SUBJECTS: Victorian lockdown; National Plan; Vaccine rollout.
PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: And joining us is the Deputy Opposition Leader, Richard Marles. Richard, good to see you. Thanks for your time, as always. Let’s start on Victoria because it’s now seeing that strict lockdowns can’t defeat Delta. Can the state handle a few more weeks or even a few more months of lockdown?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, I think we certainly don’t want to have an extra day of lockdown than we need to have. There’s no question that those of us in Victoria have had a lot of lockdown, and we’re certainly looking forward to the when the day comes for it to come to an end. I think, though, that the state government has demonstrated that it has been able to make the decisions in the best interests of the state, in terms of doing everything it can to suppress the virus. You know, I know that Daniel Andrews answered the question the way that he did yesterday, I think in the next couple of days, we will get a clearer sense of what will happen after Thursday. But given where the numbers have been at, I can understand why Daniel Andrews has said that he doesn’t think that it will be able to be brought to an end this Thursday. And I’m sure we’ll get an indication from the state government about where to from here.
STEFANOVIC: He’s got a- he’s got a hope, I suppose, though, or a mission to, if not get back to COVID zero, to get very few cases. But I mean, I asked you this last week, do you believe that COVID zero is a fallacy?
MARLES: Well, I mean, whether it is or not, in a sense whether I believe it, I think there’s no choice but for the state government to be doing everything it can to suppress the rate of COVID in Victoria, given that we’ve still got relatively low vaccination rates. Most people are not vaccinated, and so if we were to let the virus rip, it would have a huge impact on the health of the state. It would have a huge impact on our health system. So there’s- there’s really no choice but for the state government to do everything it can to suppress the virus.
STEFANOVIC: You won’t let it rip. You can go back to a COVID normal, a new COVID normal way of life by allowing people to get out, kids go to school etcetera, but also have some form of restrictions in place that would stop it from ripping.
MARLES: Well, I think what Delta has shown is that you’ve got to have some pretty significant restrictions in place to hold it in check. I mean-
STEFANOVIC: Sure. So, for how long, then?
MARLES: Look, the government doesn’t have a choice but to do everything it can to suppress it. And I think one of the things that people don’t necessarily understand here is that, this is an exponential function. At the end of the day, you’ve got to keep the reproduction rate as best as possible under one or else it really will grow and it ultimately will grow pretty significantly, and we’re seeing that happen in New South Wales. So I think the government is doing everything it can, and really making the only decisions it can in circumstances where most of the population is not vaccinated. And obviously, that is not the fault of the state government, that’s where Scott Morrison – he needs to be blamed. It is his failure which has seen a failure in the rollout of the vaccine because of course, as we know, he said it wasn’t a race. And that’s why we’re in the situation we’re in, why New South Wales is in the situation that it’s in.
STEFANOVIC: So, do you believe that states should stick to the national plan to reopen? Or do you support those, i.e. Mark McGowan who are resisting it?
MARLES: Well firstly, WA is basically open and that’s a point that we need to understand here. I mean, the national plan talks about when various communities open given the level of the-
STEFANOVIC: Yeah, it is cut off as well.
MARLES: Well, but life in – in Perth is probably the most normal example of life in the country right now. The issue here is that we’ve got really two very different experiences being lived in Australia between those states, which are relatively COVID free and between the southeast corner of the country. And it’s really for the Prime Minister to show leadership about how we bring those two experiences onto the same page going forward. And so far, I think what we’ve seen is a complete absence of leadership from the Prime Minister. I mean, we haven’t seen a Prime Minister who has written his role and the role of the Commonwealth Government so small in our Federation, really since Federation. And it’s his job to try and bring everyone along with him and that’s the challenge.
STEFANOVIC: But surely, I mean, you’re Victorian you’ve been there for the for the majority of its 211 days, I think it’s spent in lockdown now. I mean, surely once you get 70 to 80 per cent vaccination targets, as per the modelling, that’s got to mean something. People have got to know that they can get back to some kind of freedom once that’s achieved. Do you agree?
MARLES: Of course. Yeah, I mean, we completely support the national plan. And what it does offer is a way forward for those states which have significant amount of COVID, for New South Wales, and if we’re unable to suppress the virus, then for Victoria as well. So, we absolutely support the national plan, and it offers a way forward. And that’s what we will be following. The issue here, though, is that when we’re talking about Western Australia, or some of the other states, Tasmania as well, which is-
MARLES: – essentially COVID free. Yeah. It is about then bringing these two experiences onto the same page. So I think Doherty – the national plan is very important. Doherty does offer a lot of hope, I think for the way forward in relation to New South Wales and maybe Victoria, depending on how we go with this current lockdown. Ultimately, though, Doherty doesn’t relinquish the Prime Minister from his role of needing to show leadership around the country, which right now, he is not doing.
STEFANOVIC: So just finally here, I mean, once New South Wales and Victoria where we are absolutely surging ahead at the moment, when it comes to vaccinations, once those states hit 80 per cent vaccinations, do you believe that they should be able to move ahead with their plans for freedom, possibly even travel internationally before other states reach those targets?
MARLES: Well, I think that all needs to play out in accordance with Doherty. And, you know, the national plan, as articulated by Doherty still envisages restrictions beyond 70 per cent and beyond 80 per cent. And here, I think the Prime Minister needs to be honest with the Australian people about what the national plan actually says about what it means.
MARLES: But look the situation that we’ve got right now Pete is that, the national vaccination rate in terms of the entire population is still in the twenties. So, you know, the real challenge for the country now and very much for New South Wales and Victoria, but for the whole country, is actually to get the vaccination rate up. And we are at a point now where those- where Pfizer has been opened up to over 16s as of today, around the country, but there are real issues with supply. It is not easy to get an appointment to get that vaccination for a whole lot of people. And so you know, there’s big challenges right now, in terms of getting this vaccination rollout happening. That’s the issue which faces the country right now. And the fact that there is a question of supply is because of the failure of the government last year to put Australia in the various queues of the vaccine projects because they were busy self-congratulating, they were complacent, rather than needing to get us at the front of the queue, which is what they promised they would do.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, Richard Marles, live for us out of Geelong this morning. Appreciate your time. We’ll talk to you soon.
MARLES: Thanks Pete.