Topics: Roadmap; vaccine rates; rapid antigen testing; Pfizer doses; Kristina Keneally;


07:10AM AEST


Allison Langdon: Well, the prime minister has described the New South Wales Premier’s roadmap out of lockdown as careful, safe and consistent, suggesting other states should follow suit. Let’s bring in Finance Minister Simon Birmingham in Adelaide and Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles in Geelong to discuss. Nice to see you both this morning. Hey, Simon. Health officials wanted to wait until vaccination levels hit 80-85 per cent, is 70 per cent risky?


Simon Birmingham: Morning. Well, it’s important to remember the plan New South Wales has outlined is a staged plan. It’s not a case of open slather, just at 70 per cent. It’s about taking cautious, careful steps on that journey from 70 per cent through 80 per cent and of course, wanting to see those vaccination rates continue. Now we’ve seen vaccination numbers across the country hit some 22 million doses administered and crucially, the most vulnerable age group, the over 70s, we’ve now got 90 per cent of them having had their first dose and those second dose numbers across the whole population at 40 per cent. So we are seeing real growth in the vaccinations and it’s important to have plans that can give people certainty and confidence, especially those upon whom people rely for their jobs and the opportunities that all Australians need.


Allison Langdon: Hey Richard, what are your thoughts on this one? Because I think, you know, people need hope. They want to see this roadmap out. But I mean, I’m not sure if I lived in regional New South Wales that I’d want Sydneysiders visiting just yet. Your thoughts?


Richard Marles: Well, I think people do want hope. I think this is a staged plan, and so the hope that’s provided is going to be welcome in New South Wales. As Tony Jones was saying earlier, I’m in regional Victoria today and we’ve just got a degree of freedom today, so I can completely understand the sense that people will have in New South Wales about being offered that. And I think one of the important points here with the National Plan and with the roadmap that’s been articulated in Sydney is to give a sense to businesses about what the future looks like and how that’s going to play out.


Allison Langdon: Do you think 70 per cent is risky?


Richard Marles: Well, I think it’s important that we are taking into account the medical advice, it’s important that this is consistent with the national plan. I think that is what’s happening here. It’s not a complete open slather and it is going to be required to be a staged approach. And even when we get to 80 per cent, what the Doherty report is saying is at that point, you know, it’s not carte blanche then either. There are going to be moments where restrictions are in place and tracing, testing, isolation and quarantine will still form a part of our lives even beyond 80 per cent. So we need to be moving carefully and safely. But it is important, I think, that people are given hope.


Allison Langdon: Okay, so what I’m hearing there is you’re on board with what Gladys Berejiklian is doing in New South Wales, Richard. That does put the pressure on Dan Andrews. We need to see that roadmap now, don’t we?


Richard Marles: Well, again, there are difficult judgements that all the states are having to make in circumstances. You know where we’ve had low vaccine rates up until now, and you know, it’s pleasing that we’re seeing more people being vaccinated. I think Daniel Andrews has done a good job of articulating what the path forward here is in Victoria. As I say, we’ve come out of a degree of lockdown this morning here in regional Victoria, which is great news for us here. But Daniel has been very clear in what’s needed around the state, including in Melbourne, to move down our own path of getting to a place of greater freedoms.


Allison Langdon: Hang on. So do you think the path out of lockdown in Melbourne is clear? Do you think there is a clear path out of lockdown for Melbourne?


Richard Marles: I think Daniel Andrews has been clear in the way in which he’s been articulating this from day one. And really, you know, you can go back to last year. Daniel Andrews has been a very clear source of information and direction through a very difficult period that Victorians have had to live through, and none of us want to spend an extra day in lockdown than we have to. Having said that, you know, this is happening for a reason. We need to be acting in a way which is safe. You know, the consequences of this disease running out there is actually a matter of life and death, and it’s really important that we get this right. And I actually think that Dan Andrews has done a good job of getting it right.


Allison Langdon: Hey, Simon, I mean, if we all want to open up and stay safe, why aren’t we introducing rapid antigen tests at home and at work like the rest of the world? Because I mean, my feeling is if it’s good enough for them, why is it not for us?


Simon Birmingham: Well indeed rapid antigen testing is likely to play a more important role in the future. In the past, the health authorities have really had a focus on making sure we use the more accurate PCR tests, and that was a key part of the suppression phase. But if we move out into the opening up phase, you can see now a number of businesses testing those new tests. You can see indeed that you’re looking at the Therapeutic Goods Administration who have approved around 20 different such tests looking at perhaps broadening the way they can be used so they could be used in home or other business scenarios and that’s important. It will be important for states to open up. And you know, I remember when Dan Andrews, a couple of months ago said that he wouldn’t be locking down the state to protect those who wouldn’t protect themselves well over the next month or two. As we do see, all Australians over the age of 12 have the opportunity to be vaccinated with the millions of extra doses coming in over the next couple of months, in addition to the 22 million doses delivered already. Well then, we do want to see a plan that can enable Victorians like those in New South Wales and ultimately across the whole country, know how we’re going to work through COVID in the next phase of a heavily vaccinated population.


Allison Langdon: Well Simon, Dan made the point yesterday about it would have been nice if Pfizer had been rolled out earlier. I mean, it was it was a tough day for Greg Hunt, the health minister. Why don’t you reckon he just he just stood up and said, Hey, you know what, with the benefit of hindsight, we should have moved on this faster, and then wouldn’t that have dealt with the issue?


Simon Birmingham: Because ultimately we got the Pfizer doses as early as Australia was frankly ever going to get them. Greg Hunt was clear on that. Pfizer has been clear on that. You look at countries like Japan or New Zealand in comparable situations to Australia. They were treated exactly the same way by Pfizer. But you know what else? We’ve delivered more than 10 million AstraZeneca doses across this country. We invested in the vaccine that we could make and manufacture here in Australia. None of us could foresee some of the challenges it would have, but it is still enabled us to get to around half of those doses that have been delivered to date. And, of course, we’d be 10 million doses behind if we hadn’t had that AZ capability as well. So I think if you look at Australia relative to the countries in our region who were in similar stages to us, we’ve actually all been treated pretty much the same by those drug companies.


Allison Langdon: Hey, Richard. I want to know what’s going on with Kristina Keneally, she’s parachuting in from Sydney’s northern beaches to a safe Labor seat in western Sydney. I mean, she’s taking it from a 30 year old local who’s a daughter of a Vietnamese refugees, a campaigner for migrant workers’ rights. What are you doing?


Richard Marles: Well, look, ultimately, these are matters for the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party, of course. But I think it’s fair-


Allison Langdon: Don’t flick past that one. Are you happy with her taking a safe Labor seat from a local?


Richard Marles:  I think it’s fantastic that Kristina Keneally is going to be an ongoing part of Labor’s team. I think it’s going to be great to see her in the House of Representatives. She has been a fantastic performer and she has been a really big part of our push to make sure that we get this incompetent government out of office. And so I’m looking forward to seeing Kristina-


Allison Langdon: Come on. She’s a blowin’. Northern beaches to western Sydney. That’s not going to sit well.


Richard Marles: Kristina Keneally is an absolutely first rate performer, and she is going-


Allison Langdon: Should Albo be nervous?


Richard Marles: – she has been making a huge contribution to Labor’s team and- Of course not, and she is going to make a fantastic contribution in the House of Representatives.


Allison Langdon: Okay, you just stick to the line there, Richard. Good on you. Hey, Simon, thank you too for stepping in for Peter Dutton this morning. I mean, I did text him, but he didn’t reply.


Simon Birmingham: Well, look, you know, in a previous job as trade minister, I couldn’t always get people to return my phone calls. But seriously, you know, perhaps it’s a lesson to all, but particularly the Queensland health minister to check before you sledge. You want to make sure you’ve got your facts right and your phone numbers.


Allison Langdon: Well, I know Richard, he would always return your texts, I’m sure. No doubt there. And good luck with the Cats this weekend. Got my fingers crossed for you guys.


Richard Marles: Go Cats! We’re very excited here.


Allison Langdon: All right. Good stuff, guys. Have a nice weekend.