SUBJECTS: Supply and staff shortages; Scott Morrison’s failures during the COVID-19 pandemic; isolation; rapid antigen tests; Morrison soft on anti-vaxxer MPs.
PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Deputy Leader Richard Marles, live from Victoria, in Melbourne. Richard, good to see you, thanks for your time this morning. So these emergency plans have now been triggered in Victoria, does this assuage any of your concerns about the hospitals and the staff ability to be able to deal with these rising cases?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, firstly, I think we should have confidence in our health system fundamentally, and I know the states have done an enormous amount of work to make sure that they are in a good position here. This is a moment where they’re going to be put under pressure but, you know, when I look at what the Victorian Government is doing – but other state governments as well – I think they are doing everything they can in their power to meet the challenge of this moment. But it certainly doesn’t assuage my concerns about the failure of the Federal Government to support Australians and to support the states through this moment. I mean, when you look at what’s within the Federal Government’s responsibility, and the way in which they have handled the whole pandemic, really, but particularly this moment, it’s a complete mess. You know, we have an extraordinary situation now where when you go to a supermarket, there’s not food on the shelves. Supply chain is in real crisis.
MARLES: And that’s fundamentally because we don’t have the workforce available, which is because we don’t have rapid antigen tests available in the number that is required to keep people at work. Now that’s on the Federal Government, and they knew all of this was coming. And the rapid antigen tests are a really important technology, they’ve been used in other parts of the world since the middle of last year. They were slow to come to this country, that’s on Scott Morrison. And at this moment, which we were predicting would be the peak of the wave, the Federal Government has been completely caught unprepared in terms of the availability of these tests and the equitable distribution of them.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, given those widespread worker shortages and supply chain issues that you’re talking about there, should isolation periods for positive cases be shortened from seven days, perhaps into five days?
MARLES: Well I think there’s going to be an evolution in all of these rules as we are living with the virus, but those decisions really need to be taken in accordance with the best medical advice. And there’s a balance here, I mean, obviously, we do need to be thinking about ways in which we can have people at work but we also need to be thinking about ways in which we can moderate, as best as possible in these circumstances, the spread of the disease specifically because – as we started with this interview – the stress on the health system is profound. And so we really need to be listening to our medical experts when it comes to making decisions in respect of those isolation periods.
STEFANOVIC: I mean, that would help the medical system, would it not? As long as staff in hospitals have full protective equipment, would you be open to staff members in hospitals having that isolation period be reduced from seven to five days?
MARLES: Well again, I think it’s a question of listening to the medical advice. On the one hand, there is the point of getting people back to work, on the other hand the reason those isolation periods are in place to begin with is to stop the spread of disease and that’s the fundamental condition which is putting pressure on the health system in the first place. So look, we’ve just got to be listening to our experts when it comes to that. But I think you come back to the sort of critical issues for which the Federal Government can act; making sure that we’ve got rapid antigen tests available, making sure that that booster rollout is happening in a timely way – which it’s not – making sure that the vaccines are available in a timely way to our kids – which it’s not. I mean, these are all the things that the Federal Government should be dealing with. Instead, they have been caught unprepared again.
STEFANOVIC: When do you think no isolation should become part of the conversation?
MARLES: Well again, I think that is one where we really need to be talking to the medical experts about our journey through this. So I’ll leave the answer to that question to them.
STEFANOVIC: It does seem that you’re open to all of this.
MARLES: Well it’s more that – we get that this is an evolving situation. We get that we are seeking to work our way through living with the virus, but it’s really important that we’re taking into account the best medical advice here. And all of these questions are difficult balancing exercises, which is why it’s really important that we are listening to the medical advice in relation to that. But you know, when you get back to the fundamental decisions, the questions of administration which this Government is – should be responsible for, they are failing Australians and we’re seeing that with the testing regime.
STEFANOVIC: George Christensen back in the headlines again for the wrong reasons. Richard, your response to his comments?
MARLES: I just think it’s profoundly irresponsible. I mean, one of the things we do understand is that vaccination is the way in which we get through this, that we get to the other side. We need to be vaccinating our population in large numbers so his message fundamentally undermines that. You know, I hear the Prime Minister reprimand George Christensen – that’s all well and good, but I can tell you one thing, in a few weeks’ time, the Prime Minister will be accepting George Christensen’s vote as a member of his Government. And if the Prime Minister was really a leader he wouldn’t do that. So for all that’s coming out of Scott Morrison’s mouth, when it comes to what Scott Morrison is going to do, he will keep George Christensen as a member of his Government. And that these messages are coming from the government benches, I think is an absolute disgrace and completely undermines what Australians have done in large number, and the fundamental challenge which Australians have met in a really fantastic way by going out there and getting vaccinated. But once again, we see a Government member getting in the way of that.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, Richard Marles live for us from Geelong this morning. Richard, thank you, we’ll talk to you soon.
MARLES: Thanks Pete.