SUBJECTS: Vaccine rollout; Dandenong Ranges power outages; Travel Bubble; New Zealand.
KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: Australia’s vaccine rollout is in turmoil this morning, with reports over 50s are cancelling their second AstraZeneca shot after a surprise change in advice from Australia’s immunisation regulator. Minister for Defence Peter Dutton and Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles join me now. Good morning guys. Thank you for being with us. Pete, to you first of all-
PETER DUTTON, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Morning, guys.
STEFANOVIC: You’ve now chopped and changed the rules around AstraZeneca. Do you actually know what you’re doing?
DUTTON: Well, Karl, we’ve listened to the medical advice from day one and that is exactly what we should continue to do. There are other countries around the world that are administering the AstraZeneca vaccine to people much younger, but the advice of our experts here obviously changed yesterday, but their advice is very clear in relation to those people who have had the first jab and not had an adverse reaction, that there should be no doubt about them getting the second jab. And that is incredibly important, particularly for people over the age of 70. And that advice we adhere to. Doctors around the country are saying exactly that and people should talk to their GP.
STEFANOVIC: Do you concede, though, that this is going to lead to confidence issues?
DUTTON: Well Karl, it will lead to confidence issues if we keep talking it down. If we had an experience like Canada or the United Kingdom or the United States where your 70-year-old neighbour or 70-year-old mother or friend has passed away because of COVID, then in those countries people are rushing to get vaccinated. In our country, understandably, because we haven’t had the deaths, tragically 910 people have died in our country and that’s a terrible number, but it’s nowhere near the 23,000, for example, in Canada. So, we need to make sure that we heed the medical advice and the medical advice has been consistent and clear from day one. That is that people need to get the vaccination. And the medical advice is based on the experience. And the experience now is very clear that the adverse reaction in relation to AstraZeneca, on my understanding has been in relation to the first jab and that if people have had the first jab and they haven’t had an adverse reaction, than the very clear medical advice is they should get the second jab. Because the consequences, particularly the older you are, particularly if you have comorbidities, that if you contract the virus then the outcome can lead to death, let’s be very clear about it. We haven’t seen a lot in our country as we point out, but if the virus has an outbreak and we see what we’ve seen in Europe take place in Australia, then people would be in a much better position to deal with that if they had the vaccination.
STEFANOVIC: Look, the medical advice has been clear, but the goal posts keep shifting, that is the issue. Richard, the rate of blood clots is estimated at around six cases per million AstraZeneca shots. I mean, this vaccine saved the UK. Does Labor need to take a chill pill on this?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, there are two issues, Karl; there is the medical advice and what Peter has just said in relation to that is absolutely correct. The medical advice we can rely upon and those who have already had the jab, I’m in this category, should be getting their second dose. But the second issue is the way in which the government has rolled out the vaccine from day one. And it’s our job to criticise the government in relation to that and they deserve criticism because the truth is that they’ve stuffed it up. Last year they bet the house on AstraZeneca being able to do all the work in relation to vaccinating the country and given what medical advice has now ensued, it’s turned out that that is not going to happen. And ultimately, the bulk of the vaccines are going to come from orders which weren’t lodged until this year. I mean, that has left us at a point where we’re not at the front of the queue, we are right at the back of the queue. And when you look at what’s played out in Victoria, when you look at the cases that are coming up in Sydney, we are going to be living in the land of the lockdown until we get vaccinated- and that is on the federal government to make sure that happens.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, Richard, you can’t have your cake and eat it too, with respect. If the rollout had been faster like Labor wanted, more over 50s would have had the vaccine now deemed unsafe for that age group.
MARLES: That’s not the point, Karl. The point is this; last year- and we were making this point last year- in the midst of their self-congratulation the government was complacent in the various queues that it placed Australia in, in terms of the various vaccine projects around the world. And so, it wasn’t until the beginning of this year that we’re ordering the quantity of doses of Pfizer which will enable us to get there. It wasn’t till this year that we even got in the queue of Moderna. Our point last year, and we were making it last year, was that they needed to hedge their bets and be in a whole lot more queues of vaccine projects than what they did. In fact, they bet the house really on one doing the bulk of the work and as it’s turned out now their vaccine rollout is in disarray and that is on them.
DUTTON: Don’t forget that Labor-
STEFANOVIC: This is a big story yesterday. Sorry, Pete, you are on delay, it is a bit difficult. Can we talk about the Dandenongs, because we are running out of time. Yesterday I spoke to you about the ADF going into the Dandenongs about that support being offered to the Victorian Government. They’re still, they’re still going through what they have been going through for the last week and they have got another three weeks. Will the ADF go in?
DUTTON: Well, Karl, we’ve been very clear, the ADF is on standby and prepared to go, provide whatever assistance is requested. I don’t understand why the Acting Premier in Victoria hasn’t pulled the trigger on that. And they’ve asked for five logisticians. They have taken up their positions immediately, and the ADF stands ready to provide support. There are families who are in a dreadful situation, as you’ve reported since the start of this. And we’ve been very clear, the Acting Prime Minister has been very clear to Mr Merlino in Victoria that the ADF will provide whatever assistance is needed to help get Victorians through a very difficult time. But so far, the Victorians believe they can take care of it themselves and we’re ready to help as soon as they request it.
STEFANOVIC: Richard, I can’t fathom how the Victorian government wouldn’t want the help that Pete is offering. It’s a Labor Government there. Have you thought about picking up the phone and saying, “Hey, these people need help, let’s let the ADF come in.”?
MARLES: Well, the ADF have obviously very impressive capability, which can be used in moments like this, the way the system works when the ADF is doing civil help is that the request needs to be made by the various state governments, so, you know, that’s where this lies. But I think the Australian Defence Force does have capability that it can help here.
STEFANOVIC: Okay. And finally, guys, kia ora from New Zealand. We’ve headed across the ditch to take advantage of our travel bubble. Pete, will any more be opening up any time soon?
DUTTON: I hope so, Karl. This delay is fun, as you say, but it’s good to see you guys out and about. Hopefully Singapore is the next cab off the rank. There’s been a pretty amazing response by the Singaporean government as well to COVID and they’re very open to a two- way travel arrangement. We’re working through that at the moment. But it has obviously worked well with New Zealand and I hope that we can expand it as soon as possible.
STEFANOVIC: Good on you mate, thank you. And Richard, you’d love it over here. It is a lefty paradise!
MARLES: Well, Karl, enjoy Queenstown. I can recommend the Botswana Butchery-
DUTTON: He’s only a lefty on some days, Karl-
MARLES: That is a place Karl you would love. You can get a steak, a heavy Shiraz. It is literally a time machine back to a long lunch from the 1980s.
STEFANOVIC: Yeah, I love it. I love it. Good luck guys, thank you for that. Appreciate it. See you next week.