Interview with Deborah Knight, 2GB

Deborah Knight
Vaccine roll out, lockdowns

DEBORAH KNIGHT: They join us every week. Energy Minister Angus Taylor and the Member for the Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon. With the ACT going into lockdown from 5pm yesterday, there was quite the scramble, the panic-buying. It's always the toilet paper at the ACT supermarkets. And the scramble of pollies also escaping the nation's capital with parliament rising after the two-week sitting. Angus, I know you've returned home to Goulburn, and Joel, you're back at Cessnock. How'd you go getting out, Angus?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I came out this morning, actually. Stayed last night just assessing the situation and drove home. I'm only an hour from Canberra, so it's pretty straight forward. Got home this morning but it was very quiet on the streets of Canberra. Tough time for the ACT, obviously.


DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, difficult. Joel, and yourself?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Yeah, so I joined the scramble late yesterday afternoon, Deb. First of all, had to secure a different flight. I was very fortunate to be successful on that front. But I have to say maybe I've watched too many Hollywood movies, but as I was trying to race into the airport and through airport security to beat five o'clock - I wasn't sure whether five o'clock really mattered but I was determined to beat it - I felt like one of those spies trying to escape an Eastern Bloc country, you know, waiting for someone to grab hold of me and say: where are you going?

DEBORAH KNIGHT: You have been watching too many movies, I think. But it wasn't a good look, I didn't think, that special flights were put on for pollies, because ordinary Aussies can't do that. What do you reckon, Angus? They can't organise a special flight to escape a lockdown.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I wasn't aware of all that, Deb. I mean, for me, it's just driving home, so there's no need for a special flight. But, you know, look, there are hardships being felt all around Australia right now. Pollies shouldn't get special treatment, that's absolutely right. We need to be aware of the difficulty everyone's facing, including in areas that aren’t locked down just because of the business impacts and I'm seeing that in my own electorate.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Absolutely. That is a good point to make. Now, I spoke just before I caught up with Nicole Rogerson from Autism Awareness Australia, talking about this outbreak at a special needs school in Sydney. She's really frustrated by the slow rollout of the vaccine for the disability sector. They were part of phase 1A, the very start of this roll out but many are still waiting to be vaccinated, not because they don't want to, but because they've struggled to get access to supply. Why, Angus, does this sector, the disability sector, keep getting neglected?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I don't think that's quite right. Nicole does great work in the sector, by the way, I'm very conscious that work. We have now at least 64 per cent of the eligible disability sector being vaccinated. There have been challenges with consent. This is a challenging situation with aged care and disability that often will need to get consent from a carer. It's really important, and Greg said this- Greg Hunt said this this week, that people who are carers, give that consent. It's incredibly important.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But you've still got 36 per cent that have not been vaccinated.

ANGUS TAYLOR: That's right. But we don't line people up in a sheep race, you know with a dog. That's not how this country works. Some think that's how it should work, but it's not how it should work, and it's not how it does work. So, we need consent and it's really important. Anyone listening who is a carer for someone in aged care or disability accommodation, we need those consents. It's hugely important.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But that's not the bulk of the reason why people aren't getting the vaccination. That might be one of the reasons, but the key issue is getting access to supply.

ANGUS TAYLOR: There's a lot of supply around at the moment, Deb. You know, there's lots of people who are being fussy about which vaccine they get, I get that. I understand that but there's a lot of supply around if you really want it.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: So do you think that the disability sector is being fussy about the type of vaccine?

ANGUS TAYLOR: No, I'm not talking about the disability sector in particular. The truth of the matter is, we do have a consent problem in the disability sector. That's been very clear and Greg Hunt has made that point on multiple occasions. So, we do need that consent. And ultimately, we do want to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible right across the country.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: We also need to get more Indigenous Australians vaccinated. There another so-called priority group, and they're really concerned right now because of this very worrying spread in western New South Wales, in and around Walgett. We've done a great job in keeping COVID out of the Indigenous communities. Joel, is this again a failure with the vaccine rollout?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: It is, Deb. And do you remember when Channel 9 used to have the worm during the television leaders' debates, during the election campaign?


JOEL FITZGIBBON: It would turn up and turn down when the audience was turning against whatever the leader was saying. Well, Angus, every time you say there are vaccinations everywhere for everyone, the worm turns down, mate from people who are having trouble accessing vaccinations, both AstraZeneca and Pfizer. It's just a simple fact that we take those calls every day, Angus. Walgett and like areas are a disaster. They were identified very early. They were made a priority, and the rollout still hasn't happened adequately in those communities. I listened to Nicole Rogerson, the CEO of Autism Australia, not only with Deb earlier, but also on Sky News this morning and she was scathing of the Federal Government for its inaction at that school and across the disability sector generally. You can't come on here, Angus, and say it's all okay, because Deb's listeners do not believe it, and the worm is turning down every time you say it.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, Joel, let's be clear about this. I'm going to respond to this, and I'm going to strongly respond to this very firmly. There are many in the Labor party who have actively demonised AstraZeneca. There is no doubt about that, including a candidate you have in Higgins, and frankly, you haven't shown a lot of enthusiasm for it yourself. Now, here's the truth. Here are the facts. We have had far lower hospitalisations and deaths in those communities- those vulnerable communities of disability and Indigenous communities than we have had, on average, across the Australian population. That has been an extremely positive outcome. And good on those people who have helped to make sure that has been the case.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: That's a fair cop for Labor, but what about your own colleagues? You've got George Christensen, you know, continuously contradicting the Government over health advice.


ANGUS TAYLOR: Right. But, Deb, we have had Anthony Albanese unwilling to support the AstraZeneca vaccine. He's demonised it. He's been part of that demonisation. Let's be clear out that.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: That is not true.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, he has shown no enthusiasm to support it. And frankly, the lack of enthusiasm to support it has been a real issue. Labor needs to stop politicising this, get on board, support the rollout, support the fact that we have good vaccines. All of these vaccines are effective. They work, and it is important that all Australians get on with the job. The truth is, there is a lot of AstraZeneca around. I've had- another dozen or so chemists will have access to it from Monday in my own electorate. Many already have and the demonisation of it by some in the Labor party has been untoward.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Does Deputy PM, Barnaby Joyce, also need to change his tune? Because he's saying he won't dictate what others say when it comes to health advice, and he's referring directly to George Christensen.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, he condemned George Christensen's comments. Look, in this country, people are free to say what they believe and believe what they want. However, others are free to say that they are wrong.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But he also said that when you've got a thin margin, you don't start giving reasons for a by-election. So it seems as though the politics was far more important than the health issues. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, no, let's go to the facts again, Deb. Barnaby was on the ABC this week saying that he condemned what George Christensen said.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: And some of Angus's colleagues were in the Senate yesterday voting in support of George Christensen.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Was he wrong, Angus?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yes, absolutely. I condemn those comments as well. They were wrong. Now, Barnaby was unambiguous about that and trying to say otherwise, Joel, is completely wrong.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And Joel, I think it's a fair cop that Anthony Albanese hasn't been strong enough in giving support to AstraZeneca. Do you think that he should be more clear-cut in encouraging all Australians to get the vaccine?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Oh, I disagree, Deb. The only thing Anthony Albanese- Anthony Albanese has never - it's reckless for Angus to suggest it - has never criticised or discouraged people from taking AstraZeneca. What he's not been prepared to do, in my memory, and this is certainly true of me, is to go beyond doctors' advice and encourage people to get AstraZeneca in a way which suggests it doesn't matter what their GPS are telling them. So my advice has been consistent, and I think it's also true of Anthony Albanese: follow the GP's advice. And if the GP says it's okay to get AstraZeneca, please go and receive AstraZeneca, which I did, eventually, Deb, and I was hoping, in doing so, to set an example. They told me my Pfizer dose would be restored, but I decided this was an opportunity to get in more quickly and set the example.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Which is a good move.

ANGUS TAYLOR: But Joel, it's time to go one step further and confirm publicly what the Doherty Institute said, which is that this is a highly effective vaccine. It is as effective as Pfizer at preventing hospitalizations and deaths.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: We are seeing, though, Angus, we are seeing a lot of GPs who are not giving AstraZeneca, even though people who are under 60 are coming forward, saying I want it. And part of that reason is that they still don't have indemnity. It was promised in June. Why is it still not finalised?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I'm not aware of that situation, but let me tell you, most doctors in my electorate are and with some encouragement, they've been very positive about it, and that's a great thing. The pharmacists are rolling out AstraZeneca, and they're doing it with enormous enthusiasm, and good on them.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Just with the business side of things, too. A lot of businesses from all sorts of industries want the Federal Government to give clarity about mandating vaccines for staff. Do you think it's a good idea to make legislation, to make it clear cut for businesses, rather than just handballing it over to the states?

ANGUS TAYLOR: No. No, we don't. That's not the view of the Federal Government. Look, every workplace is different. If you compare, for instance, someone working on a farm versus someone working-

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But what about a tiered system? I mean you could do it that way.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, hang on. Let me finish. Someone working in aged care, they're incredibly different circumstances and so each workplace will have those different circumstances. That's why we have a framework under Fair Work and Safe Work Australia to ensure that employers and employees can work this through and come to an appropriate outcome for their workplace. Now, there's guidance that is on the websites of Safe Work Australia and the Fair Work Ombudsman on how employers and employees should work through this. But we do recognise that not every workplace in Australia is the same.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: That's fine. I think that the tiered system would be a way around that. But Joel, the unions have got to come on board with this. They've been a handbrake on ensuring that businesses can get some clarity in this space.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, I'm not sure that's true, Deb. They are looking to some leadership as well from the Government. I mean, the Government's failed on quarantine. It's failed on vaccination. It's failed Indigenous communities. Its failed people with disabilities. It's failed on this indemnity and what people are looking for is something better. What we all know is that the law is somewhat unclear, reasonableness being the key test for an employer. What employers are saying is that they want some leadership from the Government and some legislative clarity on this matter, which would still allow for the flexibility Angus is talking about between one business and another, which, of course, might be very, very different. The law is unclear, so let's help by making the law more clear, Deb. It's pretty simple stuff, really.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, this is just rot we're hearing from Joel today. And frankly, we've got Labor politicising everything at the moment and it's sad that they're doing it. It's unfortunate they've been doing it for months now. The truth of the matter is, we have a legal framework to resolve these issues. That's what our industrial relations system does. Labor put much of it into place, Deb, and so that system needs to be allowed to do its work, to recognise the distinctive features of all workplaces and recognise that not every answer is going to be appropriate for every workplace. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: All right, fellas, so much to talk about. We didn't get time to have much fun. But we are out of time.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Can I just say, we'll continue to speak out for the thousands of people coming to us complaining about the Government's failure on so many fronts. That's not politicising the issue, that's representing our people.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, you're speaking out for your political interests, Joel. Let's get on with solving this problem, which is what all Australians want us to do.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Rubbish. Rubbish, Angus.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: We do need some unity, and we'll join you again next week. Fellas, thanks for joining us.

ANGUS TAYLOR:    Good on you, Deb.