had Jane Halton on then, I mean, the federal government, whose responsibility it is to do quarantine, commissioned her to look at this whole question in the middle of last year. She said then, that there needed to be greater capacity outside of our cities. What is Peter doing? What is this government doing?

STEFANOVIC: Peter, it does feel like Groundhog Day in Victoria, but nothing ever seems to get done? What are you going to do about the quarantine situation?

PETER DUTTON, MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Well, just a couple of points, Karl, obviously, we want to wish Victoria well, and the Commonwealth provided significant assistance, not just to Victoria, but to each of the states and territories over the course of this pandemic. Again, that in terms of what we’ve done for the borders, the closure of the border with China initially, and then with the rest of the world is what has saved Australia from what we’re seeing in the United Kingdom or Europe or the United States at the moment. So wherever you’ve got human beings involved in the process, whether that’s in hotel quarantine, whether it’s in original quarantine arrangement, as Richard’s pointing out, you are going to have mistakes. But as Jane Halton rightly points out, there are over 200,000 Australians who have gone through quarantine and we’re talking about a handful of cases where people have made mistakes, it seems and the nebulizer issue is something that’s regrettable, but it’s happened. And it’s to be dealt with now.

STEFANOVIC: But you’re not going to jump in-

DUTTON: Well, Karl, I mean people, people advocate building a facility in Gladstone, for example. The Gladstone Council has already said that they’re not interested in that. It would take 12 or 18 months for the facility to be built. We’ve got hotels that are sitting empty around the country, that have catering, that have security, that have en-suited arrangements, it suits the requirements of the health authorities, when they look at this. Now there is a question about whether air conditioning was an issue, that turns out not to be the case. So I mean, it’s the job of an Opposition to, to pick and criticize and whinge and whine, but the reality is here, we have an incredible system, we have great success, and the contact tracing, as we’ve seen in New South Wales works. And we have one of the best stories in the world to tell.

STEFANOVIC: That’s a no on quarantine. But would you step in, would you actually step in? Or would you allow the states to do their own thing, which they’ve clearly demonstrated they want to do?

MARLES: I think the degree to which the federal government has gone missing in relation to COVID-19, over the last 12 months is breathtaking. I mean, fundamentally, this is a federal government, which has duck-shoved this issue to the States. Now, you know, Peter says it would take 18 months to build a facility, there are facilities around the country, which Jane Halton points out, which could be brought up to speed now.

STEFANOVIC: So you would do that, you would commission that right now?

MARLES: As a federal government, I’d play the role of a federal government, and that includes quarantine. Quarantine is right front and centre of what the federal government is about.

STEFANOVIC: Pete, why don’t you do that? It makes sense.

DUTTON: Karl, again, we have one of the best systems in the world. The Opposition, you know, has the cheapest seats in this debate. The fact is, we have worked effectively with the states, we have made decisions in relation to protecting our border, as an island nation that we should have made and we did make 12 months ago. And as I say, we aren’t, we aren’t with the spread that we’re seeing in Europe or the United States. We don’t have the death toll. Our society is managing incredibly well. The economy is bouncing back. Jobs are being created. The hotel quarantine arrangements, which the states operate in different ways – there’s no way in the world that you will get Mark McGowan to agree to the same system that Daniel Andrews will sign up to, and that’s, you know, they’re two Labor Premiers. They have completely different approaches and under the constitution that is their, right. So, the nonsense that Richard and Anthony Albanese carry on with, is honestly just carping from the sidelines, when we should be working as one frankly at the moment to get the vaccine rolled out, because that’s the most important next step.

MARLES: Well, it’s going to get a bit dry if we start quoting the constitution, but section 51, mate, like ‘quarantine’ is right there – one word. It is the power of the federal government. It’s not a matter of what the states agree to. I mean the feds can be involved here.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, um, Australia’s vaccine rollout is edging closer with the first doses arriving within days. Peter, are you embarrassed at all about how long this has taken?

DUTTON: No Karl, I’m not. I mean, I’ve heard this nonsense argument over the course of the last couple of days. Australia has secured access to 150 million doses of the vaccine. We don’t have the deaths that we’re seeing in Europe, thank God. We don’t have the deaths that we’re seeing in the United States, thank God. Now, the fact is for Australia, we aren’t going to make political decisions to override the decisions of the scientists. Anthony Albanese was out there a couple of months ago calling for us, as a Government to override the advice of the scientists, to roll out the vaccine, you know, urgently, we will get it rolled out in accordance with the medical advice, and the expert advice from those that make decisions on a day-to-day basis about the medicines that Australians buy from their chemists. That is, that is the assurance that the Australian public has as to the efficacy and the process, that’s been followed here. We aren’t going to roll out a vaccine across a population of 25 million people, if we’re uncertain as to what the health outcomes are. And again, there’s lots of cheap opportunities here for the carping on the sidelines. But this will roll out. It’ll be done in an orderly way. And we don’t have the mayhem and panic that you’re seeing in the United Kingdom, where they have overridden some of the medical advice, rolled it out early, because they’ve got tens of millions of people who have been exposed to the virus, and, you know, hundreds of thousands who have died.

STEFANOVIC: Richard, in terms of the rollout; I mean, if you look at it, the federal government’s done particularly well in securing those virus vaccinations haven’t they? And you have to, you have to at least acknowledge that they’ve done a good job in that?

MARLES: Well, we have questions about the place that the federal government has us in the queues of the various vaccines. Pfizer is fine, but the pace at which it’s coming into the country is relatively slow. We’re not in the queue at all for Moderna, and they’re the two RNA vaccines which seem to be the most effective. 30 million Americans have been vaccinated- 30 million, right now. We haven’t had any here. We want the vaccination to succeed. It needs to be done safely. And in that sense, Peter is absolutely right. The Prime Minister said there’ll be four million of us who will have been vaccinated in March. We really hope that’s the case.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, just quickly, two really quick ones. Before we go, Peter, it looks to me like reading in the papers this morning that you’ve been a very naughty boy. Have you been pork barrelling in marginal seats?

DUTTON: No, Karl-

STEFANOVIC: It looks that way.

DUTTON: Again, you’ve got a – you know, by his colleagues interpretation – a c-grade journalist at the 730 report, trying to do a hatchet job. Blah blah blah.

STEFANOVIC: With a Liberal Party logo?

DUTTON: It’s just absurd, honestly. The fact is that we’ve got an amazing program in the, you know, Keeping Communities Safe. I took a decision not to grant every dollar that was asked by councils, because the scheme was oversubscribed. So it meant that I could provide support to more councils, and ask those other councils to top up either using their own funds or ask the state government for some money. It meant that we got bigger bang for our buck. And any suggestion beyond that is just ridiculous. I’ve been in public life for 20 years. And I pride myself actually on my integrity and I don’t care what mud they throw. I, I take it very seriously, my responsibility, and the allegations are a complete nonsense.

MARLES: It’s Sport Rorts mark two. I mean, they deliver their money on the basis of the marginality of seat, not on the basis of merit. You know, there’s a blurred line after eight years between public money and the Liberal Party’s money.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, thank you, gentlemen. Really appreciate it.


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