By Tanya Plibersek

30 June 2021




SUBJECTS: Covid outbreak; Vaccine roll out; Border restrictions.

BILL MCDONALD, HOST: Tanya Plibersek is the Shadow Minister for Education and Shadow Minister for Women. She joins me now. Hi Tanya. 


MCDONALD: Very well, thanks. Thanks for joining us. Before we get into a stack of the day's events and you've no doubt heard a lot of it. Last week, you told our listeners that your brother was stuck on the border of WA and the NT at Kununurra. He was from Sydney and Sydneysiders were locked out. Did he manage to get home? 

PLIBERSEK: Eventually. He was on the border for quite a while, he and his wife, with a bottle of water, nothing to eat. They had to wait several hours for a bus coming back the other way, and they made it for Katherine eventually. But, he's the first to say 'the rules are the rules', and he was happy to abide by them. They just changed at the last minute, you know. The morning he'd been told it would be fine to get across the border and it wasn't until they got there that they were told it wasn't. So, there you go. 

MCDONALD: What a shame he was only stuck with a bottle of water. Look, the Delta variant has all of our leaders concerned, the rhetoric has really changed since this strain came into play. Do you think the COVID ball game has changed as well? A lot of blame game happening up here today from the Palaszczuk Government. 

PLIBERSEK: I think it's certainly very difficult. It's a virile strain of the virus. It's very easy to transmit. There’s some suggestion that the death toll is not as great from this strain. I hope that is the case. At the end of the day, if more Australians were vaccinated, and if we got hotel quarantine right, if we actually had purpose-built quarantine facilities, I don't think we'd be having this discussion. The simple fact is amongst developed countries, we are absolutely at the bottom of the table when it comes to people being fully vaccinated. And that absolutely makes a difference. And we've had 26 outbreaks from hotel quarantine now. It shows that hotels built to house tourists aren’t the ideal place to have people who are sick with this virus if we want to keep it contained. I mean I feel really sorry for businesses at the moment. We've got 12 million people under lockdown across Australia. We know that businesses are going to close their doors and not reopen because of this. Families are separated. There’s all sorts of heartbreaking stories about people who can’t visit sick family members interstate – all the rest of it. It's a tough time. I do think if we’d got quarantine and vaccination right we would, you know, we wouldn't be having the scale of the problem that we've got again right now.

MCDONALD: I think a lot of people would agree with you. And this was a topic that came up today with international arrivals and the leaky border so to speak. Should people, do you think, be allowed to travel here at the moment that are not permanent residents or Australian citizens? 

PLIBERSEK: They’d have to have a bloody good reason wouldn't they? If we had purpose built quarantine facilities outside our capital cities, not tourist hotels – if we'd managed as a nation to get this right, we'd be having a different conversation now. For Australians who are stuck overseas who’ve been trying to get home for, in many cases, months,  and have spent tens of thousands of dollars sometimes on air tickets, I've got a great deal of sympathy for what they're facing. But I also get what the Premiers are saying. They're managing these outbreaks from hotel quarantine, because hotels aren't built to house sick people. There they're built to house tourists.

MCDONALD: Yeah, here in Queensland again, the Premier today, very unhappy about the sharing of information between the states and the federal Government over the vaccine data which you just touched on. Should this data be readily available for the state government? 

PLIBERSEK: I don't know why it's not available to any Australian. I mean, we need to give people information about how vaccination is going, how many doses we've got. I noticed that the Queensland Premier wrote to the federal government and asked for more of Pfizer vaccine, and they've been told they can't have it because the supplies aren’t there. We need to know that stuff. It is important for Australians to know where we stand. It's extraordinary that we put all our eggs in just these two baskets, the Pfizer and AstraZeneca. We see now that that was big mistake as a nation to rely on just two suppliers. So we need more supplies of vaccines, and we need more jabs in arms before we really can open up to anything like a more normal life again. 

MCDONALD: Before I let you go, the PM's letting under 40s have access to AstraZeneca. All the chief medical officers are counter to that. Is that poor health advice considering the data about clotting?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's really wrong of the Prime Minister to add to confusion rather than clearing up confusion where it exists. I think if there's contradictory medical advice like this, I would be talking to my GP. I wouldn't be listening to anything that any politician said off the top of their head in an interview at some stage, and I'm not going to give medical advice over the radio either. It is up to the Prime Minister to show some leadership, and to not add to confusion. And it looks like that's what he's done. 

MCDONALD: Great to talk to you today. Thanks for your time, Tanya Plibersek.