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14 September 2021


SUBJECTS: Victorian COVID cases rise; Morrison Government shifts responsibility to businesses on vaccine passports.

LAURA JAYES, HOST: We've got some breaking news about the Victorian case numbers today. Four hundred and forty-five new cases today, but sadly two more COVID related deaths. This as there's been an explosion of cases on construction sites, so the Government is considering making it compulsory for tradies to get vaccinated. Crown is also considering making its staff and patrons be vaccinated to even enter venues. Let's go to Shadow Minister Bill Shorten now, who joins us now from Melbourne. Thanks so much for your time. First of all, you know, business is looking like they're in an increasingly impossible position when we look at opening up because they're the ones having to police this, aren't they? And there's a bit of backlash.

BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: Yeah, I think business and the workforce have been abandoned by the Morrison Government on this key area of public health policy. What people want is consistency. Most Australians, especially businesses and the workforce, will follow the rules if the rules are clear. But what's happening is small businesses have got to ring up and pay lawyers to get advice. Workers are unclear about what they're meant to do. The Morrison Government needs to stop leading from the rear and start leading from the front. Specifically, they've announced some sort of indemnity policy. How about they make it clear that any worker who has to get vaccinated, if in the rare and unusual case they don't feel well afterwards, the Government just indemnifies them? You know, common sense things like this and making a clear ruling about which industries have to be mandated vaccines when you're interacting with the public and which industries don't. The Morrison Government could save a lot of people a lot of angst, red tape, and a whole lot of rubbish, just by leading rather than being M.I.A.

JAYES: If there is a lot of angst out there, I've got to say from big businesses, from small businesses, from customer facing businesses, and we also see the reality of things. I mean, as I mentioned at the top of this, in Victoria there's been a lot of infections on construction sites, so the Government is considering making it compulsory for tradies. Is that a good idea?

SHORTEN: Well, I think if it’s part of a package of things, you're probably going to have to go down this path. I mean, I think we need to have rapid testing. I think in areas like construction or big workplaces, you have workplace vaccination so people can get it at work. I mean, let's remove all the obstacles. But also, I've just got to say that I think that where people are interacting with the public, the public want to have certainty that they're going to be safe and not infected. And we've seen that vaccination is the best path out of COVID lockdown. So, you know, I think it's got to be a bit of give and take from everyone.

JAYES: Yeah, we have a situation where Premiers essentially are pulling the strings here. Gladys Berejiklian, for example Bill Shorten, is saying, Well, even when we get to 80 percent vaccinated in New South Wales, if you're unvaccinated, don't assume that you're going to get the same rights and all the vaccinated people can just do the heavy lifting. And in our day to day lives, if we're going to the cinema or restaurants, you know, it's really up to business to police that at the moment, isn't it?

SHORTEN: I think too much has been put back onto business. I mean, governments have got the biggest shoulders and they need to do the heaviest lifting. But just - you know, I speak to individual managers at Woolworths and you know, they don't know, they can't be the police, they can't be the Government. But the Government needs to, I think, provide certainty, and you can do that by a bundle of measures. One is they've announced an indemnity scheme, but as with this Government, it's all announcement and no detail. Why not make it clear that if you're going to have mandatory vaccination, if in the rare and unusual case there is an adverse effect, that you can get indemnified? So that takes some of the hesitancy out the way. I think that there should be rapid testing, there should be worksite vaccinations and the Government needs to just clear up the fog. We're all in the fog here, and the only ones who can blow it away are the Government. But you know, the Morrison Government reminds me of that old quote where the King turns up and says, where are my people? Where have they gone? I must know where they are, for I am their leader and I must go and lead them. The problem is we can't have a Government who just follows the people. We've got to have a Government who actually leads the people in an emergency, and this is an emergency.

JAYES: Well, we had Matt Canavan on Pete's programme this morning, who you know is philosophically opposed to this “papers please” passport, vaccine passport type situation. He says, encouraging people, just reject it. I mean, the problem is there, again it falls back on businesses to police that.

SHORTEN: Listen, Matt's got his views, and fair enough, he's got a constituency and he's sort of, you know, playing the fiddle for that constituency. But I think that we've got to start getting back to the middle of Australian politics, not the extremes. And in doing that, what we can to do is provide leadership and certainty. I mean, everyone has a driver's license. No one says that that's wrong. When you go overseas, we all have to have a passport. No one says that's an imposition on their human rights. I mean, it's about time that we call time on some of the more extreme beat ups here. The reality is that when you travel to certain countries in the world, you have to prove that you've been vaccinated. We require kids to go through childhood immunization. I mean, what I would say to Matt and to say to the people who feel that somehow some of this is an imposition on their free will, what I'd say is that we've had kids who are in Victoria, not at school for the last 220 days. They've been doing it hard, but that's in part because we want to get on top of the vaccine. We've got small businesses all over Australia, families, mum and dad businesses who are spending their savings, their superannuation, just to stay in business. They are making a sacrifice for the national good. I think it's about time that people just took a deep breath. This is free medicine designed to make us better and stop us getting sick. This is how we get out of lockdown. And I think some of the people who are sort of looking for the small points to argue on which might be important to a few people, fair enough. But I think we've got to put the national interest first. Get out of lockdown, vaccinate and provide safe places for us to congregate, to visit, to educate.

JAYES: And the interests of our kids. As you say, two hundred and twenty days there in Victoria in lockdown and schools have been closed. You're still under curfew. By now, I mean, you've got 500 cases today, but does curfew really work?

SHORTEN: Well, I think the curfew is one of a range of measures. I don't think it's a silver bullet. I think it does stop some movement at night-time by younger cohorts of people. I'm not going to pretend that I think curfew is the silver bullet, but it's part of a part of a package of proposals which at least try and stop interaction so that people in the meantime can get vaccinated and we can get back to whatever normal looks like. It certainly doesn't include lockdowns across the state or the city.

JAYES: Hmm. Just finally, you would have noticed that Joel Fitzgibbon is not contesting the next election. He's bowing out. It's a crucial seat, Hunter. Do you think it's because he doesn't think Albo can win?

SHORTEN: Oh, no, I think it's probably after 25 years, he's decided 25 years in the job’s long enough. You know, he's a colourful character who speaks his mind. I valued his counsel when I was leader. I think after 25 years, he's got a right to say, pull up stumps.

JAYES: Yeah, so you don't think it's because - he doesn't think you’ll be in opposition in for another term?

SHORTEN: No, I think it's probably a product of 25 years in the job, and he's decided that he might want to do something else.

JAYES: Perhaps. All right, Bill Shorten, thanks so much for your time.

SHORTEN: See you, Laura.