By Tanya Plibersek

05 July 2021



MONDAY, 5 JULY 2021 

SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison’s vaccine chaos; Julia Banks; Women’s safety at work.

KYLIE MORRIS, HOST: Tanya Plibersek is Labor's Shadow Minister for Education and Women and joins me now. Tanya, we'll come back in a moment to the questions around mandatory vaccination of health workers, but New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard, today, has labelled the race to secure vaccines 'The Hunger Games'. Is that how you'd describe the situation? 
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: Well I think it's very clear that we should have more deals for more doses of vaccine. The Government said at the beginning that we were at the front of the queue for vaccines, and what we've found is that certainly when it comes to doses of the Pfizer vaccine, we are struggling to get the number required. We should have had more deals with more vaccine companies, we would have had more options for different types of vaccines, and it really is inexplicable that we don't have the facilities to make the mRNA style vaccines like Pfizer here in Australia. Of course, you would understand that at the very beginning of the pandemic, but now 18 months down the track it's inexplicable that we're not moving towards domestic manufacture of these more complex vaccines. 
MORRIS: But are your constituents, who are in New South Wales, are they saying it feels like The Hunger Games, we're desperate, we're in this deathly race to the death to get our vaccines? 
You certainly see that with states asking the Federal Government for more doses of the Pfizer vaccine. And you also see it with different age groups, different professions saying that they are concerned that they're waiting too long for their doses of the Pfizer vaccine or they're being encouraged - as the Prime Minister did the other day - to get the AstraZeneca vaccine, even if it's not necessarily the vaccine that health professionals are advising for that group. 
MORRIS: What about Brad Hazzard's language? It's fairly alarming, isn't it? Is that alarmist language useful when it comes to getting people soberly to sign up to vaccination? 
PLIBERSEK: What's not useful is a federal government that has completely dropped the ball on vaccinations and quarantine. They've got two big jobs. The states are doing the bulk of the heavy lifting in dealing with COVID-19, the Commonwealth's got two big jobs: it's making sure that Australians are vaccinated and making sure that our quarantine facilities are fit for purpose. We've seen 26 outbreaks at last count from hotel quarantine, and we've got a vaccination program that puts us literally at the bottom of the list of comparable countries in terms of our vaccine rollout, the pace of our rollout. We're at around six per cent of our population fully vaccinated, the UK and the US see about half of their population fully vaccinated, Israel is it about 60 per cent. It is extraordinary that a country as wealthy, as advanced as Australia, is doing so badly when it comes to the vaccine rollout. 
MORRIS: What about - I mean one aspect of that, of course, is the aged care workers vaccination. We've learnt now that only a third of the workers at this Baulkham Hills facility have been immunised. Are you clear on why it is that aged care workers are still not vaccinated? 
PLIBERSEK: No, it's inexplicable, and the last figure I saw is that 16 per cent of the aged care workforce is fully vaccinated. It's extraordinary that these frontline workers who, by the way, were turning up to care for residents in residential aged care before there was ever a vaccine - putting their own health and safety at risk. They worked through the early days of the pandemic, they're there on very low wages doing extraordinarily difficult work, and they were promised by the Prime Minister that they would be fully vaccinated by Easter. We've got about 16 per cent of the workforce fully vaccinated. They were promised 13 pop up clinics and, at last count, I believe only three of them are operating, and they're all in Sydney. 
MORRIS: There is now though our deadline, isn't there, for mandatory vaccination of residential aged care workers with all staff meant to receive a first dose by the end of September. Is that a reasonable deadline? 
PLIBERSEK: Here's the thing right? We've got the federal government actually changing the subject by beginning to talk about mandatory vaccination, when even aged care workers who want to get vaccinated have been let down by the vaccine rollout, the way it's been managed by the Federal Government. It is extraordinary that we had people turning up to vaccinate residents in aged care facilities but not vaccinating the staff at the same time. It's inexplicable. We know that it's the staff who are out in the community travelling to and from work every day. Many of them working more than one job because the pay is so low that they're working across multiple facilities. Why wouldn't the Government have prioritised the vaccination of staff at the same time? 
MORRIS: There is something though here that's not just about supply. I mean, this morning I'm in Newcastle, and there was an anti-coercion protest on a street corner not far from the studios, of people protesting in favour of workers not being required to get vaccinated, and there have been similar events around the country.
PLIBERSEK: There will always be a few nutjobs who put their own conspiracy theories ahead of the public good of the broader population. You can't account so that sort of nonsense. 
MORRIS: Is that how you categorize anti-vaxxers then, are they nut jobs?
PLIBERSEK: Yes, anti-vaxxers are irrational. This is the only way out of this pandemic. It's fine to be cautious. It's fine to do your research. But at the end of the day, we know that Australia won't be able to get back to normal until we have a large share of the population vaccinated. And, of course, until we get quarantine right we won't be able to reconnect with the rest of the world. 
MORRIS: Should unions be doing more to encourage workers to be vaccinated? Are you getting the support that you think -
PLIBERSEK: Do you know what? This is not about workers who are unwilling to get vaccinated. The reason that 16% of the aged care workforce are vaccinated is not because the rest don't want to be, it is because we have a government that has comprehensively failed the vaccine rollout. There should be more deals with more companies for more types of vaccine, more jabs in people's arms. The aged care workforce was promised that they would be fully vaccinated by Easter. We're at fewer than one in five fully vaccinated. It's not because the others don't want to be, and I really think that instead of blaming the aged care workforce, we should be thanking them.
MORRIS: Do you maintain that cutting international caps was the right decision? There's now been an agreement out of National Cabinet that the number of people able to return home should be cut by half. Do you support that cut? 
PLIBERSEK: I think this is a phenomenally difficult thing for Australians who are trapped overseas, or Australians who have friends or family trapped overseas. I can't imagine how difficult this period is for them. But once again, if we had started building purpose-built, quarantine facilities 18 months ago, when this was first raised, we wouldn't be having this conversation today. We could have had the Toowoomba facility that was proposed in Queensland up and running by now, as the Queensland Premier herself has said. CBD hotels are not made to be secure health facilities for people with highly infectious viruses, they're made for tourists. And again, the Commonwealth government clearly has responsibility for quarantine.
MORRIS: Former Liberal MP Julia Banks alleges she was the subject of an unwanted sexual advance from a Cabinet minister in the Turnbull Government while at work, you may have seen the excerpts in the weekend papers. She's also warned similar inappropriate touching by other man is probably happening every single day in Parliament House. Do you recognise those kinds of allegations? Does that chime with your experience? 
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think any large workplace has instances of sexism, and even sexual harassment, and it's very important that Parliament House is a safe workplace. It's very important that every Australian workplace is safe. So I absolutely support the very recent measures suggested by Stephanie Foster in her review, I support the other review that Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins is undertaking into Parliament House as a workplace. But this is not just about Parliament House. We really do need to address sexual harassment in every Australian workplace and that means properly implementing Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ last report, Respect @ Work, with 55 recommendations that would make all Australian workplaces safer.
MORRIS: Do you believe that this sort of behaviour is happening every single day, as Julia Banks describes it, in Parliament House?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I haven't experienced what Julia Banks described but I don't for a moment think that it doesn't happen. And I would say that the biggest change in my time in Parliament is the fact that the Labor Party is now at fifty percent female representation. Having critical mass like that really does change the culture of a workplace.
MORRIS: Tanya Plibersek, thanks for joining us. And I should add, that Julia Banks will be joining us tomorrow to talk about her book.