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13 September 2021

SUBJECTS:  Joel Fitzgibbon retirement; pre-selection for the seat of Fowler; Morrison Government failures on vaccine rollout; COVID roadmap for Victoria
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Bill Shorten is the Shadow Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Government Services, and he's my guest this afternoon. Welcome.
KARVELAS: We'll get to the outbreak in a moment, of course, but I want to start with what's happening inside the Labor Party. Outspoken federal Labor backbencher Joel Fitzgibbon today announced he's quitting politics. He says Labor has learned from the mistakes of the 2019 campaign. Do you think all of those issues have been fixed?
SHORTEN: I think, first of all, I should just say Joel served since 1996, a quarter of a century in the nation's parliament. That's a big record. He's going out on his terms, so congratulations Joel. Yeah, I think we have taken stock of 2019. What went right, what went wrong. And I'm sure that as Labor focuses on our optimistic plans for post-COVID, that you'll see the lessons are there.
KARVELAS: Do you support the move to parachute Kristina Keneally into that safe seat of Fowler despite a local candidate with community contacts?
SHORTEN: I do think that at the end of the day, Kristina will make a significant contribution as the Member for Fowler. To be clear, if we're successful and win the next election, Fowler will have someone most likely around the cabinet table and I think Kristina will be an asset.
KARVELAS: But what does it say to young women or diverse people in the Labor Party who are putting their hand up doing all that hard work, and it's such hard work, to try and build yourself up in an electorate who want to run in parliament? They're not high profile, they're not going to get the backing like Kristina Keneally has, doesn't it say to them that actually, it's a really hard job to get into the parliament?
SHORTEN: Well, it is really hard to get into the parliament, it always has been. Labor's the party, I think, to encourage women, to encourage people of diverse backgrounds. I think the other candidate Tu Le, she’s the 30-year-old lawyer, active in the community, the Vietnamese Australian community, I don't think this is the last we've heard of her. The problem is that pre-selections are never easy. There were two really talented women vying for the number one spot in the Senate in New South Wales. One of them Kristina Keneally, the other one Deb O'Neill. Kristina has decided to try a hand running in the House of Reps. There were two good candidates running in the pre-selection in Fowler. Tu Le is 30. Your life doesn't end at 30 if you don't win a preselection. And I think she represents the sort of candidate in the future that we do need to be supporting, and I'm sure we'll hear more of her.
KARVELAS: Ok, so Deb O'Neill wouldn't move over to allow Kristina Keneally to take that spot. I mean, if I can be blunt about the ethnic diversity question, we're talking here about two -
SHORTEN: What's your question?
KARVELAS: Well, what do you reckon?
SHORTEN: What do I reckon, I reckon they were both talented and Kristina’s now going to get the pre-selection for Fowler, so it's a compromise. In politics, you know, you do get compromises. Kristina’s going to be in the House of Reps. She makes an impact wherever she is. Deb O'Neill is doing a good job in the Senate, and I've got no doubt that Tu Le will be someone who the Labor Party will be keen to work with and encourage in the future. But it's never easy, it's never easy in politics when there is one sport and two candidates, I mean, let's not forget, at the last election, two of us ran for Prime Minister, but only one was able to win. So, it does happen and that doesn't take away from the need to encourage greater diversity. That doesn't take away from the need to encourage young people to get involved in politics. But sometimes there's more people than places.
KARVELAS: Okay, so don't listen to me. Let's listen to someone I know you respect, Federal Labor MP Anne Aly has accused the Labor Party of hypocrisy over the plan to parachute Kristina Keneally in, saying, you know, that on these issues of multiculturalism, let's take them seriously essentially. Does Anne Aly have a point?
SHORTEN: She's got a point, she's a very strong advocate, and I've spoken to her since her comments to understand them better. She's entitled to her opinion.
KARVELAS: And did she convince you?
SHORTEN: Well, I didn't have a vote in the preselection, and whilst I accept she's got a point of view about encouraging diversity, I think the Labor Party has done better than the other parties and we can always do better. This is a situation where you can't solve all of the issues in one seat. So, yeah, I think Kristina Keneally will make sure if we win the next election, that Fowler gets heard at the cabinet table, that's a good thing. I've got no doubt if the Labor Party in New South Wales is smart, and they can be very smart, that Tu Le will be encouraged to be more involved in the future. But politics doesn't just happen in one day and one moment and one seat, it's a constant effort to try and advance the case for the people that you argue for and are passionate about.
KARVELAS: But do you think it's much harder still for people from diverse backgrounds? I mean, that's what this looks like to me.
SHORTEN: Well, I think it is harder for people from ethnically diverse backgrounds. The reality is that some of our newer migrant groups and even more established migrant groups had to have a lot of battles. I've got no doubt that it's harder and there's no doubt there's probably more the Labor Party can do to encourage people to get involved at the grassroots and to encourage their political experience and mentor them. Yeah, it is hard. I'm not going to insult anyone's intelligence.
KARVELAS: So, should there be like, quotas for that kind of diversity? I know that the Labor Party obviously has embraced the gender quota, but do you think that might be a good idea?
SHORTEN: Well, I haven't heard that raised before. I can point to my own experience when I was leader of the Labor Party. I thought that Labor didn't have enough First Nations people as our parliamentary representatives. Now I remember, probably not that many other people will, but I remember giving a speech beginning of 2016, just saying that what we need to do is make sure that we don't just make laws about First Nations people, but First Nations politicians get to make laws on behalf of all Australians. And then I was able to convince Pat Dodson, that was the election we got Linda Burney and Malarndirri McCarthy in. And so, I think that we will see this issue move along, too. And the progress is, in my experience, the process of social change and progress is a series of movements and bumps and collisions. And you know, sometimes it moves quickly. Other times it can be like watching a glacier carved. So sometimes it takes longer than you'd like.
KARVELAS: Prime Minister Scott Morrison says all eligible Australians will be offered a vaccine by the end of next month. How confident are you that that target will be reached?
SHORTEN: Oh listen, this bloke's made more promises than I've had hot dinners about the vaccination rollout. I look at the rest of the world and I see nations getting out and about and opening up. Yet because we blew the lead we had when we were successful at stopping COVID, then the Government went to sleep. Now I know people don't want to hear politics and hear that, but it's truthful. Morrison blew it. Now we're behind the rest of the world. My concern now is that they're saying that 80 per cent of people should be vaccinated, and that's good. And I understand the logic of that. But I'm concerned that the people who are clinically vulnerable, that's people with disabilities, for example, that are people in very low socioeconomic backgrounds, you know, poor people, are disproportionately under-vaccinated. So, when Morrison says 80 per cent of people and then everything can open up, that won't be the case for people with disabilities, people who are clinically vulnerable. I think the Government needs to do a blitz of outreach work to reach out to people to get vaccinated. And Morrison is a slippery character, he always says, oh we're doing that. But he only talks about people in shared congregate housing, group housing. There's a lot of people with disabilities who are not mobile, who can't get out and about, and they're not getting their fair share of vaccinations. And Mr Morrison needs to pull up his socks quick smart, because these people don't deserve to be left behind.
KARVELAS: Scott Morrison says the country has to move on when vaccinations have been offered. Have people living with disabilities been forgotten, you say in these comments? And what do you want to see? Like, should there be a system of actually turning up to their homes to provide the vaccination?
SHORTEN: Yes. So, I use the word outreach, I should unpack that. What you said is exactly what I think. Mr Morrison says people, he wants the nation to move on. Well, so do people with disability. But it's not as easy to go to mass vaccination hubs. People’s circumstances aren't all the same. I think most fair minded people would accept that, you know, if you're mobile, you've got a car, you can get up and about, get on your bicycle, you should go and get vaccinated. And I agree with that. But not everyone is in the same set of circumstances, and what we are seeing is the Government can release how many people per LGA, local government area, are getting vaccinated. I think the Government needs to release how many people who are on the NDIS have actually been vaccinated. Why can't they do that daily? Like, it's not as hard. This Government makes easy things look hard and hard things look impossible. The truth of the matter is that people with disabilities deserve to have federal outreach teams visiting them, helping them get injected, helping them get vaccinated so that they don't get left behind in six- or eight-weeks’ time.
KARVELAS: Children over 12 can book appointments for Pfizer from today. Should the disability community have been given preference over kids given the potential for serious illness?
SHORTEN: I don't necessarily like a Hunger Games approach, I'm not going to tell you that a 12-year-old is more or less important than a person with multiple sclerosis. But the Government should be thinking about people who are vulnerable, like not everyone has got a set of parents who will drive them to the vaccination hub. I think that the government needs to release data on an almost daily basis. Start with the categorisation of people on the NDIS, not just the 27,000 who live in group homes, but the other hundreds of thousands of people. You know, these people are invisible, according to the Government, as far as I'm concerned. I think there should be outreach. I think they should blitz it. I think they need to reach out to people and go to their homes.
KARVELAS: Just a couple more questions for you. On Victoria because that's where you are. So am I. Isn't it fun again?
SHORTEN: Mmmhmm.
KARVELAS: Should we should. Should we get a roadmap out of this never-ending lockdown? And should it be immediate? They've got one in New South Wales.
SHORTEN: Yeah, well, I wouldn't want to copy everything that Gladys Berejiklian has done, but I do think that Victorians are looking forward to the roadmap that the Premier's promised next week. He's getting the Burnett Institute, who I've got a lot of time for, to work out the road map and give us the evidence. I mean, what we want to do is we want to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. We want a plan. We'd like to know some deadlines. We're looking at other states and we want some of that, but we've got to make sure we do it safely. For me, the issue, along with the vaccination of the clinically vulnerable who are getting neglected by Mr Morrison, for me, the biggest other issue is the parent’s dilemma. We want our kids back at school, but we want to make sure they can return safely. I'm sure that's on the minds of teachers and parents, so I'm looking forward to getting more detail in coming days about that.
KARVELAS: Okay. I want to pin you down on this. Do you think children, students, I should call them, some of them are older, should be going back to school in Term 4 in Victoria?
SHORTEN: If it’s safe to do so, and I know that's a non-answer at one level, but another level, that is the dilemma, isn't it? Yes, I want the kids back at school. I think it's important for their mental health. I think it's important. We've lost 220 days. I mean, hats off to all the home schoolers and what they've done, but I want those Year 11s and 12s, or not just the Year 12s, but all the kids to get some learning. But we’ve got to make sure -
KARVELAS: But if we've got 70 percent double vaccinated, right? And I just put this to you, Sarah McNab, Dr. Sarah McNab, she’s the head of - I know you've listened to her, I have too -  of the Royal Children's, she says this is largely a mild disease for children. If the adult population is up to 70 percent double vaccinated, we know if it spreads through a school sure, they'll shut it down deep, clean, do all the things they do, but it's mild for the children that are unvaccinated. As a balance, should we be sending them back with that level of risk?
SHORTEN: Listen, you’ve put one person's expert advice, it sounds pretty persuasive to me. It's about balancing the risk, the risk of returning the kids to school as opposed to the risk of what they suffer by not returning to school. I hope that in Term 4 our kids are back at school. But at the end of the day, I'll happily see what Daniel Andrews and the Burnett Institute produce. But it's my sincere hope as a parent, and on behalf of all the other parents and teachers and most importantly the kids, that we get them back in Term 4. But you know, again, we'll just have to see what information gets provided to us. I'm sure that's everyone's preference.
KARVELAS: Yeah, yeah, look for sure. But I mean, it's diabolical in Victoria, isn't it? Aren’t you experiencing that, too? I'm not just talking about my own lived experience. I see it all around me. Kids are really struggling.
SHORTEN: It is, that’s why I said to you that along with the vaccinating of the clinically vulnerable to me, the big issue as the return to school. We want to make sure it's done safely. I think Mr Morrison could help here. I'd like to see them provide resources to the State Education departments, so kids have got more help coping. I'd also like to see them come out with a plan for ventilation of special schools and all schools. Now I don't say you've got to get that done before you return kids to school, but we can't go back to the way we were before this virus. The reality is that our ancestors 100 years ago were designing schools to make sure that there was less airborne transmission of viruses. And somewhere in the last 100 years, we've forgotten those lessons. Like it or not, the feds need to help out the state, to make sure that we've got a plan to virus proof to the best level we can, our schools.
KARVELAS: Bill Shorten, thanks for coming on the show.
SHORTEN: Thank you very much, Patricia. Good luck with home schooling.
KARVELAS: It's going really well. Bill Shorten, the Shadow Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Government Services.