2SM MARCUS PAUL IN THE MORNING
MONDAY, 17 JANUARY 2022
SUBJECTS: Novak Djokovic; Scott Morrison’s failure to call out antivaxxers in his own Government; Rapid Antigen Test shortage and Scott Morrison’s failure to plan ahead; Deloitte downgrading Australia’s economic forecast.
MARCUS PAUL, HOST: Time to catch up with Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury and Charities and federal Member for Fenner, Andrew Leigh. Good morning, Andrew. How are you, mate?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Terrific, Marcus. The better for being with you today.
PAUL: Thank you. I hope you’re well. You haven't contracted COVID yet, have you?
LEIGH: No. Our family’s been thankfully COVID free, but there's certainly a lot of about at the moment.
LEIGH: Running rampant through the community.
PAUL: Alright. Well, one of the big issues of course - it's hard to escape - Novak Djokovic. I guess the question needs to be asked, and maybe after the tournament itself has been run and won maybe Tennis Australia can pony up and answer some questions, but why was he ever given a visa in the first place?
LEIGH: It beats me, Marcus. I mean, this bloke had said back in April 2020 that he was opposed to vaccination. So if your concern was that he was going to be spreading antivax sentiment, that ought to have been known well in advance. And even if that wasn't sorted out at the time of granting the visa, surely it should have been sorted out by our Border Force officials when Novak Djokovic went to board his plane in Dubai. The fact that it's led to his being kicked out of the country is a huge embarrassment for Tennis Australia. It’s rift in our relationship with Serbia, and it’s utterly unnecessary. Of course, Labor supports the decision to not allow him into Australia, but that should have been done by not granting him the visa in the first place.
PAUL: Yeah. The other glaring issue in my mind is okay, so we've got Novak Djokovic, antivaxxer, deported. That's done and dusted. But Scott Morrison is still relying on people within his own government, within the federal Coalition who are antivaxxers. He's relying on their support, if you like. You know, George Christensen, Matt Canavan, a couple that come to mind straightaway.
LEIGH: It's pretty amazing, isn’t it. You say that one antivaxxer can’t enter the country because he's going to be spreading misinformation, but then Scott Morrison just isn't willing to crack down on the antivaxxers in his own ranks who are causing immense problems, particularly in Indigenous communities, Marcus. Talking to people about the extent of vaccine misinformation flying through Indigenous communities - this stuff isn't just a parlour game, it literally costs lives. So taking a strong stance on antivaxxers is to be welcomed, but Scott Morrison needs to do it consistently.
PAUL: I'm just wondering, I mean, we've got again the Prime Minister who will no doubt puff his chest out and you know, it's the right decision that's been made. I understand all of that. But how can he not, I guess, corral those in the Morrison-Joyce Government? I mean, what's Barnaby Joyce got to say about all of this? Again, I saw him on the television this morning saying that was the right decision, again puffing his chest out. But again, nothing mentioned about George Christensen or one of his blokes, Matt Canavan.
LEIGH: Absolutely, and Barnaby Joyce was out defending George Christensen last week. So you can't have it both ways, and the fact is that the same sort of blame shifting and obfuscation that we've seen from Novak Djokovic is the same sort of thing that we've seen from the Morrison Government as well. Just an inability to be absolutely straight with people, to have a consistent line. Now that's what got Novak into trouble, and I think that's what's going to get the Morrison Government into trouble in the polls later this year.
PAUL: What do you reckon our reputation around the world will be following the deportation of the world's number one tennis player? I think we all agree it's the right decision. Australians in general, some 80 odd per cent of us didn't want Novak to play here while unvaccinated. So it's a popular decision. Should we care about how it's, I guess, reflected upon overseas? I mean, Serbian President himself, ropable. Vučić, Aleksandar Vučić says the whole matter’s been ridiculous. I'll play a little audio from him.
ALEKSANDAR VUČIĆ, SERBIAN PRESIDENT: He came there with medical exemption proposal and then you were mistreating him for 10 days. Why did you do it? And then doing that witches hunt campaign against him. And that is something that no one can understand.
PAUL: I mean, he calls it a witch hunt. He says that, you know, he’s been treated appallingly for nearly 10 days. I mean, Novak probably has a lot to do with that - he could have left as soon as his visa was first cancelled, but he chose to stay on and fight it. But should we worry about those comments from Aleksandar Vučić?
LEIGH: I don’t anyone's covered themselves in glory in this episode, but certainly we’ve got to look at Australia's relationship with Serbia as potentially having wider ramifications. And you saw with the breakdown with Emmanuel Macron how that immediately affected the trade talks we had with Europe. Countries are able to influence other likeminded powers. You antagonise one, and soon their friends could be up in arms as well. It's just not necessary. I feel as though diplomacy has taken a holiday under the Morrison Government. There used to be a notion that we needed to deal very carefully with all countries around the world, if we were to work on global challenges or to do things like winning a seat in the UN Security Council or getting the G20 meetings to Australia. If you want to achieve something like that, you've got to be in good standing around the world. And this really was an unforced error.
PAUL: Case numbers of the Omicron variant continue to rise, even though over the weekend I think yesterday in particular New South Wales they've steadied somewhat. But as more rapid antigen tests become available, I don't think we've hit the crest of this wave yet.
LEIGH: Yeah, it's always hard to tell where it's going to come, Marcus. But the numbers are big and rising, and the fact that you can't get a rapid antigen test is going to make it harder to manage the pandemic. I'm pretty horrified by the fact that there are federal government ads running on TV about rapid antigen tests and yet you can't find a rapid antigen test, or if you can it costs you an arm or a leg. We should have these things readily available. It struck me last week when we had Joe Biden saying he was buying a billion rapid antigen tests for Americans to hand out free. Meanwhile, you've got Scott Morrison saying he didn't want to hand out any free rapid antigen tests because it might damage the private market. Now, this is a bizarre free market approach to rapid antigen tests that misunderstands the value of information in a pandemic.
PAUL: Yeah, I've seen the ad. I saw it last night on television watching the news. How can you run an advertisement campaign talking about the fact that you've apparently secured some $62 million worth of rapid antigen tests, but I mean, they're not here yet, are they? Not widely available anyway, are they?
LEIGH: No, absolutely. And let’s not forget that before Scott Morrison was fired as head of Tourism Australia, he was responsible for the ‘Where the Bloody Hell are You?’ campaign. Well, right now I think Australians are saying of rapid antigen tests, where the bloody hell are they? Why are we seeing your ads? Why aren't we seeing the rapid antigens tests on the shelves of our supermarkets and chemists? Australians want to get hold of these tests. They're a very useful way of making sure that you’re COVID negative before you attend a large gathering or before you go to work. They're an essential part of combating the pandemic, and yet we've got an Australian company Marcus that’s shipping rapid antigen tests overseas because the federal government didn't want to buy them.
PAUL: Alright. I don't know the answer. I really don't. Andrew, it's a mess. In particular, you've got businesses and consumer confidence collapsing. A story today in News Corp, 40 per cent of businesses saying they don't have enough cash flow for the next three months. Business people say conditions have never been worse in the COVID era. We're not in a lockdown, but we might as well be.
LEIGH: Yes, I’ve seen the Deloitte numbers coming out today showing again the downgrading of economic forecasts as a result of the Omicron wave. Yet again, Australians are struggling with a government whose incompetence is on display. If they'd gotten vaccination right, if they'd gotten quarantine right, if they'd rolled out rapid antigen tests, the economy would be a lot healthier. We can't have a healthy economy without healthy people, and so we need a government that puts health first and recognises the importance of maintaining a healthy population. We've long been well below other countries for case numbers and numbers of hospitalisations and deaths per capita. But now look at the graphs - Australia is rising up towards other countries. We're not there yet, but it’s rising pretty fast. It's deeply concerning from a health perspective and also from an economic one.
PAUL: Alright. Just finally, just on this, this whole issue. I mean, Djokovic and everything that's happened in the last 10 days has been a distraction, if you like. It's got COVID off the front pages of the newspapers, it's kind of allowed the government to beat its chest in relation to border control, but I think today reality will hit now that Novak is gone and the new cycle will move on. I bloody well hope these tests arrive in the next couple of days.
LEIGH: Absolutely. We need more of those tests. We need the booster rollout going more rapidly, and we also need more rapid vaccination of young kids. At the moment we've got kids about to go back to school and only about one in eight primary school kids have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine. So we need a prime minister that injects some urgency into the booster program - that takes the health advice seriously, gets the booster program going, gets the vaccinations for young Australians, makes sure those rapid antigen tests are there. But instead we've got this kind of ‘it's not a race’ approach from last year still characterising the way Scott Morrison manages the pandemic. So if he had a greater sense of energy, determination, was on top of these issues, Australians would be healthier and the economy would be healthier too.
PAUL: Good to chat. Thank you, Andrew.
LEIGH: Thank you, Marcus. Take care.
PAUL: Alright. Talk next week.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.