Television Interview with Johanna Nicholson and Fauziah Ibrahim – ABC Weekend Breakfast – Saturday 3 July 2021


SUBJECTS: Vax On, Vax Off; Scott Morrison’s two big mistakes.

JOHANNA NICHOLSON, HOST: These four phases were outlined by the Prime Minister yesterday, and they all depend on the one thing; and that is the vaccination rates in Australia. Julian, we’re currently sitting at around 8% of the population being fully vaccinated. And largely those low rates of vaccinations, the responsibility lies with the government on that. And yesterday, the Prime Minister was encouraging Australians all to get out and get vaccinated and that’s a good message. But the government hasn’t done its job has it?

JULIAN LEESER, MEMBER FOR BEROWRA: Well, Jo, you’re right. It’s really important that Australians get out and get vaccinated. I think the message in relation to the vaccinations is this, every month the number of Australians getting vaccinated grows, and the rate at which Australians get vaccinated improves exponentially. So in the last month, I think we’ve had something of the order of 3.4 million people getting vaccinated, the previous month it was about 2 million and the month before that it was 1.4 million people getting vaccinated. So the rate at which people are getting vaccinated improves.

But the key thing that came out of National Cabinet was that people have got a way forward here they’ve got an understanding of where Australia is going in terms of removing restrictions and opening us up again, and so much of that focus is ensuring that we get vaccinated. This initial phase is both vaccination, it’s preparation and it’s also piloting things like in home quarantine. But the most important message I have for people this morning is if you haven’t booked your vaccination, you should do so. I’m getting my first vaccination this week, I booked it a couple of weeks ago and I encourage Australians to do the same.

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM, HOST: Jason Clare do you think this roadmap is a way forward? Do you think it has restored confidence in a nation undergoing some sort of uncertainty about where they’re going in the pandemic?

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: We need to know what’s the percentage of Aussies that need to be vaccinated before the lockdown’s end. The vaccination rollout has been a shocker. This week it became a farce. You had the Prime Minister on Monday night giving medical advice, Premiers fighting with the Prime Minister.

I can understand why people are confused and worried. First the AstraZeneca vaccine was for people over 18, then it was recommended only if you were 50, then only if you’re over 60 and then this week we were told it’s okay if your over 18. It’s sort of vax on, vax off, vax on again. Forget ATAGI this is Mr Miyagi sort of stuff.

We don’t have enough people vaccinated, not by a longshot. One of the big mistakes the Prime Minister made last year was not getting enough vaccination orders with different pharmaceutical companies. And we’re paying for that now. You’ve got other countries opening up, and Australia locking down.

NICHOLSON: Julian, the fact that we are reducing the international cap on arrivals by 50%. Isn’t that a concession that hotel quarantine is not up to the job? And yet, it’s taken the government a year and a half to even commit to building more purpose-built facilities beyond the Howard Springs facility, let alone having them completed.

LEESER: Well we’ve increased the numbers at Howard Springs, we’ve doubled its capacity. And were entering arrangements with the Victorian Government. And we went into discussions with the Queensland Government and the Western Australian government about increasing additional quarantine capacity, not replacement for hotel quarantine.

But this is part of a broader package that allows us a pathway through the vaccine process. And I just want to respond to something that Jason said there. Everything that we’ve done right throughout this process has been based on the scientific and medical advice. The process out of this, the timeframes, the number of vaccines isn’t going to be a political figure picked up by a politician, it’s going to be based on that medical advice. And in relation to the vaccines we can keep talking down the program or we can encourage Australians to get out there and get vaccinated.

And in relation to AstraZeneca. What ATAGI has expressed was that it was a preference, it was a preference for people over 60 to use AstraZeneca and people under 60 to use Pfizer. But this is always a matter that people should be willing to talk with their GP about and I note that there’s something like 120,000 people under 40, who’ve had AstraZeneca. If your GP assesses that it’s safe to do so and you’ve weighed up the risks, that is a reasonable choice that Australians can make. We’ve got a range of different vaccine options that Australians can have here, including Pfizer and including AstraZeneca. I’d encourage Jason and others to stop talking down the program and encourage people to go out and get there and have their vaccine, because that’s what’s going to re-open the country again.

CLARE: Julian talks about options, the fact is we’ve only got two. One of the big mistakes Scott Morrison made last year is he only ordered Pfizer and AstraZeneca when other countries were ordering vaccines in the order of four or five different types.
This time last year, America was ordering Pfizer, the UK ordered Pfizer, and so did Canada. We didn’t get our first order of Pfizer until the end of last year. And that’s the reason if we don’t have enough of that vaccine now. That’s the reason that our vaccination rates are so much lower than almost every other country in the world.

Scott Morrison made two big mistakes last year, he didn’t order enough different vaccines, and he didn’t build quarantine facilities around the country. And we are paying for that now. That’s the reason why other countries are opening up, why there’s people at the tennis at Wimbledon, why there’s concerts full at Madison Square Garden, and why Sydney is in lockdown.

LEESER: Jason you should remember those countries have had massive death rates and massive infection rates that we have avoided in this country. You know, you can celebrate what’s gone on there. The other thing that is important to say here is that we have our own domestic manufacturing capacity of AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca is a vaccine that has been used widely in Britain, it’s being used widely in Germany, it’s the vaccine that’s allowed them to reopen as they have, and people should be free to use the two vaccines that are available here.

CLARE: Aussies did a great job last year. We’ve got lower death rates than other countries and that’s fantastic. But what’s becoming all too clear now is that the Government made two big mistakes last year. In the midst of the pandemic last year, they should have ordered more vaccines than they did, and they should have built quarantine facilities in every state. If they did that last year, we wouldn’t be having this problem right now.

IBRAHIM: Just on the point of vaccine. Julian Leeser, you do realise that these four phases actually does depend on the supply of vaccines as well. So in the next few months or so, we’re being told that the Pfizer vaccines, the Moderna vaccines will be made available to Australians. If that promise is not delivered, if supplies do not come, do you understand how disappointed Australians are going to be given that many Australians want to be vaccinated, but can’t.

LEESER: You make it sound like people haven’t got access to Pfizer today, and they do.

IBRAHIM: Supplies are running out at the moment, there is a general distrust about AstraZeneca. Again, because of the politicians making it a political debate more than anything else. Australians want to get vaccinated. They’re just scared, and they don’t have the supplies.

LEESER: Well that’s not true. I mean 1.7 million in April, sorry I mean 1.7 million in May, 1.7 million in June, and General Frewen said 2.8 million in July of Pfizer. So there is a supply of Pfizer in the country. It’s a supply that is growing as the vaccine rollout has been growing. And it will continue to grow as the year rolls out. But we’ve got Pfizer, we’ve got AstraZeneca and as you point out we’ve got Moderna coming. So there is a there is a pathway, there are vaccines that are coming. The point is Australians should go and book their vaccine appointments. So that they’re in the queue ready to get the vaccine as soon as possible.

CLARE: People want to order it. But if you’re in your 20s or 30s, you can’t book a vaccination for Pfizer right now. And if you ask Brad Hazzard the Health Minister in New South Wales, and journalists did last Friday, ‘What’s the problem here?’. He said, “My hands are tied behind my back because we don’t have enough of the vaccine”. That’s the problem. You’ve got a Liberal Health Minister in New South Wales in the middle of a lockdown saying that we don’t have enough supply. And if the government had ordered enough last year, we wouldn’t have this problem now. We’d have vaccination rates like you see in America, or in the UK, where it’s 50% of the population that is fully vaccinated rather than 7 or 8% here. It was a big stuff up and we’re paying for it now.

NICHOLSON: Jason as that modelling is done by the experts, there will be a decision that will have to be made on the kind of risk that Australians are willing to accept. And so far as a country, we’ve not really been asked to accept much risk because the cases have been so low as a result of all the lockdowns. Do you think that we will be required to make some sort of a mental shift in terms of the risk of COVID that we are willing to accept?

CLARE: I think so. I don’t think this is a hard thing for Aussies to accept. They know that when you do get vaccinated, that the impact of COVID on you will be much less than if you don’t. And that’s why I agree with Julian, people want to get vaccinated. The problem is we don’t have enough of the vaccine in the country. So Aussies are ready, they want to get vaccinated. They just want a government that’s competent enough to order enough vaccine so they can get vaccinated today.

IBRAHIM: Julian Leeser, talking about this mind shift. How do you prepare the country for this mind shift to open up the country, to open the international borders?

LEESER: Well, I think we’ve started doing that by outlining what the plan looks like in terms of the different phases. I think preparing people that you are going to open up the country, that there’ll be fewer restrictions if you’ve been vaccinated. That we will eventually treat COVID-19 like we treat any other virus that goes around. And prepare Australians for that by talking about what the phases mean, and what they mean both in terms of benefits for Australians who have been vaccinated, but also in terms of opening up international borders. I think it’s been a very useful way to proceed. I welcome yesterday’s four staged rollout of a return to normal as it were.

IBRAHIM: On that note, onwards and upwards, I guess with this roadmap. Thank you so much to both of you joining us this Saturday morning.