Subjects: Covid-19, the vaccine rollout, WA and Queensland’s border restrictions
PETER STEFANOVIC: The WA Premier Mark McGowan has revealed that a hard border could be in place until April next year. In a pre-budget interview, Mr McGowan conceded he can’t keep the state locked down forever, but he won’t open up until it’s safe to do so. If WA remains Covid-free, the Premier says he will set a date to abolish the hard border, but not until the state is 80 to 90 per cent fully vaccinated. And he expects the state will reach the milestone in either February, March, or April of next year. As we mention, that’s a while away. Joining us now is Queensland Senator Amanda Stoker. Senator, good to see you. Just first of all, can I get your thoughts on that?
AMANDA STOKER: I’m sorry Pete, I didn’t hear the first part.
PETER STEFANOVIC: No, I just want to get your thoughts; we just came off a news item and it’s this interview that West Australian Premier Mark McGowan has done where he’s threatened to keep that hard border closed until WA hits those high vaccination rates. And the threat is that they may well stay closed until April next year. It was done in a pre-budget interview, but what’s your reaction to it?
AMANDA STOKER: Well Premier McGowan has made a commitment, as have all of the other state premiers and the commonwealth, to the national plan. The national plan sets out the clear path for where we go to from here. And it’s not sufficient to drag the chain on vaccination, or be complacent because you’ve got hard borders in place, and try to use that as an excuse to step away from your commitments to deliver in the interests of all Australians. The answer here is very clear in the national plan, it is that we have an abundant supply of vaccines. It is WA and Queensland that are underperforming on the vaccine rollout, largely driven by the premiers of those states having very different attitudes to the rest of the country, and the consequence will be harmful for the economy of WA and for the economy of this country. But importantly, for the safety of the people who live in this country; if they don’t get vaccinated they’re not going to have protection – you can’t keep this out forever. So the answer is simple, he’s got to get with the plan, just like he committed to, and just like everyone else in the country has.
PETER STEFANOVIC: If the threat proceeds, though, to take that long to open up the border, it may well reheat that old argument about whether or not this can be challenged in court. Could it be? AMANDA STOKER: Well look, any Australian has got the right to challenge anything they like in court. But the political answer is very clear, because he’s made a commitment. He made a commitment to work towards opening up, and to do it in accordance with the national plan. It’s up to Western Australians and Australians generally to hold Mr McGowan to that commitment. It’s the right thing to do for the safety of Australians and it’s the right thing to do for the freedom and the livelihoods of Australians.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Could the Federal Government challenge it?
AMANDA STOKER: Well, just like any Australian can mount a challenge, the Federal Government has certain rights to do that too. But the answer is actually very clear, the answer is in the agreement about the national plan. And it’s time he fronted up and did as he committed.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Ok. You mentioned driven by that low take-up of vaccines. Can it also be driven by the fact that we could have had Pfizer a whole lot earlier if the Health Minister had met up with Pfizer earlier last year. It would have been easier, right, if he did do that?
AMANDA STOKER: Respectfully, Pete, that’s just not borne out on the evidence. What’s clear from all of the information that was first put before the senate committees some months ago is that the minister had been in talks with Pfizer from a very early stage, we got the earliest available doses that they were able to produce. There was no delay, there was no bumping us down the queue. We got them the second we possibly could, and we appointed a task-force, supervised by the minister’s office, to ensure that that delivery happened as quickly as it possibly could. Pfizer have confirmed that we got those doses ASAP. The minister has confirmed that we got that ASAP. It’s consistent with the evidence that’s been provided, both in terms of letters that were contemporaneous, as well as what was given at the senate hearing. What we’re dealing with in the press today is nothing more than a misconstruing of some correspondence, and a cherry-picking of information from Labor. When you look at the whole totality of things, we not only got a shipment of our commitment from Pfizer at the earliest possible date, in the highest possible quantity, but we also developed sovereign capability here in Australia to make AstraZeneca. We make it in abundance, we have so much of it, and if we didn’t have certain state premiers running down particular vaccines – and I’ve had AstraZeneca myself, I’m under 40, it’s absolutely fine, but if you’re in doubt talk to your doctor – we’ve got the vaccines we need to move forward here in this country right now. Chopping and changing and arguing about which vaccine is really quite the distraction from the fact of things. And those premiers who underperform are not ordering their full entitlement of either vaccine.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Yep, but the first email, as I understand, was written by Greg Hunt on the 10th of May. We didn’t do the deal until November. That is quite a significant delay, though.
AMANDA STOKER: But when you look at it, it refers to previous conversations. It shows they’ve been talking. And so, there’s no evidence of delay. In fact the email you’re referring to indicates there has been a past pattern of conversations backwards and forwards to get this done. And there’s absolutely no evidence of delay, if anything that document shows that there has been the kind of contact you would expect from this proactive can-do Health Minister, who has done an awfully good job in difficult times.
PETER STEFANOVIC: OK. Just finally Senator, I’ve got to get your thoughts on this story that we’ve just run, too, that Queensland Health blocked an offer from Angel Flight to fly a couple and their four-month old baby who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy home from Sydney on a private plane. The Health Minister is pushing for an exemption now. But what’s your thoughts on the Queensland Government’s position on that.
AMANDA STOKER: Oh, what a heartbreaking position for the parents of baby Rocka to be in. Not only has he got a serious terminal illness, not only have they had to travel interstate to get him the care he needs, but in circumstances where he’s immunocompromised and a sterile, direct flight to their rural home where they can be in iso – genuinely safer than going through a major airport – is being taken away from them. This is devastating stuff. And the heartlessness, the cruelty of it, both to Rocka and to his family, and in the name of what? It’s not good for health. All it reflects is a kind of narrow, bureaucratic approach that is tearing peoples apart. We get so many stories like this through my office every day. I’ll give you another one, if you like, Pete. There’s a woman named Jo-ann. She came to my office a week ago distraught, near suicidal, grieving because her husband had been let back in to Queensland after the funeral of their son who had gone missing and then been found deceased in the river at Narrabri. They cremated him in Gunnedah, and while her husband went home and was allowed to cross the border at Goondiwinidi and drive home to their home near Oakey, she and her daughter waited at Boggabilla until they got the ashes, and then sought the authority from the Queensland Government to head home through the same border crossing. They were fined more than $4,000 a piece for trying to do so a few days later, because they had paperwork but not the right paperwork. Then they were forced to wait in isolation in a Boggabilla motel for eight days while the bureaucrats faffed around. When they got a respond they were told they couldn’t just drive the two hours home using the Goondiwindi crossing, they had to drive back to Moree, abandon their car, use money they didn’t have to book flights to fly to Sydney into a hotspot, and then book another flight either to Brisbane or the Gold Coast, and then drive from there to Oakey. This is a grieving indigenous family who have a sterile place to go where they can home quarantine, and the mindless, heartless bureaucracy of Queensland Labor’s bureaucrats is pushing families like this to the edge at the hardest times of their lives. It’s unacceptable. It’s cruel. And let’s face it, it’s not necessary.
PETER STEFANOVIC: OK. Amanda Stoker, we’re out of time, but appreciate your time this morning. Thank you. Talk to you soon.
AMANDA STOKER: Good on you Pete, thanks. [END]