By Tanya Plibersek

07 July 2021




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

MICHAEL ROWLAND HOST: New South Wales is set to extend that lockdown as the Federal Government holds more talks on how to speed up the troubled vaccine rollout. Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek joins us now from Sydney, very good morning to you.


ROWLAND: Firstly, I want to ask you is both a senior Labor frontbencher and a Sydney resident, your thoughts about this expected extension for a week of the Sydney lockdown? How in your view has New South Wales handled this?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it's very difficult for people to go into another week of lockdown, if indeed that's what's recommended to us. We just have to do it. We just have to get on with it. If our health advisors tell us that that's what we need to do, to keep the virus under control, then I'm sure Sydneysiders will be up for it.

ROWLAND: Some epidemiologists have criticized the New South Wales Government for, in their view, not going hard enough and early enough on the lockdown. What do you think?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think the real problem here is that too little of our population’s vaccinated and we've got these constant failures of hotel quarantine because hotels aren't built to house sick people, they're built to house tourists. If we had more than seven per cent of our population vaccinated we wouldn't be having this conversation right now, instead would be getting on with something a bit closer to life as usual. 

ROWLAND: What's it going to take to speed up the rollout, in your view?

PLIBERSEK: I think everything needs to be on the table. I can't believe that this is the first time that the Government's having conversations with business leaders about workplace vaccinations. We saw yesterday that local government workers have been given leave to get vaccinated if they're in those frontline positions. We've heard calls for pharmacists and others to be included in the vaccination rollout. All of this has to be on the table and it is frankly incredible that we are still having these conversations with seven per cent of our total population vaccinated. You look overseas and you've got well over half the population vaccinated in comparable countries. We've got a strong health system, we've got a willing population and in we are at the bottom of the pack internationally for vaccination rates, it beggars belief.

ROWLAND: This meeting today is all about how business can come on board, workplace jabs and the like, is that something you'd endorse in trying to speed up this process?

PLIBERSEK: Sure, I mean we're used to that with flu shots. What shocks me about this is that it's taken til now for us to start to have these conversations, what has Scott Morrison been doing? 

ROWLAND: Now we had Lieutenant General John Frewen on the show yesterday. He heads up, as you know, the vaccine rollout task force. We had that meeting with other senior military figures yesterday. Are you comfortable with the top brass, the military, being given this sort of role in such a big public health campaign?

PLIBERSEK: Look I certainly welcome the involvement of the military. They generally have good systems and approaches when you've got a big operation like this under way, but it does make me worry that our public health system has been run down to the extent that the federal government couldn't manage this using our health systems. It is disappointing. Honestly, I guess what's frustrating about this is there's always someone else to blame. It's always someone else's responsibility if you're Scott Morrison. So he says: 'the Federal Government, we'll take care of vaccination, don't worry about it'. When it starts going off the rails - it's the states' fault, we've got a call in the military. If Scott Morrison showed adequate leadership in the first place, once again, we wouldn't be having this conversation now with just seven per cent of our total population vaccinated. 

ROWLAND: Okay. Just before we go, the other big and disturbing story to come out of Canberra this week are the allegations made by former Liberal MP Julia Banks, across a range of issues particularly, most distressingly, the allegation that she was sexually harassed by a senior Coalition minister in the Prime Minister's wing some years ago, what do you make of that? And what's it really going to take, in your view, to fix up a clearly broken Parliament House workplace culture? 

PLIBERSEK: Julia Banks has been incredibly courageous in coming forward and talking about her experiences, and that includes talking about the role of the Prime Minister. The leader sets the culture. As Prime Minister you can lead with honour, with courage. What we see from Scott Morrison is the opposite of that. You see him gaslighting Julia Banks, and before Julia Banks, Brittany Higgins. You see him running from responsibility, allergic to taking responsibility. What needs to change in the Parliament House workplace is the same as what needs to change in every Australian workplace, every person who works there needs to be safe. We had a report with 55 recommendations from the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, that was sitting on the then Attorney-General's desk for more than a year before it became politically untenable to keep ignoring the recommendations. Let's start by implementing the recommendations of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner and making sure that every Australian Parliamentarian, journalist, bus driver, retail worker, army cadet, new doctor - whoever it is, is safe in their workplace. 

ROWLAND: Tanya Plibersek. Thanks for your time this morning.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.