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24 August 2021

SUBJECTS: Doherty Report figures; vaccine hesitancy; State Premiers differing approaches; pathway forward out of lockdowns; Grand Final.

STEVE PRICE, HOST: Bill Shorten is the Shadow Minister for NDIS. Of course, his seat is in lockdown in inner western Melbourne, nice to talk to you again.

BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: It is nice to talk to you, and can I just put a plug in for pets mate? They’re okay! 

PRICE: Oh, here we go. Yeah, but you've got a house in the backyard. 

SHORTEN: Well, I've got two bulldogs in a unit as I’m locked down. They're keeping me sane.

PRICE: Not in a lift though surely, in an apartment block… Anyway, did you hear Tony Blakely there? We do have a split over this Doherty modelling, don't we?

SHORTEN: Yeah, I think what Professor Blakely said sounded pretty sensible. It's about the balance. We're all locked down and we just want to know simple answers. And I think that we all agree there should be a finishing line. We've got to finish these lockdowns. We can't keep locking down forever. That's just, that’ll end up causing more harm than we're preventing. But it's finding that sweet spot, isn't it, where - we know how much harm will be caused by COVID in the community, versus to the harm caused by lockdown. And at what point can we say, please stop locking down? 

PRICE: I think that the federal opposition have been more than reasonable about not going gung ho into the government on this issue, because I guess you realize that having lived through, what is it now about, two hundred and six or seven days of lockdown in Melbourne, and you've got a 57 day lockdown in Sydney, that we are doing, we are we are creating, a mental health emergency among many people. And so, you're right, balance is what we've got to have. You can't just let it rip, but you've got to at some point give people hope.

SHORTEN: That's exactly right. I think I went on a TV show, on the ABC’s Insiders five or six weeks ago and said we're to give people some hope. And if people can see an end line, it'll probably incentivise them to go and get the jab. But I'm thinking, there's plenty of people doing it hard. You know, small businesses in particular, businesses, families spending their superannuation just to pay the commercial landlords and what have you. But it's also now kids. On one hand, kids are now getting infected with COVID, which the early strands didn't seem to have a big impact on them. And that worries me. But by the same token, when you've got kids who are 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, 14, they're doing it really hard not being at school, not seeing their friends. So, it's not a case of lockdowns forever, because that's not the answer. 

PRICE: How are your kids coping? 

SHORTEN: Oh, they’re good kids. But I've got a little girl in Grade 6. She is more than ready to go back to school. And to be fair to her mum as well, I think she's more ready for it.

PRICE: Mum’s more than ready for her to go back to school. You of all people, know that politics is at play here. There seems to be a split between the Queensland Labor Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, Daniel Andrews in Victoria, and Mark McGowan in WA and Gladys Berejiklian in New South Wales and Scott Morrison. They seem to be lining up on different sides. Is it not possible politically, and fancy me asking you this question, but to get everyone on the same page?

SHORTEN: Yeah, I think it is possible. I don't think it helps when Mr Morrison says, you know, the Premiers must do this and that by Friday. I mean, it may sound good and it may be red meat to your base, but in life, if you’re going to persuade people, don't kick their heads first. You know that just sort of gets people's backs up. Having said that, I think sooner or later some of the Premiers who’ve been successful in keeping their jurisdictions at COVID-zero, we can't keep locking down. So, you've got to accept COVID in the community. What we've got to do is use this period of lockdowns to COVID-proof ourselves as best we can to minimise the lethality, the harm that's caused by COVID. But at a certain point, we will have to learn to live with it.

PRICE: One of the things I was surprised about yesterday was Premier Andrews, in his address to the media, talking about how there was 50,000 vacant vaccination appointments available between now and the end of the week. And I'm just puzzled as to why there is still so much vaccine hesitancy. Yeah, I mean, in your role as Shadow NDIS Minister, you're still finding it difficult to get people who have disabilities vaccinated. And yet we've got all these vacant appointments. How do those two things work together?

SHORTEN: Well, one of the issues is that for some of the people for whom I take the greatest interest, they can't simply turn up at a mass vaccination hub. So, I think we can have to improve some of our outreach. Most people can get to a vaccine hub, but for quite a lot of people, mobility is an issue. These aren't people who are just sitting on the hammock and saying, you know, you must bring it with a Big Mac and give it to me at my house. These are people with fair dinkum impairment. And I think the outreach has to be lifted. I mean, we should - for those who can get to the facilities, they should do that. But there's a proportion of the population who are stuck in their homes. So, we've got to get out to them. That would be my answer to that. The bigger issue of vaccine hesitancy, I don't understand it. I mean, I'm sorry. I accept that some people who, you know, go on the journey and they don't like any needles in their arms from anything, and there is a proportion of the population who think like that. But that doesn't describe the total group of Victorians or Australians who won't get a jab at the moment. They've been confused by the mixed messaging about AstraZeneca. They maybe haven't thought that it affects them. But I suspect once people realise that, if you want to travel overseas, you're probably going to have to get the jab, well just get on and get the jab so you can go back to travelling overseas.

PRICE: And I make the point that even Bill, where you want to travel interstate. I mean, I started the program today by saying that, you know, family separation in this country is at an all-time high. And the reaction I got from a couple of things I said on The Project last night about people not being able to see their loved ones in other states, if you're vaccinated fully and the people you're visiting are vaccinated fully, then you could perhaps get family reunions back up and running. Surely that would turbocharge vaccination.

SHORTEN: Oh, yes. I mean, Australians, we've taken for granted travel. I've seen the new Qantas ad, it's quite a good ad actually.

PRICE: Oh, I cried about it last night on the air. 

SHORTEN: Yeah, I thought it was a great ad. And we've taken for granted our ability to travel, this COVID stopped that. So, I think one of the carrots, and it doesn't cost a lot of money, is if you want to get travelling again, get the jab. But the other thing is, now that - I'm hoping that vaccine hesitancy is a bit on the wane, not only for the travel, but now that we know that kids can get sick and be seriously sick and if they get this long COVID, it can have a really debilitating effect on them, I think when it affects kids, Australians really go up a gear. I mean, it shouldn't need to. But I think that when people think that your kids could get sick, then I think people say, hey, we've really got to just get on with this.

PRICE: Well, given that schools in New South Wales, at the very best case scenario, probably won't open until Term 4, a lot of people suggesting maybe not even until the new year, we do now have to start looking at vaccinating that cohort between 12 and 16, don't we?

SHORTEN: There's no question in my mind. And, you know, that's why I think to go back to where this interview started, Professor Tony Blankley was saying that the Prime Minister was oversimplifying the issues and says 70 percent, everyone says well that's good, but a 70 percent of what? It's got to be including kids, the 12 pluses. No doubt this will trigger some hate mail from the anti-vaxxers, they’re quite well-organised, but I'm not sure they represent the bulk of the community. But we've got to make sure our kids are safe. And I can't believe I even have to say a sentence like that to use it to convince people, it should be in our DNA.

PRICE: Can you believe it? We're sitting in locked up Melbourne for the second year in a row without a Grand Final or any finals matches of the AFL being played here?

SHORTEN: Yeah, I can't believe it. But having said that, it's not perhaps Collingwood's year to shine so, well….

PRICE: You probably don't care too much, and neither do I because Richmond’s missed the 8 as well.

SHORTEN: Well no, but part of me is a bit of a romantic, you know, how about a Bulldogs/Melbourne Grand Final?

PRICE: But you know better than anyone, and I've been at the North Melbourne breakfast with you there,


PRICE: Is there a better day in sport than the Saturday morning of the Grand Final going to that breakfast, then walking down along the Yarra to the MCG and going to the Grand Final?

SHORTEN: Yeah, and one of the things that makes it a great day is it's a day for everyone. It doesn't matter if you're a captain or a king or just an everyday punter. It's a very equal day in terms of, we can all enjoy it. You know, the barbecue in the car park or just, you know, catching up with friends, going down to the pub. It is a splendid, ripper day. Anyway, we’ll have one of them again.

PRICE: You’ll have me in tears again in a minute. Thank you very much for joining us. Have a good day.

SHORTEN: Good on you, cheers. Bye.

PRICE: Bill Shorten, Shadow Minister for the NDIS there.