ABC Weekend Breakfast – vaccine, Coalition climate change policy

Saturday, 19 June 2021

HOST: For more on the rollout and our issues of the week, let’s bring in our pollie panel. We’re joined by Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie and by Labor MP Amanda Rishworth. Thanks for coming on this morning. Amanda I might start with you, the Federal Health Minister said this week that this change in advice, it might actually see those AstraZeneca-hesitant people between 50 and 59 now end up getting vaccinated because they can access the Pfizer vaccine. Is that a good thing?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: (Inaudible) of course we’ve had a number of issues around confusion. I think also when it comes to supply, I’ve heard reports that people are being told you probably can’t get Pfizer for two or three months. So look, I hope that this provides more encouragement for people to get vaccinated. But I think what would really help is a proper public information campaign. Because with this change of advice, but also with previous reports, there’s a lot of confusion out there in the public about when it’s their turn, how to get it and why they should actually be committed to getting it. So I would like to see the government really put a big effort into a public education campaign that reassures the public, rather than people having to sort of scramble around for bits and pieces through the media, to actually have a consistent source of information. A public awareness campaign as well I think it would go a long way, especially in the situation where the advice is changing.

HOST: Bridget McKenzie, there is a lot of confusion as Amanda said, there’s a lot of uncertainty. I believe you’ve had your first dose of vaccine as well. Was that an AstraZeneca vaccine?

BRIDGET MCKENZIE, NATIONALS SENATOR FOR VICTORIA: (Inaudible) We know that blood-clotting issue is very, very rare. I think it’s one in 1.5 million cases –

HOST: Did you have any doubt at all, though? Did you sit down and as the needle approached your arm, did you, even for a split second, think “oh, this could be it”?

MCKENZIE: No, but I did have a serious conversation with my doctor at the time. I have a history of blood-clotting in my family through my maternal side of the family, so I had a very good conversation with him about the risks. He gave me all the information I needed and I think, at a time like this – I’m not a medical professional, Greg Hunt’s not a medical professional, the media aren’t medical professionals. We need to take medical advice and my GP absolutely reassured me how safe it was and it’s incredibly low risk. So I happily got my AstraZeneca and I encourage everyone to get the same. It’s not that you have to get Pfizer in my age group. You have a choice and the advice is obviously everyone over 60 is having AstraZeneca. So I’m looking forward to having my second shot in a few months time and I think it is incumbent on all of us to get serious about getting vaccinated in the national interest if we want to actually get back to a normal way of life, because outbreaks will keep happening.

HOST: Bridget, that is the message from health authorities regarding the vaccination, but as Amanda was saying, what we need is to get that message out there, to put people at ease about the safety of vaccination. Where is the government campaign on that?

MCKENZIE: Well, I think you see the Health Minister out as often as possible. I think the Government is doing its very best to get information out as quickly as possible, as soon as ATAGI is making those decisions as the clinical specialists, that information is being distributed. We have to make sure that it’s also in language for those communities in particularly capital cities where English is not their first language. And we’ve been working with State Governments, so you’ll see State Governments take a rolling in the communication of COVID-19 – not just vaccinations, but also with restriction outcomes, etc. So communicating is incredibly important because we have to have confidence. We didn’t know anything about this virus 18 months ago and we’re learning all the time, as is the world, so we just need to roll with the punches and follow the medical advice.

HOST: You know, Amanda, you talk about this need for a public campaign. Some older Australians have contacted us to say that we feel like we’re being guinea pigs and we’re being shunted from one vaccine to another. How do you assure older Australians, particularly older Australians 60 and above, who now have the AstraZeneca that’s been earmarked for them?

RISHWORTH: Well certainly I’ve been approached by people as well and I can just rely on the medical advice, as Bridget said, I’m not a health professional. But what we do know is that the risk is low for AstraZeneca, and the risk of having serious complications if you do get COVID-19 over the age of 60 is high. It’s particularly one of those diseases that can be very deadly for older Australians, so I would like to see a reassurance there for older Australians. But also I think a community message as well for younger Australians that they need to get vaccinated because it’s about protecting the whole community. So I think there’s a number of messages – the reassurance has to be there for older Australians about that risk and about the risk of catching COVID, but also about we all need to do this for one another. That’s been something we’ve worked really hard as a community to do during COVID, looking after each other during these lockdowns. The next step, I think, really, has to be about us doing this as a community. I feel that is a really important public message to get out, as well as the reassurance and tackling confusion as well.

HOST: We want to move on to another issue. Now, the Prime Minister has wrapped up talks at the G7 summit. While Australia has not committed to that target of net zero emissions by 2050 like other nations at the G7, the Prime Minister has said a number of things that indicate a bit of a change in direction for the government. He said “it’s very clear that we are moving towards net zero carbon emissions”. He also said “a new energy economy is coming. It’s a reality.” This week, Bridget, your Nationals colleague Keith Pitt spoke to ABC Radio and said moving towards that target is something that needs to be run by the Nationals as Coalition partners, that hasn’t happened and it needs to. Are the Nationals and Liberals on the same page or on different pages when it comes to emissions reduction?

MCKENZIE: Well, I can only speak on behalf of the National Party. We’ve been very, very clear as our community and our country has been having a discussion around moving to a lower-emission economy and dealing with climate change, and we’ve been unequivocal that we don’t think that regional and rural Australia, our miners, our manufacturers our farmers, should be paying the price to chase this target. And we want to understand how the Government is planning to take us on that journey and right now, they have not been able to tell us. And we want to have an assurance that it won’t be our people that pay the price. Because typically, whether it’s selling Telstra, whether it’s a raft of different policy issues, it is our people that end up paying the cost. And we’ve been sent to Canberra to stand up for them, that’s what we’re doing.

HOST: Bridget, the signal that came out of the National Party this week was that the Nationals felt they weren’t being consulted on the climate change policies that the Government is going forward with. However, Energy Minister Angus Taylor is forming a Cabinet group to outline government spending and policies going forward as well, consisting of Liberal and National Ministers, but not backbenchers, such as yourself, Barnaby Joyce, Matt Canavan – three voices who have been very opposed against climate change policy. So are you feeling ignored here? Is that the situation?

MCKENZIE: I think there’s a bit of misrepresentation going on. My public comments are not about the truth or otherwise of climate change. It is actually who pays the price of making certain policy settings and that’s a very different and very careful distinction that you have to make. I think the Minister, the Cabinet Minister Keith Pitt, was very clear, he didn’t feel that the National Party had been consulted, nor thar the National Party had given approval to move toward a net-zero emission policy position when it comes to lowering emissions. That’s what he said to Fran on Thursday and that is the case. I look forward to the National Party, as the second party of government, being engaged, proactively, in these conversations because at the end of the day, it will be our people that pay the price. And we need to make sure that we’re setting up an international framework that benefits Australia. Where the people that are crying out for zero emissions around the world are large, rich industrialised countries like the UK, like the USA, like Europe, who all avail themselves of nuclear energy, which is a zero emission energy source – we don’t have that luxury. So it’s fine for them to dictate to us how we should get our electricity. The reality is while they’re competing against us, they’ve got a low-emission technology, a zero-emission technology. There’s a long way to go in this discussion.

HOST: Amanda, do you think regional and rural people being asked to pay the price of reducing our emissions?

RISHWORTH: Well, one thing I would agree with Bridget is the Government has no plan about how we are going to reduce our emissions. There is no plan about how we would even come close to reaching net zero by 2050. And there is deep division in the Coalition, not just between the National Party and the Liberal Party, but across the board. I think what we need to do is see a plan, because that is exactly what will dictate how we achieve net zero and, of course, ways that we can do that will actually create jobs. One of the issues that really has been stark is that, whether it’s Boris Johnson or Joe Biden, they see acting on climate change as a jobs bonanza. And my worry is not just about climate, my worry is about Australia being left behind economically, and that is in rural and regional Australia. If we don’t actually have a plan on how we’re going to get there and see investment flow into these new types of technologies, including of course hydrogen, which has huge opportunity.

MCKENZIE: (Inaudible) In about a decade, Amanda. Look Joe Biden and Boris Johnson aren’t talking about slaughtering half of their cattle herd, nor plunging their citizens into darkness, because they have access to a zero emissions energy source through nuclear, we don’t. So we will end up paying the price, and the Nationals are saying that it shouldn’t be the regions that do it.

HOST: We have run out of time. Great to have you on this morning. Thank you.


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