01 July 2021

Subjects: Scott Morrison’s Vaccine failures; AstraZeneca confusion; Alice Springs lockdown

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Time now for my political panel and today it's Nationals Senator Matt Canavan and Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy also joins me. Welcome to both of you.


SENATOR MATT CANAVAN: Good afternoon, Patricia.

KARVELAS: Starting with you, if I can, Matt Canavan. Malcolm Turnbull was on the program earlier. He said he can't think of a bigger black and white failure of public administration than the vaccination rollout. Has it been a failure? I mean, what have we got today, 7.92% of Australians fully vaccinated, four and a half months in.

CANAVAN: Look, I disagree with that completely. I think it's way over the top there. The key policy goal for us during a global pandemic is to save people's lives, is to keep people safe. And on that score, the Australian government and governments, and Australia as a whole, Australian people as a whole, have done very, very well. Only we're about there's only about 50 countries below us that have had a lower death rate than we've had in. Most of those are isolated countries in the Pacific Islands, sub-Saharan Africa, et cetera. So we've done very, very well. There's also, the other thing here is there's a there's that you can see a clear relationship between those countries that have low death rates and low case rates and those countries that have lower vaccination rates. Surprise, surprise. Those countries that have more widespread coronavirus have taken up vaccines earlier, have had, I suppose, less hesitancy from people to have the vaccine because there's a clear and present danger to them. But I would much prefer to be in a country that has a low death rate and a low vaccination rate rather than the vice versa. And so I don't think this necessarily utopian ideal world and country exists where both you're leading the world in vaccination and and you have some of the lower death rates in the world. That doesn't really exist. So we can't make the perfect the enemy of the good. Our roll out, our response to COVID has not been perfect. There are things that could have been and should have been done better, but it's been very, very good. And most Australians are still alive compared to those in overseas countries. And that's a damn good thing.

KARVELAS: OK, Malarndirri McCarthy, what do you make of that argument that's just been made by Senator Matt Canavan where he's actually saying, well, let's let's base it on the deaths and we're doing all right?

MCCARTHY: Well, it's pretty disappointing, really, Patricia. I did hear Matt say that in the Senate. And Matt, seriously, we know that getting through covid is certainly important in terms of last year. But let's be realistic. You know, we should have had at least four to six options in terms of the vaccination options, and that could have started well and truly into last year, into the late last year. We don't have those options. We've only got Pfizer and AstraZeneca and even AstraZeneca now is closing mixed messages across the country, Patricia, in particular, around our First Nations communities as well. And I think it's important that when an error has been made here, Matt and it certainly has been in terms of not having choices, more choices around the vaccination, it needs to be admitted to.

KARVELAS: OK. There's another point I just want to get you on, Matt Canavan, before I move to the Queensland situation, if I can. Anthony Albanese has tweeted that the Prime Minister has not spoken to the Australian people since Monday night. Half the country is in lockdown. This is not leadership. Australians deserve better. So we're on Thursday, today, Monday is some time ago. He's right. More than half of Australians are in lockdown. Where is the PM? Shouldn't he be there to help Australians at this time?

CANAVAN: Well, we know where he is.

KARVELAS: But where is he in the public discourse?

CANAVAN: Yeah, he's he's he's in quarantine, of course. Well, look, I think what we have seen in the last few days is far too much talking from politicians and in terms of the confusion that Malarndirri raised there. I think that's principally because too many politicians have been out there speaking. So I don't think it's at all an issue that the Prime Minister has not got up and said more, because if there's no more news to say, well, we don't need to add to this running commentary and tit for tat that's going on right now. You know, I think the the the example we saw of Queensland yesterday, the Queensland Labor Government, was a low point in this response to the pandemic where rather than deal with solutions during another lockout in Queensland, the Queensland Government decided to just flip the switch to let's blame everybody else but ourselves. And I'm not going to do that to Queensland. There are clearly deficiencies and things that go right and wrong during a pandemic. But what we should be focussed on is fixing things and solving them. Yes, sure. Malarndirri is right. In hindsight, wouldn't it have been great to get more Pfizer and Moderna at the time? But we didn't. Lots of countries are in the same boat as us is not having lots of options. There's no country with four or five options. That doesn't really exist, as Malarndirri was trying to suggest. So we didn't. AstraZeneca didn't turn out as we thought. Let's fix it. That's why we've got 20 million doses of Pfizer coming the second half of this year and 20 million of Moderna after that. So we will have more choice. That's what we've got to focus on as a nation, not this constant carping and criticising and commentating. Let's get it fixed.

KARVELAS: Yeah, fixing it. I don't know anyone who disagree with try and fix this. Malandirri, Interesting point made by Matt Canavan. Basically, politicians should get out of the way.

MCCARTHY: Well, I actually want to pick up on the last thing he said in terms of let's get, let's get this fixed. Well, yes, please, Matt Canavan, can you in the Prime Minister get this fixed? We know that calling on quarantine facilities across the country has been essential, certainly for the last six to eight months, if not 12 months. And we've been able to look at the Northern Territory in terms of Howard Springs, Matt, and see what the Northern Territory has been able to achieve there. And I'm incredibly grateful of the amazing work of the people here in the Northern Territory to do what they have in terms of Howard Springs. So why haven't we seen those quarantine facilities rolled out as quickly as they should have?

KARVELAS: All right. I want to talk about the Queensland situation, but with my question rather than just your commentary, if I can, Matt Canavan, which is which is this. Are you comfortable with the Prime Minister the other night coming out and saying, you know, encouraging people who are young, under 60 to go and get AstraZeneca given we now have ATAGI, they've come out today and made it quite clear that they think that with the exception of some, maybe few cases, really young people shouldn't be getting AstraZeneca.

CANAVAN: Well, what I agree with, just to be clear, what I heard the Prime Minister say is that people should be free to get AstraZeneca after consulting with their own GP.

KARVELAS: He says he encourages young people to go to their GP's. The word encourage.

CANAVAN: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, I would say I do agree with that. I encourage people to go and see their GP and talk about the individual medical circumstances. I don't I don't think it is the right approach to have blanket rules on these issues, especially with something that is of low risk to the average person as the clotting we've seen in AstraZeneca. That's not to say, there is elevated risk for some individuals with underlying conditions. That's why it's important for people to go see their GP and not just turn up to a mass hub or something like that and get AstraZeneca. You should go talk to your GP. But the appropriate decisions that are made on medical issues are made between individuals and the and the medical experts, their doctors providing them advice. That's the situation we approach. That's the approach we take to other situations like getting anaesthetics, which does come with risk, can lead to fatal outcomes. But you're always told when you go to the dentist or in hospital, here are the risks, sign a form, you decide and that approach serves us really, really well. And I don't see why we should depart from that, giving individual patients their choice about the risks after an informed discussion with their GP.

KARVELAS: Malarndirri McCarthy, is that reasonable? The PM just indemnifying doctors to give people another choice?

MCCARTHY: Well, look, I think what's important here, Patricia, is that all Australians do look to their leaders irrespective of politics. And when they say the confusion that has occurred massively over time in relation to AstraZeneca, it is not helping ordinary Australians. It's not helping those people in rural and remote regions. And I do think that what everyone has to take a deep breath here and recognise that we've got to get this right for all Australians. And of course, it makes sense for any person getting any kind of vaccine to to be checking with their local doctor and GP. But let's be clear, there has been a massive confusion here, and that has to stop from the Prime Minister down.

KARVELAS: Malarndirri, just staying with you. You're a Senator in the Northern Territory. Alice Springs is under a 72 hour lockdown. How concerned are you that the virus could spread into vulnerable Aboriginal communities?

MCCARTHY: We're always concerned, Patricia, from the get go in terms of certainly the remote and regional communities of Australia, but in particular First Nations areas. But we also have terrific people who work in our Aboriginal community health sector, like Congress in Alice Springs, who's out there with their staff. Tangentyere, who looks after the 16 town camps around Alice Springs, they're out there messaging already. They're also showing leadership with some of their leaders getting vaccinations. And this is the sort of thing that we have to continue to do at the moment.

KARVELAS: Just a final question to you, Matt Canavan, because national cabinet meets tomorrow, and I know certain Premiers really want to push for a radical reduction in the number of overseas intake, including Australians coming in and others, as we've learnt. Is that reasonable until we have higher levels of vaccination given, and I've just looked at this today, eight quarantine breaches in the last month.

CANAVAN: I think that would be a backward step. I'd like to see us increase the number of people that are coming back overseas over time. We've got to learn to live with it. Yes, there will be outbreaks as a result of that, as we've seen, but we just cannot completely depart from all the risk here. Fortunately, and it is fortunately, there has not been a single death from coronavirus where it's been caught in Australia this year, not a single death. And so to go from that situation and say, okay, now we're going to shut the borders again, we go we're going to we're going to stop we're going to reduce the number of desperate Australians who want to come home to their own country. I don't see the need for that. We've just got to manage this, vaccinate people as we can. As you said earlier in your program, 70 percent of people in those older age brackets have now got at least one shot. We are getting there. And younger, younger people, of course, don't face the same fatality risks from coronavirus. So we've got to get the balance here right. And adjust ourselves over time and open up. We cannot just keep locking down every time that there's a risk of this disease.

KARVELAS: Thanks to both of you. We're out of time. Appreciate both of you joining me. Nationals Senator Matt Canavan there and Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy.