Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Richard Marles MP
Deputy Leader of the Opposition
Member for Corio
Date: Friday, 25 June 2021
Allison Langdon: Well, New South Wales has dodged a lockdown for another day, but Premier is resisting calls by some experts to enforce stay at home orders to discuss, we are joined by Finance Minister Simon Birmingham in Adelaide and Deputy Leader of the Opposition Richard Marles in Geelong. Nice to see you both this morning. Richard, you are no stranger to a lockdown in Melbourne. New South Wales though showing that there's another way. Are you concerned about the premier's strategy at all?
Richard Marles: Well, I think New South Wales has actually done a really good job over the last 12 months in terms of managing these cases, as I think all the state premiers have. I mean, it's a concerning moment for everyone. I think it's concerning moment for the New South Wales premier. And she said that in the way in which she's spoken. But I think we do need to have confidence in the way in which the state premiers have handled this. But at the end of the day, there's risk and that risk has been brought upon us by virtue of the fact that we've got failures in our quarantine system, ultimately by the fact that we've not been properly vaccinated. And that's on the federal government.
Allison Langdon: Simon, I mean, you can't fault how the New South Wales premier has handled outbreaks so far, but what she's doing, it's a bold even, you might say, politically risky move. Do you think she's right to resist a lockdown?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Ali she shouldn't be thinking about the politics at all and knowing Gladys Berejiklian, she's not. She's thinking about the New South Wales people, their health, their safety and the New South Wales economy, and making sure she takes the right steps to see New South Wales through it. And yesterday, you saw some 50,000 tests happen across New South Wales, 11 new positive cases, which is worrying, but only one of those not already identified as a close contact. And so the really encouraging thing out of data like that is that people in New South Wales are getting tested and I encourage them to keep doing so. But the contact traces are also clearly keeping up with it and are identifying and quarantining those close contacts. And so we've seen New South Wales work through this before, and obviously we wish them all the best in doing so again and have confidence they'll take whatever steps are necessary when they're necessary.
Allison Langdon: The state's contact tracers have been some of the best in the country. But Simon, I mean, just imagine if we're were all vaccinated, if you guys had secured enough supply, how different things would be right now?
Simon Birmingham: Sure, Ali. Imagine if the health advice on AstraZeneca hadn't changed over the last couple of months, a couple of times. Imagine if the three point four million doses of Pfizer that were contracted to come from Europe at the start of the year had turned up rather than the failure of them to exit Europe. There's lots of things people imagine. We don't live in an imaginary world. We just have to live in the real world. We would wish that those things had not happened, but we couldn't foresee the health advice changing. We didn't expect that what had been contracted would not show up. Now we've got more than seven million doses that have been administered across Australia. Two thirds of over 70s have had at least the first dose, which provides around 80 per cent protection against COVID. And so we are seeing really strong progress now in the vaccine rollout and we have significant doses. From July, more than 600,000 per week of Pfizer expected to be coming into the country and available to push right through the rest of the population this year, too.
Allison Langdon: So this is the thing, isn't it? Just depends what steps you want to focus on. I mean, you could focus on the other ones, like look at how much of the population in the UK and the US and Israel and other countries have been vaccinated compared to less than three per cent in Australia. You could also do that, couldn't you?
Simon Birmingham: You could also do that, Ali. That's true, but the first dose does provide a very high level of protection. So it is worth pointing that out and we will see the second dose rates now climb as many of those people with the first dose become eligible for the second dose. You can also, in terms of the countries you've talked about, look at the fact that in each of the UK, in the US and most other countries right around the world, people are still dying each and every day from COVID. Here in Australia, we aren't having the deaths and in fact, we don't even have anybody in ICU. That's the success of our management. Of course, it's not perfect and it's been a partnership between the states, the territories and the federal government and frankly, all Australians. But ultimately, we've been dealing with a great unknown that's caused devastation across the rest of the world. And here in Australia, everybody should be proud of the fact with how well we have managed to keep people safe thanks to that team effort right across the nation.
Allison Langdon: All right. Well, the Prime Minister we heard today sent a letter to the Queensland premier. He's open to a quarantine camp just outside of Brisbane. I didn't know we sent letters any more, but I like it. It's cute. It's only taken a year and a half. Richard, when do you think it'll be ready?
Richard Marles: Well, who knows, but this has come way too late and the fact of the matter is that what this identifies is that the government does actually realise that hotel quarantine is not fit for purpose. That's what Jane Holden told them last year. And yet that's what we've been living under for that period of time. And that's exposed the whole of Australia to risk. The failure in quarantine has exposed the whole country to risk. We've seen twenty five breaches of hotel quarantine. That's about one every two weeks. And there are real holes in the system. I mean, the scenario that we've seen played out, which has given rise, the New South Wales outbreak is also a failure of quarantine at the end of the day. And that is what is continually keeping us in a situation where we're living in the land of the lockdown. And sure, it is good that we haven't had the cases in Australia that we've had that you've seen elsewhere in the world. But we've got to get to the other side of COVID-19, just like every other country and we don't do that-
Allison Langdon: Yup, and we've got to do it as fast as possible.
Richard Marles: - until we properly vaccinate the population.
Allison Langdon: All right. Now, Simon, the Tamil asylum seeker family has been granted three month bridging visas to stay in Perth as little Tharnicaa recovers from a blood infection. You buying time here? Barnaby Joyce reckons they should return to their Queensland home. You have to listen to him now, don't you, Simon? That he's a leader of the Nationals, your deputy prime minister.
Simon Birmingham: Well, of course, will engage and Barnaby will have a say around the cabinet table like every other cabinet minister, but in relation to this family, they've been treated in accordance with laws. Each of the parents have been assessed on multiple occasions by Australian courts as not to be refugees in need of protection in Australia. And so the normal processes have been followed in terms of seeking to return them to Sri Lanka. And it would have been far preferable if rather than going through many failed legal appeals of those decisions, the parents had accepted that and relocated some time ago. However, we do have a sick little girl in play. That's why they've been brought back to Perth, put in the community to recognise recognised that and the appropriate compassion in those circumstances.
Allison Langdon: Hey, Richard. Barnaby has returned quietly as we’ve seen. He’s going to be a thorn in the Prime Minister’s side but you’re going to have to watch out for him too aren’t you?
Richard Marles: Well, we don’t underestimate Barnaby Joyce but let’s be really clear. When you look at Barnaby Joyce’s behaviour over the last week, I mean he seeks to be a man of the people. There isn’t a person in Australian politics today who is more self-absorbed, who is more about himself than Barnaby Joyce. He launched his first challenge during the bushfires, he’s launched another challenge during the midst of a pandemic and within 48 hours you see him trying to skewer the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. I mean he is now running an insurgency within the Government itself, very much to the detriment to the citizens of the state that Simon represents in South Australia. This is a man who is all about himself. He talks about the fact he wants the Government out of his life. I mean, he’s been on the payroll of Government for two decades. This is who the Deputy Prime Minister is and he is ultimately is about one thing and that is Barnaby Joyce.
Allison Langdon: Alright well I just think every female in the country can relax now because Barnaby Joyce is now on the taskforce for women. But I think the reaction for the week has got to go to Tasmania Senator Jackie Lambie. Take a look.
Allison Langdon: [Indistinct] like Barnaby?
Jackie Lambie: Um, it’s an interesting mix up there this morning.
Allison Langdon: Face says it all. Barnaby is back guys. Enjoy yourselves and nice to see you both this morning. Simon since you’re a proud South Australian and Richard you’re from Victoria that you’d be going for the Blues this Sunday in Origin, so we love you guys. Talk to you soon.
Karl Stefanovic: Hey, let’s keep rolling.