ABC Weekend Breakfast – lockdowns, vaccines, climate summit

Saturday, 24 April 2021

HOST: Let’s bring in our pollie panel now. We are joined in the studio by Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman, and also joined by Amanda Rishworth, the Shadow Minister for Early Education and Youth. We’ve got this three day lockdown, all very familiar, in Perth. There has been frustration in the past, Trent, between the Federal Government and the States on lockdowns and travel and border restrictions. Does the Federal Government support this move in Perth?

 

TRENT ZIMMERMAN, LIBERAL MP FOR NORTH SYDNEY: I think it is based on advice that the Western Australian Government has and as we’ve seen in Queensland, these short, sharp lockdowns – Queensland did a three day lockdown as well – can be really important in allowing health authorities to make sure they have the contact tracing right, that they can catch up with the movements of someone who could be a spreader, and thankfully in the cases so far we’ve seen it hasn’t been necessary to extend them for very long. Obviously the timing is awful and I really feel for our veterans who won’t be able to mark Anzac Day in the way that they were hoping to, after last year not being able to. But it’s important that Governments follow the health advice and let’s hope it is just the three days.

 

HOST: Amanda, many experts are now starting to ask the fact that why is hotel quarantine, why is that system still in place? It was meant to just be a temporary measure anyway. What do you think is the alternative?

 

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: I think there is some concerns that the Federal Government hasn’t taken up some of the recommendations of the Halton review. We know that hotel quarantine is really important to ensure we can get our citizens home, but there have been some important recommendations – these are probably not really very sustainable in hotels that were built for tourists, that purpose-built facilities are critically important, with national quality for ventilation, national guidelines for PPE. These are some of the critical recommendations that were made some nine months ago, and it seems to have taken a bit of a backburner. So I really think that we need to ensure that hotel quarantine is up to scratch. Because, quite frankly, with the slow vaccine rollout, we are going to need this hotel quarantine, or some sort of quarantining system, for many months to come.

 

HOST: We’ve had the hotel quarantine system for quite some time now and we keep seeing these issues come up again and again, and some people are even calling for an end to the hotel quarantine system and an emphasis more on the purpose-built facilities. Is that something you might like to see?

 

ZIMMERMAN: I think it’s important that we put it in context. We’ve had half a million Australians return over the last 12 months and, yes, there have been problems with the hotel quarantine system, but compared to some of the global problems we’re seeing, they have been quite small considering the scale and the numbers of people coming through hotel quarantine. I think what is important every time there has been an issue, the States that are managing hotel quarantine have learned and has been able to respond to that. The point that Amanda made, the Commonwealth has stood up for some time now the special purpose quarantine facility in the Northern Territory and that is being expanded from about 850 a fortnight to 2,000. But Australians are still wanting to come back. It is hard to see how you could provide a quarantine system for those tens of thousands of people using other facilities, without using hotel quarantine. So, yes, we have that facility in the Northern Territory, but the hotel quarantine system is still vital to our efforts to be able to allow people to come home. I think overall it has actually worked exceptionally well and it means we have got quarantine happening where the health system is, where the health workers and the police forces are. That we could basically put this problem into regional Australia, we are talking about again I emphasise thousands of people each week wanting to come home, and I query whether firstly it is fair that we put that risk in a part of Australia where there are vulnerable communities and where we have kept COVID out. But secondly, I don’t think those regional centres had access to the health forces, the police forces and so on that are really the backbone of supporting hotel quarantine.

 

HOST: Trent, on the issue of Australians wanting to come home, the Government is now putting a cap on arrivals from India. Is that fair to Australians stuck in India and have been waiting for a long time on a long list to come home?

 

ZIMMERMAN: It is very hard and I feel for all the Australians stuck overseas over the last 12 months, and we have been getting large numbers back. Personally in my own electorate I have helped and been in contact with many Australians over the past 12 months who have sometimes found themselves in quite dire situations. Two things, our international border arrangements have been the most important measure to keep Australia safe and avoid the problems that the rest of the world has experienced. Secondly, if you look at a case like India, which unfortunately it is just horrendous what they are experiencing at the moment, we are not stopping returns from India, they are being reduced by 30 per cent. That just relieves the load that our quarantine system faces. Yes, it will be a really tough time for some people to get back. The key message is to make sure you are registered with DFAT and if you are thinking about travelling to India, please reconsider. It’s obviously not a good time to be going.

 

HOST: Amanda, this obviously highlights the importance of the vaccine rollout even though compared to other countries the risk is quite low, it’s still very important. This week we saw national cabinet agree to fasttrack the COVID-19 vaccine for those over 50, did you welcome that?

 

RISHWORTH: Getting our community vaccinated is our ticket out of here. Unfortunately though, I am concerned that despite this announcement, we still have many people in the 1A and 1B part of the rollout that should have vaccinated, not vaccinated. We have two-thirds of aged care residents, the most vulnerable people, the ones who took the brunt of COVID during the time when we had spread in the community, not being vaccinated. Almost all of those with a disability in residential care not having received the vaccine. So, while I welcome the vaccine being made available to more people, what I’m concerned about is the implementation. Why are we lagging so far behind our own targets, around the rest of the world? We had the change in medical advice to move to the AstraZeneca for over 50s and Pfizer for under 50s, but our country was not prepared for that. When you look at other countries where they changed the medical advice, such as the UK, there has not been a reset in their vaccination program because they had other vaccines in their warchest. While I welcome that announcement, we need much more than announcements. We need to starting seeing our medical professionals getting vaccinated, our aged care residents, our disability care residents, our most vulnerable. We’re already behind so we need to get on with the job because this is our ticket out of here. This is the ticket to stopping lockdowns, to allowing residents to come back from overseas, and we are failing when it comes to this rollout.

 

HOST: What do you think is the major challenge here in trying to speed up the vaccine rollout? Why has it been so slow?

 

ZIMMERMAN: Supply fundamentally and that’s been compounded by the changed health advice. And we obviously are seeing a ramp up of the AstraZeneca vaccine through our domestic facilities and to be frank, Australia is in a far better position than many other countries, because we are one of about 20 in the world that can make the vaccine here domestically. We’re seeing pressures in other countries. I was hearing this week where Canada has got another wave of the pandemic and it can’t get access to some of  its contracted supply from the United States. India, a big exporter of vaccines and that’s stopped because of their own problems. It is a global crunch fighting for vaccines, we are in a better position because we are making them locally. In the early stages not getting those three million doses which was to really kickstart the whole program had an impact, but the changed health advice has had an impact as well and that has produced a little bit of hesitancy, I think unnecessarily so. I’m revealing my age just on the other side of 50 and I won’t be hesitating to get the vaccine when I can. I trust the health advice that we’re getting here that it is safe to use and exceptionally rare for there to be any problems.

 

HOST: We want to touch on this virtual climate summit that the US has been leading over the past few days. During this the US, Britain, Japan and Canada all have announced new emissions targets, Australia has not. If our allies, these major players deem it important to announce targets and significant to announce targets in making progress, why isn’t Australia also doing that? Are we missing the boat here?

 

ZIMMERMAN: I think it is fantastic that the US is providing the leadership that it is now and I congratulate President Biden on convening this summit. The main game when the UN will be bringing nations together is the meeting in Glasgow later this year. The government’s made it very clear that firstly we’re preparing a low emissions strategy that will be released in the lead up to that. That’s the point where we will be talking more about our targets. But the important thing is that the PM has made very clear that our goal is to reach net zero by 2050 and that’s something I have been supportive of. I would like to see that as a firm target that we adopt. And then I think you have got to start working back from that. What do you need to do in each sector of emissions to reduce our impact? I think we’re seeing good progress in electricity and energy. I saw some figures from ANU that we’re number two in the world in 2020 for the deployment of renewables for capita. There are other areas that we need to do a lot more work, like transport and I have been a big advocate for electric vehicles which I’m very keen on. So they’re the sorts of things I hope will be in the long term emissions plan that we take to Glasgow.

 

HOST: Amanda, your thoughts on where Australia is at the moment in terms of, you know, the climate change policies. Do we focus on the targets as other countries are, or should we be focusing on technology which is what the Prime Minister is doing?

 

RISHWORTH: The Prime Minister has said that “when” isn’t important, it is “how”. How and when are both important. If we don’t have a target and a date for that target, then how do we know how are we going to get there and what are we going to implement to get there? The Prime Minister has been kind of speaking out of both sides of his mouth. He doesn’t want to be embarrassed in international forums. At the same time, we know that he has really criticised Labor’s goal to get to net zero by 2050. He said on one hand “we might get there, but I don’t want to set that target.” I’m deeply concerned when you’ve got business, you’ve got farmers, you’ve got all the States and Territories with this goal, but the Prime Minister has yet to be able to step across that threshold. Of course technology is important, but also a national plan is important because that provides some certainty for investment. Certainty for investment, certainty for business, is critical. That’s what business is holding off for and if it keeps holding off we will be at the back of the queue. Ultimately this is a global race for jobs. I’m pleased to hear Trent talk about electric cars, I remember what the Coalition said at the last election when Labor talked about electric cars – we were going to “destroy the weekend”. These scare campaigns and political campaigns have to end. We have got to get on with the job and the Prime Minister has got to be straight with the Australian people and the business community, otherwise we will be falling behind when it comes to investment and jobs.

 

HOST: On that point we have to wrap up the segment, we thank both of you.

 

ENDS

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