08 June 2021

08 JUNE 2021 

Political panel with Zed Seselja; vaccine rollout; quarantine; funding of national institutions.


STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: Well, it's time to talk federal politics with our regular panel. Joining us, representing the opposition is Alicia Payne, the Labor Member for Canberra. Alicia. Good morning.




CENATIEMPO: And Zed Seselja, the ACT Liberal Senator and Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Zed, good morning.


ZED SESELJA, SENATOR FOR THE ACT: G'day Stephen, G'day Alicia.


PAYNE: Hi Zed.


CENATIEMPO: Let's talk vaccines for a moment. I mean, obviously the finger pointing is happening again because of this lockdown in Victoria. The vaccine rollout people are talking about a bungled vaccine rollout. Now there's no question Zed that it was slow in the early stages, but it seems to be ramping up. But are we doing enough to encourage people to get the vaccine and provide the incentive to do it given that we're being told that even if we're all vaccinated, we might not still not be allowed to leave the country and travel internationally.


SESELJA: We'll Stephen, you're right to say that it is ramping up very rapidly. There are obviously some challenges with supply out of Europe and the ATAGI advice which did slow the rollout early. I think it took 45 days for the first million doses, we've seen a million doses administered just in the last 10 days, and over 800,000 in the last week. So we're seeing a very rapid uptake and Australians are choosing now to get the vaccine. And more and more supplies are coming online. So we've now got almost 60% of over 70s who have received a dose in Australia. So those who are most vulnerable, we are seeing them get the vaccine in record numbers. So yes, it's ramping up very, very rapidly. We anticipate that that will continue. And it will see many, many millions more Australians who are vaccinated in the in the weeks and months to come.


CENATIEMPO: Alicia, what do we need to do to get more people lining up for the vaccine? Because when we talk about advertising programs and the like, but surely a bit of leadership doesn't hurt either. I mean, we've just had Annastacia Palaszczuk say, well you know I didn't get the vaccine until now because the dog ate my homework and I'm only getting it so I can go to Tokyo for the Olympics. I mean, we need better messaging than that, don't we?


PAYNE: Well, it is extraordinary that this is a Federal Government that have spent over a billion dollars on advertising and we haven't seen a national advertising campaign around the vaccine. And clearly it has been bungled. Like, Zed can say that, you know, the rate is increasing at the moment  but we are absolutely well behind the schedule that the Prime Minister announced. And, you know, the Prime Minister says it's not a race, well, it is a race against this virus and we wouldn't be in another lockdown in Victoria if people had been vaccinated.


CENATIEMPO: Absolute rubbish, Alicia, absolute rubbish.


PAYNE: No, I stand by that because if people had been vaccinated, state premiers wouldn't be faced with these decisions to put their states into lockdown again.


CENATIEMPO: Well, why doesn't Gladys Berejiklian lock her state down?


PAYNE: Every outbreak has come from hotel quarantine. 21 outbreaks have come from hotel quarantine. And that is the Federal Government responsibility for quarantine.


CENATIEMPO: Yeah, that was decided by the national cabinet.


PAYNE: Well, they haven't done anything. What's the Federal Government doing about quarantine? We've actually seen that in Queensland, they've actually, you know, not got behind a proposal for a proper quarantine facility in Queensland.


CENATIEMPO: Well, Zed, I mean hotel quarantine has been largely successful, but the Federal Government's fallen for the three car trick here aren't they by funding this facility in Avalon? I mean, doesn't the Prime Minister need to step up here and say to these State and Territory leaders, let's get, let's actually show some leadership and do something here. I mean, he is at fault for letting these tin pot dictators get out of hand.


SESELJA: Well, there's there's two points. One is that hotel quarantine has been largely successful. It's one of the reasons our economy is roaring back at a rate that no other country virtually in the world is and that we've been protected so well, from the virus here in Australia. But the proposal there at Avalon is about adding extra capacity. It is about supplementing, what is there with hotel quarantine, and therefore having more Australians return home but also things like international students and other things over time to make sure that our economy can continue to bounce back. So, you know, we'll continue to work with the states. But look, the point that you make is a fair one in terms of it is only Victoria that's locked down, they have to answer why there are such unique circumstances in Victoria that haven't been replicated in the rest of the country. And that's really a matter for their Government to answer for.


PAYNE: How can you say that hotel quarantine has been successful when nearly every outbreak we've had has come out of hotel quarantine. 21 outbreaks, because hotels are not designed for it.


SESELJA: The outbreaks will come from overseas. And what we've done is we've been able to protect the Australian people better than virtually any other country using this system. Now to say well, because there's been some outbreaks coming from overseas therefore hotel quarantine doesn't work, just isn't logical. This is this has been the method that was chosen by national cabinet. And when you look at every other country in the world who have employed all sorts of different arrangements, where would you rather be than Australia? And when we talk about the most recent outbreak and the lockdown, there are unique circumstances for whatever reason which the Victorian Government can explain why we've seen such significant lockdowns in Victoria, hasn't happened in New South Wales, hasn't happened in the rest of the country.


PAYNE: What about people in aged care? What about people in aged care Zed?


SESELJA: Well, in terms of and again, when we when we look at aged care going back,


CENATIEMPO: I'll just sit back.


SESELJA: The vast bulk has been in Victoria. So there's some unique concerns in Victoria. Now we're working with the Victorian Government in that space. But as I say, I think Stephen makes a very fair point as to why why is it that New South Wales hasn't been locked down,


PAYNE: I find it extraordinary.


SESELJA: even though they have and we talk about hotel quarantine, Alicia, if I could finish, you talk about hotel quarantine, New South Wales takes far more than any other state or territory when it comes to hotel quarantine, yet the state hasn't been locked down.


PAYNE: Well, on the hotel quarantine, we have not seen a single case escape from the Howard Springs facility, which is a properly designed quarantine facility. So I think that suggests that that would be a much more successful approach than the hotel quarantine


CENATIEMPO: On a far smaller scale.


PAYNE: I find it extraordinary that after the devastating number of deaths and outbreak that we saw in aged care last time, that the Government, Federal Government has not stepped up with urgency to ensure that people in aged care are vaccinated. We've still only got 8.7% of people in the aged care workforce vaccinated in Australia, like what is the Government doing about that?


CENATIEMPO: That's a fair comment. And I would point out the deaths in aged care were again all in Victoria, but why hasn't the Government you know, mandated vaccines particularly in the aged care sector?


SESELJA: Well, that's a matter that national cabinet has looked at, again, because of the challenges, in aged care when you mandate things as to whether you have the workforce to actually look after the aged care population. And so this is a discussion that happens with the unions, which happens with providers and is being looked at again. But I go back to that other point. If the problem is hotel quarantine, Alicia, and the state that's doing the vast, vast bulk of hotel quarantine isn't shutting down, then perhaps, actually, that's not the problem. Perhaps there are other problems, such as contact tracing, and all the other issues we've seen in Melbourne.


PAYNE: Well there's another one, the app, what about this app? How many contacts has that found?


CENATIEMPO: Hang on Alicia. Zed, you're right about the contact tracing, but let's shoot this back to the Federal Government. The problem here is, is the Federal Government has abrogated responsibility to national cabinet, which is made up of incompetent state leaders. I mean, you can't hand it over to people that you know aren't up to the task and then say 'oh, well, it's their fault.'


SESELJA: Well, it's not about handing it over, it's about working cooperatively, and looking at all of the various responsibilities that different levels of government have and I'd go back to this point, Stephen, that, you know, we can point to some of the significant challenges we've had, and no one would deny that when, you know, when we see an outbreak, it's of course concerning and we and we get on top of it. But our National Cabinet approach, which has seen our population protected in a health space, and now our Triple A credit rating has come back because internationally, people are seeing that Australia is streets ahead, economically than most other countries in recovering, we must be doing a lot, right. There must be a lot in this model that works. Yes, there are concerns. Yes. When we see Melbourne shut down, that is a concern, particularly to people who are facing that. But it has been, it has been a success when you point to the health outcomes and the economic outcomes. Where, which other country would you have rather been in the last in the last 12 months?


CENATIEMPO: I want to move on from this. Now Zed I want to start with you on this because the the Federal Government has thrown around billions of dollars in this last Budget, it's an absolute national disgrace that you couldn't find $70 million for the National Archives.


SESELJA: Well, we've, you're talking about, you know, massive investments, and there are massive investments in our institutions across the board in Canberra. I mean, you know, we've just, we're just seen yesterday, the approval of the $500 million investment in the War Memorial, but on top of that, into the National Gallery, the National Library, and a whole range of others. I mean, it's been part of a $1.6 billion investment by the Commonwealth Government in Canberra in the last couple of years. So, you know, you can you can point to criticism, Stephen, but $1.6 billion announced for Canberra by the Federal Government the last two years, it's the biggest investment by a Federal Government in the ACT since self-government bar none.


CENATIEMPO: But Alicia, this is a conservative government, Alicia, that doesn't want to invest in conserving our history.


PAYNE: Yeah, I completely agree with you, Stephen. The fact that we've got a trillion dollar budget and they couldn't find $67.7 million over seven years. Over seven years to save, you know, priceless national records. And we've got Senator Amanda Stoker saying, oh, 'this is just part of the aging process' of the records and we should accept that, like, what's your thoughts on those comments, Zed?


SESELJA: Well, look, again, you what you're what, you're choosing to, you're choosing to ignore the biggest Commonwealth investment in Canberra since self-government. That's what's happened under this Federal Government.


PAYNE: No, I'm not ignoring that.


SESELJA: I'm very happy to compare our record of investment in Canberra over previous Governments, including the last Labor Government so.


PAYNE: Well a lot of Canberrans are questioning.


SESELJA: And let's face it, let's face it, when we invest massive amounts, the Labor Party can't even get on board, I mean the War Memorial. You can't even decide whether you're for it or against it.


PAYNE: Well, we have supported that although it's disappointing that.


CENATIEMPO: Hang on, let me interrupt. Zed, that's like saying I've got five kids and I only bought four of them presents, but I bought them lots of presents so the fifth one should you know be happy with that.


PAYNE: Exactly right.


SESELJA: Stephen, I just, I don't understand how there can be a criticism of the Federal Government's investment in Canberra.


CENATIEMPO: No, no, no, Zed, stop, stop. It's not. Zed I’ve got to pull you up on this. It's not a criticism of the Government's investment in Canberra. It's a criticism of neglecting the National Archives. Specifically.


SESELJA: There are national institutions, and we are investing in them across the board.


PAYNE: But not the National Archives.


SESELJA: Well, well, we have invested in the National Archives just not exactly to that to that amount that you've pointed to.


PAYNE: $67 million over seven years.


SESELJA: Well, you know, so there has, there has been a range of investments, including the National Archives, including the National Gallery, including in the National Library, including in the Australian War Memorial. So our institutions are getting serious investment.


PAYNE: But not what's needed to save the records. Not what's needed to complete that digitization process.


SESELJA: There's there's always there's always going to be calls for extra money. I have never seen a budget, I've never seen a budget in my time where there hasn't been, no matter what you're investing, there hasn't been calls for more, and we'd always like to do more. But you actually can't deliver everything that everyone wants.


PAYNE: This isn't about more this is about a bare minimum to maintain national records.


CENATIEMPO: Look, I would love to talk about the city deal. I love to talk about the War Memorial, unfortunately, as always, we've run out of time. Zed and Alicia, thanks for your time this morning.


SESELJA: Thanks very much.


PAYNE: Thanks Stephen.


CENATIEMPO: Zed Seselja and Alicia Payne.