By Tanya Plibersek

29 June 2021




SUBJECTS: Lockdown; The Liberals’ failed vaccine rollout, Aged Care workers.


TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: Good morning to you Jim. (Laughs) Good morning? Jim how are you?

WILSON: It's got to be morning somewhere in the world, it's fine. 

PLIBERSEK: I'm so with it today aren't I? 

WILSON: Everything's a blur at the moment. It's all fine. Okay, so four states in lockdown, or regions of four states in lockdown. I mean almost half the population of Australia. It's pretty telling isn't it, what's unfolding?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah look millions of people are in lockdown at the moment and I think, you know, it's been going on for a long time. We've had 18 months now to learn how to deal with COVID-19. And I think people were very, very patient at the beginning, but people are just feeling like, ‘oh no, not again’. And the simple fact is until we get our vaccination rates up and until we fix quarantine, we're going to keep being faced with this problem. We've now had 26 breakouts of COVID-19 from hotels because they're not made to be medical facilities. They're made to house tourists and until we get a purpose-built federally-run, quarantine facility that will continue to be a problem. And I mean, it's embarrassing that Australia is so far down the league of countries when it comes to vaccination of our population. We're just over four per cent fully vaccinated. We've got countries like Israel at 60 per cent, about half the UK fully vaccinated. It's just not good enough. Australians have sacrificed a lot. Like you said lost their jobs, businesses closing, plans like holidays in complete chaos. Of course, it's just not good enough.

WILSON: You're the member for Sydney. I mean your whole electorate is in lockdown right now. You mentioned people out of work - businesses closing down left, right and centre. I mean, people are struggling. 

PLIBERSEK: They really are and I really see it. The last few weeks driving around my electorate or going on my exercise walk, I'm walking past cafes or restaurants that were thriving businesses a year and a half ago, just empty now, for lease signs up. And I think the economic impact of this, as well as that the social impact this has on people, is really hitting home with this newest lockdown. And I'm not arguing against it, I think we absolutely have to follow the medical advice that we're given. But if we had more people vaccinated, if we had proper purpose-built quarantine facilities, then I don't know that we would have this same 12 million people under lockdown that we're facing at the moment.

WILSON: I mean I've said many of times on the program about the fact that the rate and the slow rollout of the vaccine has been has been a fail. But in fairness getting supplies, in particular the Pfizer vaccine, has been very, very difficult and challenging - considering that other parts of the world have been worse off than us in trying to contain the virus.

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, and we should have the ability to make the Pfizer type of vaccine here, the MRNA vaccines here in Australia. We've got amazing scientists here in Australia. We've got pharmaceutical companies that already manufacture different types of medicines here and medical devices. It is inexplicable that we're not setting ourselves up to manufacture these types of vaccines and also, more particularly, a year ago we should have had deals with multiple companies, not one company. We shouldn’t rely on Pfizer to meet this need, we should have had half a dozen deals with different companies and that's part of the problem. We did warn the federal government at the time that we should have more irons in the fire. Not just one or two. 

WILSON: That news last night though out of National Cabinet is welcome. The fact that now all adults will have access to the vaccine and in particular 20-39 year olds - which I think should have happened a long time ago as far as they're out in the community, they're the super spreaders. So it's good, hopefully we'll get more jabs in more arms and people will take up this this opportunity of getting these vaccinations.

PLIBERSEK: I hope so. I know I've had my first AstraZeneca shot. I will definitely have my second in a few weeks' time. I really can't say strongly enough how happy I was to get the vaccine, and my doctor did discuss the risks with me. He told me what to look for in case I had any side effects. But for myself, I knew how infinitesimally small the risk is compared to the risk of actually getting sick from the virus. 

The point is that people will have to make up their own minds after discussions with their doctors. But for me, it was a no-brainer. I know for certain we can't get the economy open, we can't be getting life back to normal until more Australians are vaccinated. That means manufacturing mRNA style vaccines here, it means getting the roll-out more effective, it means a decent advertising campaign, and hotel quarantine as well - we need to get that right. 

WILSON: What have you made of the advertising campaign? 

PLIBERSEK: Virtually non-existent. I just think for a Government that has spent so much on advertising, it's gobsmacking that the one that really counts - really counts - has left almost impression on me at all. 

WILSON: Aged care facilities. The fact that all workers in aged care facilities on the frontline dealing with our elderly, our vulnerable. It's now mandatory to have a jab, they've set a September deadline. I think that's a step in the right direction. What's your take on it? 

PLIBERSEK: I think most people in Aged Care would have happily had the vaccine if it had been offered to them earlier on. People want to get vaccinated. The states want to help with the rollout. We've only got one in six Aged Care workers completely vaccinated at the moment and I think there'd be many, many more who would love to be fully vaccinated. With this - you know the vaccination people were turning up at a nursing home and vaccinating the residents, but saying to the staff ‘well you're on your own, you're going to have to walk down to the GP and see if you can get an appointment down at your local GP’. We were promised pop-up clinics to vaccinate. They were supposed to all be operating by the end of May. There's only three and they're all in Sydney. People, I mean, without even making it mandatory, we could have made it much easier for Aged Care workers to get these vaccines in their arms much before now. But look, I've got a mother-in-law who's in residential care, I would be very worried if there was someone working with her that wasn't prepared to take the vaccine when it was offered. 

WILSON: And yet we're getting a lot of feedback on the text line from our listeners this afternoon who say well if they make this make us do it, which they are and there's a deadline of September, then they'll walk away from the job. It's not just a one-off, this seems to be like it seems to be a groundswell of people who work in Aged Care facilities on the front line, who just don't want to get the jab. 

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, and look, no one's going to hold you down and stick a needle in your arm. But if you are working with vulnerable people with compromised health, I think it's important to do what you can to protect them from the virus. 

WILSON: So what do you do with the Aged Care facility workers that refused to have the jab?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think we should start with making it possible for those who want to have the jab to have the jab instead of making them jump all these hurdles to actually get vaccinated when they want to. But I wouldn't really think twice about getting vaccinated if you work with really vulnerable older people. We know that this virus is a killer particularly for older people.

WILSON: Tanya, as always, thanks for your time this afternoon.

PLIBERSEK: Always great to talk to you. Thank you.