Topics: WA border; Jobs figures; Australia Day; N95 masks


09:35AM ACST

Charles Croucher: Joining us for more is Finance Minister Simon Birmingham and Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers. Good morning to you both. Simon, it’s a decision that has a huge emotional ramification, plus economic ramifications. How do you feel about it?

Simon Birmingham: Morning, Charles. All Australians have made so many sacrifices throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and for West Australians, those sacrifices have particularly been a result of being cut off from the rest of the country, from loved ones, from business opportunities for the range of different challenges there. But Western Australians have done well. They’ve shown great resilience. They’ve kept themselves safe. They’ve got themselves vaccinated. And I urge them to get out and get their booster doses and of course, particularly to get their kids vaccinated as well. It’s understandable that many of them would be saying now, if not now, when will those borders reopen? And that’s a matter for West Australians to debate and to resolve amongst themselves. But their economy has continued to perform strongly, but so too has the rest of Australia’s economy. You know, this week we saw the unemployment rate go down to 4.2 per cent. Now at the depths of this crisis of COVID-19. Jim Chalmers and the Labor Party were saying that the test for the government was how the unemployment rate performed, how the jobs market performed. We’ve now got 1.7 million more Australians in jobs than were the case when our government was elected. We’ve got one million more Australian women in jobs and we’re seeing that strength of our economy, which is something that is showing such resilience through each of the different crises points and no doubt will as we move through this Omicron challenges right now too.

Charles Croucher: Jim, Wayne Swan was on the program on Friday, and he backed Mark McGowan. Do you?

Jim Chalmers: Oh, I do. Charles, I think right throughout this crisis, whether it’s been a Liberal premier or a Labor premier, we’ve tried not to second guess them if they’ve made these difficult decisions based on the best advice available to them and that’s the case here again. I think Mark McGowan has looked east and seen the costs and consequences of Scott Morrison’s values on rapid tests and boosters and the rest of it, and decided now is not the time. It’s a difficult decision. I know Mark wouldn’t have taken it lightly. It would have taken a lot of advice and would have considered it very carefully, and it won’t be unanimously supportive. But I think it is the right decision given what’s happened on the East Coast. To pick up on what Simon said. You know, unfortunately, we’ve got a government where at the time where some people are finding it hard to find groceries, people can’t find rapid tests, workers are finding it hard to work safely. We’ve got shortages in our aged care homes and elsewhere. These guys want to pretend that everything is perfect in the economy. That’s clearly not the case. We want the unemployment rate to be as low as possible, obviously, but we need to be attentive to some of these big economic challenges which are brought to us directly as a consequence of the federal government not doing its job on rapid testing and boosters and all the rest of it.

Charles Croucher: There’s a great piece from Nine’s Jerrie Demasi, who’s from Perth that lives in the US, and she had a great piece that she wrote up on today, and it’s worth a look for everyone at home as well.

Jayne Azzopardi: Well, good morning to you Simon, Jim, Jayne here. We also want to talk to you about January 26 because obviously it’s fast approaching and annually that means that the change the date debate has reignited. So I’ll start with you. There’s a new poll that’s found most people want Australia Day to stay on January 26, but I’ve got to say it is a slim majority. Do you think we’re going to see the date changed?

Simon Birmingham: Jayne, no, I don’t, and I would urge all Australians, especially those who may want to see a change of date to not ruin Australia Day for everybody, that it’s important this day we seek to be one that we can unite around as Australians, acknowledging that not everything has gone perfectly through our history, that there are things we need to do better as a country, particularly taking the effort to acknowledge the first Australians Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander peoples across our country. But let’s not have an endless, divisive debate that simply means it’s hard to celebrate all that we have achieved as a country or makes it harder to look to the future with the type of confidence and optimism that our nation should have given our many successes. So I really would urge people to back in the work. The National Australia Day Council has done there, supporting more than 550 different community organisations across the country to have Australians tell their unique, their different stories, the stories of our first Australians, the stories about different waves of migrants to recognise all of those different things that make Australia what we are today with our strengths, with our weaknesses, and to really look to the future with that confidence. And let’s do it in a positive way, not one that simply tears or divides us apart.

Jayne Azzopardi: I think it is problematic that we’re having this discussion. None of us have indigenous heritage ourselves. But Jim, where do you stand on this issue?

Jim Chalmers: Well, look, I think even for those of us Jayne who don’t support a change in the date, we should be up for a respectful conversation about it. I thought that there was a characteristically thoughtful piece written by my friend and my colleague Linda Burney in the nine papers today about how it obviously it matters when we mark this day, but it also matters how we mark it. And whether we have the capacity as a country to acknowledge the hurt, to understand and to have these respectful conversations. So now we’re not calling for the day to be changed that’s not our policy. But we do need to have the capacity to change how we can, how we mark the day and how we acknowledge the historical hurt which has happened.

Richard Wilkins: Gentlemen, good morning to you. It’s Richard here. We spoke with Professor Sanjaya Senanayake earlier about the importance of N95 masks. Simon, the United States is stockpiling them to give them away for free. We were slow off the mark with vaccines, and RATs. How are we doing with masks? We got them?

Simon Birmingham: Richard, we’ve supplied more than 100 million masks across Australia from the National Medical Stockpile during the pandemic to support aged care providers to support GP and health practices around the nation, and we continue to do that. There’s around two million N95 masks on their way up to different aged care providers right at present, and we continue to replenish that national medical stockpile to make sure it is able to deliver be it masks, be it gowns, be it face shields, the different things that are needed, particularly in those higher risk environments. So it’s been a crucial pillar there. But it is important to acknowledge that the health advisers to Australia state and federal government health advisers, Labor and Liberal have also been clear that in terms of the types of masks Australians use going about their everyday lives and the surgical mask that many people use, the double layered cloth mask that many people use are also highly beneficial, that they’re not advocating that everyone needs to be using an N95 mask. And we continue to follow that clear health advice and making them available in those high risk settings, but also urging Australians where they can to follow all of the other recommendations. Wear a mask, socially distance, practice hand hygiene, do all of the things that can keep you and your family as safe as possible.

Richard Wilkins: So we have enough, we’ve got it covered?

Simon Birmingham: We have a big national medical stockpile. As I said, we’ve deployed more than 100 million masks alone. Many other things in support of that, too, and that’s what we continue to do.

Richard Wilkins: Jim, finally are you a surgical or cloth mask kind of guy?

Jim Chalmers: Well, I use those paper masks for now. Occasionally, a cloth one. But I think clearly, you know, we should listen to the health advice on these N95 ones. We want people to be able to work safely. And if the advice evolves and changes, then we can’t see the same mistakes made with masks that we’ve seen the federal government make on the boosters and the testing and all of the rest of it. If it looks like the advice might change then let’s make sure that we’re ready for it. I think in aged care, there’s a lot of anxious, very vulnerable workers. Aged care is a mess right now. And so we need to make sure that they have the equipment, but more broadly too. And that’s before we even get to back to school. You know, a lot of parents, I’m in this situation myself, very anxious about the return to school. We need to make sure that the tests are available. We need to make sure that kids can actually access the vaccines. There’s been a lot of cancelled appointments, so I think we’re all across the board. What we’ve seen for some time now is the government ignoring a lot of these warnings. We can see where a lot of this advice is heading. In lots of cases. We want to make sure we’re ready for it right now. I think the main thing that a lot of Australian parents are worried about is the return to school, and we want to make sure there’s the supply of the vaccines that we’ve learnt from the mistakes that the government made in earlier months about this so that people can get back to school safely. People can work in aged care safely. They can do their jobs safely no matter where they are in Australia.

Richard Wilkins: All go when the schools open up, isn’t it? Gentlemen, thank you for your time today. We appreciate it.