By Tanya Plibersek

20 April 2021



MONDAY, 19 APRIL 2021 

SUBJECTS: Vaccine rollout; Response to the [email protected] report; Climate change; 190th anniversary of the Sydney Morning Herald. 

RICHARD GLOVER, HOST: The Monday political forum, with us Tanya Plibersek, federal Labor Member for Sydney, Shadow Minister for Education and Women. She's joining us from down in Launceston, in Tasmania. Tanya, good afternoon. Hello … She's there, anyway, we'll come back to her in a second. Jason Falinski is federal Liberal Member for Mackellar and chair of the Standing Committee of Tax Revenue. He's here …

JASON FALINSKI, MEMBER FOR MACKELLAR: How is your tax return going Richard?

GLOVER: It’s been done, thank you. 

FALINSKI: It’s been done has it yeah?

GLOVER: And the Commissioner has no problem with me!

FALINSKI: Oh I don’t know, we’ll see. We’ll see. You haven’t tried to claim for that cream again have you? 

GLOVER: What about the shirt? This is for radio. 

FALINSKI: Yes, we do owe you some money for that shirt. 

GLOVER: Let's start off with the vaccine rollout. Lots of new questions about the rollout as both PM and Premier raised the idea of at some stage allowing vaccinated travellers to quarantine in their homes, once they returned to Australia, while national cabinet endorses a greater reliance on the states to deliver the program – and there's a feasibility study announced into building a capacity to manufacture things such as the Pfizer vaccine within this country. Is it inevitable we've needed to make these late changes to the system, or could some of these twists and turns have been avoided, Tanya Plibersek?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Well, I'd certainly like to see more medicines and more medical devices made right here in Australia. We've got the know-how. We've got a first-rate scientific and medical community able to support the investigation and the production of both vaccines other medicines and medical devices. On the broader issue of the vaccine roll out, hasn’t it been a mess? I mean, it's just been a mess from start to finish and the things that the federal government have been responsible for during the COVID period – so aged care, that shocking number of deaths in aged care; the useless COVID tracing app; the Australians who are stuck overseas, who were supposed to be home by Christmas and are still waiting to get here, and now the vaccine roll out – it seems like everything the federal government touches turns to disaster. Thank goodness the states are getting involved, you know, Liberal or Labor, I think all of the states have been doing frankly a much better job managing this in the federal government. 

GLOVER: I agree about the pain of those overseas, but those closed borders had a pretty big silver lining haven't they? They've saved us all.

PLIBERSEK: Oh absolutely. I'm not for a minute suggesting we should just throw the borders open. But we've been talking for, it must be close to a year now, about federal quarantine facilities. Jane Halton a former senior federal bureaucrat has pointed out that the Commonwealth government could have been offering Commonwealth supported quarantine facilities, including in remote locations. What's the federal government done? Nothing to take up any of Jane Halton’s suggestions about how we could get more Australians home safely sooner. And of course that’s a disaster for those Australians stuck overseas, but it's also had big impacts on things like our higher education sector. We can't of course welcome international students back to Australia until we've got Australians safely home, but this is billions of dollars of lost revenue for Australia because we can't do it.

GLOVER: Jason Falinski, there have been triumphs along the way, of course there have, but the vaccine rollout is not one of them. It's not going well, is it?

FALINSKI: Look, Richard, no it’s not. Let’s be honest about this. This was a very highly volatile and very fluid situation. If any of us knew that when we ordered four million doses of the vaccine from the EU that they would only ship 700,000, we obviously would have taken a different course of events. If we knew that the that the expert medical panel would recommend that AstraZeneca only be given to people over the age of 50, we would have taken probably different courses. We have invested fortunately long before this in DNA and RNA manufacturing facilities in Australia, so we will be able to manufacture some of those vaccines. 

GLOVER: We haven't really invested in it yet. We've really in the last week started talking about doing it. 

FALINSKI: No, no. We've been one of the world's leaders in investing in DNA facilities so you can make RNA, and look you are really going to stretch my knowledge of chemistry and biochemistry at this point, but my understanding is that the capacity for us to start producing MRNA vaccines is very much available. It's because those investments have been made over the last five years. What Tanya says is right. We have a lot of scientific knowledge here, making more medical devices and pharmaceuticals here in Australia is certainly part of our national plan.

GLOVER: OK, but we could have, back in March, said to CSL: “how about we will give you three hundred million dollars and how about you set up a facility that can do mRNA?”

FALINSKI: Instead of the AstraZeneca? 

GLOVER: Or as well as.

FALINSKI: As well as. I think at that point in time we were looking for the vaccine that we would get out the fastest, the quickest, that was the easiest to make and that was the AstraZeneca one. And if anyone knew that there would be blood clotting issues associated with that vaccine we would have taken a different path.

GLOVER: Alright. Charishma, what do you think of where we're at now? 

CHARISHMA KALIYANDA: Look, I think we are in a space that we could have avoided by being a lot more proactive, a lot earlier in the piece. I take what Jason says on board in terms of investing in the facilities and that sort of thing, but we should have been sending these messages out to industry a lot earlier. In Southwest Sydney, we have hopefully a health and education innovation precinct coming up and this would have been something perfectly positioned for our local industries to take advantage of. And we know that there would have been a lot of demand from other countries around the world and we've seen that play out, and yet the government has been a little bit, well, has been has not been proactive at all in making sure that we as a population, as a community have these protections. And one of the the fall outs of this is that we could potentially lose an extra year when it comes to international trade, when it comes to international travel, and when it comes to getting our economy back on track, and I think that's what we are going to be seeing over the next 12 to 18 months. 

GLOVER: Well, retrospect is easy though. I suppose Jason's right: no one knew that the would there will be blood clot problems for instance or that the EU would be so troublesome about exporting the stuff. 

KALIYANDA: Well, we always knew that Pfizer was going to be the preferred vaccine and in my view the Government really didn't do enough to make sure that that the Australian community had enough of that vaccine on board.

GLOVER: Tanya Plibersek, do you go along with that?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think Richard we were saying all the way along that the Government ought to be investing in in not putting all its eggs in one basket. We should have had three or four or five or six contracts as it became apparent that different companies were taking different approaches in developing vaccines. It made no sense to be to be doubling down on only one or two or, at best, three…

GLOVER: Well, we had the Queensland candidate didn't we, so there were at least three or four? 

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, and there's a number of vaccines that look perfectly successful as far as we know overseas that we haven't gone near in terms of contracts and I just think that's a mistake. Of course, there are a lot of unknowns. I accept that. When there are a lot of unknowns you try and spread your risk by engaging in in multiple contracts with multiple partners. 

GLOVER: Okay, but can we agree that I'm the oldest here, so I get the first go at the AstraZeneca?

KALIYANDA: Sorry Richard, I have already beaten you to it. I'm a frontline health worker, so I've had my first jab of AstraZeneca already. 

GLOVER: How was it? 

KALIYANDA: I had a bit of a sore arm, some headaches, but I know about half of the people at my workplace experienced some side effects for the next 24 to 48 hours. So, you know, so far so good with me.

GLOVER: Explain what you do and when it all happened? 

KALIYANDA: So I work for a youth mental health service in South West Sydney, and I would have got my first vaccine shot about two weeks ago now. So literally the day before the Prime Minister announced that that he was not recommending it for anyone under 50, which obviously left me a little bit - 

GLOVER: Luckily you're so young!

FALINSKI: To be fair, it wasn't the Prime Minister making that recommendation. 

KALIYANDA: It was the day before he announced it. So, you know the next day I sort of work up and went well, what do I do now? I can't reverse the vaccine. 

GLOVER: Did you feel little bit of relief that you had some measure of protection?

KALIYANDA: Look I have to say that I did. I know friends of mine who are health workers in the United Kingdom who have been getting vaccinated since before New Year's, and so it was it was actually a measure of relief to you know, as working in front line of health services, to have that that measure of security, but also I know that there are so many others in our community that haven't had that opportunity and they really should because they are in these high priority, very risky categories and they really need to have access to these vaccines as quickly as possible.

GLOVER: I've heard about people in Britain just bursting into tears. Where obviously it's a lot more either they're under a lot more threat, but people just bursting into tears with the relief once they get the injection in their arm.

KALIYANDA: Exactly right. It’s actually really curious to see almost an inverse in the experience between say parts of Europe and the United Kingdom and Australia, where for them the lockdowns, the actual experience of getting COVID was so much worse than what our Australian community experienced. And yet here we are, just over 12 months later, talking about the vaccine and how poorly the rollout has gone and potentially losing an extra year. 

GLOVER: Well the Brits have done so badly, but well under the vaccine.

FALINSKI: Richard, we keep talking about how poorly the vaccine has gone, the rollout’s gone. At this point in time, of how long we’ve had the vaccines, even with all the problems it’s had, it is still the third fastest rollout of the vaccine in the world. Now, we've had the advantage of watching other people do this, but it is faster…

GLOVER: Third fastest from a very late starting point, maybe, but it’s not third fastest overall. We’re in the slowest cohort. 

FALINSKI: No no no we’re not in the slowest cohort, we’re about middle of the pack. We had the advantage of not having to start this earlier than we needed.

GLOVER: Not in terms of percentage of population vaccinated. Israel has done everyone apart from the Palestinians. 

FALINSKI: Israel's at 50 per cent. The UK is at 40 per cent. The United States is mid 30 per cent. And we are roughly around about 7 per cent of the population. So I mean, you know, we all love beating up on Australia, but the fact of the matter is that we have as, by international comparators, we've started before a lot of other nations, about half the other nations in the rest of the world at this same period of time. Certainly Israel and the United Kingdom were ahead of us, but very few other people were.

GLOVER: We should move on, but Tanya, do want to come back on that one before we move on?

PLIBERSEK: Look I just don't think anybody listening would agree with Jason that we're doing well with the rollout. I don’t think anybody agrees with that.

FALINSKI: That’s not what I’m saying, Tanya. I’m saying, if you look at the facts, the facts of the matter are that where we stand, compared to the others, we’re doing very well compared to other people. 

PLIBERSEK: If you look at some bizarre statistic that you’ve cobbled together because you’re trying to defend what is a botched job, sure, but there’s not a person in the Australian community who thinks this is going well.

FALINKSI: No Tanya, you can personally attack me, and I’m here to be personally attacked, but the fact of the matter is, the facts speak for themselves.

GLOVER: Alright, we're going to move on. Tanya Plibersek is with us from Launceston. She's federal Labor Member for Sydney. Jason Falinski is here, federal Liberal Member for MacKellar also here in Sydney. And Charishma Kaliyanda is an independent Councillor for Liverpool City, and as we also heard a frontline health worker who has the advantage of being vaccinated. Now women's groups are pushing the federal government to put the onus on employers to take action preventing workplace sexual harassment, an idea contained in the [email protected] report by Kate Jenkins, but the Government remains worried about the multiple rules and responsibilities already faced by companies to protect their employees. So how can we make workplaces safer? And is this idea of making the employers liable - is that a good one, Charishma? 
KALIYANDA: I think, as well as well as putting the onus on employers, you need to have a sense of accountability. So what does putting the onus on employers actually mean? Is that backed up with policies, processes, and a workplace culture that discourages sexual harassment and bullying? And those are the things that really need to start from the top. I think in the last few months we have seen a real lack of leadership right from the very top when it comes to dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace, and the experiences, particularly of women, but not specifically - not just women. And when when you think about how that filters down into every other workplace in this country, it's not a great look. 
GLOVER: I mean some employers say they're already covered by other occupational health and safety, the law of the land is another thing when it comes to sexual assault for instance. They've already got responsibilities. 
KALIYANDA: They do but where it's not working or where the system has been shown to have demonstrably failed so many women out there, then something needs to change. And if that means there needs to be added penalties or if there needs to be added responsibilities for employers, that should definitely be explored. 
GLOVER: Jason Falinski, I think when Kate Jenkins' report was finally released and the Government commented on it finally, people had an expectation that, particularly in the current environment, taht the Government might just tick all the - say: 'yes, we will accept all those recommendations.' They haven't quite done that, have they? 
FALINSKI: No, we have. So all the recommendations have been agreed to - I'm sorry, Tanya. What was that? 
GLOVER: Well you go first and then Tanya can go. 
FALINSKI: Okay, so we have agreed to all 55 recommendations. We funded nine of the 20 relating to the federal government and the other 11 will be - there will be an announcement in the Budget. 
GLOVER: But hasn't there been a whole cohort 'noted' not 'agreed to'.

FALINSKI: No, that's not the case. There have been some where there needs to be a process worked out about how you implement them, which is what you're talking about here. I agree with Charishma, and the fact of the matter is that you can't make rules unless you give people the tools; and so if you are going to make employers responsible for safe workplaces - which I don't think there's anyone in this interview, on this panel who would disagree with that. In fact, I vehemently believe that should be the case - then you also have to give employers the tools to be able to deal with that. The fact of the matter is that the Fair Work Commission under the Labor-appointed Iain Ross - I'm sorry to make that political point - has time and time again reinstated workers when they have been sacked by employers for transgressing laws to do with occupational health and safety, including harassment of female workers at work. I don't know a boss or an employer who does not want to create a safe work environment.
GLOVER: So you would tick off on Kate Jenkins' recommendations?
FALINSKI: Absolutely, but it is incumbent upon us as a Parliament to actually give them the capacity to enforce those rules. At the moment, they don't have that capacity and that's the problem. 
GLOVER: Tanya Plibersek? 
PLIBERSEK: I'm thrilled to hear that Jason has said that every one of these recommendations will be fully implemented because that's not what the Prime Minister or the Minister responsible is saying. The fact that there is a big group of these recommendations that the Government has said 'noted' about is very significant. They tried to pretend that all of the recommendations would be accepted. That's really not the case. If the system was working as it is now we wouldn't continue to have so many women in particular but also men coming forward with complaints of harassment. The system does need fixing. Kate Jenkins has done a fantastic job talking to employers, talking to employees. It's a huge piece of work. She's made serious recommendations and the Government should actually take them seriously. 
GLOVER: You don't believe, as Jason does, that they have accepted all the recommendations? 
PLIBERSEK: Well, it's not whether I believe it or not. The Government has said with some of the recommendations they have been 'accepted' and with some of them they have been 'noted'. There seems to be no plan to implement those. If Jason is saying something different, that is that is big news. You're getting the front page with that tomorrow Richard, because that's a big deal. If he's saying that every one of these recommendations will be fully implemented, that's a big story.
GLOVER: Just a final word for you from you on that and then we'll move on. 

FALINSKI: I mean, the Prime Minister was very clear that the 55 recommendations have been accepted. They will need to be implemented, part of that will involve discussions with the private sector and indeed some laws will need to be changed - so we are playing a game of semantics around whether they've been 'accepted' or 'noted'. 
GLOVER: All right. Let's move on, Jason Falinski. Charishma Kaliyanda and Tanya Plibersek are here for the Monday Political Form. A joint statement just issued by China and the U.S promises that climate change will be tackled with urgency by those two countries. With some arguing Australia's now thoroughly out of step on climate change. As one Chinese activist put it over the weekend: 'when you're not aligned with either China or the U.S, you know something is wrong.' Has he got a point, Jason Falinski?
FALINSKI: You'll be surprised to hear that no, I don't think he has a point; and I think that Australia has a lot to be proud of around climate change. Our climate emissions are 19 per cent lower than they were in the year 2000. We are the biggest investors in renewable energy by a factor of two per capita. I would note too that activist is from China, that he should look at the statistics around his own country's emission standards; and while the United States' emissions have fallen, they have primarily fallen due to the emergence of the fracking sector in the midwest of the United States.
GLOVER: You'd have to agree that it's a worry for Australia when a friend of the country like John Kerry is publicly saying - I mean, it's a little while since he's talked about it - but he's publicly saying: 'we haven't got Australia on the same page as where we want Australia to be'.
FALINSKI: Well, I don't know what he means by that to be blunt. And, as you say, it's a while ago since he said that but when I read the Biden Administration's energy policy and climate policy, Australia's climate policy is totally and completely aligned with it. I don't actually entirely understand where John Kerry thinks we're not on the same page with the United States. 
GLOVER: Charishma, are we out of step now that we've seen this agreement between the U.S and China?
KALIYANDA: Richard, I think for the last eight to ten years the one message out of the the Government has been: 'we can't take action on climate change because of the U.S, or China, or India', or insert other country that has pro-coal policies for example. Now that excuse is no longer there, and I think it also fundamentally comes down to lack of leadership by this government on these sorts of fronts. We have a lost decade when it comes to climate policy and climate action. We have lost so many, not just opportunities in the climate space, but we've lost economic opportunities. We have lost innovation opportunities because of a lack of leadership and a lack of action on climate policy. 
GLOVER: Okay. It's an issue for everybody but it is actually quite an intense issue in Western Sydney because because the summers are so much hotter. 
KALIYANDA: Exactly, and they are getting hotter. We know that Western Sydney in particular is impacted by the 'urban heat island effect', and as a result of that we're experiencing some of the vagaries of climate change. We also know that we're experiencing other types of natural disasters are at a greater rate, for example: flooding, bushfires, and that's impacting on the quality of life. It's impacting on economies. It's impacting on a whole range of different fronts for residents in Western Sydney. We're at the coal front of this - forgive the pun. 
GLOVER: Well, there was that time when Penrith, I think, was the hottest place in the world. Tanya Plibersek, has the international politics changed around all of this? 
PLIBERSEK: Of course it has. Scott Morrison is completely out on a limb. He's one of the only global leaders that seems not to want the cheaper power and the jobs that renewables will bring. We could be a renewable energy superpower, Australians get it. About one in four Australian homes are now generating cheaper solar power from their own roofs. Australians understand it. It's such a shame that we've got a government that's now on its 22nd energy policy and still hasn't got a clear direction for making cheaper, cleaner energy more available to Australian households and more available to Australian businesses so they can build jobs off the back of it. 
GLOVER: Okay, but before things like that the Upper Hunter by-election, Labor has a bob each way on these things, doesn't it?
PLIBERSEK: I don't see that at all. We actually had a policy that was working that Tony Abbott came in and destroyed. We've been very clear that we're committed to net zero emissions by 2050. We've got very clear policies for increasing investment in renewables, but also in transmission, in storage, in energy efficiency, in all of the things that we need to do to make sure that we can have the benefit of the fantastic renewable energy resources that Australia is so rich in; and the great science and technology that Australia is so good at producing. 
GLOVER: We're with Tanya Plibersek from Labor, Jason Falinski from Liberal, and Charisma Kaliyanda who's an Independent Councillor with the City of Liverpool. Just finally, it's a 190th anniversary of the Sydney Morning Herald. Most Sydneysiders, I think will have been touched by the paper somehow - a childhood eistedfodd, a job ad, queuing up at the printing press to get your school exam result. What was your tiny Sydney Morning Herald moment, Charishma? 
KALIYANDA: Mine would have been nothing so exciting as a Bob Dylan concert -
GLOVER: Someone rang up earlier. 
KALIYANDA: I heard yes, but mine was probably when I was asked to do a Budget story when I was at University about the impact of the Federal Budget at the time, and my Mum got very excited to see my name in the newspaper. So that’s probably mine.
GLOVER: That's pretty good. That's better than Dylan, I reckon. Jason?
FALINSKI: Actually probably, well, it's not my favourite one, but I'm still struck the day that Princess Diana died. It was very early in the morning here in Australia and the Sydney Morning Herald did a late edition with a front page photo of the tunnel in which she died with the car wreck. And I've always been struck by that photo because that was the first time I saw it.
Pretty haunting, Tanya Plibersek, have you got a tiny Herald moment?
PLIBERSEK: My tiny Herald moment is a bit of a compensation for the thing I've cried on your shoulder about before Richard, which is I was rejected by the ABC for a cadetship, but after I was elected, the Herald gave me a fortnightly column and I'll always be grateful to them.
GLOVER: Take that ABC! Sucks to you. 
KALIYANDA: Who's laughing now?
GLOVER: Exactly, who’s laughing now. We're out of time, but thank you very much to Tanya Plibersek, Enjoy Launceston.
PLIBERSEK: It's beautiful. 
FALINSKI: It is it sounds like you're getting a cold down there, Tanya. 
PLIBERSEK: No, No, I'm all good. 
GLOVER: The scarf ready to go. Jason Falinski, thank you very much, Federal Liberal Member for Mackellar; and Charisma Kaliyanda, Independent Councillor at City of Liverpool Council, thank you so much as well.