Interview with Deborah Knight, 2GB

Deborah Knight
Vaccine roll out, Australia's low emissions technology partnership with the United Kingdom

DEBORAH KNIGHT: They join us every Friday, Federal Energy Minister, Angus Taylor, and the Member for the Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon, for Friday Question Time. Fellas, thanks so much for joining us. It's been a big week with the lockdown in Sydney and with COVID impacting the country. And Angus, the focus of National Cabinet today will be will be this modelling from the Doherty Institute about how many people should be vaccinated before we can start living normally again. Now we've had that vague four-phase plan agreed to already at the start of the month by National Cabinet, but we still don't have any clear thresholds. Why is it taking so long to get there? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, ultimately, we need to have an agreement with the Premiers. You had your listener on earlier talking about the challenge of getting the Federation - getting the premier's to sign up. That's what National Cabinet's about. I got to tell you, Deb, we can overcomplicate this. The simple message on the vaccination targets is everyone listening should target getting the vaccine if they're eligible, if they can. So that is the most important target of all. That's the one that really counts. Great to hear your listener, Judy, talking about how excited she is to go and get the AZ vaccine. It's a good vaccine, it works, it's opening up the UK right now. So let's get vaccinated. Everyone should hear that message loud and clear. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, it is our ticket to freedom. That is for sure. One of the issues, Joel, with National Cabinet is that we are saying leaders really putting in digs. Self-interest is coming to the fore again. All this rubbish about us being in this together doesn't seem to be happening with the State Premiers and Territory leaders as well. Is our Federation just a complete failure at the moment? 

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, that's another Angus attempt to blame the States. I mean, you'd expect the Premiers to be parochial and standing up for their own communities. That's what they are elected to do, Deb. When Scott Morrison formed the National Cabinet, what, nearly 18 months or more now, he hailed it as a piece of genius, a stroke of genius, and it was going to lead us out of the pandemic. Well, it's now unravelling, of course. It is a shame that we're pitting states against one another, or indeed they're putting themselves against one another. What we need here is strong national leadership, Deb, from our Prime Minister; a Prime Minister who failed on both vaccination and on quarantine, which is the root cause of the problem we face now. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: What about Albo with AstraZeneca? Because he's been pretty quiet, Joel, on a time when really we're wanting all of our leaders to lead by example and instil confidence in the vaccine rollout. Talking about whether or not AstraZeneca is the right jab, the jab of choice, we haven't heard much from Albo in promoting AstraZeneca. 

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, I suppose Anthony Albanese wants to be honest with the Australian people. They don't want to hear spin from him. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: I'm not wanting spin, though. It's just leading by example. 

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Deb, we can't walk away from the fact that AstraZeneca has been problematic. That was reinforced by all the original recommendations from ATAGI, including the decision to stop AstraZeneca for under 60-year-olds. Now, Scott Morrison's trying to dictate to ATAGI what the rules should be, and we're saying that everyone should get AstraZeneca. No wonder the community is confused. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Angus, I know you're pretty fired up about the pre-selection of a candidate for the seat of Higgins in Victoria by Labor, currently held by a Government MP, Dr Katie Allen. They've put forward this medical doctor, Michelle Ananda-Rajah, an infectious diseases expert who's been very critical about AstraZeneca. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah I mean, this is extraordinary. Look, Albo is absolutely missing in action in supporting, getting out there, and getting vaccinated. He has failed to support AstraZeneca. Look, this vaccine is proving to be the ticket to freedom in the UK where it was invented. It is an important part of the answer, alongside other vaccines, but it's important part of the answer. We have Albo refusing, refusing to endorse it. The Labor Party missing in action on this point. We just heard the messaging from Joel. Now, Joel and I agree on many things, but the one message we've got to be jointly putting out there is please get vaccinated. AZ is a good vaccine. Albo needs to be getting beyond the politics and the partisanship and supporting the vaccination of Australians who are eligible. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And that's a fair cop, isn't it, Joel? 

JOEL FITZGIBBON: The message there is, the subliminal message, we stuffed up. We only really got you one vaccine. We know there are some question marks hanging over it, but we need to have you go and have yourself injected with it. Now, I'm encouraging people to do just that. My wife has done it. You know my story. But it doesn't change the fact that Australians are rationally concerned about AstraZeneca. Now we need- we all need to reassure them, and I again now encourage them to take the AstraZeneca jab but you can understand, it's a rational thing for people to be concerned. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, Joel, it's time to stop being a commentator and start being an advocate for what's right, here. We need to get people vaccinated. AstraZeneca is a good vaccine. It's freeing up the UK, one of the first countries in the world to get to that level. Let's get on with it. The pharmacists have got it. It's great news. We've got pharmacists out there getting the vaccine out. Please, to all your listeners, Deb, get out there and get the vaccine. It's time for Labor and Albo to be in action, not missing in action.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Alright, I want to cover a couple of other issues too. We've seen a significant deal signed last night, Angus, this landmark emissions reduction technology deal with the UK. Nuclear and clean hydrogen are on the table here. Nuclear's been pretty divisive over the years, even for your party. Does this hail a new direction in energy? Is nuclear something that you'll be considering seriously?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we consider all technologies. This is the point. This deal's about R&D. We're not building a nuclear generator tomorrow or anything like that but it is about saying that technology is changing fast, and we need to keep a close eye on it. You know, ruling things out is the wrong thing to do in the energy debate or any of these sorts of debates - the vaccine debate as well. As soon as you start ruling things out, you make life harder for everybody. So it's one of a range of technologies and you know, this is about technology, not taxes. We've been through the carbon tax debate in this country time and time and time again. The Australian people have always said the same thing, so let's focus on technologies. It's time to ditch the political opportunism and scare campaigns - they're Joel's words, by the way. I'm quoting from him. Great line - and get on with looking at all technologies to ensure that we can provide that affordable, reliable energy as we bring our emissions down.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: You being a scaremonger, are you, Joel?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: No. Wise words.

ANGUS TAYLOR: No, no, Deb. Joel was on our side on this one, sorry, Deb.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Wise words they were too, Deb.

ANGUS TAYLOR: They were good words.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: If people are genuinely committed to greenhouse gas emission reductions, then they will support every method and technology available for doing so across every sector, not just the electricity sector, generation sector. One of the consequences of losing elections is that you also lose the opportunity to determine if and how each of the technologies are prioritised. Now, in Opposition, you can say yes or no, and Labor should just back whatever the Government puts on the table. To do otherwise is to suggest we are not genuinely committed to action on climate change. And we've got to back the things the Government is prepared to support, from renewables right through to carbon capture and storage. And we should be able to consider the merits of nuclear in this country.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, well, agreed. It should be on the table. Speaking of having the eye on the prize, we've got Labor spending this week throwing out a lot of the policy rubbish, ditching your signature housing policy, winding back negative gearing, and you've also decided to back the Government-scheduled tax cuts for high-income earners. I guess Albo is desperate to do anything to try and win this time around.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, I'm happy Albo's taking the party back to the centre, where the majority of Australians are. We've moderated our language on climate change, as important as that is. We now have senior shadows visiting coal mines and like and talking about the importance of those industries to the national economy. It was a crazy idea ever to suggest that we would repeal legislated tax cuts, tax cuts that Scott Morrison took to the election and therefore arguably had a mandate to implement.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: So what's the difference, then, between Labor and the Coalition these days?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, there's plenty of difference, Deb, because, first and foremost, we stand for equality of opportunity - not just growing the size of the economic cake, but ensuring that it's equally shared, fairly shared, amongst our communities.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: We'll see what voters say at the next election. Now, I want to end on this: regrettable haircuts. Because I know during lockdowns, a lot of people- I'm actually going to get the clippers out on my husband on the weekend - a lot of people’s hair is gone wild, interesting haircuts. We've got one of our top golfers, Cameron Smith, sporting this big mullet in Tokyo with A-U-S, Aus, in the side of his haircut. Angus, what's the worst haircut you've ever had?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, Deb, I regret not ever getting a mullet, because it's back. The mullet's back.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: There’s here's always time.

ANGUS TAYLOR: We have Mulletfest now in Kurri Kurri, just outside of- just up in Joel's part of the world, and what amazing event that is. Back in the 70s, when I was wearing, tie-dye, flared jeans, and desert boots, I got to say, some of the photos of my haircuts back then are less than flattering. There was a lot of hair. There was a lot of hair. And that was the era, I guess, Deb.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: It was all about the hair in the 70s. What about you, Joel?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Now, how do you get that picture out of your mind?

DEBORAH KNIGHT: I know, right?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Mine is not COVID-related either, but it wasn't all that long ago. I was racing for a train at Central Station to come back to the Hunter one day. I missed the train. I had time to kill waiting for the next train. And despite having the best hairdresser, I think, in the world - a big shout-out to Rachel - I thought I'd fill in the time by walking into a place just near the railway station. They were offering $10 haircuts, Deb, and I have to say-

DEBORAH KNIGHT: You get what you pay for, Joel.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: I have to say, $10 worth is about what I secured that day. But they say it's only about a month between a good haircut and a bad haircut.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: That's what they say. That's what they say. I'll see what my husband has to say after I unleash the clippers on the weekend. Fellas, always good to talk. Thanks for joining us.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks, Deb and Joel.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Good on you Deb and Angus.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Maybe send us a photo, Angus, of your lovely, long locks, and we can put that on the Facebook page. You're on Afternoons with Deborah Knight.