SUBJECTS: failures of the Morrison Government during the COVID-19 pandemic; Novak Djokovic.
MARCUS PAUL, HOST: For the first time in 2022 we have Deputy Labor Leader Richard Marles on the line.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Happy New Year Marcus!
PAUL: You too, mate. I want to read something out to you before we start. It’s from a lady in Leura, and it was a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald. ‘When it comes to submarines, we sign up to some vague plan to the cost of tens of billions. When it comes to showering taxpayer money into Coalition seats as rorts, it’s considered good value. When it comes to large corporations walking away with billions of erroneously claimed JobKeeper dollars, well, there’s no need to get the handouts back. But now that I would like a few RAT kits, which would be for the wider community’s health more than my own, I’m being lectured on things not being free. I have not been able to procure a RAT, but I am sure that I can smell one.’ Wendy Varney at Leura, what a great letter to the editor.
MARLES: It says it all really. And it speaks to the fact that this is a government, which just is struggling to get ahead of events, is constantly reacting to the circumstances it finds itself in and those reactions are always bad. And here we are in a situation where rapid antigen tests have been used around the world for months and months now, and have been a really important technology. The government was really slow to get them here. And now when we really need them, there just aren’t enough. In Germany right now, if you want a rapid antigen test, you can get that in a vending machine; that’s a government that is acting in a way which is prepared, which knows the importance of these kits to public health. Here you just can’t get one. They should be available to everyone as as that lady has said in her letter. But even if you want to buy one, you can’t find one. And yet a whole lot of the rules and regulations which now apply to us, ask us to return a test from one of these kits. It is ridiculous. And it speaks to the fact that right now, we don’t have food on supermarket shelves. I mean, how have we ended up there? For all that has occurred last year in terms of the failures of rolling out vaccines on time. For every parent of a child under 12 now who is looking with a great deal of anxiety about the beginning of the school term, and was thinking that they would be able to get their kid vaccinated on January 10, because that was the date that was put in the diary a long time ago – you can’t get it! I mean, the vaccines aren’t available. How are we having that mistake being made again? This whole thing is an absolute circus and it speaks to the fact that this is a government which is in complete shambles. They are beyond their use-by date. And frankly, this whole set of circumstances is just beyond them, they are incapable of governing for Australia and they have let us down.
PAUL: Georgie Dent from The Parenthood, someone who appears on this program regularly has written to her many members; “We believed we’d have access to the tests and services we’d need to live safely. We believed that our healthcare systems, our hospitals, our schools, and all of our essential services would be supported to support us all to live safely”. But of course, the Prime Minister says you can lockdown or you can push through. Now childcare centres keep closing, kids vaccine appointments are being canceled, supply chains are faltering, and healthcare workers are burning out. I mean, is this what pushing through really means?
MARLES: Well, it’s fine to – for the Prime Minister to speak to the Australian people in that way, but the Australian people, as Georgie Dent is arguing in her letter expects a government which is going to stand by them, which is going to have their back, which is actually going to do the preparation and the work which enables people to push through. And yet that just hasn’t been done. And so the basics here, that people are relying on just are not present because this government has failed. Its failed in rolling out vaccines, again. It’s failed in making sure that we have the test kits available when, you know, in other parts of the world you can get them in vending machines. And, and all of this is having an impact on our labour, our economy, our workforce. Months ago it was being predicted that in opening up- and I don’t criticize that decision- but that in opening up, we would be seeing the peak of cases around now. So this is not a surprise that we should be seeing lots of cases now. Well, what was the government doing about it, in terms of making sure that we were prepared so that this wasn’t going to impact work forces? And yet, it is everywhere. You go around, like every Australian will be experiencing this; in food supply chain. I was visiting a pharmacy yesterday where a third of their workforce is down. That letter speaks to health workers who are working around the clock because they are being burnt out by the circumstances that they are finding themselves in. All of this was predictable, but we’ve got a government which just doesn’t plan ahead.
PAUL: Well, I mean, I spoke this morning to Sally McManus. I’ve spoken before to the Australian Medical Association. Both the ACTU and the AMA, I mean, they all warned, in fact, they lobbied hard to the federal government as early as July last year, and from the AMA’s point of view, in September, warning them that we would require rapid antigen tests. It’s not as if they weren’t warned. And then for the Prime Minister, just a couple of weeks ago to turn around and say, well, we we don’t want to undercut the private sector. I don’t want to upset you know, companies that may well make – I mean, gee whiz. We’ve got a bloke leading this country that wants what – big business to profiteer out of a health crisis? That’s what it appears to me.
MARLES: It is ridiculous. But even, there’s not even the supply, Marcus, which would enable people to sell these products in the first place.
PAUL: Yeah, alright.
MARLES: As I said, in other parts of the world, you can get them in vending machines. You can’t find a RAT test even if you want to pay for it. And that is a failure of this government. As you rightly say, in the middle of last year, the rapid antigen tests were emerging as a critical technology, which was enabling countries to live with the virus, to move through. And yet we were really slow to get that technology into the country. And that is a failure of this government.
PAUL: Now, Novak Djokovic, just a comment from you. You’re from Victoria. No doubt, you’ve probably been to the Australian Open. Ordinarily, we’d be looking forward to Novak perhaps defending his title, maybe even scoring a Grand Slam record down there. This whole thing has been sullied. My personal point of view is that the bloke shouldn’t be allowed in the country because the rules clearly state if you’re unvaccinated, you’re not welcome. That’s where I sit on it, regardless of everything else that’s happened. Regardless of all – of the mixed messages from Tennis Australia, from you know, Karen Andrews, Home Affairs, all the rest of it, it doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t change the fact that the bloke is un-vaxxed. If you’re unvaccinated, then you shouldn’t be playing in the tournament considering that unvaccinated spectators aren’t welcome. I mean, unvaccinated people can’t work in Health. They can’t, you know, partake in many activities around the country, Richard, but here we are on the prefaces of a bloke who is unvaccinated, is a known anti-vaxxer and is about to compete in what is one of our greatest sporting events. From where I – from where I sit, the whole thing stinks and it’s turned me off it.
MARLES: Well, it’s certainly a circus. And I think the way in which it’s handled has been really an embarrassment for the country. Let me start to say upfront; people need to get vaccinated- like the way through here for the country is about people getting vaccinated. And, you know, the government was, we’ve said a lot of times, very slow to give people the opportunity to get vaccinated last year. They’re doing that again. But one of the great achievements of last year was from the Australian people in turning out in huge numbers to get vaccinated. And it really does – I mean, it’s one of the great assets of the country that so many Australians are willing to get vaccinated. So it’s really important that that is the key message. Look, I think in terms of what the government needs to be doing in relation to Novak Djokovic at one level is very simple – they need to be acting lawfully. Alex Hawke should be making his decisions against a set of objective rules, and they need to be based on the best medical advice, and they should be applied without fear or favour. And it should begin and end right there. Instead, what we see is a circus here. And what it is, I think, is is a massive distraction when Australians look at this whole situation that the government has got itself completely tied in knots in respect of that. When what Australians want to see is their government making sure that it’s doing the basics of having food on shelves, making sure that vaccines are available, making sure the rapid antigen test kits are available. That- it says everything to me about the kind of circus that this government is when you look at this whole affair.
PAUL: Alright, well, there’s no doubt it’s a distraction. But let me just put it as clearly as I can to you and it’s completely up to you as to whether you want to answer this. But should the Immigration Minister Alex Hawke remove Novak Djokovic from the country, considering he’s unvaccinated, Richard?
MARLES: Well, I will say what I said before; I think that – and this is how it should be- the government needs to act lawfully, it needs to make a decision against objective set of rules. And those rules should be based on the best medical advice. And that should be done without fear or favour, irrespective of who the decision is being made in relation to.
PAUL: Alright, good to chat, thank you very much. We’ll talk again soon, in the next couple of weeks.
MARLES: Thank you Marcus.