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25 July 2021

SUNDAY, 25 JULY 2021

SUBJECTS: Vaccination supply; states supporting each other; ATAGO advice on Astra Zeneca; Labor’s policies for the next election

DAVID SPEERS HOST:All right, well, time to talk to the Shadow Minister for Government Services, Bill Shorten. First, here was the New South Wales Health Minister expressing disappointment that other states aren't helping out with vaccines.
BRAD HAZZARD, NSW HEALTH MINISTER (VIDEO PACKAGE): We need to help that other states and territories could possibly give us. I want to remind those other states and territories that last time I looked; we were a Commonwealth. We work together. And it disturbs me that it would appear that all we've ever done to work together has just seemingly been cast aside. When we have bushfires, when we have floods, people from our state go to help others.
SPEERS: Bill Shorten, welcome.
SPEERS: How do you feel about this? As a Victorian do you think other states should be helping out with some Pfizer supplies in Sydney?
SHORTEN: Well, part of me thinks that we shouldn't be in this mess at all, Sydney, Melbourne or anywhere, if we had a proper vaccine rollout. And I did watch that clip of Premier Berejiklian when she just - she wasn't showing Victoria any sympathy last year when we were in the midst of our 700 cases a day. But having said all of that, the failure of ego politics in Sydney, the failure of the vaccine rollout, I think actually, I'm just sick that Australia, that we've become the United Nations of Australia. I'm sick of the fact that we're eight mini countries. Now, I think in Victoria and the rest of Australia, if there are unsubscribed, unscheduled vaccines, Sydney's where the trouble is. So, we're Australians first. We're cheering our team on in Tokyo. But here, we're in The Hunger Games. And I think people are over the squabbling.
SPEERS: I don't know if there are many unscheduled unsubscribed vaccine doses lying around.
SHORTEN: Maybe in Western Australia or Queensland. I don't know. And the point isn’t just -
SPEERS: In Victoria, I mean, we're still in lockdown here and hopefully not for too much longer. But should Victoria be willing to give up some Pfizer supplies to Sydney?
SHORTEN: Well, I think its part of the solution. And as Premier Andrews has said, I mean, I love it, last year, the New South Wales government was sneering at Dan Andrews. Now they're saying hey, Dan, rescue us. But I I honestly believe that two wrongs don't make a right. But the truth of the matter is we make AZ in Australia, and there's been so much mixed messaging over AZ. Now I think it's got back on track in my opinion. We should use AZ. There's just also not that much Pfizer in Australia. I mean, if the feds had done their day job, we wouldn't be having this, you know, Balkanization of the Federation of Australia.
SPEERS: So, ATAGI’s advice shifted yesterday on AstraZeneca. It is now to strongly consider taking it if you're in Sydney. You obviously welcome that move.
SHORTEN: Yeah, I do
SPEERS: Do you think the Prime Minister's public comments this week might have influenced the decision?
SHORTEN: I think ATAGI’s just doing the job to the best of its focus. The reality is what's changed for me, reading what ATAGI is saying, is that they weren't pushing AZ when there was no cases in Australia. But there are. So as the facts change and looking at the available supply of vaccines we've got, that's what we've got to do. Like, the solution is there. It's getting more people vaccinated. AZ will do the job. I mean, in America, The Atlantic Weekly or The Atlantic Monthly magazine has just released, 97 per cent of the people going to hospitals in America with the Delta strain are unvaccinated.
SPEERS: So, it sounds like you largely agree with what Scott Morrison's been saying?
SHORTEN: I agree with what ATAGI is saying. And if Scott Morrison's saying the same thing as ATAGI, of course I agree.
SPEERS: The government has now secured an extra eighty-five million doses of Pfizer for next year in the year after, booster shots and shots to deal with variants. Do you welcome that?
SHORTEN: Yeah, it's better late than never, but I can't help but feel a bit sceptical. I mean, here we go again. We've got another promise. I don't think Australia should waste time for the promise. We're walking alone, really. And so therefore, what I think is, have proper quarantine facilities, vaccinate people using the AZ. We make it here. But I think whilst, you know, Christmas next year is nice, I'm worried about the people in Sydney right now. There's businesses throwing out perishable food. There's mental health trauma. There's a whole lot of small business and family businesses who are spending their life savings just getting through. What people need in Australia right now, David, isn't just a promise for booster shots in a year and a half. That's good. What we need is hope. And at the moment, all we're being told is that the only tool in the toolbox is lockdowns. And I don't think Mr Morrison, he's created a vacuum the Premiers have filled. I never thought I'd see state politics being this big in the federation. Mr Morrison's got to fill the vacuum with hope, not fear.
SPEERS: Well, let's talk about that. How many people do you think need to be vaccinated before we can hit this finish line, I suppose, where lockdowns are no longer a threat?
SHORTEN: Well, a lot more than now. And to be more specific, I mean, the Doherty Institute's trying to come up with that number. But a lot of experts I talked to say somewhere around 80 per cent is the ideal, of people12 and over.
SPEERS: 80 per cent of people.
SHORTEN: That's what some experts are saying. And that's you know, I think Boris Johnson's gone too early. Freedom Day could prove to be a false dawn. But what we do need in Australia is we've got to say to the 14 million people locked down, in fact, all twenty five million of us, that there's light at the end of the tunnel, which is not an oncoming train. We can't keep locking down, I think Australia's done a great job reducing COVID to zero. I think Dan Andrews did a great job smashing it in Victoria. I think New South Wales was wrong to spend two weeks sort of working out, do they want to be locked down? But they're getting there. But the problem is we need to ambitiously vaccinate. And the hesitancy people have in vaccination is, what's the point if you're going to keep getting locked down? But if the Prime Minister said, as our guys have said, Anthony and the rest of team, you know, vaccination’s the way out of lockdown, I think that's as good as any advertising campaign.
SPEERS: Are they doing that and getting this work done by Doherty that will come up with this number or set of numbers as to what vaccination thresholds we need to hit?
SHORTEN: But why don't we just speak straight here? The reality is that we need a finishing line. You know that. I know that. 14 million people know that. But the Government always seems to be the last people to turn up.
SPEERS: It’s got to be properly considered and researched doesn’t it?
SHORTEN: Yeah, but why is it that we're eightieth in the world?
SPEERS: I mean, that's another matter. But in terms of this finish line -
SHORTEN: But it's the same problem. It's one of competence. If you want to give hope. It's not just enough to release a press release and a photo opp, a picture opportunity. What you've actually got to do is back it up. People have got a sense that you're on their side. People have got to think that you're competent and people think you've got a plan. And I think the Australian people have been treated too much like mushrooms. I think we've been kept in the dark. I think that the Government sort of has to be - you see their fingernails on the concrete of parliament as they're dragged to outcome after outcome.
SPEERS: So, to be clear, you're saying see the finish line, here's the number we need to hit, go out and get vaccinated. You reckon about 80 per cent.
SHORTEN: That's what experts say, a lot of experts say. But we could have a trigger point earlier. You know, if you want to reduce the use of lockdowns, you know, you get a certain percentage to their first jab and then you get to the second. The experts will work that out. But I actually -
SPEERS: That's happening, isn't it?
SHORTEN: It is, but why is everything done in this black box? I mean, this Government said they would have everyone, all people with disabilities and aged care, vaccinated by Easter. That didn't happen. I mean, let's not forget the million Aussies or half a million Aussies stranded overseas. They were all going to be home last Christmas. So, I think the Government hasn't been competent in its rollout. But we are where we are now. People don’t want to hear all the backbiting. But what we not only need is - Mr Morrison said, we're going to get sixty-five or eighty-five million Pfizer in the next two years. That's a good announcement. But aren't we then relying on global supply chains again? What happens if the variant changes or someone else needs it? We've got to make it here. We've got to have proper quarantine. And also, the other thing is why are we having an argument about JobKeeper? We should have JobKeeper without the rorts. People are doing it hard right now. They can't wait till Christmas next year.
SPEERS: When we get to that finish line, again, this requires some leadership in the debate, I suppose. Are we going to have to be willing to accept some COVID deaths in Australia? Of course, we're seeing some deaths right now in Sydney. But when we do move beyond lockdowns and open up, once 80 per cent or so vaccinated, should we be willing to accept and ready for some level of COVID deaths?
SHORTEN: I think we've got to set the test for what the finishing line looks like. And part of that will answer your question. Why don't we vaccinate enough people so that the proportion of unvaccinated, if they get sick, won’t overwhelm our hospital system so we can look after them? Why don't we actually back Australian research and Australian manufacturing? We should have the purpose-built quarantine facilities. But it's more than just that, isn't it? We have to have a conversation about that lockdown is a tool. And in fact, in Victoria, it's the only case where it's worked in the world, but it did work. We have to accept if we want to go post-COVID lockdown, then we have to have the rest of the conversation. Sophisticated border controls to test temperatures. Why aren’t we talking about home testing? Why aren’t we talking about making sure that we properly invest in a CDC, which Anthony and Chris announced last year
SPEERS: Accept all of that. But the question is really, do we need to prepare the Australian public for the reality that if we are going to live with COVID, and let's hope as many revaccinated as possible, there will still be some deaths as we're seeing elsewhere?
SHORTEN: I think that what Australians want us to do is manage that risk. What I've been suggesting, what Labor's been suggesting -
SPEERS: Why is this so hard to for anyone to say?
SHORTEN: Well, no, we have to accept there's risk. But what we should do is minimise and manage the risk. What we what we need to do is, if you like, the question’s sort of at the wrong end of the equation. What we need to do is be better at managing the risk. What we need to do is make sure that the right people get vaccinated. We need to make sure as many people who want to get vaccinated get vaccinated. We can reduce the risk. If you say is there no risk, no one can promise that, and we should be straight. But I think we can do a lot more to manage the risk. So ambitiously vaccinate, at the same time, future-proof Australia. The reality is we were leading the world twelve months ago. Now we're the laughing stock.
SPEERS: Most countries that are much further down the track on vaccinations are hitting a bit of a plateau. There's a good chunk that just aren't getting the jab. US, UK, what do we do about this here, do you think?
SHORTEN: I think there are similarities, but I think actually, the Australian people are being underestimated by the political class. There are some people who want to go off the grid and don't want to be vaccinated. That's their call. But I think there's a whole proportion of people who have heard mixed messaging about the AZ, which is a shame. I also think that if people are told that we can beat COVID, we can live with a minimal risk, if you get vaccinated. I don't think Australians are hesitant. Our scientists are the best in the world. Our health teams are exhausted, but they're really knocking it out of the park. The people have done the right thing. I think we've just got to be an ambitious country again.
SPEERS: What about making the vaccine mandatory? I know it's going to happen in aged care, for aged care workers. What about elsewhere?
SHORTEN: I think, first of all, it would be good if enough people who wanted to be vaccinated could get vaccinated, you know, people waiting for hours on the phone. But once we've got to that, I don't know if I'd want to force a needle into everyone's arm against their will,
SPEERS: Not my saying that, but as a requirement of employment, that's all.
SHORTEN: What I'm giving you, is what I think is the outlier. I don't think if you want to go off the grid, if you genuinely have some sort of conscientious objection, fine. But I think that we're kidding ourselves if we think that we can get on a plane and go to many other parts of the world without getting vaccinated. And I think in sectors which are crucial, like aged care, where you're caring for vulnerable people, I think we will get to mandatory vaccination.
SPEERS: Okay, so sectors like aged care, disability care.
SHORTEN: Yeah, I mean, it's part of the equation. And what we like to do sometimes is go for the click bait issue. And that's an important issue. But I think we need to go back to the basics. We've got to tell Australia that we can actually get through this without locking down, vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate and prepare for the future. Then I think some of these other issues sort themselves out. There's less concern about the outlier issues.
SPEERS: A couple of other things. The Australian newspaper ran a lengthy piece yesterday about your ambition to return as Labor leader. Do you still dream of being Prime Minister?
SHORTEN: No. Look, it was a bit of a boring article, I thought. And I think people don't want us talking about ourselves, but I think that Anthony can win the next election. I think Labor's competitive. But as we've seen from the last election, it's always a two-horse race.
SPEERS: Well, apparently, you've been telling colleagues you want the top job and citing Joe Biden's election at the age of 78 as evidence that it's never too late.
SHORTEN: I think that America picked a 78-year-old is interesting, but I wouldn't take it for much more for that.
SPEERS: So, you haven't been telling colleagues I’m two leaders off coming back?
SHORTEN: Well, let's be clear. When it's an unsourced article, where not a single person’s on the record…. You know.
SPEERS: You don't want the job.
SPEERS: Labor is yet to decide what to do about some policies from your time as leader as well as what to do about the stage three tax cuts for middle- and high-income earners. What do you think should happen?
SHORTEN: Well, no final decision's been made.
SPEERS: What do you think?
SHORTEN: Well, we'll get to that, but just so we've stated, clearly the caucus in the Shadow Cabinet haven't made a final decision. And to be fair to Labor, we have been focused a lot on COVID, which is where I think our priorities should be. When we took a position firmly against it when I was leader, the changes hadn't been legislated and they were three years ago. So, I mean, I think that is a relevant fact. But what we need to do now is, we'll make our decision before the election.
SPEERS: Do you have a view though?
SHORTEN: Well, I think it will be up for the collective process, and that's where I'll contribute my opinion.
SPEERS: All right. Is Labor being bold enough, do you think, on the policy front? You as leader were very bold on negative gearing and franking credits and capital gains tax. Is Anthony Albanese being bold enough?
SHORTEN: Yeah, we are announcing our policies. Yes, I do believe that we are doing what needs to be done to present us as an alternative government. I accept at the last election that we put out all our policies. You know, that was the theory, put them all out. But they were subject to some debate. And I accept that some of them didn't find support in parts of Australia. So, I think that Labor's doing the right thing. We're not a small target, but we're not necessarily putting every proposition out, you know, months and months ahead of an election.
SPEERS: A final one then, on the NDIS, the Government's now buried, it says, its plans for independent assessments. Do you still think there's a problem, though, when it comes to the sustainability of the NDIS? And what do you do about it?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, the Government basically tried to neck the NDIS and reduce it to a cookie cutter welfare program. The NDIS is about individual packages to help profoundly and severely disabled people. Do I think that money can be saved in the NDIS? Absolutely. But the thing is, this Government’s run the NDIS for eight years. If there's a money problem, it's because the current masters have been incompetent. How is it that they can run a program of twenty-two billion dollars and then one day tell the Australian people are we've been doing a crap job at it, so we want to cut everyone? When do they take responsibility? If I was the Minister for NDIS, I could save money. But I tell you what, it wouldn’t be scaring 430,000 people they're going to lose their packages. Or even more demeaning, making them prove they're disabled in the first place.
SPEERS: Bill Shorten, thanks for joining us.
SHORTEN: Lovely to catch up.