Jan 7, 2021







SUBJECTS: COVID-19 vaccine rollout; COVID-19 restrictions; state borders; quarantine measures; National Cabinet; need for a national approach to COVID-19; protests in Washington; Australia’s relationship with the United States.


JOE HILDEBRAND, HOST: Well, it’s been a huge news day with the announcement by the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, that the vaccine, the COVID-19 vaccine, would in fact be rolled out a month earlier than originally scheduled. It will now be rolled out in mid to late February instead of March. And one man who has been calling for that for some weeks now is the Federal Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese. And he joins us on the line now. Good morning, Mr Albanese. How are you? Good afternoon, I should say. I am losing my mind.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: That is right, Joe. It has been a big day. It is a good thing that the Government is now doing what it said was impossible just days ago, weeks ago, and indeed, last year, when myself and Chris Bowen had been calling consistently for the rollout of the vaccine as soon as the TGA approves the vaccine. It should be rolled out as soon as possible. That was a common-sense call. It is good that the Government has seen common sense, even though it was saying that call was dangerous just a few days ago.


HILDEBRAND: Is it not the case, though, and I know a lot of our listeners here on 2GB and 4BC are sceptical or nervous, whatever word you want to use, about the vaccine. is it not reasonable for the Prime Minister say, even if it looks like we’re rushing this, obviously, it’s going to be safe, and I have complete faith in that. But even if it looks like we’re bringing this forward even faster, this could make people more suspicious and stop people from taking it. Isn’t that a fair enough approach for him to have taken?


ALBANESE: But the problem with that is that undermines confidence in the vaccine itself. We have a very rigorous system here in Australia with the Therapeutic Goods Administration, the TGA, an independent body that assesses any pharmaceutical as to whether it’s suitable to be used by Australians or not. Once that happens, then it’s happened. That’s it. We should have absolute confidence in it. And given the TGA was saying for some time that they expected to approve the Pfizer vaccine in January, then there was never any reason for us to delay it until late March. Indeed, there is, of course, health consequences behind COVID. But there’s also economic consequences for jobs, for us being able to go about our everyday lives, or mental health consequences as well from lockdown and from restrictions on activity. So, the fact that we have around the world as well, the vaccines being rolled out, and we will be one of the last countries in the industrialised world to do so, we should know that people like Joe Biden, he’ll be President of the United States in less than two weeks’ time, he certainly was vaccinated on national TV in the US. It’s being rolled out, Israel has been ahead of the world in terms of vaccinating a high percentage, now up to double figures of their population. And the sooner we can roll out the vaccine, the sooner we can resume normal activity. And that’s important for our economy and for jobs, for mental health. And it was always just, in my view, a lack of common sense, this complacency. We need to actually have a Prime Minister who’s prepared to back in the TGA decision rather than somehow say that if we wait a couple of months after the decision is made, somehow that confirms it.


HILDEBRAND: Well, look, I think he’s done that now. And there’s a school of thought that perhaps he was always planning to beat his own deadline. You might have just spoiled his party. But I think it’s a good thing that he’s done. I’m glad we’re in furious agreement about that. Speaking of mental health and the economic consequences of COVID-19, one of the big issues has been border closures. It has been people not being able to see their families or having to scurry all the kids into the car and drive like the clappers to get home or being locked out from seeing loved ones. Would you use your influence as Federal Labor Leader to urge Labor Premiers in Queensland and Victoria and WA to have a more realistic and common-sense view of how we respond to this? We’ve had zero cases overnight in the 24 hours to 8PM in Victoria and New South Wales, but we’ve still got this hard border. Shouldn’t that be something we address as well for mental health reasons?


ALBANESE: As we do in the Liberal states of South Australia and Tasmania. What I would urge is for a more nationally consistent approach for the Prime Minister to actually show leadership in bringing the states and territories together to get a more consistent approach. The problem here has been that the Government has been prepared to be critical of Labor states selectively, somehow forget that Liberal states have got borders closed as well.


HILDEBRAND: That is right, obviously South Australia and Tasmania are Liberal states, they are much smaller and has an impact on fewer people. But he has said he would like to see a national hotspot approach. Would you endorse that approach? Treating hotspots as danger zones, not whole states or whole cities?


ALBANESE: Well, what I’d support is a much more consistent approach and a common-sense approach worked through at the national level. The problem we have here is that National Cabinet meets, and it’s due to meet tomorrow, that’s being brought forward after we argued it should be brought forward, it wasn’t going to meet for a period of two months. And when the Queensland election was on, of course, they cancelled the National Cabinet because Scott Morrison was campaigning for the LNP in Queensland rather than hosting the National Cabinet. And I think that creates an element of undermining of goodwill. And what we need to do though is to have the National Cabinet make some consistent decisions, get coordination, rather than the way it’s operating at the moment, which is essentially the states and the territories making their own decisions and Scott Morrison announcing what the decisions are that they’ve made. We don’t even have a consistent position around our Australian border. So, the problem for Scott Morrison is announcing that when 40,000 Australians remain stranded overseas.


HILDEBRAND: Sure. But I suppose it’s probably frustrating for the Government when you’ve called for the vaccine to be rolled out early, they’ve done that, you’ve called for National Cabinet to be recalled early, they’re doing that tomorrow. Would you then support a national approach that Scott Morrison proposes? Because part of the problem, as he said, it’s well-known what his preferred position is, that states treat the intake of people from other states based on hot zones that they’re from, not simply from whether or not they’re from New South Wales or Queensland or wherever it may be. But the Labor states simply are not listening to him on that. Would you add your voice to that in the hope that Daniel Andrews and Annastacia Palaszczuk would be more likely to listen to you, a fellow Labor Leader, than they would to a Liberal Prime Minister?


ALBANESE: The problem here is, Joe, is that none of the states are listening.


HILDEBRAND: New South Wales is lockstep with the Federal Government on this and they’ve done it better than anyone else.


ALBANESE: New South Wales shut the border between New South Wales and Victoria last year, that was a decision by New South Wales.


HILDEBRAND: That was after overnight cases were 160, not zero.


ALBANESE: I haven’t been critical of any of the state governments, Labor or Liberal. And the way that you get national buy-in is by having a nationally consistent approach. I support a nationally consistent approach. The problem for the Prime Minister is that hasn’t happened at that level.


HILDEBRAND: But that’s because the states aren’t agreeing on what that approach is, I suppose. So, he can propose all the nationally consistent approaches he wants, but if the states don’t agree, and we’ve got disagreements between the parties in the states, and I understand that they are different colours, but would you support a national approach that he puts forward?


ALBANESE: He hasn’t put one forward. That’s the problem. That’s the distinction I’m drawing. I support a nationally consistent approach and proper coordination of what’s happening with regard to our borders. I have been consistent on this since last year. I haven’t been critical of any of the state governments for specific decisions that they’ve made based upon their health advice. But they’ve been in that position because Scott Morrison has handed over responsibility to the states, not just for that, but for, as well, who comes in to the Australian continent from overseas, what the numbers are, quarantine, all of that, I’ve said consistently that there needs to be a nationally consistent approach. There should be a national approach to quarantine. It should be coordinated at the national level. And that’s consistent with what the report that the Prime Minister commissioned by Jane Halton, the former Head of the Department of Health, that was given to him that hasn’t been released in full publicly and that hasn’t been responded to. It recommended, for example, a common-sense proposal, which was that quarantine separate from hotels should be organised at the Commonwealth level. She identified specific sites such as Exmouth in WA and Darwin in order to facilitate that.


HILDEBRAND: I think all our listeners would absolutely love to see a national common-sense approach and hopefully something like that comes out of National Cabinet tomorrow. Just the last question I wanted to ask you, Mr Albanese, is this tweet that Australian Labor has put out, and I know it’s not your Twitter account, and it’s someone else who does it, but the idea that Scott Morrison should be associated with the actions of Donald Trump because there was a picture of the Prime Minister taken with the US President and it’s got the caption, ‘The company you keep’. And this has been issued as a criticism of Scott Morrison. A lot of people, including people who were once Labor supporters, are saying, ‘This is why I don’t vote for you guys anymore, because this is just juvenile’. Surely, you should have a word to whoever’s doing social media for the Australian Labor Twitter account and say, ‘Are you seriously suggesting that an Australian Prime Minister shouldn’t meet a US President?’


ALBANESE: Well, I’m not suggesting that. And I’d suggest that if people want to look at over the top tweets, they might start by having a look at what George Christensen, Matt Canavan, and a range of Government members, including the Member for Hughes, have put out condemning, saying that the democratic election in the United States was fraudulent. backing in the QAnon conspiracies and backing in the sort of activity and rhetoric that has led to the quite catastrophic things that we have seen today in Washington DC, something I thought I’d never see in my lifetime with extremists storming Capitol Hill.


HILDEBRAND: I completely agree. And I absolutely condemn that. And I think it’s very valid of you to criticise or attack or condemn Australian politicians who may have fuelled that.


ALBANESE: They are elected Members of Parliament.


HILDEBRAND: And by all means, have that argument. And I fully support you making that argument. But again, to take a photo of an Australian Prime Minister meeting the US President and saying that this is somehow making him complicit in what’s happening, I mean, that that is honestly just absurd, isn’t it? I mean, the suggestion that it wouldn’t have been Bill Shorten getting a photo op with Donald Trump if he had won the election?


ALBANESE: I am responsible for my own tweets, Joe. And I put one out this morning. I have been critical in the past of Scott Morrison attending what effectively was a campaign rally for Donald Trump in Ohio. I said that at the time, and I stand by that. That was inappropriate. But of course, it’s always appropriate that any Australian Prime Minister would meet with the President of the United States.


HILDEBRAND: I couldn’t agree more. Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for your time. Thanks for talking to us on Afternoons.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Joe.