SUBJECTS: COVID-19 outbreak in NSW; the government’s botched vaccine rollout; fit for purpose quarantine; Tamil Family; Barnaby Joyce.
ALLISON LANGDON, HOST: Well, New South Wales has dodged a lockdown for another day but the Premier is resisting calls by some experts to enforce stay at home orders. To discuss, we are joined by Finance Minister Simon Birmingham in Adelaide, and Deputy Leader of the Opposition Richard Marles in Geelong. Nice to see you both this morning. Richard, you are no stranger to a lockdown in Melbourne.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Morning, Ally.
LANGDON: New South Wales, though, showing there is another way. Are you concerned about the Premier’s strategy at all?
MARLES: I think New South Wales has actually done a really good job over the last 12 months in terms of managing these cases, as I think all the State Premiers have. I mean, it is a concerning moment for everyone. I think it is a concerning moment for the New South Wales Premier and she said that, in the way in which she’s spoken. But I think we do need to have confidence in the way in which the State Premiers have handled this. At the end of the day, there is risk. And that risk has been brought upon us by virtue of the fact that we have got failures in our quarantine system, ultimately by the fact that we have not been properly vaccinated and that’s on the Federal Government.
LANGDON: Simon, I mean, you can’t fault how the New South Wales Premier has handled outbreaks so far. But what she is doing – it’s a bold, even you might say politically risky move. Do you think she is right to resist a lockdown?
SENATOR SIMON BIRMINGAHM, MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Well Ally, she shouldn’t be thinking about politics at all and knowing Gladys Berejiklian, she’s not. She is thinking about the New South Wales people, their health, their safety, and the New South Wales economy, and making sure she takes the right steps to see New South Wales through it. And yesterday you saw some 50,000 tests happen across New South Wales. 11 new positive cases which is worrying, but only one of those not already identified as a close contact. So, the really encouraging thing out of data like that is people in New South Wales are getting tested and I encourage them to keep doing so. But the contact tracers are also clearly keeping up with it and are identifying and quarantining those close contacts. And so, we have seen New South Wales work through this before, and obviously we wish them all the best in doing so again. And have confidence they will take whatever steps are necessary when they are necessary.
LANGDON: Yes, the state’s contact tracers have been some of the best in the country. But Simon, imagine if we were all vaccinated, if you guys had secured enough supply, how different things would be right now.
BIRMINGHAM: Sure, Ally. Imagine if the health advice on AstraZeneca hadn’t changed over the last couple of months a couple of times. Imagine if the 3.4 million doses of Pfizer that were contracted to come from Europe at the start of the year had turned up, rather than the failure of them to exit Europe.
LANGDON: So, it is not your fault?
BIRMINGHAM: We don’t live in an imaginary world. We need just have to live in the real world. We would wish that those things had not happened. We couldn’t foresee the health advice changing. We didn’t expect that what had been contracted would not show up. We have more than 7 million doses that have been administered across Australia. Two-thirds of over 70s have had at least their first dose which provides around 80 per cent protection against COVID. So, we are seeing really strong progress now in the vaccine roll out. And we have significant doses from July, more than 600,000 per week of Pfizer expected to be coming into the country and available to push right through the rest of the population this year too.
LANGDON: See, this is the thing isn’t it, it just depends what stats you want to focus on. I mean, you could focus on the other ones – like look at how much of the population in the UK and the US and Israel and other countries have been vaccinated, compared to less than three per cent in Australia. You could also do that, couldn’t you?
BIRMINGHAM: You could also do that Ally, that is true. But the first dose does provide a very high level of protection, so it is worth pointing that out. We will see the second dose rates now climb as many of those people with the first dose become eligible for the second dose. You could also, in terms of the countries you’ve talked about, look at the fact that in each of the UK and the US and most other countries right around the world, people are still dying each and every day from COVID. Here in Australia, we aren’t having the deaths, in fact we don’t have anybody in ICU. That’s the success of our management. Of course it is not perfect and it has been a partnership between the states, the territories, the Federal Government, and frankly all Australians. But ultimately we have been dealing with a great unknown that’s caused devastation across the rest of the world. And here in Australia, everybody should be proud of the fact with how well we have managed to keep people safe, thanks to that team effort right across the nation.
LANGDON: Alright, the Prime Minister today we heard sent a letter to the Queensland Premier. He is open to a quarantine camp just outside of Brisbane. I didn’t know we sent letters anymore, but I like it. It is cute. It’s only taken a year and a half. Richard, when do you think it will be ready?
MARLES: Well who knows. But this has come way too late. And the fact of the matter is that what this identifies is that the government does actually realise that hotel quarantine is not fit for purpose. That’s what Jane Halton told them last year. And yet, that’s what we have been living under for that period of time, and that’s exposed the whole of Australia to risk. The failure in quarantine has exposed the whole country to risk. We have seen 25 breaches of hotel quarantine- that’s about one every two weeks. And there are real holes in the system. I mean, the scenario we have seen play out which has given rise to the NSW outbreak is also a failure of quarantine, at the end of the day. And that is what is continually keeping us in a situation where, you know, we are living in the land of the lockdown. And sure, it is good that we haven’t had the cases in Australia that we have had, that you have seen elsewhere in the world, but we have got to get to the other side of COVID-19, just like every other country.
LANGDON: Yep, and we have to do it as fast as possible.
MARLES: And we won’t do that until we fully vaccinate the population.
LANGDON: Alright, now Simon, the Tamil asylum seeker family has been granted three month bridging visas to stay in Perth as little Tharunicaa recovers from a blood infection. You are buying time here. Barnaby Joyce reckons they should return to their Queensland home. You have to listen to him now, don’t you Simon? Now that he is Leader of The Nationals, your Deputy Prime Minister.
BIRMINGHAM: Well of course we will engage and Barnaby will have a say around the Cabinet table like every other Cabinet Minister. But in relation to this family, they have been treated in accordance with the laws. Each of the parents have been assessed on multiple occasions by Australian courts as not to be refugees in need of protection in Australia. So the normal processes have been followed in terms of seeking to return them to Sri Lanka and it would have been far preferable if, rather than going through many failed legal appeals of those decisions, the parents had accepted that and relocated some time ago. However, we do have a sick little girl in play. That’s why they have been brought back to Perth, put in the community to recognise that, and the appropriate compassion in those circumstances.
LANGDON: Hey Richard, Barnaby hasn’t returned quietly as we have seen. He is going to be a thorn in the Prime Minister’s side. But you are going to have to watch out for him too, aren’t you?
MARLES: We don’t underestimate Barnaby Joyce. But let’s be really clear; when you look at Barnaby Joyce’s behaviour over the last week, I mean, he seeks to be a man of the people- there isn’t a person in Australian politics today who is more self- absorbed, who is more about himself, than Barnaby Joyce. He launched his first challenge during the bushfires. He launched another challenge during the midst of a pandemic. And within 48 hours, you see him trying to skewer the Murray-Darling Basin plan. I mean, he is now running an insurgency within the government itself, very much to the detriment of the citizens of the state that Simon represents in South Australia. This is a man who is all about himself. He talks about the fact he wants government out of his life. I mean, he’s been on the payroll of government for two decades. This is who the Deputy Prime Minister is, and he is ultimately about one thing, and that’s Barnaby Joyce.
LANGDON: Well, I just think every female in the country can relax because Barnaby Joyce is now on the government’s Task Force for Women. But I think the reaction for the week has got to go to Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie. Just take a look.
LANGDON: So do you like Barnaby?
SENATOR JACQUI LAMBIE: It is an interesting mix up there this morning.
LANGDON: Her face says it all. Barnaby is back, guys. Enjoy yourselves. And nice to see you both this morning. I’ve got to say too – Oh, dear.
KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: I like Jacqui Lambie.
LANGDON: Simon, since you are a proud South Australian, and Richard you are from Victoria, that you will be going for the Blues this Sunday, in Origin. So, we love you guys. Talk soon.