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24 August 2021

SUBJECTS: Australia’s plan for COVID Normal; National Cabinet; Vaccination goals.

Well, it could be the biggest political showdown of the pandemic, the Prime Minister ready to blast the states falling behind on the vaccine rollout at Friday's National Cabinet with a warning the country has to reopen soon. Let's discuss with Shadow Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten and 4BC Radio's Scott Emerson. Nice to see you both this morning. Bill, the Prime Minister and particularly the premiers of Queensland and WA - they're on a collision course over this, aren't they?
BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: It doesn't have to be that way. I do get frustrated, Mr. Morrison wants to unite the country, which is a good thing to do. I think you are better off using a bit of diplomacy than telling people they're wrong. We do need to live in a post lockdown world, which means that COVID will be in our community. That's a fact. But let's get it. Let's bring the Premiers with us. They've done a good job keeping people safe. Let's bring people with us by explaining what the finishing line looks like and how we're all going to look after each other. But we certainly do need to accept, we've got to live with COVID at some point.
LANGDON: I think this is the problem, though. The finishing line is different for every Premier. For one, it's a 100-metre sprint. For another, it's a marathon. Scott, how do you reckon a lecture from ScoMo is going to go down with Annastacia Palaszczuk?
SCOTT EMERSON, 4BC: Oh, look, I think on Friday, you'll see Annastacia Palaszczuk come out of that meeting and say, look, we want to have a finish line at some stage, will ease some restrictions, but there'll be no commitment, the kind of commitment that Scott Morrison wants. She won't go as far as Mark McGowan because no way McGowan will accept any of this at all. But given that Queensland has been relatively successful in keeping COVID out, they see what's happening in south of the border in New South Wales, that they are not going to say to Queenslanders, look, we're going to open up Queensland to New South Wales while, you know, we don't know what the situation is going to be like in New South Wales. So, I don't think no matter how Sweet-Talking Scott Morrison is on Friday or how tough it is, he's going to get the nod from Annastacia Palaszczuk. 
LANGDON: Yeah, I mean, you’d love to be a fly on the wall, wouldn't you, on Friday when they all get together. But Bill, look, we have seen Scott Morrison at least make his position clear on this. 70 percent is what he's saying. That's when we start to open up. It may not be palatable, but we have to learn to live with this is what he's saying. And also, the New South Wales Premier agrees with that. What is Labor's position?
SHORTEN: Well, I think we will follow the best medical advice, as I understand, the Doherty Institute has said that we really need to be getting to 80 percent. I think the X Factor here is what Mr. Morrison's is going to do about the kids. I think all kids above 12 should be vaccinated. I know they're currently testing vaccines for kids less than 12. What we have to do is get the balance of the risk right. There is a risk to this country if we keep locking down and there is a risk if we stop locking down too quickly. We've got to find the sweet spot. COVID-19 means that some people will get very sick and worse. We have to live with that, but we shouldn't live with that recklessly. So, we're going to have to make sure that our hospitals can cope, that we have better testing at our borders, that we have a National Centre for Disease Control, that we also look at the ventilation in our buildings. And people might have to accept wearing masks as part of the price of not locking down.
LANGDON: So, you're saying 70 percent is too soon? And did you just confirm that 80 per cent is Labor's official position?
SHORTEN: No, no, I'm not committing what Labor's actual position is. I'll leave that to our leadership. But what I will say is that studying the medical experts. the trick with living with COVID is to make sure that when we do, it does not overwhelm the hospital system, I'm worried that one in five cases now in Victoria are kids, we've got to make sure there's a proper vaccination program for our kids. So, it's getting the balance of risk right. I want to stop lockdowns, but I want to make sure that when we do if we get one shot to do it correctly, let's do it correctly. The experts say we're going to need to have masks as part of ongoing post lockdown life. I think our border controls need to be more sophisticated. We need to work out what we're doing with our quarantine when people come from overseas. But I don't think this is beyond the wit and the capacity and the knowledge of the Australian people to get it right. But we get one chance at it. And being premature, I think, will stuff things up completely. So, we need to do it as a group, as a nation. I don't think it helps Mr Morrison bagging the Premiers, and while I think that New South Wales should have locked down earlier, I think we're now at a point where people are sick of Politician A bagging Politician B. Let's work on this together. That's what everyone in lockdown wants to see. Our leaders agreeing not fighting like kids in the playground.
LANGDON: But we now need to see, as you say, leadership. We need to see that from Albo here, too. When is he going to put a number on it? What that magic figure is that he will also look at stopping lockdowns.
SHORTEN: Oh, I think that Albo’s been actually giving more leadership than Mr Morrison.
LANGDON: If he's going to give a clear path through here, doesn't he need to give a number?
SHORTEN: Absolutely. But it'd be nice if Mr Morrison invited Mr Albanese into the National Cabinet. Now, Anthony’s outlined some of the themes for a clear path - purpose to quarantine facilities, getting the vaccine rollout out right, making sure that the vulnerable groups, the elderly, the people with disabilities, and also importantly, the kids get their vaccines. So, I think we've been trying to be constructive, but there's no doubt in my mind lockdowns have to end. People are doing it hard and Melbourne and Sydney, we need hope. But when we lift the lockdowns, we've got to make sure we do it correctly. I don't want to see hospitals full of kids, you know, and I don't want to see us not listening to the right advice, but we do need to end the lockdowns.
LANGDON: Scott, where do you stand on this? How do you feel about kids getting Pfizer? At the moment we're looking at 12 to 15. But obviously, the next year, we're looking at potentially inoculating younger children.
EMERSON: Yeah, look, I think that that's what's going to have to happen. And, of course, that will be the long-term plan. But listen to what Bill said then. It's like Labor wants a Goldilocks approach. They don't want lockdown to finish too early, they don’t want to finish too late. But they're not giving a number of where they want it, 70 percent, 80 percent. Bill’s given every option possible in his comments just then, I think what people would expect from Labor is your plan.
SHORTEN: That’s not fair, Scott. Scott, you know, that's not fair. People are sick of Labor and Liberal being at each other's throats. The Doherty Institute said that some.
LANGDON: Oop, we've lost Bill, there. Bill - 
SHORTEN: We haven't gone through this lockdown to stuff it up. 
EMERSON: But is it 70 or 80 percent, Bill? Is it 70 or 80 percent? Give us a number. Tell us when.
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, I think personally it should be at 80 percent if you want to have all lockdown's lifted and it's got to be 12 pluses. But the point about it is that's just my opinion. 

LANGDON: Okay Bill, just looking at your opinion there, right? Okay, because you've got now the Australian National University says at 80 percent, we would still say twenty-five thousand deaths from COVID nationally. How many deaths in your mind are acceptable?
SHORTEN: No, I'm not - you want to prevent deaths. You don't want to say there's an acceptable death rate. The aim here is to reduce the risk. If we keep locking down forever. That's going to bring its own risks of harm and damage. So, you've got to get the balance of the risk right. So, you know, Scott had a little chip there about Goldilocks. It's not about trying to please everyone, but what it is about is trying to make sure that you get the balance right. We get one chance to do this properly. I don't want to say our intensive care units overwhelmed. I don't want to see our exhausted hospital staff have to all go into lockdown because of too many cases.
LANGDON: And Bill, to be clear, no one in this country wants to see that at any point. But what we're saying is at some point, we need to live with it. Scott, do you think that Queensland is prepared to have any COVID in its state?
EMERSON: I think it's going to have to have that at some stage, but the rhetoric from Annastacia Palaszczuk will be, right until the end, will be we want to keep it out. But look, we're seeing what's happening, not just New South Wales and Victoria, but also in New Zealand. If it gets up here and we can't control it, fortunately we did the last time. But if it gets out of control up, it will be in the same situation as Victoria and New South Wales and New Zealand, where they're struggling to keep it under control. That will be the case, no matter what the rhetoric may be from the Queensland Premier. That is just the reality of COVID with the Delta variant.
LANGDON: The reality is you've got right now, Scott, I'd rather be where you are and finish this interview, probably go and have a coffee with some mates at a cafe. Bill, you're in lockdown. In fact, you're quarantining again. That's the difference, isn't it, between Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane today?
SHORTEN: Well, a lot of the people are doing it tough. That's why to honour the effort that everyone's made, we need to work together. We need to agree on what the proposition is, and then we need to finish the job. We can, and what we need is more people working together rather than taking the points. For myself in quarantine. I'm climbing 130 flights of steps a day. I passed Kosciusko on Sunday. I'm at the Pyrenees hopefully today. And by Friday, I'll be at the Matterhorn.
LANGDON: Well, I'll tell you what. Better to be climbing the steps than the walls, I say. Nice to talk to you both this morning. Thank you. Talk soon.