Dec 23, 2020








SUBJECTS: Sydney Northern Beaches coronavirus outbreak; COVID-19 vaccine; new strain of COVID-19 in the UK; economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic; importance of listening to medical advice; state borders; Christmas plans.


MARCUS PAUL, HOST: Good morning to you, Anthony.




PAUL: Look, I am okay. Looking forward to a bit of a break. No doubt you are as well. But look, there’s still lots to get through, lots of news. And I see front page today of the newspaper that you are calling for a quick vaccine rollout. The Government’s insistence on rolling out a COVID-19 vaccine in March has been countered by yourself, Labor Leader Anthony Albanese, who’s declared Australia needs more COVID-19 vaccine doses more quickly. Albo?


ALBANESE: That is right. The Government is saying that the TGA, the independent health authority that examines pharmaceuticals, will have a look at what it is looking at right now, the Pfizer vaccine, that it’s likely to be approved in January. Now, if approved in January, common sense tells you that as soon as the appropriate health authority says it’s ready to go, it should be ready to go.


PAUL: Well, absolutely. Why the wait? Look, I don’t know whether or not, I’m not a medical expert and, of course, Anthony, neither are you, with respect. But look, I think for the sake of maintaining our economy, getting people back into work, ensuring that we continue with the standard of response that we’ve had, and if the evidence is there, let’s roll it out.


ALBANESE: Absolutely. As you say, Marcus, neither of us are the health experts. That is the job of the TGA. And they’re doing their job. They are likely to approve the vaccine in January. But, because of the deal that the Government has signed with Pfizer, there will be 10 million doses available. That’s not enough. But it won’t be available until March. To me that just fails the common sense test.


PAUL: Are you suggesting, are you saying, that we are tied to a timeline because of Pfizer? Is that right?


ALBANESE: Because of the Government deal that the Government has done with Pfizer. Now, the Government should be, there’s plenty of time, they should be saying, ‘Hang on, if we have approved it, we need to get the vaccine sooner and we should also be upping the amount that we get’. We were behind the rest of the world in terms of signing up to these deals that have been put in place. So, other countries started the negotiations in March, we concluded our first deal in September. World’s best practice is to have six such arrangements, we have now gone with the failure, unfortunately, no fault of their own. But that’s why you hedge your bets. Because sometimes they fail. The Queensland vaccine being organised with CSL and UQ wasn’t successful. So therefore we are in a more vulnerable position than we should be. This isn’t something that we’re just saying now. Chris Bowen and myself and others in Labor have been saying it for some time, that we need to be ready to go here because we know that there’s an impact on people’s health if they have COVID. There’s also mental health impacts if they’re in isolation, the sort of experiences that we’re seeing, all those people who will be sitting around at Christmas time without their loved ones because there are still almost 40,000 Australians stranded overseas.


PAUL: Look, I tend to agree. If we have access to a safe and effective vaccine, the sooner the better. The sooner we get it rolled out, the better. And I don’t like the idea that the Government, through its deal with Pfizer, has effectively, as you suggested, tied us to some sort of timeline that looks at around March. I mean, we know, unfortunately, we’ve got a new cluster now in Sydney. We have seen it now just start to spread ever so slightly into other areas of New South Wales. Again, we’ve had border closures, effectively, Sydney, the greater metropolitan area. So many people affected by border closures now around Christmas time, tens of thousands of families have had their Christmas turned upside down. Now, no one’s suggesting it’s the fault of the Government. But I mean, understandably, we do want to try and get this vaccination rolled out as quickly as possible so, in 2021, we can go about our business as hopefully as normally as possible.


ALBANESE: That’s right. It’s been a very tough 2020. But Australians have shown their resilience, their commitment to look after each other has been quite remarkable. And it’s been something that we should be proud of as a nation. But we don’t want 2021 to be a repeat of 2020. We are over 2020.


PAUL: Very true. What do you make of travel bans? The Prime Minister has basically said through the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, that we will not be banning flights from the United Kingdom despite the threat of a highly infectious mutant strain of COVID-19 discovered in England.


ALBANESE: I think you have to listen to the medical advice on that. Throughout the pandemic, we haven’t been opportunistic. We’ve said consistently that you have to listen to the medical advice, whether it be the state border issues where state premiers have made decisions based upon the advice they received or whether the other issues in terms of listening to the Chief Medical Officer. That’s been our position. But I think once you bring politics into it, then you diminish the confidence of the public in those decision-making processes.


PAUL: A lot of people have called on me to go hard, if you like, or be a little bit more insistent in my questioning in our conversations around Dan Andrews. And I’ve resisted it. And I’ll tell you why. And I, as I’ve told them, and I tell my listeners all the time, you’re operating from the pragmatic approach that health officers in each jurisdiction in each state give their premiers the advice and they act accordingly. The Prime Minister has obviously, Scott Morrison, has basically said, ‘Well, it’s an issue for the states’. A lot of people jump up and down and say, ‘Oh, well, border closes are unconstitutional. We shouldn’t deny free trade or free passage between New South Wales and Queensland and Victoria and New South Wales, etc, etc’. You know, these are, and we use the word probably too much, but very unprecedented times. And I think, overwhelmingly, on a global scale, being fair, I think we’ve done quite well.


ALBANESE: That’s right. And the Federal Government made the decision to hand responsibility for the practical issues to the state. They even, I think, abrogated some responsibility on issues like quarantine and who comes into the country. I think if that’s not the responsibility of the National Government, I don’t know what it is. But at the same time, I haven’t been critical of Gladys Berejiklian’s decisions to shut the border between New South Wales and Victoria, or Tasmania, for that matter, announced a long closure. They announced many months before December that the borders will be closed until December 1. That’s a decision that they made. Mark McGowan, I think you’ll find, had enormous support for the decisions that he made.


PAUL: Sorry to interrupt you, but the only problem with Mark McGowan that’s upset me this morning is that he’s kind of made it a bit political, in fairness. Mark McGowan has said New South Wales should look to WA. And that’s unfair, I think. Because of the fact that, obviously, Sydney is a major gateway and New South Wales has taken the lion’s share of overseas return travellers. So, I mean, the latest stats that I’ve got in front of me, Anthony, 90,000 people have returned to hotel quarantine in New South Wales in Sydney in particular, while less than 10,000, far less than 10,000, have returned to Western Australia. So I think sometimes some of the premiers had been a little outspoken and made it a touch political, perhaps?


ALBANESE: Well, I don’t think it’s unusual that a state premier will tend to talk about their own state and say it is the best state. I think the difference is, Scott Morrison’s visit to Queensland, I know, during the Queensland election campaign, assisted Annastacia Palaszczuk by going around that state with the then-Opposition Leader and being critical of Queensland’s decision to keep the borders closed and to keep Queenslanders safe. Clearly, I know for a fact, I’ve discussed it with the Queensland Premier. And she certainly regards the criticism as being really counterproductive. And I think the evidence at the polling booth showed that was the case.


PAUL: Well, that’s true. I mean, as you say, different state premiers will talk up their own states. And obviously, in Queensland’s case, I think it’s been found quite clearly that the measures taken by the Palaszczuk Government were, in the main, very receptive from people in Queensland. Now I guess Dan Andrews, he certainly, despite issues with hotel quarantine, he certainly pulled his state from the brink with the outbreak. And now, it’s up to New South Wales. So, I think we should stop all the politicking about this. And we should become, as much as we can, Albo, one country where everybody’s supporting everybody. Because ultimately, if we have a major outbreak in Sydney, if we don’t nip this in the bud right now, well, I can guarantee you that it will, unfortunately, look to spread its ugly tentacles throughout most of our country. And we need to nip it in the bud. We need to support the current health regulations in New South Wales and do everything we can to try and enjoy Christmas but follow the rules.


ALBANESE: Indeed. The thing that has really seen Australians through 2020 is the actions of just ordinary Australians who looked after each other, regardless of who the premier is. The Northern Beaches at the moment have done, I think, a remarkable effort to see the decline in the number of infections with massive testing going on. People are doing the right thing there. And good on them for it. And we stand with them. Just as we stood with Victorians, who, you know, endured a really tough lockdown. But guess what? They got on top of it. And because of that, I was in Melbourne just last week. Their economy’s open. Things are happening again.


PAUL: Well that is good to know. Albo, what’s Christmas looking like for you and your family?


ALBANESE: I’m going to be spending a bit of time with the family. I’m going to head just up the coast, if that is possible, for a couple of days, and continue, though, to keep my eye on what’s happening. And I wasn’t intending to be working today. I have already done a TV interview as well as talk to you. But looking for, hopefully, a bit of a quieter time. And for me, Christmas is a special day. I was with Bill Crews out at the Exodus Foundation yesterday. He does incredible work feeding the homeless and those who don’t have somewhere to go on Christmas Day. And I went out and helped there. I’m not doing that this year. I’m spending time with some friends. But I’m really looking forward to it. And looking forward to that first ball at 11 o’clock on Boxing Day.


PAUL: Well, that’s right. With a beverage, a cold beverage, in one hand and an eye on the television and eating leftovers from Christmas Day. Sounds good, Anthony. Have a wonderful safe Christmas to you.


ALBANESE: You have a wonderful Christmas as well.


PAUL: Thank you, mate. Before you go, I promised my partner, Ash, that I would read out a joke. She’s a big fan of yours. Are you ready? We want to get a chuckle out of this for Christmas.


ALBANESE: I’m ready.


PAUL: All right. Albo, why didn’t anybody bid for Rudolph and Blitzen on eBay when they went up for sale?


ALBANESE: They were two deer. I got it.


PAUL: What about this one? Why didn’t the sesame seed want to leave the casino?


ALBANESE: I don’t know.


PAUL: Because he was on a roll, Anthony. Come on. You have a wonderful Christmas. Take care. We’ll chat again in 2021. And thank you for your time this morning.


ALBANESE: Good on you, Marcus.