ABC Weekend Breakfast – vaccination targets, vaccinating young people, Afghanistan

Saturday, 21 August 2021

HOST: To talk us through the week’s developments, let’s now bring in our political panel. From Melbourne, Liberal MP Katie Allen, and in Adelaide, Labor MP Amanda Rishworth. Thank you to both of you for coming in to speak with us. Now, Katie, I want to start with you first. And I want to put to you something that Treasurer Josh Frydenberg had said earlier this week. He warned that if Australians wanted to live without lockdowns, they needed to accept people will die. I think Australians know that, whether they accept that or not is something that is questionable. I put to you some numbers – the UK, 75 per cent of adults there are vaccinated. Yesterday, they recorded 36,000 infections, 136 deaths. Is that the level of fatalities that the Government is comfortable with to live without lockdowns?

KATIE ALLEN, MEMBER FOR HIGGINS: Well, Australia is in a different situation from the rest of the world, because we locked down early our international borders earlier and we’ve been able to aggressively (inaudible) so we are in a different situation from the UK. But if you actually look at the numbers behind the Doherty modelling, they looked at 80 per cent of over 16 year-olds being vaccinated, and the case fatality rate is actually lower than what you have described. So I think that at the end of the day, we will have fatalities, there’s no doubt about that, as we do have for other respiratory infections. But the point of a vaccination program is to move this from being an incredibly deadly disease, with one in ten over 70-year-olds who get COVID dying, to being a nuisance disease with a fatality rate which is very, very low. So the point is to aggressively suppress the cases of death. And that’s a very big difference. We want to aggressively suppress so that people are not dying in large numbers from it, but that doesn’t mean we can eliminate the risk of death.

HOST: Amanda, do we need to look at that Doherty modelling again and factor in the case numbers that we’re seeing, particularly in New South Wales? Doesn’t the picture look different now?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: The Doherty modelling has suggested that we would have low cases, if not zero cases here in Australia. And so, I think we do need to carefully look at that 70 per cent vaccination rate that the Prime Minister keeps talking about, in the context of the environment where we’re actually having hundreds of cases. So I think we need to carefully look at this. I think we also need to carefully look at how we extend the vaccine to 12 to 15-year-olds. That group seems to be very vulnerable to catching the Delta variant. In fact, 30 per cent of cases in New South Wales are under the age of 19. And I think that parents in Australia, whatever that Doherty modelling is saying in terms of 70 per cent and we open up, people are going to be very concerned if it is exposing their children, who are not protected from the Delta variant.

HOST: Amanda, if I can stay with you. You mentioned the group of 12 to 15-year-olds and I think that that is a group that the authorities are now looking at to see whether they can get vaccinated soon. But children are becoming the vectors of this particular disease, and there’s quite a few child care centres that have been closed down because of the risk to children and the risk to staff there as well. We know that vaccinations have been mandated for workers in aged care centres, as well as other health sectors as well. We know that in New South Wales, child care workers would have to be vaccinated, but would you like to see that rolled out nationally?

RISHWORTH: Look, what we need to do is have the supply. What has been announced in New South Wales is that child care workers must be vaccinated by August 30. But for months, early educators and child care workers have been asked to be made a priority. They’ve actually said please make us a priority. And the Government hasn’t done that. So it is a bit of a vexed issue. You can mandate something for workers in vulnerable areas, but if they can’t get a vaccine, there’s just no point. So you can’t say this group needs to get vaccinated, if they actually can’t go in and get the jab.

HOST: Katie Allen, the Prime Minister said this week that he expects States and Territories to follow through on what they have committed to, and that’s in regards to that Doherty modelling when we reach 70 per cent or 80 per cent of the population, moving through the phases to exit lockdown. But with that modelling, it includes 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the eligible population, so the adult population. Isn’t that a problem when we are seeing the number of cases in children that we are?

ALLEN: So the first thing to say is that it includes 16 years and above. And there is no vaccine currently available for the under 12s. So we are talking this morning about whether we extend it to the 12 to 16-year-olds. The modelling is done on eligible 16 year olds and above. I believe that the 12 to 16-year-olds, it will be important to include them at some point. But the important thing for parents to hear is that COVID is really, really dangerous in the older population. It is becoming more infectious, or seems to be more infectious, in the younger population, but it doesn’t appear to be getting as dangerous as it is for the older population. So the important thing is that the older population is the one at risk. The younger population appears to be transmitting it. Now, all through Alpha, the 20 to 30-year-olds were by far and away the biggest transmitters of this virus, very much far and away. So that hasn’t changed. They continue to be transmitters. But as the older population is getting vaccinated in its millions, which is a great news story for Australia, people are putting their arm forward, they understand that AstraZeneca and Pfizer are both excellent vaccines, they’re putting their arm forward. And we’re getting the older population vaccinated and seeing more of the younger population now having evidence of the virus. So what I would like to see is that as we transition forward, we will see a change in the way that we’re dealing with these restrictions. But people are so tired of restrictions, they’re so frustrated. And particularly VCE parents at the moment, as they look to their kids in the next ten weeks facing exams. I’d like to see 16-year-olds, 17-year-olds, 18-year-olds, prioritised in Victoria as they have been already in New South Wales, and the staff teaching VCE, so that these kids who have been working so hard, they’ve had two periods of lockdown in Victoria and the lockdown we’ve had in Victoria we’ve had 200 days of lockdown. These kids want to finish their year and make sure that they do it in a COVID-safe way. So I’d like to see the teachers and the 16 to 18-year-olds in Victoria prioritised for vaccination, so that they can do the VCE exams in ten weeks. And I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has now made available vaccination for 16 to 39-year-olds as from the end of August. So that’s a couple of weeks away, or less than ten days away. Please book in. We know that arrangements will be made available next week so, that needs to happen. And I encourage to prioritise those populations, because people want to send their kids back to school.

HOST: We’re having some problems with your communications, but we want to try to press on and actually, we want to move on to another story that’s really making the headlines this week. And that is, of course, Afghanistan, or the collapse of Afghanistan to the Taliban regime. Amanda Rishworth, you know, the Prime Minister has come out to say that Australia will take on 3,000 Afghan refugees. He has said that this is a number that is a floor, and that this number could certainly be raised in weeks to come. I want to quote you something that Michelle Grattan from The Conversation wrote, “In this Afghanistan moment, we show the world what sort of country we are. We should display a more generous character.” How much do you think, or how many more Afghans do you think we should be able, or Australia would be able to accommodate?

RISHWORTH: Firstly, I would say I’m not sure what the Prime Minister based that 3,000 figure on. If there’s a reason, then it would be good to know. I am not an expert, but I would suggest that there is more need and we do have the capacity to take more. And that’s because even last year our refugee intake of around 13,000, it was not even fully taken up last year. Obviously with COVID, we didn’t have that full intake. So within our current program, we certainly have capacity to take more of these Afghan refugees. I mean, when we look at particularly those that helped us during this war, I’ve heard from veterans for many years now, their desperate attempts to get their interpreters over to Australia with their families. So obviously, those that played a role in our mission over there need to be looked at carefully, those with family here in Australia and of course, those that have the risk of being persecuted. We have an intake that wasn’t fully used last year, we have another 13,000 this year. It is incumbent on the government to explain how they came up with that figure, and what sort of detailed analytic work they are doing. 3,000 just seems not enough to me.

HOST: Katie Allen, the Prime Minister stressed that Afghans in Australia on Temporary Protection Visas who came by boat will not given permanent residence here. Doesn’t that leave people in a life-long limbo, given that under the current circumstances it is unlikely they will be able to safely return to Afghanistan?

ALLEN: Well, at this point in time, Afghanistan is in a really difficult, difficult situation, but no one knows where we are going with Afghanistan. The last few days have completely shocked the world. We are looking to see what sort of government will be formed, and what sort of regime will be being dealt with. Now in the last 20 years, there has been a lot of changes in Afghanistan and there has been a lot of progress, so let’s hope that that progress doesn’t get rolled back. But we are yet to see, and the world is watching very carefully. And Australians, I think, care very deeply about what is happening in Afghanistan, and we want to make sure that those people there are safe, and those who need to come here are given safe passage. The Government is working very hard to make sure that that does happen. Already there have been hundreds brought to Australia since the embassy was closed in May. I personally have been working with both Minister Hawke and Minister Payne to make sure that we can bring those here. Particularly when both countries are in the middle of a COVID pandemic and a COVID crisis, so we need to do this in a very careful way. Our hearts go out to those in Afghanistan. It is a very difficult period for them at this point in time and we need to make sure we are careful and deliberate going forward.

HOST: Katie Allen and Amanda Rishworth, we really appreciate you joining us this morning.


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