SUBJECTS: Support measures; Scott Morrison’s failures in managing COVID-19; Scott Morrison conceding he short-changed Victoria.
KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Richard Marles, sadly, as we meet this afternoon, it looks like another, a fifth lockdown is imminent for your state.
RICHARD MARLES DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Yeah, well, that seems to be the word that’s coming through. Obviously, we’ll see what the state government announce. But if that is what transpires, I mean, I think Victorians will do what they’ve always done, and that is, you know, abide by it and make sure that we get on top of this as quickly as possible. But it does highlight the uncertain country that we’re living in right now. And it will remain uncertain until we have a proper rate of vaccination in Australia. I mean, the Prime Minister said that vaccination wasn’t a race, I think as we are looking at millions of Australians in lockdown right now, I think deep in their bones, every Australian knows that it’s a race, it’s a race against the virus. And a 10 per cent vaccination rate around the country as it stands today, in terms of those who are fully vaccinated, is just not good enough. And that is on Scott Morrison.
GILBERT: 75 per cent of those over 70. Is it time to have a rethink on how we deal with this virus? Because if the most vulnerable are vaccinated, all aged care facilities have been vaccinated, is it time to rethink? Because it’s having an overwhelmingly negative impact on younger Australians, as you know, and you know yourself, you’ve heard the stories of the adolescent mental illness problem in Victoria. It’s not just Victoria around the country, it’s huge.
MARLES: And you’re right to highlight mental health. I think, you know, there is a significant mental health impact that has been experienced by Victorians by virtue of what happened last year, and I think that you’re right also to focus on young people. And that will be the same as we’re experiencing lockdowns elsewhere in the country. And that’s not to criticise the lockdown, the lockdown needed to occur in order to make sure that we weren’t in a much worse situation. But it just does highlight again, that we don’t get to the other side of COVID-19, until we’re vaccinated. That’s the pathway out, that was always going to be the pathway out. And really, Scott Morrison and his government have been asleep at the wheel in relation to that, they’ve frankly been incompetent. You know, last year, when they should have been putting us actually at the front of the queue in relation to the various vaccine projects around the world, they bet the house on AstraZeneca. And obviously, the medical advice has been what it’s been. And we’re now in a situation where we don’t have proper supply. And we’re sitting on, you know, a pathetically low level of vaccination, relative to the rest of the developed world. And so rather than being at the front of the queue, we’re actually languishing on the bottom of the ladder. And, and that’s actually what underpins all of this. That’s why we can’t get to the other side of this. And we will be living in the land of the lockdown until we are properly vaccinated. And until then, we’re going to see this occur. And it’s obviously costing business millions of dollars. It’s placing a whole lot of people’s jobs in jeopardy. But as you rightly point out, it’s also having a massive impact on the mental health of Australians and particularly young Australians.
GILBERT: The Prime Minister points out as well, though, that there were things that happened outside of the government’s control, first of all, with Europe blocking that initial shipment, then changing advice in terms of AstraZeneca, which is still by all experts that I’ve spoken to, say is a safe vaccine. And they’ve stepped up the purchasing and delivery of Pfizer. The Prime Minister indicating this afternoon that well, he didn’t rule out, the suggestion to him that he’s going to speak to the Pfizer Chief. We’re talking about a million doses from Pfizer per week from now, pretty much, potentially more than that. How would the doses be rolled out? Would the facilities, would our framework be able to hold up to that?
MARLES: Well, the Prime Minister is never short of an excuse. But one thing you won’t see him do, is take responsibility for anything. And really Australians are paying the price for that. You know, because on the bad days, this Prime Minister goes missing. Because on the bad days, he refuses to stand up and take responsibility, no lessons are learnt. And all you hear from him and his Ministers are excuses. And this is a Prime Minister also who really doesn’t lead, he is led by events. And that’s why, you know, it’s played out in the way that it’s played out. Last year, and we were making the point last year, we’ve not been just saying this recently, the government should have placed ourselves in the front of more queues of the vaccine projects around the world. They did not order the quantity of Pfizer last year that they should have. We were not even ordering any Moderna at all last year when we should have been. That’s what would have actually hedged risk here. That’s what would have made us- put us in a position where, you know, as things that you don’t expect play out, you’re able to do deal with them. Instead, you know, he is a hostage to what events play out, his is in a sense a hostage to all of those issues, and he ends up being led by events and he’s making it up as he goes along. And that’s actually what’s happening here. And fundamentally, that’s incompetent. I mean, it really is. I mean last year in the midst of self-congratulation-
GILBERT: But it is also a pandemic that we have- you say they’re making it up as they go along, you know, ad hoc and so on. But if you talk about this pandemic, it’s a once in a century event. Things do change all the time. The ATAGI advice, as I mentioned earlier, based on the fact that we didn’t have any community transmission here. And sometimes medical advice isn’t as easy to communicate, in the political sense as we- as they might like. But the fact is, the Prime Minister then had to manage that. These are moving targets. These are moving events. You say he’s hostage to it, but comparatively, we- you know, we’re heading into another lockdown in Melbourne, and we’ve got one in Sydney. But overall, those numbers, nothing like you’re see internationally.
MARLES: Yeah, look, what we have seen is other countries deal with these issues. We’ve just watched Wimbledon, with packed houses, as everything that Britain has gone through, has still enabled them to get to the point where they’ve been able to do that because they’ve had a successful vaccination rollout. And they’ve faced far more difficulties than what we have here. I mean, really, what we’ve seen is a Prime Minister who is complacent. And no one is out there suggesting this is easy. But they’re meant to be the government which is dealing with events. In actual fact, we’ve not had a whole lot of the difficulties that other countries around the world have faced. And yet we find ourselves languishing at the back of the queue, that is the truth of it. And it is because this is a Prime Minister who is both incompetent and reactive. And in relation to getting the vaccines, we all knew that to get to the other side of COVID-19, whilst hiding- effectively hiding from the virus was going to be an important step for us to take up front, getting to the other side of COVID-19 was always going to be about getting people vaccinated. And that was understood last year. In fact, quite early last year, really, as the various vaccine projects got underway. We all understood that in terms of making the best of our natural advantage, we needed to have a proper quarantine system, and he was given advice about how to do that, having fit for purpose quarantine facilities in this country. Instead, his government has relied on hotel quarantine, where people have gone in and actually caught the disease. I mean, that is what they are responsible for. And that is why we are right now living in the land of the lockdown.
GILBERT: The support announced today, the Prime Minister expediting and simplifying the way that these payments are being made. Do you welcome that? It is at the level of the JobKeeper payments of the final quarter of last year. And it provides a framework within which to work with every state. Hopefully, they don’t have to do it again beyond what we’re seeing at the moment. Sadly, it seems inevitable that other states will be caught up in situations not dissimilar to what New South Wales and Victoria are facing right now. Do you welcome the Prime Minister’s move to simplify and speed up the rolling out of those payments?
MARLES: More support is obviously welcome. But you know far from them actually putting in place a framework which gives a consistent way in which people can deal with the system and understand what support will be provided to them, we are instead seeing essentially an announcement every week, which is why I absolutely say these people are making it up as they go along. And actually today’s announcement is a concession that Victorians were short-changed during the last lockdown. This is a government which is actually deeply anti-Victorian. Something has to happen in New South Wales before they actually do something for Victorians. That’s the truth of how Scott Morrison governs in this country. I think every Victorian feels it. In the midst of the lockdown last year, this was a government who stood up in Parliament and attacked Victoria. That’s what was actually going on. But we shouldn’t forget that in the budget, they-
GILBERT: They weren’t attacking Victoria, they were critical of the Andrews Government. There is a difference.
MARLES: Well, I would invite- I’d invite you to play Josh Frydenberg’s speech from the parliament last year and every Victorian felt attacked by that speech, on that day- no question about it. This is a government which is anti-Victorian in the way in which it’s gone about its business. But, they are budgeting for a lockdown in a capital city every month- that’s in the federal budget. Which means that when JobKeeper came to an end in March, they should have been able to predict or put in place then what the temporary support was going to be for capital cities, or for parts of the country which were going through a lockdown because they were expecting it, they were actually budgeting for it. Instead, we saw none of that then. They’ve been making it up ever since. There is no consistent framework. And as a result what there has been is uncertainty, which has characterised the way every business and every worker is felt, every time a lockdown is announced.
GILBERT: Deputy Labor Leader Richard Marles, I appreciate your time. As always, thank you talk to you soon.
MARLES: Thanks, Kieran.