Television Interview with Johanna Nicholson and Fauziah Ibrahim – ABC Weekend Breakfast – Saturday 4 September 2021


SUBJECT/S: Vaccine swap; vaccine rollout; Covid outbreak in Western Sydney; national plan for reopening; vaccines for children; low vaccination rates in vulnerable communities.
JOHANNA NICHOLSON, HOST: Australia will receive four million doses of the Pfizer vaccine months earlier than expected with the Prime Minister yesterday announcing a new vaccine swap deal with the UK.
FAUZIAH IBRAHIM, HOST: The first batch is set to arrive in the country tomorrow with the doses to be distributed across Australia based on the population of each state and territory. Let’s bring in our politician panel now and we are joined by Liberal MP Tim Wilson. We’re also joined by Labor MP Jason Clare who is the Shadow Minister for Housing, Homelessness and Regional Services. Thank you to you both for taking the time to speak with us on breakfast. The Prime Minister says that the vaccines now will be distributed evenly through the state and territories this time. Earlier the emergency supplies had been rushed to New South Wales hotspots. Jason Clare, this is why Queensland’s vaccination rates have been delayed, that’s a quote directly from Queensland’s Deputy Premier, too. Is he right?
JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: I think that’s right. Until now, we’ve had to ration out the vaccines across the country and direct them into my electorate and Western Sydney more generally because this is where the outbreak has been most severe. This shows what we’ve said all along has been true: we never bought enough vaccines. Otherwise, the Government wouldn’t have had to do a lap around the world to try to get other countries leftovers. I’m glad they’ve got it. The whole country needs more vaccines. I just wish they did it earlier. If we had four million vaccines four months ago, it’d be a different ballgame here in Western Sydney at the moment, and I suspect there’d be people who tragically lost their lives, who might still be alive today.
HOST: Tim, Victoria’s premier Daniel Andrews has been critical on the federal government and its allocation of these doses of the Pfizer vaccine in particular. Do you think that’s been a fair criticism?
TIM WILSON, MEMBER FOR GOLDSTEIN: No I don’t, because we’re dealing with constantly changing circumstances where, you know, there’s a big outbreak in New South Wales, there will be decisions to be made against the backdrop of people not knowing the circumstances. And so, the federal government rightly said we need to look at how we can triage the consequences to stop the rest of the country having been infected and frankly, the allegation put forward by the Queensland State Government is fanciful. You see equivalent vaccine rates in other parts of the country apart from Queensland and WA. There are a number of factors to do with that. Firstly, it’s got to do with obviously urgency, but secondly it’s got to do with the deliberate attempt to undermine the vaccine rollout by, and the sabotage of the vaccine rollout, by their Chief Health Officer and their Premier by telling their own citizens not to get available vaccines, the Australian made AstraZeneca vaccine, which is frankly unforgiveable
HOST: Jason Clare, is that a fair assumption that Queensland is deliberately undermining the vaccine rollout?
CLARE: No, it’s not. And this just shows how desperate the Liberal Party is that they’ve got to go and try and blame the Labor Party for the vaccine rollout stuff ups. The fact is they didn’t buy enough vaccines, that’s the major problem here. The Prime Minister did more damage to AstraZeneca than anybody else in the country with that late-night press conference that scared the willies out of everyone in the country. Remember it’s the Liberal Party that spawned Craig Kelly who’s now going around the country telling people to take horse pills that have put people in hospital here in Sydney, so that’s just desperation by the Liberal Party trying to distract from their own stuff ups. The fact is we’ve got to get vaccination rates up all around the country. We’re in a better position than in the US where you’ve got some states with high vaccination rates at around 70 per cent and other places lower around 30. I think Queensland’s about 34-35 at the moment, here in New South Wales it’s 39. I think the task for us is to get that vaccination rate up right across the country, 80 per cent nationwide. But let’s make sure that as part of that we’re also getting vaccination rates up as high as we possibly can in disadvantaged communities and vulnerable communities. Here in my electorate, which is the epicentre of this outbreak, where people are dying at the moment, vaccination rates are going up but they’re still lower than other parts of Sydney. We’ve got to do a better job at communicating the importance of getting vaccinated to communities where English is a second language. Out in western New South Wales, the vaccination rate for the indigenous community out there is eight per cent double dose. That is that is unbelievably low. We’ve got to do everything we cannot just to get to 80 per cent, but to make sure we get vaccination rates as high as we can in disadvantaged and vulnerable communities like those.
HOST: Tim Wilson, when we are seeing division between the state leaders and the federal leaders, not just on the vaccine rollout, but on the national plan out of lockdowns, and we had the WA premier speaking after national cabinet yesterday calling for that plan to be updated to reflect the fact that at the moment we have significantly higher numbers of COVID cases in some states compared to others, should we change the plan from a one size fits all approach given that there are these different experiences across the country?
WILSON: Well, of course, states can choose to implement their strategy as they see fit, but the consistent position of the Commonwealth has been to encourage states to stick with the plan to meet their obligations, and more critically, to encourage people to get vaccinated, and I’m sorry, I’m just going to respond to the fanciful comments that were just made then by Jason Clare where you have had a deliberate sabotage by the Queensland State Government, where they actively said to people, don’t get the AstraZeneca vaccine. That is disgraceful. It’s Australian made, it’s safe, and it’s a critical part of the rollout, and it puts to lie the idea that there isn’t enough, there is plenty. There are hundreds of 1000s of doses available right now of that saying that Australians can get into their arms. Now, Jason’s right about the need to make sure we have targeted communication for vulnerable communities, I agree with him on that, but if you’re actively discouraging people from getting a safe vaccine, you’re sabotaging the rollout. And this is not a point that should have been kind of made by me. Yesterday you had Richard Marles, the Deputy Leader and of course the Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese distancing themselves from the Queensland State government over their absurd claim that they won’t open up until they have people, or Australians under the age of 12, even though there’s no vaccine actually approved for their use. So, it’s about time we were honest, mature and candid with the Australian people that getting the vaccine that’s available to you is the safest, the one we need you to get, and that’s the fastest way we’re going to get us back to opening up, and if you make the decision not to get one, then you’re only ultimately going to slow that process down.
HOST: Jason Clare, is the Labor Party opposing just for opposition sake this national plan?
CLARE: No, no, we have purposefully and actively said we support the national plan, but I think it is worth making the point that getting to 80 per cent and opening the country up means different things in different parts of the country. When we get to 80 per cent here in Sydney and in Melbourne it means we get our life back. It means we can step off the driveway after 9pm at night, but it is a fact that when you get to 80 per cent in Hobart or Brisbane or Perth or Adelaide, they get Covid. They’ve been pretty lucky so far. They’re not in lockdown, they can have a beer at the pub, they can do things we can’t. Now, that’s not an argument for keeping borders closed, but what it means is you’ve got to do everything we can to speed up vaccination rates, and more vaccine is going to help with that. But it also means you’ve got to make sure that the hospital and the health system is up to scratch because what we’re seeing here in New South Wales tells us that there will be pressure on our health system. When Covid, when delta in particular, gets into your community.
HOST: Jason Clare, what did you make of Annastacia Palaszczuk comments this week about when Queensland opens the border, she says that all children under 12 would be vulnerable.
CLARE: Tim is right that there isn’t a vaccine for kids under 12 at the moment. I really wish there was, as a dad with a four-year-old and another little one on the way any day now, I hope that that day come soon. We’ve got to do everything we can to make sure we protect our little kids. The way to do that at the moment is to get everybody else in the community vaccinated, but hopefully there will be a vaccine that comes soon. It’s not true to say that this just affects older people and little kids aren’t affected. I was talking to a bloke in my community just the other day who got Covid. He got rushed to hospital, he’s in his 30s, he’s fit but he got taken to hospital. His little nine-month-old girl had diarrhea and vomiting, had a temperature, she was in a bit of strife for a little while. It’s right to care, it’s right to ask questions, it’s right to think, ‘how do we make sure that we keep primary schools safe when kids go back to school and can’t get vaccinated yet’. Fingers crossed, hopefully we get a vaccine that we can provide to our little kids that’s going to be safe and we can roll out next year.
HOST: Tim Wilson, you’ve been quoted as saying that cautious states like Western Australia and Queensland are giving the, and I’m going to quote you here, ‘false pretence of being able to protect their populations. They’re only delaying the inevitable’. Don’t these Premiers have a right to protect their own population, given hospital systems are currently overwhelmed and stretched?
WILSON: Of course they have a right to be able to protect their populations but we have to be again candid and honest with the Australian people that what we’ve done since the beginning of the pandemic through international border closures, lockdowns, and state border closures is buy time to build up our systems and the resilience of the Australian people including the most important armoury we had, which is to get vaccinated. And so we’re buying time, but at some point, the reality of COVID-19 which has been with the eastern states, and will eventually come with Queensland and Western Australia and Tasmania and South Australia will be a lived reality and we don’t say that because we wish it, we just have to be candid and honest. There’s only one virus in human history that we have removed or stopped, and that’s only one strain of that one virus, which is smallpox. So, viruses are unfortunately a part of our life. If we could stop all viruses every season, we’d stop flu and the ravages that it causes. So it’s important to build up your systems to respond, but more critically, to get your citizens vaccinated and prepared so they have the armoury they need unless they think that they’re going to be able to lock themselves off to the rest of the world forever, and it’s just not a credible position, and also based on a false pretence that you can do so.
HOST: Jason Clare?
CLARE: I was just going to say the real litmus test of this will be Tasmania rather than Queensland or WA because Tasmania will hit 80 per cent double dose at the end of October around the same time as New South Wales does. WA and Queensland will hit it about six weeks later, so the interesting question will be at the end of October, when Australia hits 80 per cent double dose, so does Tassie and New South Wales, will people in my community in the epicentre of the virus be allowed to go to Tasmania, or will it just be people who are double dosed? What will the rules be? That’s where we’ll get the first indication about how this opening up of Australia will work.
HOST: We’re just running out of time, but I want to try to squeeze in this question, I want to get a very quick answer from both of you. We’re constantly talking about Australia trying to reach this 80 per cent threshold. Life will be so much easier, where we’ll have more freedoms, we’ll be able to travel, and then there’s all this discussion about whether state borders, territory borders, will be open or not. My question though is, shouldn’t we be looking at 80 per cent of the vulnerable groups being vaccinated? We’re talking here about the indigenous population, the disabled, the aged, the more vulnerable population. Shouldn’t we be looking at them being 80 per cent vaccinated before we actually open up Australia to the rest of the world? Jason Clare if I could start with you.
CLARE: Yeah, the point I was making before is it’s not good enough just to have the nation at 80 per cent. We’ve got to do everything we can to get vaccination rates as high as possible in those disadvantaged and vulnerable communities. Whether you put a number on it or not, you need more effort by federal and state governments to get those rates up otherwise when you open up, you’re going to see more people in those communities get sick. The other point which I think is worth making is about what happens next with booster shots, so even if we get to 80 per cent, and I think we can get higher than 80 per cent, people are going to need booster shots next year, and it’s not certain that everybody that gets two shots this year will get booster shots next year, and what will that do for our community and our ability to live with Covid next year?
HOST: Tim, that was a point made by the WA premier yesterday after National Cabinet saying you might as well, as a state reach 80 per cent, but those little vulnerable pockets within that state, if they’re not at 80 per cent, then that’s a problem.
WILSON: Well, I mean I think we all start from the base we hope that there’s 100 per cent across the community but we also know that for numerous reasons people may choose not to do so. But of course, we want to make sure that the vaccination rates are at least 80 per cent amongst vulnerable communities and of course Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and of course those who are immunosuppressed and those who are particularly elderly fit clearly in that category. So, I don’t think anybody’s really disputing that. But we need to also be mindful that this is obviously a responsibility of the federal government, it’s a responsibility of the state governments to support the plan, but it’s also a responsibility of Australian citizens. This is ultimately a Team Australia moment where we all need to rise the challenge. We need to get the jabs in our arms to make sure that we can be safe and secure and of course give ourselves the best armoury against the consequences and ravages of this terrible virus.
HOST: Tim Wilson and Jason Clare, we’ll have to leave it there. Thanks very much for your time this morning.
CLARE: Thanks very much.