SUBJECTS: Treatment of Christine Holgate; vaccine rollout.

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: That Christine Holgate was treated abysmally not by the organisation, but by politicians. What do you say to that?

RICHARD MARLES MP, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, what’s clear from what Christine Holgate is saying herself is that she was treated terribly by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister effectively sacked her on the floor of Parliament. The Prime Minister, in her words, humiliated her and bullied her out of office. And I think that what evidence – the evidence she’s given today is really a damning indictment on the Prime Minister and his character.

GILBERT: Mr Albanese has said at the time, your leader, said Christine Holgate’s position was untenable. And that the response, the quote was, “I think her position is untenable” and he also said, “Christine Holgate has done the wrong thing, I support her paying a price for that”.

MARLES: Christine Holgate has made it clear that her position being untenable, was as a result of what the Prime Minister did, when the Prime Minister put her in that situation. Look, we were holding to account the government in its expenditure of public money – and we make no apologies for the fact that we put that as a very high bar. And we did think the purchase of the watches as giving as executive bonuses was the wrong thing to do. Now, it’s something that Christine Holgate has said herself, and we said, there should be a consequence of that. But it’s a world away from what we then watched the Prime Minister do, which was to effectively sack Christine Holgate on the floor of Parliament in that extraordinary outburst last October. And I think it says a lot about the Prime Minister. This is a man who, who always kind of borrows from the future in terms of saying whatever needs to be said to get through any given day. And he went over the top on that day, and that’s really clear from the evidence that Christine Holgate has given today.

GILBERT: But to clarify Labor’s position, because it’s fair to say Labor played a part in Christine Holgate being dumped. The questioning was led by Kimberly Kitching, Labor Senator. And then as I said, your leader had said that there was a price to pay for the mistake made, that Christian Holgate had done the wrong thing.

MARLES: And we stand by all of that, I mean our job as the Opposition is to hold the government to account in the expenditure of public money. And we make no apology for doing that. Kimberly Kitching and the questions that she asked –

GILBERT: So, you’d be happy if Christine Holgate was still in that job?

MARLES: Well, that’s a matter for the government. But what is really clear is that the way in which the government has treated her, has been appalling. The public humiliation of Christine Holgate in the way the Prime Minister behaved and that’s where she makes clear her complaint – and it stands in stark contrast to the way in which the government treats its own Ministers. I mean, last year, we also pointed out that Paul Fletcher was then as a Minister responsible, seeing the sale of a block of land in the Leppington Triangle, which was worth $3 million, selling it for $30 million to a Liberal Party donor.

GILBERT: Would you support Christine Holgate going back to that job?

MARLES: Well, I mean, events have taken the course that they have taken. The point in relation to Christine Holgate’s evidence today is the indictment on the Prime Minister’s character. And again, I’ll point out it’s his treatment of her stands in stark contrast to the way in which he’s treated his own Ministers. Paul Fletcher hasn’t paid any price in respect of the sale of land in the Leppington Triangle last year, it’s on a totally different scale to what we saw in terms of the expenditure of public money with Christine Holgate. The Prime Minister is completely happy to throw her under a bus. But when it comes to the treatment of his own Ministers, it’s an entirely different question.

GILBERT: Is Labor being opportunistic, when it targets the vaccine rollout? The Health Minister says he’s listening to the experts, if they need to procure more that they will procure more, is what he said today. He’s listening to the experts, why shouldn’t he be doing exactly what he’s doing?

MARLES: No, he should be listening to the experts, there’s no question of that, but last year, what we saw on the part of the government, in the midst of its self congratulation, was total complacency in terms of the place that they put Australia in the various vaccine queues. They did not spread risk. What they did was bet the entire house on the AstraZeneca vaccine and the manufacture of it here in Australia.

GILBERT: That’s not entirely true, we’ve got over a million doses of Pfizer, they’ve got Novavax coming mid-year. There’s also the Covax facility, there are other options.

MARLES: It’s really important for the government to start articulating how we get those options and how we get them now, but it’s completely true, that it was betting on the ability to manufacture AstraZeneca and for it to do the bulk of the work in terms of vaccinating the Australian population, and now we’re in a situation where the advice is that that vaccine shouldn’t be given to people under the age of 50. Kieran, the thing about it, is this – if you look at the US, 190 million people have been vaccinated out of a population of 328. In Britain, 39 million people have been vaccinated in a population of 67 million. Here it is 1 million out of a population of 25 million. We are well behind the game here.

GILBERT: Well, I mean, in that comparison, but we are nowhere near as bad as the crisis that faces the United States.

MARLES: And again, this is where the government –

GILBERT: And in fact, we’re comparable with nations, other nations like Germany, I think Canada as well. Labor is comparing to the US and UK where it’s an absolute basket case in terms of the number of cases.

MARLES: But what we’re trying to do is make clear the actual situation that we’re in. And I think what we hear from the government is a whole lot of rhetoric, which makes it clear that they don’t appreciate that. I mean, when they say we’re not in a race, it’s as if there is no time imperative associated with the rollout of vaccination in this country. There is obviously a massive health dimension to the rollout of any vaccination. That’s what a vaccination is about and so you’re right in the sense that, you know, the situation on the ground in relation to health is relevant. But this is an economic question. This is the issue, which will determine when we get to the other side of COVID. And right now, we are so far behind the game in terms of North America and Western Europe, that we’re in real peril of being left behind and in that sense, there is a time imperative here which this government doesn’t see and that’s why business is crying out for them to actually articulate what is the target in terms of vaccination. What are the milestones that business can rely on in terms of Australia being on the other side of the coronavirus crisis.

GILBERT: Mr Marles thanks, appreciate your time.

MARLES: Thanks, Kieran.


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