SUBJECTS: Vaccine Rollout Delays; Business confidence in rollout.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Australia needs an answer on the government’s vaccination strategy. Instead, what we’ve got is a Prime Minister who now appears to be in hiding. It’s not good enough to do a Facebook message. The Prime Minister should right now be standing right here, giving an explanation to the Australian people about what his plans are to vaccinate the country. The debacle that we now face is a direct result of the government’s complacency last year. In the midst of its self-congratulation, it failed to place Australia in the queues for the various vaccines that were being developed around the world. It did not spread risk. Instead, it bet the house on the ability to have AstraZeneca primarily vaccinate the country. It bet the house on the manufacture of that one vaccine here in Australia. And now that we have the medical advice, that the vaccine shouldn’t be provided to people under the age of 50. The government absolutely has to come forward and explain how it is going to vaccinate the country given this advice. And when we hear the government talk about the fact that this is not a race, it demonstrates the extent to which they profoundly misunderstand what is happening here. Of course, there is a massive health dimension to the vaccination. But vaccinating Australia is an economic question. We’re going to watch the world open up while Australia is left behind. 190 million out of 328 million Americans have now been vaccinated- in the UK 39 out of 67. Here, 1 million out of 25 million Australians have currently received their first injection, that is the extent to which we are behind what is going on in the rest of the world. And as the rest of the world opens up in the aftermath of COVID and re-establishes its economic relationships in the new world order, what we will see is Australia be left out if there is not an answer to how we get our country vaccinated- and vaccinated quickly. We need to be hearing this from the Prime Minister right now. This is a Prime Minister who constantly borrows from the future. This is a Prime Minister who says what he needs to say to get through the day. And as a result, we have a litany of heroic promises, which turn out to be nothing. This is the Prime Minister who said that 4 million of us would be vaccinated in March; not happening. This is the Prime Minister who said we would get our first injections by October; that’s now not going to happen. And now what we’ve got is a Prime Minister who’s literally hiding under the doona and not being prepared to give any targets at all, for Australia and Australian business. Australian Business desperately need to understand what the targets are in terms of vaccinating the country, what the relevant milestones are in relation to vaccinating the country. What is the pathway to getting to a point where we can open one day our international border? That’s the big question. We need to actually hear the government start to articulate what its end of COVID strategy is. You don’t do that by a Facebook message. You do that by standing right here and answering the questions of the nation and giving Australians a sense of what the plan is. Instead, we’ve got a Prime Minister who has absolutely gone missing in action, which is his form when the going gets tough. When the going gets tough, this is a Prime Minister who goes completely missing.
JOURNALIST: Should the Johnson and Johnson vaccine be considered? Considering that there are also concerns regarding similar side effects to AstraZeneca?
MARLES: It’s a really good question. And I don’t know the answer to it because I’m not in government. I don’t have the advice- It’s exactly why the Prime Minister needs to be standing here answering that question. Like as a matter of principle, it’s to state the obvious we need more deals rather than less, in terms of the vaccines that are able to be accessed. But the advice which would enable one to properly answer the question that you’ve rightly asked, is in the hands of the government. That’s why a Facebook message is so contemptuous of the Australian people. It’s why the Prime Minister actually needs to be here giving an answer to exactly that question and explaining what the pathway forward is.
JOURNALIST: So would those extra deals- more deals, not less, have materially done anything considering that Johnson and Johnson and other vaccines are also seeing these side effects? Even if they had signed deals, you’d still be in this position, isn’t that right?
MARLES: It’s absolutely not right. We’re not in the queue at all for Moderna. The Moderna vaccine, an important RNA vaccine, we’re not even in that queue. In terms of Pfizer, we’ve had some Pfizer doses come to Australia, but in the grander scheme of things, not that much. And developing the manufacturing capability in this country- which was always going to be the key- was done in relation to one vaccine and one vaccine only, and that was AstraZeneca. This government was in the midst of self-congratulation last year, and it was complacent. And now it needs to stand up. And it needs to stand up and understand this is a critical economic question for the future of our country. It’s about how we reconstruct and come out of this crisis. And it’s about doing so in a way where we are not left behind when the rest of the world is opening up.
JOURNALIST: Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud stood right there a couple of hours ago and said it was reckless to be describing this vaccine rollout as a race and Labor doing so was dangerous. How do you respond to that?
MARLES: I think that profoundly misunderstands what’s happening. I really do. To suggest that there is not a time imperative associated with rolling out the vaccine is to completely misunderstand what is happening around the world and the place in which Australia stands. Yes, it needs to be done in a way which is safe. Obviously, every precaution needs to be taken. Clearly, we need to be taking the best medical advice. But to think that there is not a time element to this is totally inept. And if that is where the government’s at, then they don’t have a strategy for getting our country past the COVID crisis. It is going to place Australia at enormous disadvantage globally. If we are watching the rest of the world open up, re-establish its commercial relations, re-establish its contractual relations- and we are not at that table. That’s what’s at stake here. And ultimately, we do need to, at some point, open our international border, and the key to that is vaccines. And so there is absolutely a time element associated with this. And that line, which has been reiterated time and again by this government says the extent to which they do not understand the situation that we’re in.
JOURNALIST: But if we had more vaccines on the ground right now, would they be getting in Aussies’ arms considering when we’re looking at the data, states aren’t administering all the vaccines they are allocated. Some of these numbers are quite low. So if we see more vaccines coming can we guarantee that state departments and health departments are going to be able to keep up?
MARLES: Well, I think the critical issue right now is a lack of the vaccines. That’s what’s stopping people being vaccinated. But the government needs to take responsibility. They are our national government. And they need to give an answer to the Australian people about why our numbers are so far behind the rest of the world. I repeat; 190 million out of 328 in the US. 39 million out of 67 million in the UK. We are 1 million out of 25 million. Like they need to give an answer to how that can be so. Other countries have managed to do this. And in the process, in a place like Israel, we’re seeing the rate of the disease declined by virtue of the vaccine being rolled out and that country is now able to move forward. We are finding ourselves being left behind while the rest of the world is moving beyond COVID. And this government needs to explain what its plan is from here.