ABC Capital Hill – access to COVID testing, Labor’s $300 vaccine incentive proposal, vaccine roadmap

Tuesday, 03 August 2021

MATTHEW DORAN, HOST: Joining me now is our Tuesday panel. Here in Canberra I am joined by Queensland Liberal MP Julian Simmonds, and from Adelaide Labor frontbencher Amanda Rishworth. Julian Simmons, I want to start with you, because your electorate is within the locked down region of Brisbane at the moment. I understand there have been some pretty significant delays when it comes to people getting access to coronavirus tests in that area. What can you tell us about what is happening on the ground?

JULIAN SIMMONDS, LIBERAL MEMBER FOR RYAN: That’s right, my electorate of Ryan is the epicentre of the latest outbreak in Queensland. The community there are doing a great job of responding to the message to get out and get tested, so we can get on top of this outbreak. But the way Queensland Health has been so slow to roll out testing centres has been an enormous frustration for my community. A lot of the cases have centred around young people in schools. So we are talking about families with kids sitting in their cars for three, four, up to seven hours in extreme cases, just to do the right thing and get a COVID test. Queensland Health has seen what has been happening in New South Wales, they surely knew this was a possibility. So the fact they have been so slow to roll out new testing facilities and extended hours has been a great frustration. I have been quite vocal about that, along with my community.

DORAN: Amanda Rishworth, it was not that long ago that South Australia, or Adelaide in particular, was in lockdown, dealing with a COVID outbreak as well. Were there similar concerns in your neck of the woods?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: There was, unfortunately. There were people in those first few days, and there were outbreaks in schools as well, where people were waiting 16 hours in cars trying to get a test. So it is a difficulty. I would hope that State Governments would really have a look at this, and make sure they are making testing available for people. Because they are doing the right thing. People are being urged to get tested, especially if they have been in an exposure site, usually on day one, day five, day 13. And so it is something we do need to respond to, and actually look at all the different ways we can ensure people can easily access a test, so they get rewarded for doing the right thing.

DORAN: When we’re talking about vaccination benchmarks or targets, this initial target of 70 per cent for vaccination before we start to see the easing of some of the restrictions, that we have unfortunately become all too accustomed to. Julian Simmons, do you think it is going to be relatively easy for us to get to that 70 per cent figure?

SIMMONDS: I don’t think easy would be the way to characterise it. I think it is going to take a concerted effort from all Australians, but I think they are up to the task, I think they are absolutely up to the challenge. The benchmark has been set based on the modelling, which has been released by the Prime Minister, so that Australians can know what it is based on. But at the rate of 1.2 million jabs going into arms every week, which is what we’re doing at the moment, Australians could do this. And it makes the offer from Labor for cash incentives even more insulting, because Australians do not need to be bribed to do the right things by their mates, and their community, and their loved ones. They want to make sure their community is protected, and they’re going out there and getting the vaccine now in significant numbers.

DORAN: It seems like you might be having a bet each way there, because on the one hand you say is not going to be necessarily easy and will take a concerted effort. Why shouldn’t there be some sort of incentive to get people over the line who might be reluctant?

SIMMONDS: Because I don’t want anyone to be complacent about this. Australians are frustrated by the lockdowns, they want to get past this, and the ticket out of it is that vaccination rate. So if you, particularly in my area in the Queensland outbreak, if you have not had your vaccine already, now is the time to be talking to your GP about getting the vaccine, including the AstraZeneca. I am 35, I had AstraZeneca after talking to my doctor, it is a good vaccine. We have seen some hesitancy come out of the comments from our Chief Health Officer recently, and I think everybody in Queensland in particular should be encouraged to go talk to their GP, because there is AstraZeneca available. They can get vaccinated with it right now, they need to make that decision in consultation with their GP.

DORAN: Amanda Rishworth, on the proposal from your leader Anthony Albanese, are we really at the stage of civil discourse in this country where you are having to throw money at people to get a vaccine? Do you think people are that narrowminded about what impact a vaccine has, not only on their own health, but on the broader community defence?

RISHWORTH: Firstly I would say that, at the moment, we need to look at every possible way that we can encourage people to have vaccines. And I would take umbrage as characterising it as some sort of bribe. This is about support for people. Families have been doing it incredibly tough, there has been a big impact on their lives. And are many people wanting to do the right thing, but at the moment supply hasn’t been forthcoming. But the Government has assured us that supply will be there by December, and so we need to be prepared. We need to be prepared to look at every way we can support and encourage people to do this. Some employers let you have time off work, others don’t. There is a whole range of circumstances out there that we need to predict and actually assess, and ensure that people are able to access the vaccine. That has been a problem, and with vaccine rates of the adult population still below 20 per cent, the whole sort of “it’s rosy, it’s going to be fine, we’re going to get there” is just not the right attitude. We are so far behind the rest of the world, we need to really be serious about this, and get this done. And we shouldn’t be just dismissing different ideas and suggestions that can help us get there.

DORAN: Do you think we bring in an incentive system now, or do we wait for something like a bit of plateauing of the vaccination rate? Seeing as it does seem to be ticking along fairly steadily at the moment, as that supply is coming into the system.

RISHWORTH: We have still got a really long way to go, but I think one of the problems this government has had during this pandemic, is they are constantly playing catch up. Whether it is JobKeeper, which was brought in belatedly, whether it is the waiving of child care gap fees, which I had to call on for weeks before the government took any action. We’re putting forward this proposal, because the government is too slow to act in many of these circumstances. So we are putting this forward, we would like the government to consider seriously, and it is a constructive suggestion. If they want to say “look this is the best time at this point or this point”, sure we will consider it. But at this point, we have seen really no urgency from this government. We need to see it, and we are putting forward a constructive suggestion, that could be one of many in the arsenal to support Australians get vaccinated.

DORAN: Julian Simmons, we have seen with regards to this new roadmap, to use that very much overused word, this new set of numbers about how we’re going to see restrictions ease over time as those vaccination rates continue to rise. Many of our viewers would have seen the Prime Minister brandishing flowcharts a number of times throughout this pandemic. Flowcharts and plans and roadmaps, whatever you want to call them, that are agreed to by the States and Territories, and then seem to disappear into the ether a couple of months down the track when circumstances change. What confidence should the Australian public have that this is actually going to be the path out?

SIMMONDS: Delta has changed the game, the Delta variant. I think Australians know that, the way transmissibility has increased to such a significant extent. But this roadmap that National Cabinet has put forward takes into account the Delta variant. So we’re certainly going to – all Premiers have signed up to this, we’re certainly going to hold them to account. If Australians do the right thing by their community, get vaccinated, reach those targets, we will be expecting the Premiers to honour those commitments that they have made in National Cabinet, start the easing of restrictions at 70 and 80 per cent. I know that is what my community will expect. We know that COVID-19 writes its own playbook, there will be other variants, which is why we have been upfront about the modelling, and the PM has released that today. But with what we know today, those vaccination targets should be sufficient to see significant easing of restrictions, and we will be holding the Premiers to account. And I know my community and the communitites around Australia will be doing the same.

DORAN: Julian Simmonds and Amanda Rishworth, we are quickly running out of time, we do have to release you back into the wild so you can go to Question Time, Julian physically, Amanda virtually. But we thank you both for joining us on Capital Hill today.


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