Transcript - ABC Regional Drive with Alex Easton

Subjects: vaccinations, Melbourne protests

ALEX EASTON: So, this is the part we do every Friday where we chew over some of the bigger news events of the week with the panel. Today we're joined by QUT political analyst and former Beattie-Bligh Government minister, John Mickel. G'day John, are you there? Hello? No, John's not there yet. And we- hang on a sec. Let's see if I've just missed up a button. Okay, John, are you with us now?

 

JOHN MICKEL: Yes.

 

ALEX EASTON: Fantastic. All right, no worries. We've also got Liberal Party Senator Amanda Stoker. How're you doing, Amanda?

 

AMANDA STOKER: Hi there. I'm well, thanks.

 

ALEX EASTON: Beauty. Thanks for joining us. And we've got Sunshine Coast-based media and marketing expert Tatiana Day. Hello, Tatiana.

 

TATIANA DAY: Hi, Alex. Good to see you.

 

ALEX EASTON: So this seemed to be the week when it just kind of started dawning on everyone just how restricted the lives of unvaccinated people were going to be once borders reopen on 17 December. And that's happened just as the Acting Chief Health Officer's announced that our vaccination program's now going so well that they might be bringing that date forward to 6 December. So under the rules announced by the State Government - and they did announce this like a good week or two ago - if you aren't double vaccinated after that date, there's not going to be a whole lot that you can do, apart from buying your groceries, going to church, and using public transport, if you happen to be in a part of Queensland that has public transport. Things like a trip to the pub or a café or a restaurant, going to a festival or a cinema, an art gallery, a library, all those things are off-limits. And that sounds pretty hardcore, but it flows into areas that you might not otherwise consider. Like, you can imagine, in a lot of small towns, you have little general stores that supply essential grocery-type things that you might rely on, but then they also have a café and a bottle shop and that kind of thing as well. Steve Knight is an example of this. He runs a combination general store, café and bar at Happy Valley on Fraser Island, or K'gari. This is how he interprets those rules.

 

[Excerpt]

 

So this is a place that has tourists, but it also has a locals population. This applies to both of them, locals and tourists alike. Nearby at the Kingfisher Bay Resort, also on K'gari, they've decided those same issues mean you can't even go to the resort unless you're double vaccinated. Now, this has prompted a bit of political blowback. Here's the Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

 

[Excerpt]

 

Now, I suppose the question is, do these restrictions for- that are the planned for people who are not vaccinated go too far? Tatiana, what do you reckon?

 

TATIANA DAY: I think that we- as a society, we have to do what is best for the majority in terms of protecting the health and the well-being of the masses. I've had many conversations with contacts of mine, both professionally and personally, and I'm a little disillusioned as to why people wouldn't want to get vaccinated, but then I also respect the fact that their body is their body, and such is the case with people who choose to smoke or who choose to consume a significant amount of alcohol. I think the big difference is that people who are unvaccinated can have an impact on those around them. So I think it's challenging. I think putting responsibility on an industry that has already suffered quite significantly for the last 21 months, in terms of cafés, restaurants, bars, and cinemas having to enforce or potentially have less business as a result of this move, I think is challenging on those individuals. It is- I can see both sides really.

 

ALEX EASTON: That's a really good point. This is something that Robbie Katter from the Katter Party in Queensland brought up this week. Here's what he had to say.

 

[Excerpt]

 

So, I mean, he's making a pretty good point there. It's- the logistics of actually having to enforce this if you're a business - and bearing in mind, a lot of these businesses have already gone through a pretty tough time with the mask rules and the check-in rules, which, by comparison, are pretty light - it's- if they then have to tell people, you can't even come in here unless you can show me that you're double vaccinated, you could imagine, with the abuse they've been copping so far, that's only going to escalate. I mean, what do you think of this? John?

 

JOHN MICKEL: I think the laws in Queensland are in line with every other state. I've said last week that we have anti-smoking laws, and they are just taken as a fact. I downloaded the app this morning where you show you're double vaccinated. It's no big deal. If I could do it, anybody can do it. I'm not tech savvy. And it is not going to be a big deal to show that. The message that we have got to get out, if we want to get total freedom - and I'm one of those who wants people safe, workplace health and safety - I don't understand why somebody in a coffee shop has to be less safe than other people. If you want to attend, as a journalist, a Scott Morrison press conference, Alex, you have to be double vaccinated. Well, if it's good enough for the Prime Minister, it should be good enough for the person who is probably a casual in a coffee shop. The big message, and the message that I thought the whole nation was trying to do, is to get that vaccination rate up. And that's what we've been trying to do.

 

ALEX EASTON: Yeah, but what about-

 

JOHN MICKEL: And the message that the Prime Minister sent this week, I get politically what it's aimed at. It's aimed at Queensland. But they are the same rules as in every other state. What it is is a wink and a nod to some of the senators and members in his own party, but also to Palmer, Hanson, and I understand Campbell Newman's on the same deal. And that's a bigger deal in Queensland. But, the rules, the same rules apply in every other state. He chose Queensland because it suited him.

 

ALEX EASTON: All right. You're talking about it's the same if you go to a press conference as if you go to a café or why shouldn't it be the same. The difference, I suppose, is you're going to the-

 

JOHN MICKEL: Why is somebody's life less important?

 

ALEX EASTON: What I'm saying though, is you go into a café, you've got some 16-year-old kid who's there after school, who is having to enforce the vaccine rules, and that kid is getting abused by people who feel like anyone who dares to question whether or not they're vaccinated, or tells them that they ought to be vaccinated, can just abuse them. And we've spoken to the Retail Association of Australia before about this issue, and the level of abuse that kids have been getting in retail. You've got essentially like teenagers, children, coming out of that field, before they've even finished school, with essentially permanent psychological injuries because of the level of abuse they're copping. I mean-

 

JOHN MICKEL: And that's why you need a unified response, federal and state, to say, the message is quite clear. Let's get vaccinated and make it safe. I'm not here to apologise for those people who abuse kids. What I'm saying is, if there's a unity of purpose right across the political sphere- you look at Lawrence Springborg out there in Goondiwindi as opposed to, say, the Gold Coast. Huge leadership from Lawrence Springborg. You got nearly 90 per cent of the people vaccinated. In a tourist spot like the Gold Coast, it's dragging the chain. Even when you had to have masks, it was dragging behind. The point is, if you have community leadership, business, local government, state and federal, and a unity of purpose, you'll get behind the effort to get people vaccinated. I mean, this has become a big deal, because some people wanted to make it a big deal. I was just in a function where Ian Frazer was commended for what he did with Gardasil to eliminate cervical cancer for women. I don't see the big signs up saying: oh, Ian Frazer should be condemned because he's saving us from cancer. What happened is with this pandemic, there was certain sections of the community, probably starting in the United States, who decided to weaponise it. What we've got to do is stop weaponising it and get a unity of purpose; community, business, and all levels of government.

 

ALEX EASTON: Okay. Well on that, Amanda, you heard the comment from the Prime Minister there about people should be able to go out and get a coffee. Interestingly, this is not a line that the Queensland opposition leader, David Crisafulli has followed. He's, in fact, basically supported the rules saying- and just said people need to get vaccinated. Does that suggest Scott Morrison's actually backing the wrong horse on this?

AMANDA STOKER: No, I think the Prime Minister has taken the sensible middle road here. I mean, if we step through- if we step through the evidence here, it is a sensible thing for all Australians to be vaccinated. I'm vaccinated myself, and it is the Federal Government's policy that everybody who can be vaccinated should be. It is the right thing to do. But it's voluntary. It needs to be a decision for the individual, because decisions about what does or doesn't go into your body should be for the person receiving that medicine. It shouldn't be something that's decided by governments in a manner without nuance. There are some people who have pre-existing illnesses, for instance, that make it unsuitable for them. There are some people that will have religious or conscientious sensitivities, and they need to have the right for individual choice here. I'm reluctant to accept without taking it on what my friend, John, has just said about the need for a national unified response in circumstances where there is a national plan. The Federal Government and all the states signed up to it, except the Queensland Government seems to want a freelance and ignore it when it suits them. There is a unified plan here, and it's incumbent upon everybody to stick to it, in all Australians' health interests, but also in the interest of getting our economy back on track. If we want to be real here about what's impacted upon vaccination rates, the hesitancy that was fuelled by the Premier and the former CHO making people scared of the AstraZeneca vaccine has done far more harm than anything else. And their attempt to make that up by forcing it upon people, rather than respecting the common sense of individuals, I think, is not the right thing to do. But if we just step back here and think about the practicalities. We're in a situation where every Australian has had access to a vaccine. They've either decided that it's right for them, as you know, something well over 80 per cent of Australians now have decided, or they've decided it's not for them, taking into account the probable health risks that person will face. No matter which category you are in, you remain capable of transmitting the disease. That doesn't change much, although it reduces slightly in the person who's vaccinated. In circumstances where everybody who wants protection has had access to it, and everybody who wants protection knows that when they get COVID, as in time we probably all will, it'll be something like a flu, a relatively mild one at that. And those people who are prepared to take the risk have been happy to. There actually isn't a lot of utility for dividing up our community in this way. And it is deeply harmful to break our society and turn people against one another on the basis of this one attribute, when the health evidence doesn't show it's necessary.

 

ALEX EASTON: At the same time, though, I mean, what the health evidence shows is, the higher percentage that you have vaccinated. And like, really, that is a long way past 80 per cent. We're talking like, to 95 per cent before it really becomes like- at 95 per cent, you basically then get to eradicate COVID more or less from the community. But within that, you still have it spreading around. And even amongst vaccinated people, you will have vulnerable people who can get sick, who can get very sick, who can even die. I mean, why should- it is voluntary, but why should there not be consequences, if those consequences are, well, you can't go to the same places that you could normally go to. They've got- you can go to a wedding, but if you go to that wedding, then the rules about how many people can be at that wedding change to take account of the fact that there's unvaccinated people there. There are consequences to decisions. Isn't that fair enough?

 

AMANDA STOKER: There are always consequences to decisions. But the art of good policy is about making those consequences proportionate to the nature of the risk. In circumstances where the eradication is not a viable strategy, and that as we as a country, open up to the world, as we must do, we cannot be in splendid isolation for eternity. Our trade, our desire for travel, our education industry, our aviation industry, our tourism industry, our agriculture, energy, they all depend upon us re-engaging with the rest of the world, And relatively soon, quite frankly. A zero-COVID strategy doesn't work. So what we need to do is get in place sensible and proportionate measures that are about allowing people to choose the level of protection that suits them and their circumstances. But can I put it this way, to force a vaccine on a person with a pre-existing condition, knowing that it won't be good for their health, but because a mandatory, inflexible, and untailored approach has been taken to the issue, has the potential to do just as much health harm as does the risk that might come to a person who's sensitive to a flu, but is vaccinated, receiving the illness in due course. So it's a matter of what's proportionate here. And it is not sensible, proportionate, or practical for us to pretend that a zero strategy approach is viable in any way. And for all the language about this is a strong measure from the Premier; well, it's not strong. It's fundamentally weak if it builds complacency, if it keeps us with our head in the sand and unable to be getting back to life as normal in every other aspect of our community.

 

ALEX EASTON: I suppose you could also argue, though, and we do to move on, is that this is an approach that's been more or less endorsed by the voters of Queensland at the last election.

 

AMANDA STOKER: Look, it was extremely popular the last election. But I'd suggest that the pressures and frustrations of Queenslanders are not static, and that those things do change over time. There's a reason why the Premier is using about $500,000 of the taxpayer money, to do polling to make sure she's keeping the pulse on the way that Queenslanders' views are changing. They are changing, but leadership isn't about chasing polls. Leadership is about doing what we know right, even when it's difficult, and pressing on, bringing the community with you.

 

ALEX EASTON: Okay, let's go down to Melbourne, because there's been a lot of protests there that's been going on for a while, and they're starting to get a bit scary.


[Excerpt]

 

This is from the protest, or one of the protests in Melbourne that's happened this week. Now this is- it's- we're talking about people bringing along nooses and gallows. It's really sort of looking a little bit 6 January Insurrection kind of stuff going on there. Once again, we're hearing this narrative of an infiltration of far-right extremists in these protests. But either way, this feels very much like new territory for Australia. And we're seeing politicians being singled out in a way that we haven't seen before. There was that fellow- I don't know if you saw in the news today from the Animal Justice Party, whose daughter was actually physically assaulted, was taken to hospital, because someone disagreed with a position he'd taken in Parliament, which is just mind-blowing. I mean, being a politician has always meant a lot of public exposure, but is it becoming more dangerous? Amanda, this is- you're in the hot seat here.

 

AMANDA STOKER: Look, I think that, as much as I don't agree with Dan Andrews's pandemic bill, that's horrible overreach, and it's rightly been condemned, this behaviour is- it's offensive, it's dangerous and it's wrong. And it runs the very real risk that it will be necessary to tighten up security around politicians in a way that actually makes the political system less susceptible to ordinary Australians. The beautiful thing about democracy in this country is that a citizen can wander up to their local MP or a minister, say hello, have a chat, bend their ear, and there's never been a real risk of safety to people on the street. If that were to change, that would be really bad for our culture, and it would be terrible for the accessibility of the system of politics to the people who need it most.

 

ALEX EASTON: Alright. Now, the Prime Minister's response to this is now under the spotlight. Yesterday, he said this.

 

[Excerpt]

 

Now this response has gathered a lot of criticism. Ed Husic, one of the Labor frontbenchers, has compared it to the US President Donald Trump after the violent clash between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Virginia early in his presidency that left a woman dead and one of the white supremacists facing a murder charge. This is what Trump said, that Husic's comparing it to.

 

[Excerpt]

 

It seems- off the top of your head, you might say it's overreach, but it's also been referred to as dog whistling. And basically, Dan Andrews suggested that Morrison was courting the votes of extremists in that comment. What did you think, Tatiana?

 

TATIANA DAY: I mean, firstly, no one should threaten another person's life in this very public way. That kind of behaviour is disgraceful. But I think, from an informed citizens point of view, we're fed up. We're fed up with the politicking between state and Federal governments. You know, there is obviously very different factions. This is an opportunity. Instead of everyone coming together and just saying this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated in Australia, what politicians are doing is using this as an opportunity to get a one up on one another. And I just think that this is confusing the message. It's creating divide and factions, and I just think it's unnecessary for the level of government that we actually have in Australia, which is perhaps a conversation for another time. But I think you look at countries like the UK that have local government, followed by a Federal Government that works very fine for a significant amount more of population than what we have here in Australia. And yet in Australia, we have so many levels of government and so much politicking and pork barrelling and passing the buck that I think it's ineffective.

 

ALEX EASTON: It's that, yeah- there- I saw a tweet today sort of pointing to the way that protest was done and saying; look, there are there are big issues with this legislation that the state government of Victoria has tried to pass. But by going out there with this noose and making these terrible threats, you're essentially making it so that that point can't really be made anymore because it just gets completely drowned out. I mean, there are genuine issues with the legislation. There is a real frustration in Melbourne. The people in Melbourne have been through the wringer. And maybe that needs to be, like- it can't be wrong to acknowledge that in itself, but to say, on the one hand, it's bad to go out with nurses, but people are frustrated to put those messages together like that. Is it just a poor way of phrasing, John, that maybe misses the nuance?

 

JOHN MICKEL: No, it's a Scott Morrison way of phrasing. You'll find there's a book being written on Morrison and this is the sort of language he uses. I disagree with Ed Husic. I don't think it's a Charlottesville thing. I think what everybody forgets about Morrison, he was Howard's campaign director in New South Wales 2004. It's the sort of language that Howard used after the Cronulla riots. It is not true to say, as he did in the opening, that somehow it's getting worse. If you think of the nooses and ditch the witch and all that stuff against Gillard, it was there. This is not just directed at Dan Andrews over a piece of legislation. McGowan in Western Australia has had to close his office, send his staff home because of what's gone on there. In Andrews's case, it's his wife and kids. And now overnight, we've seen the case of the Animal Justice MP in Victoria. If you think to the United Kingdom, Jo Cox and Sir David Amess were murdered in going about constituency work. What has happened is the weaponisation of the pandemic, and it's the weaponisation of the pandemic, plus language from Morrison, where he is trying to appeal to both groups. On the one hand, calm down the thing, but we can understand the level of frustration. This is straight out of the handbook that John Howard used. It's almost verbatim what he said. I think it was in about 2004.

 

ALEX EASTON: All right, thanks very much for that. Now we're- it's 4.30, so we really do need to wrap up. Tatiana, I just need to clarify something that you said earlier when we were talking about the vaccines. Someone said they thought you said; I can't understand why anyone would get vaccinated, but it's their body. The way I was understanding was you're saying, I can't understand why anyone would not get vaccinated.

 

TATIANA DAY: Would not get vaccinated, that's correct. And can I just add one other quick point as well, Alex? I think the cafés and the restaurants is one interesting area where potentially unvaccinated people cannot go. But I've discovered that unvaccinated can actually visit hospitals for end of life and most disturbingly, childbirth, and they are, you know, our most innocent that need to be protected the most. So I was really quite flabbergasted that unvaccinated people would be allowed into hospitals where brand new babies have been brought into the world. And so I just wanted to add that point, too.

 

ALEX EASTON: All right, thanks very much. Just before we go, we are celebrating Aus Music Day to day, and I did warn you all I would ask you for your favourite Aus music song or band. Amanda, what's your pick?

 

AMANDA STOKER: I've been thinking about this very carefully, and I'm down to my last two. Can I have two? Is that alright?

 

ALEX EASTON: Yeah, alright.

 

AMANDA STOKER: So, I love AC/DC's cover of Baby Please Don't Go.

 

ALEX EASTON: Oh, nice. Yeah, okay.

 

AMANDA STOKER: I think that's a great song. But I also love Stevie Wright, Evie parts one, two and three.

 

ALEX EASTON: Oh, alright. I really like your music taste. Alright, John, can you measure up?

 

JOHN MICKEL: Not- I'll take one. I like John Williamson's Cootamundra Wattle. I'm of that age and I like that song. I can identify with it.

 

ALEX EASTON: Yep, alright. Tatiana?

 

TATIANA DAY: I'm going to be like Amanda and mention two as well. Missy Higgins, The Special Two. Love Missy Higgins. And one that I've been playing a lot more lately, Ice House Electric Blue.

 

ALEX EASTON: Ooh, nice.

 

AMANDA STOKER: Oh, yes.

 

ALEX EASTON: That's the third Ice House song we've had suggested today, and that is a really good one. It's a good one. I've forgotten about it. All right. Thank you very much, everyone. That's our news panel for today. We were going to talk about how you get bogged in the desert and how you plan for that, but we are completely out of time.

 

JOHN MICKEL: Take the trip with me. That's how you'll do it.

 

ALEX EASTON: Thanks for the warning.

 

JOHN MICKEL: Yeah, beautiful.

 

ALEX EASTON: All right. Have a good one. That's our news panel for today. That's John Mickel, Amanda Stoker and Tatiana Day.