ABC RADIO CANBERRA DRIVE WITH ANNA VIDOT
TUESDAY, 3 AUGUST 2021
SUBJECTS: Labor’s $300 vaccine incentive
ANNA VIDOT, HOST: One of the long-standing members of the ALP's representatives here in Canberra, of course, is Andrew Leigh, who's on the line with me this afternoon. Andrew Leigh, good evening to you.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good evening, Anna. Great to be with you.
VIDOT: Where did this idea for a $300 cash incentive come from?
LEIGH: Well, it's an idea that a lot of people have proposed. Joe Biden has been talking about it. A range of other countries have moved on it. There's some useful research that's just come out in the last couple of weeks from a team at Oxford University which has shown a big bump up in vaccine acceptance following cash payments.
Of course, it's what we do with childhood vaccines. The No Jab, No Pay scheme ensures that people only get those family payments conditional on having six childhood vaccines. What was bizarre to me was hearing Scott Morrison say free beer is a great way of incentivising people to get the vaccine but $300 is a terrible idea.
VIDOT: Of course, free beer is much cheaper than $300 per person.
LEIGH: Let's look at the costs, though. A national lockdown costs the economy $4 billion a week. We're talking about $5-6 billion in incentive payments all told, if everyone takes it up. Relative to the cost on the economy of lockdowns, it is a very good deal.
VIDOT: Perhaps comparative to the enormous cost of lockdowns, but is this the best use of that money? We've seen, for example, an ongoing fight over whether or not we need to be compensating people who are casual, who can't work during a lockdown or when they need to be isolating, the people who are really at the pointy end of that. We've seen a long-term argument around improving either the Coronavirus supplement or just improving the base rate of JobSeeker, for example. Why direct money to a one-off cash payment rather than to other areas which might also support people through a lockdown, or to deal with the effects of those kinds of pandemic issues.
LEIGH: Anna, you speak to any economist, any public health expert, and they'll tell you that vaccination is the key of getting out of this pickle. It's the way in which we manage to reopen the economy and have life returned to normal, rather than being walled off from the rest of the world for years and years. We've got to get that vaccination rate up. We're running almost last in the advanced world. We need to do far more.
That's going to involve getting more supply on board. Scott Morrison made a terrible mistake last year, when in the middle of the year he refused to pay Pfizer $1 billion to get enough vaccine to vaccinate every Australian adult. That mistake is gone, and now we need to focus on increasing vaccine take-up. The Government say they'll get the supply, and now we need to make sure that we get it into people's arms.
$300 a person will of course inject money into the economy, that's valuable, too, but its main goal is to increase vaccine take up and there's strong evidence that it works.
VIDOT: The Member for Fenner, Andrew Leigh, is on ABC Radio Canberra with you this evening, talking about this proposal for a $300 incentive to get people to take up the vaccine. Given, as you just lay out there, Andrew Leigh, that the challenge here, sure, there is a hesitancy in some parts of the community, but the challenge here has been access to vaccines. We've seen here in the ACT people under the age of 40, who aren't in a priority group, only today being made eligible for the vaccine that they have been repeatedly told is the one that's safest for them to get. We've seen supply constraint issues affecting the rollout from the beginning, as you've just laid out, so how is paying people to get vaccinated going to make it any faster that they get vaccinated if they still can't make an appointment to get vaccinated in the first place?
LEIGH: You're absolutely right, Anna. The supply of the vaccine has been a rolled-gold shocker. We can look at other countries which had plenty of vaccine available, began the vaccine rollout quicker than us and continued it faster than us. Scott Morrison's failure to sign up to five or six vaccine deals last year as other countries were doing has put Australia at the back of the queue, not the front of the queue. There were 34 other countries that signed deals with Pfizer before we did. That was a terrible mistake, possibly the worst mistake of what has been a terrible prime ministership.
But the Government has said that it will have enough vaccine supply coming on board in order to get every Australian vaccinated by the end of the year. Once that supply is there we need incentives to get it into people's arms. Labor is saying this should be for people who are vaccinated by the 1 December, and that will allow us a real shot at reopening the economy, allowing this Christmas to be a normal Christmas again, which is what so many Australians are hankering for.
VIDOT: This is a $6 billion policy. Given that so much of the lack of take up so far has not been because Australians don't want a vaccine, but because they can't physically get their hands on one, is this really the time to be sinking another $6 billion into something which we don't even know if we'll need it yet?
LEIGH: It's a great question. My concern is when you look at vaccination rates in other countries, they accelerate very quickly up until about half the population, but then slow as you get towards three quarters. If you've got a target which is looking at 80 per cent of the population, for example, as Grattan has suggested, or 80 per cent of adults, as the Government has suggested, then you've got to work really hard to get that final push. That makes a huge difference to reopening, because while ever you can't get to those targets, you can't reopen the economy and allow life to return to normal.
What was strange about today is that rather than Scott Morrison saying thank you to a constructive Opposition and having a sensible, adult conversation about it, instead he just resorted to childish jibes, didn't recognise that this is exactly what he did in his No Jab, No Pay reforms, didn't recognise that incentives are being used in other contexts. Indeed, the Prime Minister has repeatedly talked about the use of incentives to encourage vaccination take up. We need a ‘team Australia’ approach to this if we are to get ourselves out of the problem we're in now, where our vaccination rate is trailing almost every other advanced country.
VIDOT: Again, I just wonder how much of that is a reluctance versus a lack of access? For example, every time here, just in the ACT, admittedly, we're a pretty pro-vax Territory according to the Australia Talks survey earlier this year, here in the ACT, every time a new cohort has been made eligible for vaccination the websites have crashed, there've been hours-long waits for call backs or whatever for people to book in. A problem, sure, but a problem reflecting the fact that the population is very eager to get vaccinated. Just today, the first day that people aged 30 to 39 could register and book a Pfizer vaccine appointment here in the ACT, 11,500 appointment bookings were made just by midday. So again, what evidence are you seeing that Australians are actually in any serious way reluctant to get vaccinated, rather than just not having had the access, the ability to do that to this point?
LEIGH: We've had surveys of vaccine hesitancy. The Grattan Institute brought out a report at the end of last week which went through and showed that there'd been a drop in the share of people who say they will likely not get vaccinated. It's gone down from about 14 per cent in May down to about 12 per cent now. But then there was also a cohort of people who say they're pretty unlikely to get vaccinated, and we need to reduce those numbers because we don't want to leave our fellow Australians at risk of catching a fatal disease.
The ACT has done astonishingly well. When you look at a US comparator, we're like Vermont, but there are places of Australia that are more like Alabama, which has now a vaccination rate about half of what Vermont has. We need to make sure that we're vaccinating the whole country. The Government has a responsibility to do that.
For a Government that splashed $13 billion on firms with rising earnings through its rorted JobKeeper scheme last year to now be criticising $5 billion or $6 billion to increase vaccine take up, that seems pretty rich to me.
VIDOT: Andrew Leigh, thank you very much.
LEIGH: A real pleasure, Anna. Thank you.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra