Subjects: National Cabinet, Qantas international flights, Queensland ramping crisis
PETER STEFANOVIC: Let’s go back to Canberra now and joining us this morning is Senator Amanda Stoker, the Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, amongst some others too. Senator, good to see you, thanks for your time this morning. We’ve heard from Qantas this morning, they are announcing that there’s going to be a gradual return to international travel by mid-December, that’s the timeframe that the Tourism Minister Dan Tehan confirmed just a short time ago as well. It is dependant on the states though, so do you believe that’s where a problem could lie given, especially in your state of Queensland, how the Premier has been in recent weeks, months?
AMANDA STOKER: Look, it certainly posts a challenge. Good morning. If we look at the national plan for living with COVID-19, the opening up of the international borders is factored in and a part of that plan. The states and the Commonwealth Government all signed up to it through National Cabinet. And it says, as we reach 70 and 80 per cent levels of vaccination, it is safe for us to open up to the economy, it is safe for us to go back to work, to school and to socialising, and it is safe for us to start to open up to the rest of the world. But you’re right. There is the risk that states in their own interest might stand in the way, and in Queensland we face real problems on this front. Steven Miles has now started to shuffle back from the commitment that he and his state made to the national plan but let’s face it, the national plan is the only thing on the table, that is the only thing that is properly worked up that is evidence-backed, that gives us a path back to normal. And so it is utterly irresponsible that those in Queensland are doing everything they can to undermine the rate of vaccination that is at the heart of us being able to tick off the steps needed to get back to normal.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Palaszczuk was voted in with a pretty serious margin. Isn’t she just doing what the people want?
AMANDA STOKER: Look, no doubt she was rewarded at the election but she continues to double down on the politics of fear. And it’s not right. Leadership means understanding people’s anxieties, doing what’s necessary to make sure they are safe enough to feel confident for their future. And then doing what’s necessary for us to function in a balanced way. It is not balanced that people suffer from mental health impacts from lockdowns that are potentially, over time, disproportionate to the risk they might face-
PETER STEFANOVIC: Why do you-
AMANDA STOKER: Sorry, I beg your pardon.
PETER STEFANOVIC: No, no, no, I get it and the mental health toll is absolutely staggering at the moment. Business have been beaten up by these lockdowns, you’ve got kids at home, kids away from school. But it feels like there’s momentum in this space at the moment, particularly as vaccination rates surge ahead, particularly in New South Wales. But Queensland is falling behind. In fact I think it’s last at the moment. Why do you think Queensland is last when it comes to vaccination uptake?
AMANDA STOKER: Look, you’re spot on. If we look nationally, the vaccination rate is really strong. We’ve got a million people getting a jab every three days and that is a faster rate of vaccination than even the UK at its peak. It is a really solid performance nationally and Australians are to be commended for that. But if you look to Queensland – the only place - in the OECD - that’s doing worse than Queensland in terms of its vaccination uptake, is Slovakia. Now, no slur on Slovakia, but there’s no reason why things should be that bad in Queensland. So, you’ve got to ask why. What’s behind this? And it could be that the Premier has profited handsomely in a political sense from the politics of fear and she wants to keep that going on in her own interest. It could be that undermining the vaccination rollout in the way that the Premier and Chief Health Officer have, particularly in relation to AstraZeneca, that undermining is something - they think - could play political games between the state and federal government. It’s the oldest political trick in the book. But it’s not in Australians’ interests. But it could be worse than that still. It could be that they want to profit politically from keeping Coalition competitors out of the state. No doubt it’s in her interests to keep the PM out of Queensland. It could well be – and I think this is at the heart of it – that she knows that the continued, long-term underperformance of Queensland’s health system will be exposed once we try and get back to normal. And when we have hospital ramping rates of 50 per cent on the Gold Coast, almost 60 per cent in Logan, in the 40s on the Sunshine Coast, that tells us the Queensland Health system – a state responsibility - is not as ready as it should be for the challenges of dealing with COVID cases that, okay, will be less serious when people are vaccinated but they will still be there as we move form charting to the number of cases to the severity of cases.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay.
AMANDA STOKER: So, I think there’s a lot more at play here and we need to hold the states, particularly Queensland, accountable for the self-interestedness they’re demonstrating at the moment.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Amanda Stoker, appreciate your time. Thank you.