SUBJECTS: Lazarus Community Centre in Geelong; National cabinet; Chaos leading up to Christmas; Scott Morrison’s bungled vaccine rollout; Rapid antigen testing; Mask mandates.
RICHARD MARLES, ACTING LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, we’re here at the Lazarus Community Centre who do fantastic work for Geelong’s homeless and Geelong’s disadvantaged. Today, they’re going to be having their Christmas lunch, and it really is a place of joy today. There’s a whole lot of people who are doing it tough at a time of the year when it can be really difficult for lots in our society. But inside the Lazarus Community Centre, there are a lot of smiles, and it’s been a real privilege to be able to spend the morning with them.
We’re just a few days before Christmas and what Australia is experiencing is Scott Morrison’s chaos. Today is the national cabinet, and what we are seeing is a complete failure of leadership on the part of Scott Morrison and his government. The challenge which is really facing the nation right now with the surging COVID numbers, with the challenge of Omicron is to have an efficient and timely rollout of the booster shot. And once again, Australia finds itself near the bottom of the global ladder when it comes to the rollout of the booster shot. We have seen that the failure of Scott Morrison during the year to have a timely rollout of the initial vaccine echoes through to the rollout of the booster shot. There are reports in the media today that the readily available numbers of doses for Australia at the moment is about 4.8 million. And yet if the time for the booster jab is reduced to four months, 7.2 million Australians will become eligible for it on Saturday week. And ten days after that, another two million kids will be eligible for their vaccine shot. So we need to hear from Scott Morrison today about there being a guarantee that there will be supply to rollout these vaccine shots. And we need to hear from Scott Morrison today about what is his plan to have that rollout happen immediately. It is critically important for the country. There is no national framework right now in relation to testing, so as Australians are spending hours in queues waiting to get tested, there is no national framework- there’s no national framework that has been put in place in respect of rapid antigen tests, which is a technology that is being used right around the world. And all of this was foreseeable. We knew months ago, that as the country would open up in the lead up to Christmas, this would be a particularly difficult time. We’ve known since the middle of the year, that the booster program and booster shots were going to be central to meeting this next phase of the COVID challenge. And yet, here as we meet on the 22nd of December, what Scott Morrison is delivering to the country is absolute chaos.
JOURNALIST: If no one else has a question, I might jump in. Richard, the Prime Minister and the Chief Medical Officer have sought to reassure Australians that modelling that’s been leaked today from the Doherty Institute predicting 200,000 daily cases is very unlikely to eventuate. Based on your reading of these reports or information that has been provided to the Opposition, do you think Australians should be concerned?
MARLES: Well, modelling provides a range of scenarios. And it’s important that we are reacting to the modelling, understanding that it’s a tool and in an appropriate way. But the real challenge that is facing the country right now is the rollout of the booster shot. And what we’ve got is complete chaos. I mean, it is unbelievable that right now, at a time when we need to see the timely rollout of the booster shot, we’ve got the government cutting funding to GPs and pharmacists, the very people charged with the responsibility of rolling out the booster shot. That decision is the height of stupidity. Scott Morrison once again is failing the nation when it comes to the vaccine rollout and what he’s delivering in the lead up to Christmas is absolute chaos.
JOURNALIST: And also just another question. Several states including New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria are pushing the federal government to speed up that booster process. Do you have a position? Would you like to see that happen?
MARLES: Well, I think we need to be taking the best medical advice but the point here is that if the best medical advice is to reduce the time for the booster shot down to four months, well, we need to know that the government actually has the capacity to rollout the booster shot in that way. And right now, there are a whole lot of questions about the availability of supply, about how the logistics will be put in place to actually see the rollout of the booster jab be done in a timely and efficient way. And in the midst of this, what the government decided to do is to cut the funding to GPs and pharmacists, who are the very people who are going to do that rollout. That is a stupid decision. And what we need to hear from the government today is a plan to get this rollout happening because it is the most important step that the nation can take in meeting the current challenge.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister says that the government is considering whether to make rapid tests free. Joe Biden is going to purchase 500 million and provide them to Americans for free. Would you be supportive of the government doing the same?
MARLES: Well, once again, what we’ve got is a Prime Minister, who, rather than being ahead of events is being led by events- he constantly is reacting to what is happening around him rather than providing the nation leadership. I mean, as we – as we stand here today, there is no national framework in respect of rapid antigen tests. This is a technology which has been around for a long time now. It’s a technology which is being used right around the world in terms of managing the pandemic. And there is no national framework which has been put in place as to the deployment of rapid antigen tests in a way which is accessible and in a way which is equitable. So what we want to hear from the government is how they plan to do that.
JOURNALIST: Just one final question; the Prime Minister has repeatedly over the last couple of days said, you know, people should be taking personal responsibility, and that Australia should be moving away from mandates. Given that, we know Professor Kelly has recommended mandating masks, do you think the Prime Minister’s language with regards to this is unhelpful?
MARLES: Look, I think we need to be listening to the best medical advice and acting on it. That’s the critical step that needs to be taken here. We don’t want to be in a single extra day of lockdown. Certainly from the point of view of a Victorian who’s experienced a fair bit of lockdown over the last two years, we want to see people getting on with their businesses and getting on with their lives. If there are low cost, easy measures that can be taken, which ensures that people can get on with their businesses, can get on with their lives, we could see the economy keep going, then we should be walking down that path. And that’s the advice that’s been given by the Chief Medical Officer when it comes to the use of masks. And it seems to me that the government needs to be listening to that advice and acting accordingly.