SUBJECT/S: ADF support in NSW; COVID outbreak in NSW; lockdown; Brisbane Olympics; Submarine program
KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: Today was supposed to be Sydney’s last day in lockdown. Instead, the city marked a very grim milestone; 239 COVID cases, the highest daily number since the start of the pandemic. And with the Premier warning residents to brace for even more cases, the Defence Force is being called in to help. For more, let’s bring in Defence Minister, Peter Dutton and Deputy Opposition Leader, Richard Marles. Good morning guys, thanks for your time today.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning, Karl.
STEFANOVIC: Peter to you first of all-
PETER DUTTON, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Morning, Karl.
STEFANOVIC: Those troops were first offered on the ground almost a month ago. Why is Sydney still waiting for them to be deployed?
DUTTON: Karl, obviously New South Wales made a judgment at that time that they had enough by way of resource with the New South Wales Police. I’m pleased they have taken up the offer, and the Prime Minister has been making the offer regularly to the Premier in New South Wales. And 300 ADF personnel will supplement those that are already working in hotel quarantine. There is a lot of assistance that we have provided in contact-tracing as well so, they’ll do a great job on the ground. I hope that it is a message of reassurance that this resource will help us multiply out the capability of the New South Wales Police force and supplement the work that they do- the great work that they do and let’s hope we can get Sydney out of this as quickly as possible.
STEFANOVIC: It is a delicate message isn’t it, the difference between reassurance and resistance. Are you expecting them to be there for long? Is it going to be a couple of months? What’s the deployment?
DUTTON: We don’t know the answer to that question yet, Karl. Obviously we want the lockdown to finish as quickly as possible and people to get back to their normal lives. At some stage the limitations on people’s liberties has to be lifted and we have to get back to leading a normal life with our kids and our grandparents and that’s what Australians want but at the moment that’s not possible and we want to get through it as quickly as we can.
STEFANOVIC: Expecting any dramas there?
DUTTON: I don’t think so. And I think the New South Wales Police who have the powers, don’t forget the ADF personnel don’t have the powers the New South Wales Police do. They’re there to provide assistance and to support and supplement the efforts of the New South Wales Police and they’ll do that – they’ve done it in Victoria, they’ve done it elsewhere around the country and I think given the level of training, the expertise that the ADF personnel bring, it should be a message of reassurance and people should look at it that way.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, I agree with you. But some may see it the other way, Richard. Army patrolling the streets, army personnel, is it the right move in your eyes because others may find it confronting?
MARLES: I actually agree with what Peter said. I think the uniform is reassuring. And for Peter and I, we have both had the privilege of working closely with the Australian Defence Force. It is an incredible resource. The people – the men and women who work within it are highly professional. In Victoria we saw a couple of thousand members of the ADF come down at the peak of the outbreak last year, and actually, I thought it was a reassuring sign, and I was interacting as we were going through what was the ring of steel between Geelong and Melbourne- often it was a member of the Australian army who was checking my papers and it was fine. I think there is a sense of reassurance that comes with that. It is a fantastic resource. Basically, State Governments need to be doing everything they can right now to be suppressing this virus until we get to a point of adequate vaccination and using this resource it seems to me is a no brainer.
STEFANOVIC: I agree, and maybe it should have happened well before now. Pete, I’m sure you’re asking that question of state authorities. Is it a sign too that they’ve lost control of this?
DUTTON: Karl, I think it’s a sign that it is a very serious situation and obviously, the numbers again yesterday were worrying but we’ve got to put our faith in the people of the New South Wales Health Department and New South Wales Police, they’ve done an exceptional job up until now, as they have around the country. When you look at what’s happening around the world, 30,000 case as day or thousands of people dying, we just don’t want to see that in our country.
STEFANOVIC: Also, the Prime Minister was on our program yesterday saying lockdowns may not be eliminated with the vaccination, no matter what the rate is given what is happening overseas with other countries- Israel and I think Singapore continue to have lockdowns despite a very high vaccination rate. He goes into National Cabinet today; they’re looking to discuss this particular number- the vaccination rate. Are you able to tell us what that is? Is it 80 per cent, Pete, by Christmas?
DUTTON: Karl, I’ll leave that to the PM. The Doherty Institute has obviously done a lot of work with universities and experts around the country, and as we’re seeing in the UK at the moment they talk about it now being in this phase, the pandemic of the unvaccinated. So, it is just another message. If you live in Queensland or in Victoria or elsewhere around country at the moment, look at what’s happening in New South Wales; it could happen here tomorrow. I mean, we’re fortunate in Queensland at the moment but if you think you’ve got time to get vaccinated or you don’t think it’s going to happen, think again. I mean, you have got to get vaccinated. And any Australian who wants the vaccine will be able to get it by Christmas and let’s hope that everybody that’s eligible takes its up- that’s on medical advice, takes it up. Otherwise at some point, we are going to open up and people who are unvaccinated are going to be the ones that are in trouble. And as we’re seeing in New South Wales at the moment, everybody who’s in hospital is somebody who hasn’t been vaccinated.
STEFANOVIC: You better get your skates on. It’s at 14 per cent or something now. Richard, for you, to get to 80 per cent, do you think they’re going to be able to achieve that?
MARLES: Well we need to get to a number which is something like that. I mean, we’re not going be in a position of opening up until we get there. I think it is really important that the government does put a number on it. So, I hope that that is something that comes out of National Cabinet today. As you say, right now the number is 14 per cent, which is a pathetically low number. We are coming last in the OECD in terms of the vaccination rollout, and that is because the Prime Minister said this wasn’t a race and fundamentally that is why we are in this situation. And it is not until we get that number much higher that we’re going to be in a position to get past this and really the government needs to now outline what is the plan to get there and how do we get to the other side of COVID-19.
STEFANOVIC: Qantas is planning to bring in a vaccination passport. We know that France has also introduced that, they’ve actually legislated that in the last week. That’s to go to basic things like the pub, the footy, the movies. Pete, do you support that?
DUTTON: Well Karl, at the moment you’ve got to – before you can go into a restaurant or into an airport lounge, whatever it might be, you need to scan to go in. That’s the law of Queensland, the law of New South Wales and Victoria and elsewhere at the moment. So, I’m not opposed to this discussion and to these ideas because we are going to have, I think a situation where some people will refuse to be vaccinated. Well, the economy is not going to stay closed. We’re not going to stop people seeing their family members or kids going to school because we’ve got a minority of Australians who don’t want to be vaccinated or don’t want to do the right thing. And, I think very strongly we want to open up as quickly as possible. We are doing now over a million vaccines a week, a million doses a week and that continues to compound. But toward the end, we will get a rump of people I guess who just refuse to have the vaccine, well we’re not going to hold the country up because of that. That’s my view.
STEFANOVIC: Heading towards a recession do you think, Pete?
DUTTON: No, I don’t think so. I think the underpinning of the Australian economy is pretty strong.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, Richard?
MARLES: I certainly hope not but the lockdown in Sydney is having a major impact on the economy. It mean, it’s obviously our largest city. The lockdown is affecting those in Sydney but it is affecting the whole country’s economy. So, our fingers are crossed that we get through this but the point is, until we get that level of vaccination up, until we get past being the land of the locked down, we can’t be certain about what the economic future will be.
STEFANOVIC: Finally, I have some good news. Richard, you’re going to love this because it falls squarely on Pete Dutton’s rather broad, athletic shoulders. The Olympics- the Brisbane Olympics, particularly in 2032 and the great news that our French submarines will finally be ready to sail up the Brisbane River for the opening. Can you believe it?
MARLES: They’ve been brought forward? They’re not due by 2032.
STEFANOVIC: Won’t they be here by 2032, Pete?
MARLES: They’re not, they’re not.
STEFANOVIC: Go on, Pete.
DUTTON: They’re going to be here soon. They’re going to be here soon, Karl.
MARLES: He can’t commit to it. He cannot commit to it.
DUTTON: If Richard wants to be in that uniform, sailing up the river, we can facilitate that. No problems at all.
STEFANOVIC: I’m glad China’s not attacking now, Pete. We’d be in real trouble without those nuclear subs. You know what I’m saying?
DUTTON: Of course, I don’t want to go tit-for-tat but they should have been ordered when Richard had the uniform on.
MARLES: We were had ones who- we were the ones who did it.
DUTTON: I try to be positive on this show! But Richard always – you know, banging on each week. So, if he wants to wear the uniform we can find one that will fit.
STEFANOVIC: He is an officer and a gentleman. Good morning, fellas. We will see you this time next week.