SUBJECT/S: The cost of lockdowns; Vaccine rollout; Release of ‘Tides That Bind: Australia in the Pacific’

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Deputy Labor Leader Richard Marles, who joins me now- with that developing situation in Victoria. The broader response though, the focus on Labor’s vaccine response and what you’d like to see in terms of incentive payments. Are you worried about this retort, this argument from the Prime Minister that you’re being reckless in a fiscal sense, $6 billion is the price tag of this?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, the price tag has to be taken in a context where we’re seeing literally billions of dollars being lost every single week by virtue of the fact that we live in the land of lockdown. And ultimately, that boils down to the failure of Scott Morrison to properly have the vaccination rollout on track. And that’s what we’re trying to address with this proposition. I mean, we’re seeing a massive impact to the economy by virtue of Sydney being in a state of lockdown as it is, we’ve got Queensland in a state of lockdown. We, you know, we face the threat of it really every day going forward, when we’ve got vaccination rates really, at a very small level – of about 15 per cent of the total population. That is the reality of what we’re going to be facing going forward. That all costs an enormous amount to the economy. So compared to that, putting forward a proposition, which is about trying to get the job done as quickly as it possibly can be done, which this government has failed to do, seems to us to make sense.

GILBERT: Now, you’ve got a record day, though the last 24 hours; 213,000, nearly 13 million doses, we’re talking about 1.2 million doses in seven days. Isn’t your idea premature, the numbers are already strong and looking strong, at least for the moment?

MARLES: Well, every person who gets vaccinated is a good thing, there is no question of that. And it’s reasonable and good to be celebrating everybody getting vaccinated. But, the truth of the matter is that you can’t look at the vaccination rates in Australia right now and say that the numbers are strong. We are right down the bottom of the OECD table in terms of the level of our population that has been vaccinated. And where we now need to get to, in the context of the Doherty Report, which has been tabled by the government just shows that there is a massive way to go, and we really need to be using every tool that we possibly can to get there. And that’s why we’ve suggested, in the spirit of being constructive, a proposition of incentivizing people to get vaccinated through this payment, which will also have the dual effect of helping to stimulate an economy which is going to be going through a rough patch over the coming months with so much of the country locked down.

GILBERT: It’s a big policy, though, why didn’t he –  the leader – take it to the full Shadow Cabinet?

MARLES: I’m not- I mean, I heard that report. I’m not about to discuss the agenda of Shadow Cabinet on national TV. We’ve taken this decision because we think that it’s absolutely essential that we are doing everything we can as a nation, to deal with the failure of this government to properly vaccinate Australia. And that’s why we’ve got to get this going as quickly as we possibly can. And you know, incentive payments of this kind have been used in different settings, as Andrew Clennell was saying earlier, within Australia’s own history. Incentive payments of this kind have been used by different countries around the world in relation to this pandemic. So, it’s hardly a new idea. But we need to be using every idea that is out there to catch up with the rest of the world, given how low our vaccination rates are, and how important it is that we get fully vaccinated, given the potential loss to the economy, which we are facing through lockdown after lockdown.

GILBERT: Is this a vote of no confidence, as the Prime Minister says in the Australian people’s willingness to do the right thing?

MARLES: No. I mean, ultimately, I just think that Scott Morrison at his most pathetic. I mean, Scott Morrison is the king of those lines, you know, like he will always come up with a negative line about somebody else who is making a contribution to the national debate. That is- that’s all that line is. This isn’t a vote of no confidence at all. This is simply incentivizing the public to go and get a vaccination which we- as quickly as possible, in circumstances where we need people to do it as quickly as possible. And, this sort of incentive payment has been used in a whole lot of other settings, and no one has ever made that kind of accusation about a policy of this kind.

GILBERT: You, just quickly, we’re almost out of time, but you’ve got a book launch tomorrow about Australia in the Pacific. Is one of your concerns that you write about, the emergence of more Chinese power with our Pacific neighbours?

MARLES: Well, certainly the Pacific is a strategically contested space. And you know, we need to be –  to have our eyes wide open to that and to be acting in – within our own national interests in the context of that. But what I do argue in the book is that the best strategy for us in terms of promoting our strategic interests in the Pacific is actually to focus on the Pacific countries themselves and the Pacific people themselves. The Pacific is a country which performed – or a part of the world which performed as poorly against the Millennium Development Goals as any other region in the world. That really ought to be the clarion call for our action in the Pacific. And what we need to be demonstrating as a country is our sincere desire to help the development of the people of the Pacific, help with the health and the education issues and all the other social indicators which affect the people of the Pacific- importantly, the existential issue of climate change – and making sure that our actions and our advocacy is focused on advancing their development and their welfare.

GILBERT: Richard Marles, I’ll have a read, thanks for your time as always.

MARLES: Thanks, Kieran.


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