E&OE TRANSCRIPT | SUBJECTS: Vaccine rollout; internal borders.
TOM CONNELL, HOST: Joining me now live, for more on this, the Deputy Labor Leader Richard Marles. Thanks for your time. So do you have concerns about the timeline? And is this the government’s fault?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, the government made a commitment that four million Australians would be vaccinated in March. We’ve got about three weeks left, we’re a long way off that. It’s what the government committed to, that’s what we expect the government to ultimately fulfil. I mean, I think Australians want to see the rollout obviously happen as safely as possible, as carefully as possible. But they also want to see it happen as quickly as possible, because that’s how we get through this.
CONNELL: So what about the transparency? Should we see both what’s happening at the federal government level in particular, around aged care homes, but also states? We saw in the first week, information published about how many vaccines they had delivered versus how many they’d actually used. Then that information disappeared. And apparently, that was because states and territory leaders wanted that to happen at national cabinet, should we see all of the data?
MARLES: I think transparency is always the right principle, when we’re talking about government. I mean, there are going to be some issues in relation to national security where you can’t do it but that’s not what would apply here. We should obviously have transparency about how this process is being rolled out and how each tier of government is fulfilling their role. But at the end of the day, the federal government has the principal responsibility here. They’re the ones who are responsible for making the vaccines available, and making sure that we have enough, and they’re the ones who made the commitment that four million Australians would be vaccinated in March. And we need to bear in mind that, you know, in other parts of the world, north of 100 million people have been vaccinated. We’re seeing millions of people being vaccinated every week in in the United States and in the UK. That’s what is going to put these countries on the other side of COVID, getting to a place where as a world we can recover. And we need to be doing the same here. And yeah, we need to be doing it safely. And yes, we have the benefit that we don’t have anything like the caseload in terms of infections that exists in those places. But at the end of the day, getting our country vaccinated is the step that we need to take here as – just as they do in places like North America and Western Europe, in order to see us on the other side of this.
CONNELL: Their commitment was updated after AstraZeneca details emerged to April, nonetheless, we’ll keep an eye on that timeline. What about this push?-
MARLES: But I guess the point about that Tom, is we constantly see this shift, you know, and no doubt-
CONNELL: That shift was in part because AstraZeneca was found, instead of having a, you know, a month apart, two doses, you needed 12 weeks apart. Part of that shift is just the science of this vaccine.
MARLES: Yeah, but it’s about also, when people get their first injection, I mean, if we’re talking about four million Australians getting the first jab by-
CONNELL: But the four million could have included, but the 4 million target was always possible, including both; first and second.
MARLES: Well, I don’t think we’re going to see- well let’s see what actually plays out during the course of March.
MARLES: But, you know, I’m sure what we’re going to see is timetable slip here from the government. As I said, actually they make a commitment and they stick to it.
CONNELL: Yeah. And as I said, we will keep following that. Just this push from Qantas and the New South Wales Premier; stop looking and obsessing about zero transmission, and with this vaccine rollout, it is underway. And once it, you know, does solidify those numbers, don’t put up borders, we don’t need to anymore. Is that a good call?
MARLES: Look, I think there’s going to be calls that need to be made on the international border, in due course. And clearly the world has-
CONNELL: Just on state and territory borders.
MARLES: Well, in terms of state and territory borders, in terms of our internal borders; you know, a point I’ve made consistently is that what we need actually is for the federal government to play a much more significant role here. I mean, we need to have leadership from our national government in respect to our internal borders. It has something to do with the national government. And really the story of our internal borders, during the course of last year was a story of the federal government writing itself very small, and getting out of the way. And I don’t think that has helped.
CONNELL: What do you mean by that? I mean, initially, you were critical the federal government was criticising states for putting up borders, including Queensland. Isn’t it up to the States? Do you agree with that? Or what role are you saying the federal government should have had or should have going forward?
MARLES: The federal government has a role in relation to the internal borders of our nation. And I’ve repeatedly made that comment throughout the course of last year, and throughout the beginning of this year. You know, that there’s this kind-
CONNELL: It wanted to set parameters though, and states and territories said, no thanks, we’ll set our own – that that’s what happened.
MARLES: What happened was that the federal government did not seek to assert itself in relation to the decision making around state and internal borders from the very get-go. That’s what happened. And that’s the most significant thing that happened. Like-
CONNELL: What do you mean, assert itself?
MARLES: Under the Constitution- Well under the Constitution the federal government has a role to play here. And could have made itself part of the decision making process in relation to the internal borders of our country, but it didn’t, it didn’t. And what it did from the outset was relegated itself to being a bystander on the sidelines, which did little more than whinge about the decision-
CONNELL: So what should it – it did want to get a national approach at national cabinet. Are you saying the federal government should have followed through on the High Court action and retain the actual power on state and territory borders?
MARLES: I am saying that from the very start, when decisions were being made in relation to state borders, which were not controversial, but which were nevertheless decisions about the internal borders of Australia, the federal government should have asserted that that was in part their decision as well. Instead, they were not there. They were not there. And so-
CONNELL: But what do you mean in part, at that point? I mean, either, you challenge that High Court-
MARLES: Tom, we live in a Federation where there are shared powers between the federal government and the state government. But when the federal government asserts itself, it prevails. That’s how our Constitution works-
CONNELL: So whose call do you think it is, in your view, according to the Constitution? Can the federal government say; no, internal borders are staying open?
MARLES: I think the idea, which is what the federal government seeks to put out now, that the internal borders of our country have nothing to do with the federal government is astounding. And I think it is amazing that through the course of last year at the beginning of this, the federal government did not seek to assert itself as being a part of the decision, a part of the decision.
CONNELL: But can you be a part of it? Don’t you have to either say it’s our call, or it’s your call?
MARLES: No, I think I think there is an ability in a federation to be part of the decision, but making it clear that it’s not just, you know, an act of cooperation, although it most certainly is an act of cooperation, but that there is power that sits behind that assertion. And there-
CONNELL: Okay so what does that mean? So if WA later this year wants to put up a border and the federal government, and perhaps you as well agree there’s no real risk, what do you mean assert? Should the federal government go to the High Court on that power?
MARLES: Well, I mean, think about the question you’re asking. I mean, if we are – really think about the question you’re asking. If what – where we’ve got to, is that the federal government has no say in the internal borders of our country, then, you know, the Federation is under more stress than it’s been at any point since Federation happened. Now, I don’t actually think that is where- what is the situation. But I think Scott Morrison is the first Prime Minister since Federation to write the role of the federal government, small. And he’s somebody who has avoided responsibility at every turn. And he has relegated himself to the sidelines of so many of the issues that have faced us in the last 12 months. The internal borders-
CONNELL: Alright let me put it another way –
MARLES: No, let me just let me just finish this point, Tom.
MARLES: The internal borders being part of it, quarantine being another example, which is clearly a matter for the Commonwealth Government. Now, Section 51 doesn’t require the Commonwealth Government to act on quarantine, but it certainly enables the federal government to act on quarantine.
MARLES: If is doesn’t, there is no choice but for the states to act. And I think that’s what we’ve seen in relation to the borders, internal borders-
CONNELL: Okay, well sticking on internal borders-
MARLES: We’ve seen a federal government seeking to write itself small. And in the midst of this, that is historically really unusual.
CONNELL: What’s your view, if we have a disagreement? The state of WA wants one thing, the federal government wants another. You said that the federal government should assert itself. Does it, if it wants, hold the overall call on borders, and should it use that?
MARLES: I think the federal government has power in relation to the internal borders of the country. And the constitution makes it really clear that where there is disagreement between the federal and the state, the federal government prevails. That’s in the Constitution.
CONNELL: So should the federal government have tested that-
MARLES: It’s in section 109, but don’t quote me on that.
CONNELL: – in the High Court. It withdrew from that WA action.
MARLES: Well, it’s not- that was a case about whether the state had power in a context where the feds weren’t acting, which is really a different question. My point is this; had the federal government decided to act with the states, together, you know jointly which is something which happens every day of the week in a federation, which is what our founding- our founders expected would occur in a federation that there would be cooperation, backed by power, but there would be cooperation.
MARLES: I think if that had have happened from the outset, then the federal government would have been at the table throughout the course of last year.
MARLES: And we could have had a more sensible national approach. The federal government made it really clear that they were not going to go anywhere near it. And so they relegated themselves to the sidelines and all they did was whinge that State Premiers- and when State Premiers could do nothing other than to fill the space in circumstances where the federal government was not picking up responsibility.
CONNELL: Okay, we’ve got to leave it there-
MARLES: Now, I don’t think Bob Hawke would have done that. I don’t think john Howard would have done that.
CONNELL: We’ve got to leave it there. Appreciate your time as ever, Richard Marles.