SUBJECTS: Lockdowns; Vaccine rollout; state of the economy; State Premiers handling of COVID-19.
PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Alright, lets bring in the Deputy Labor Leader, Richard Marles now, to get his reaction to that. So do you believe,- good morning to you Richard, by the way- do you believe that lockdowns will be a thing of the past by Christmas?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, I think it’s remarkable that it’s taken until the end of July, for the penny to drop in the Prime Minister’s head, that vaccination is actually the pathway to getting to the other side of COVID-19. It is literally what we’ve been saying for a year. And here is the Prime Minister making this point now. I mean, he spent the last few months telling Australians; this isn’t a race. Yesterday, he was saying that we need to try and win the gold medal when it comes to this, which is absolutely laughable. In a context where Australia has a vaccination rate of 13 per cent. We are at the very bottom of the ladder in the OECD. I mean, Scott Morrison isn’t putting Australia on path to win a gold medal when it comes to vaccinating- he’s got us in the same heat as Eric the Eel. This guy has completely failed in terms of getting the country vaccinated, which is why we are now living in the land of the lockdown. It’s why so many millions of Australians are facing restrictions in their lives right now. That’s because Scott Morrison hasn’t figured this out. And he said it wasn’t a race.
STEFANOVIC: But do you believe that lockdowns will be a thing of the past, by Christmas? There’ll be no more?
MARLES: Well, I don’t know whether the Prime Minister is going to be able to deliver that timetable-
STEFANOVIC: Would it be your hope?
MARLES: Of course it’s my hope. But this is the man who has been heroic in terms of the timetables and the goals that he set himself and Australia, but he has consistently failed to meet every one of them. Millions of people were meant to be vaccinated back in March, we were meant to have all of those working in aged care, vaccinated by Easter. I mean, none of these were remotely to have occurred, I mean, not even came close. So I don’t take any timeline that he puts on the table with any seriousness at all. What is right, is that we’ve got to get the vast bulk of the population vaccinated, if we are to get to the other side of this. What is right, is that if we don’t want to live in the land of the lockdown, then that’s what needs to happen. But the vaccination role is for this government to do. And it is the patent failure of Scott Morrison in relation to his handling of this, which is why we are sitting here right now, with a pathetic 13 per cent of our country having been vaccinated, and it is a really low number.
STEFANOVIC: So much has been made about the government and health officials, contributing- and even the media for that matter- contributing to vaccine hesitancy. Do you believe that Labor also contributed to vaccine hesitancy by not getting behind AstraZeneca enough?
MARLES: I don’t think that’s fair at all. I mean, we’ve been behind all the vaccines. I mean, and we’ve been making it clear that people need to get vaccinated and follow the medical advice and that includes in relation to AstraZeneca. The one point we’ve said, in relation to AstraZeneca-
STEFANOVIC: But that is what I am saying, the medical advice that was part of it too, by suggesting that AstraZeneca was a non-starter for those under the age of 60. Well that was a suggestion, anyway.
MARLES: Well, the medical advice is what is- the government is managing the process of that. I mean, we’ve been saying that we should be following that, the medical advice. I’ve personally been out there advocating that if you’re eligible to get AztraZeneca, you should do it. Indeed, I got my second shot of AstraZeneca yesterday. But the point really is that last year, the government bet the house on AstraZeneca, being able to do the job, rather than putting us in the queue of the various vaccine projects around the world. And so it wasn’t until the beginning of this year that we saw, Pfizer ordered in the quantity that would be able to get the job done, and it’s not going to arrive in the country until later in the year. Moderna wasn’t ordered at all until this year, and again, those doses aren’t coming until much later. That’s why we’re in the situation that we’re in. It’s not about Labor. It’s about the fact that this government failed, in the midst of its complacency, to put Australia at the front of the queue when that’s exactly what the Prime Minister promised he would do and exactly what he has failed to deliver.
STEFANOVIC: Just with a view now, on the Treasurer’s announcement yesterday, the big announcement yesterday on the extra disaster relief payments, what do you make of it? And what do you believe the effect that is going to have on the budget bottom line?
MARLES: Well, it’ll have an effect on a budget bottom line. But more significantly, support for businesses in difficulty is absolutely welcome. But again, what we see is the government making it up as they go along. I think this is the fifth iteration of its business support packages-
STEFANOVIC: Fourth. Fourth in eight weeks.
MARLES: Fourth! In respect of what’s happening with the various lockdowns. And the point here is that the government in its own budget foresaw that there would be lockdowns every month in our capitals, that’s in the Budget papers. When they removed JobKeeper at the end of March, they knew that this is what we were facing this year. So why wasn’t there a comprehensive package outlined in March, when JobKeeper was coming to an end, which would deal with the situations that we are now in? Instead, they just left that off into the never-never. And what we’ve now seen is them playing catch up footy, as we go through iteration after iteration of them trying to get that support, and there remain holes in it, is the truth. I mean, there was an architecture that was in place last year, which did work, which was JobKeeper. They’ve stubbornly refused to go back to that architecture. Instead, we’ve kind of got this piecemeal approach. And sure, more support is welcome, but it still doesn’t cover the field in the way that JobKeeper did, there remain holes in the support packages that are out there-
STEFANOVIC: And what holes are you most worried about?
MARLES: I mean, there are a few things. I mean, I was at a restaurant yesterday which was making the point that there have been a number of lockdowns in Victoria, which have been implemented relatively quickly, as they need to be, that’s involved for them significant stock losses. And we’re seeing a situation where this package is based on being given support, if you are in an area which is involved in lockdown, but the lockdown which is going on in Sydney is affecting businesses across the country, we’re an integrated economy. And so, there will be businesses outside of those areas which are experiencing significant downturns because of the lockdowns in those areas. What is the situation for them? I think the situation in relation to rental support is still unclear, in terms of what rights renters have, because there are lots of businesses who face no revenue at all- sorry in a position of respect of their rent-
MARLES: There are also issues in terms of how they gain access to the payments. So you can go through it all. The point is there was an architecture last year with JobKeeper which actually worked. And our point has been something like that needs to be in force.
STEFANOVIC: Well, I mean, I did put that to the Treasurer a short time ago about those businesses that do rely on travellers from Sydney and he seem to mention that that may well be coming down the track. Just finally, obviously if you’re worried about the situation in Sydney and New South Wales, but Victoria has now been in and out of lockdown, while New South Wales is still struggling with its. Is Daniel Andrews, now the gold standard when it comes to cracking down on COVID?
MARLES: I mean, I think what Josh Frydenberg said last year in relation to Victoria was a disgrace. I think what we saw from the Prime Minister in terms of his consistent attacking of Victoria last year, was deeply inappropriate when Victoria was going through an appallingly difficult situation. I think Daniel Andrews did an admirable job in leading Victoria through that. Right now, my thoughts are with all of those businesses, and those people who are experiencing lockdown in Sydney now. It is a really difficult thing to go through. And rather than criticizing state governments in the way in which Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison have done in respect of Victoria, we actually need to be supporting them, understanding that the condition which has given rise to this in the first place is not the fault of the state governments, it’s the fault of Scott Morrison, in failing to do vaccine and quarantine. That’s why we’re in the mess that we’re in. And so I think state governments need to be supported. I do think Daniel Andrews has done a fantastic job in managing the virus outbreaks as they’ve occur. And that’s very much true in respect of the last few weeks.
STEFANOVIC: Richard Marles, appreciate your time. Talk to you soon.
MARLES: Thanks Pete.