By Tanya Plibersek

25 August 2021




SUBJECTS: Doherty Institute modelling; Vaccine rollout; Lockdowns; Labor’s national COVID recovery plan for schools.

JIM WILSON, HOST: Well finally, there's a clear roadmap out of this COVID crisis. Once we hit the Doherty Institute's 70 and 80 per cent thresholds, it is time to open up and get on with life. Now, Scott Morrison has backed it in and used it to draw an electoral line in the sand. So, will Labor 100 per cent jump on board, or are they set to fight the PM on the state of our future? Tanya Plibersek is the Member for Sydney and senior member of federal Labor. She joins me live on the line. Hi Tanya. 


WILSON: I’m good thank you. Now, when we hit the 70 and 80 per cent vaccination rates is it time, Tanya, to end the lockdowns and get on with life? 

PLIBERSEK: Everybody's keen to end the lockdowns. No one more so than me with three kids learning from home, trying to do my job as well, talking every day with businesses in my local community, doing the right thing, running a family businesses for 20, 30 years, and now they're facing absolute destruction. It's in all our interests to end the lockdowns as soon as we can, and that's going to depend on people getting vaccinated. And it also depends, to be honest with you, on having a properly working quarantine system here in Australia. We can't keep having outbreaks of new variants from hotel quarantine. We need to get vaccination and quarantine right. Then yes please, bring it on. We all want to get back out and see our friends and family members, and get kids back to school and parents back to work. 

WILSON: Why is Anthony Albanese being so slow Tanya on this front? Last night he didn't like the Doherty thresholds, today lo and behold he's listened to people like yourself.

PLIBERSEK: No, no. I think you're being unfair, Jim. 

WILSON: Well he hasn't backed it in, has he? He hasn't backed it in.

PLIBERSEK: He has, he has clearly said he supports the national plan. But you've got a Prime Minister saying; 'it's all simple. You've got one number and that's fine then'. If you're Queensland and you had zero cases overnight and you're looking down at New South Wales with more than 900 cases overnight, you'd be saying; 'okay, I reserve the right to look after my people'. It's not a simple formula here. Everyone wants us to open up as soon as it's safe to do so. We're all going a bit stir crazy at least, and at worst people are worrying about how they're going to keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table. 

WILSON: Are you saying that Anthony Albanese has been all for the Doherty Institute's vaccine threshold? 

PLIBERSEK: I think he's been really clear that he wants, we all want, Australia opened up as soon as it's safe to do so, and there's steps we can take to make that come sooner. We need more people vaccinated, we need proper quarantine systems, we need to be making the Pfizer-style vaccines, the mRNA vaccines here in Australia. We need to make sure that people have the confidence to get vaccinated. So we need good public health information available to people. There's a bunch of stuff that we have been calling on the Government to do which would make it possible for us to open up sooner - which is what everyone wants.

WILSON: But I would be fair to say that the language I've been hearing from Albo hasn't been clear as far as him backing in the Doherty Institute. I think Bill Shorten and yourself, and Joel Fitzgibbon, you've read the room and you know that this is the secret to getting out of lockdowns, to ending lockdowns moving forward, is by getting that vaccination rate up to 70-80 per cent, that's the Doherty Institute, that's science speaking. 

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, and nobody's been clearer than Anthony that we should be getting vaccinated - and that means making sure that people having confidence that there'll be a vaccine for them if they make an appointment, being able to make an appointment, answering the questions about what's happening with the kids who are 16 and over, then what happens next for the next group of kids 12-15. If we're getting kids back to school, should they be vaccinated? When will it be safe to do so? Will there be an appointment available for them if they want to get vaccinated? There's a lot of work to be done. We're on board to do that work because all of us want Australia open again. 

WILSON: Just on your colleagues at a state level: Labor Premiers Mark McGowan and Annastacia Palaszczuk. You just mentioned WA and Queensland, they're living in virtually a COVID-free cave, which is great. But even you'd have to agree, you're from Sydney - a lot of this city's in lockdown, we've got 900-odd cases today - it's just not realistic to think that we're going to get to zero cases and reopen for business. It's not going to happen. 

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I think most people understand that there's going to be some COVID in the community for the foreseeable future, and we might be facing different variants as well. Just as we thought we understood COVID, along comes the Delta variant which is more transmissible. There might be another change like that down the track. We all understand that we might be living with this. Some countries are giving their third jab of the vaccine to people because they've worked out that with new variants the efficacy of the first two wears thin after a while. We're going to be making these decisions for months and even years into the future. 

WILSON: I feel like there's hope, and I think there's light at the end of the tunnel, rather than focusing on case numbers. I'm not sugarcoating it Tanya, but I think certainly that number of 70-80 per cent, ending lockdowns, not shutting borders at the blink of an eye, it's the way forward. 

PLIBERSEK: I think everybody needs some hope. That's for sure, but you've got to do what's safe for people. In NSW, if we had locked down - if we had a shorter, sharper lockdown when those cases emerged in Bondi, we probably wouldn't be talking about the 900 case numbers we've got at the moment. If we had got vaccination right and quarantine right, if Scott Morrison had got vaccines and quarantine right in the first place, we wouldn't be talking about the lockdown we're having today. We've got to all work together to open up. It's not a simple task, we've all got to play our role. That means those of us who haven't had the jab yet - go and get it. 

WILSON: You're also the Shadow Minister for Education, I just want to ask you this before you have to go. You just mentioned your kids in homeschooling, it's been terribly hard for schoolkids during this lockdown with online schooling and all the rest of it. You've made some suggestions to Education Minister Alan Tudge, what exactly are you proposing?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think kids need more help catching up. It's true especially for those youngest kids. We know that if kids miss out on those building blocks - the basics - by the time they're about eight, it gets much harder after that. So those kinder kids, Years 1 and 2. NSW and Victoria have both done a bit of tutoring, the Federal Government put $25 million aside last year to help kids catch up - they've only spent $1 million of that. Let's help those kids catch up. For the older kids, the Year 12 kids, they had a stuffed up year this year and last year. Let's tell them that there'll be a place for them at uni or TAFE. The Federal Government needs to say to those kids 'we know that your final exams are stressful. Maybe they'll be cancelled. Just keep going, there'll be a place for you. We'll help you find a job, find a place at TAFE, find a place at uni. Don't stress too much'. And we really need to look at supporting kids, they're not just missing out on schooling, right? It's the birthday parties, it's kicking the ball around at lunchtime with their mates, it's the school formal, it's the school camp, it's all the stuff that goes with school that helps them get through life at a tough time like this. We need to look after them.

WILSON: I spoke to a mate before coming on air today. He said it feels like this is the last week of term, and yet he said; 'we've got another three and a bit weeks, then we've got holidays in lockdown'. Yeah it's pretty bleak, isn't it?

PLIBERSEK: It's really tough on them. Some kids are doing all right, but there are kids who are really struggling because they miss their friends, and they miss their teacher, and there's kids who don't have a computer at home - you've got two or three kids fighting over Mum's phone because it's the only internet connection in the house, and they're trying to do their work online, they don't have a computer, they don't have internet connection. It's tough, it's really tough on those kids. For those ones in particular, I'm saying to the government: please help, please help.

WILSON: I totally agree with you. Certainly with kids right now with homeschooling, it's very, very difficult and the challenges around doing the HSC as well. Always good to chat Tanya, thank you for your time this afternoon.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks Jim.