SUBJECT: Additional support for NSW; Scott Morrison’s botched vaccine rollout.
RAFF EPSTEIN, HOST: And also, to give us a view on the new payments that have been announced by the New South Wales and Federal governments, with some extra support; $600 for people losing their income if a lockdown goes into a fourth week, that was announced this afternoon. For the Federal Opposition’s view on that, the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, so he’s Anthony Albanese’s Deputy- he’s also the Member, of course, for the seat of Corio here in Victoria, Richard Marles. Thanks for joining us. Good afternoon.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good afternoon, Raff. How are you?
EPSTEIN: What do you make of the $600 payment for people in Sydney?
MARLES: Well, I think its policy on the run, is the answer to this question. I mean, we’ve known now for a couple of weeks that there was going to need to be additional support for people in Sydney, given that this was looking like it would pan out to be a lockdown of an extended duration. And yet, it’s only now that we’re getting these announcements. And I think the point to make in saying that, is that, in the government’s own budget papers, they had assumed or have assumed that there would be a lockdown every month in a capital city in this country. Now, what that means is that come the end of March this year, when they brought JobKeeper to an end, they knew that this was the kind of event which was going to occur. So-
EPSTEIN: Weren’t they worried- and tell me if you agree with the argument- weren’t the federal government worried, if you provide something that is a JobKeeper light payment, that’s an incentive? They were the Prime Minister’s words. It’s an incentive for states to decide to lockdown. They were worried about that. Is that a fair fear?
MARLES: No, I don’t think that’s a fair fear at all. Because you know, what state wants to lockdown other than in circumstances where there’s no other choice, and where it is clearly what needs to be done in terms of the benefit of the public health at the state concert? Point was-
EPSTEIN: It’s a good isn’t it. It’s a good thing that New South Wales got this.
MARLES: But it’s come so late. I mean, we’ll see whether or not this does the trick. But the point really is that the certainty that could have been provided to businesses in New South Wales, in Victorian, indeed across the country, should have been provided back in March, when they brought JobKeeper to an end, knowing that there were going to be temporary lockdowns of this kind because they had budgeted for. I mean, they literally have it in their own budget. And instead, what we’re seeing is policy on the run. And I think it characterizes what this government has been about in relation to COVID. They’re not leading. They’re being led by events. I mean, we see that in relation to the vaccine rollout-
EPSTEIN: If I can, Richard Marles-
MARLES: Which underpins everything.
EPSTEIN: Yeah, I want to come to the vaccine rollout. But if I can just stick on the announcement this afternoon. And I’m happy to be corrected on this, but I think I’ve got it right. When that initial disaster payment was announced for Melbourne, once we went into our second week of lockdown, if you had $10,000 in cash in the bank, you did not receive that payment. That is not a condition for this subsequent payment for people in Sydney. Are you okay with that? Is that-
MARLES: Yeah, I mean, that’s my understanding as well. But what we’re seeing is this constant iteration. So, you know, after I think it’s week three, that the $10,000 threshold is removed. Then after week four, we’re seeing the increase, there is a payment that has been put forward in relation to small businesses after week four. I mean, this is all fine, and we need to see how this plays out. You know, this government’s been kind of big on announcement, whether or not it actually comes to bear fruit, in the delivery, is another question. But let’s see whether this does the trick. But I think the point we would make today is, the government themselves budgeted for this earlier in the year, when they were preparing for the budget, when JobKeeper came to an end, they knew that this kind of lockdown was going to occur. And yet at that moment in time when they were reducing, if you like, the support which had been in place for the duration of COVID, they did not announce these measures, then. Why not? I mean, if they are on top of this, if they were leading, that’s what they would have done then. But instead they are constantly being dragged along by events. It’s only that there was a slightly more extended lockdown in Victoria, which led them to make the first announcement. Now we’ve got a more extended lockdown in New South Wales and they’ve been dragged to the table again. And all the while businesses and people who are losing their jobs are being faced with the uncertainty of not knowing exactly what support is out there. And I think that’s the frustration that people in Sydney are feeling today. It’s the frustration that so many people felt in Melbourne when we went through our lockdown a month ago. And really, we actually need this government to stand up and stop being led by events and actually start doing some of the leading themselves.
EPSTEIN: Richard Marles is the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, federally. 1300 222 774. Just briefly on the vaccine rollout, Richard Marles; I mean, you can quibble with how much they might have spent but could they really have procured more vaccine? A whole lot of other countries needed the vaccine ahead of us didn’t they?
MARLES: The Prime Minister promised we’d be at the front of the queue, bottom line. And the answer to your question is unequivocally, yes. I mean in the midst of their self-congratulation last year, they were complacent. And this is not a point that we’ve only been making this year, we were making the point last year. You know, the government needed then to get at the front of the various queues of the various vaccine projects around the world. Instead, they really bet the house on AstraZeneca doing the job now, you know, the medical advice has panned out as it has in relation to AstraZeneca. But really, that was the only thing they had in the fire at the beginning of this year. They didn’t have anything like the quantities of Pfizer, which-
EPSTEIN: No one really knew that the vaccines were going to be a big thing last year, did they? They didn’t know.
MARLES: I think that’s completely wrong, Raff. I mean, in this sense; everyone knew from day one, that whilst the immediate response to the virus would be to come up with measures where essentially we were hiding from it, ways in which we keep the virus out. The ultimate solution to this was to develop a vaccine. And that was being spoken about in the very earliest months of COVID-19 last year. The vaccine was on the agenda, you know, really from very early on in this discussion. And we knew that the way out was- having a strong border, having proper quarantine facilities, critically important- but what would get us to the other side would be a proper vaccine rollout. Of what that meant last year, and it was a point we were making last year, was that we as a country needed to place ourselves at the front of the queue, of the various vaccine projects that were going on around the world. That’s what other countries did. That’s what our Prime Minister promised. In fact, he did not deliver. And as a result, what we, you know, what we have seen is Australia, in fact, languishing at the bottom of the OECD table, and we are right at the back of the queue. Just look at Wimbledon, Raff- in the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen, you know, full houses there as we did with the-
MARLES: Yeah Wembley- and the final of the European Cup. And people without wearing masks. Everyone in those stadiums were vaccinated. That’s how they did those events. All the while the Grand Prix in Australia is now being cancelled. That events not going to happen in Melbourne, to the enormous economic cost of our state. And that’s because we’ve not done the vaccine rollout in the way we should.
EPSTEIN: Appreciate your time today, thank you.
MARLES: Thanks, Raff.