20 August 2021


SUBJECTS: Political Panel with Andrew Wallace MP; Lockdowns; Delta Variant; Vaccination Thresholds; Afghanistan.

DANICA DE GIORGIO, HOST: Time now to discuss the day's top stories. Joining me live are Liberal MP Andrew Wallace and Labor MP Alicia Payne. Great to see you both, thank you for joining me this Friday afternoon. Let's get straight into it. Andrew, we've heard the news today that Greater Sydney has extended its lockdown. What do you think when you hear Gladys Berejiklian basically saying that the state can't get to COVID zero? Now the state is basically facing the prospect of almost being a hermit state and being locked out of the country for a long time.

ANDREW WALLACE, LIBERAL MEMBER FOR FISHER: Well, I mean, look, I don't accept that New South Wales will be locked out of the country for a long period of time. The reality is that all of the state premiers have signed up to an agreement that once the population reaches 70 to 80%, of fully vaccinated Australians, then we will need to start opening up. We simply just cannot keep this country economically locked down for an indefinite period. So you know, that that was the agreement by the premiers and the Federal Government expects the premiers to abide by that agreement. I mean, you know, we're seeing an untold number of mental health cases that are arising out of these lockdowns. I respect the fact that we need to control these breakouts. That's very, very important until we get to the Doherty Institute's research figures of 70 to 80%. But once we get there, then we do need to start opening up. It's very, very important.

DE GIORGIO: Well, opening up has certainly been a contentious issue. And it's something that, again, is being discussed at National Cabinet. Alicia, the state and territory leaders need to ensure that once we reach that 80% Doherty Institute modeling of a vaccine threshold, that internal borders are open even if there is Delta still in this community.

ALICIA PAYNE, LABOR MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: Well, I think it's very concerning that what we're seeing is that the Delta variant is really affecting children and young people, and that they are not included in these, the current, the 70 and 80%, that we're talking about. I think, on most people's figures that they're using, it doesn't include that younger population who have only been deemed as eligible as of yesterday. So we really need to see, as Andrew Barr, our Chief Minister here in Canberra made clear this morning, it's very concerning for my community, as an island within New South Wales, to see, you know, with the state that New South Wales is in at the moment, to have the Premier talking about opening up more when we have young people vulnerable, and still so many people unvaccinated. And it comes back to the supply and the Federal Government's failure to get this in order earlier. It was good news that, you know, 16 year olds are now eligible, but they'll still be waiting a long time because we're still waiting for other populations to get vaccinated as well, because the supply simply isn't there.

DE GIORGIO: And well, more than 16 million doses and, just on that Andrew 

WALLACE: Just on that - that's alright.

DE GIORGIO: because more than 16 million doses have now been administered. And of course, that news that the Pfizer eligibility, it will be opening up to more young people Alicia. Do you expect, though, that we could actually reach this target a lot quicker with the additional vaccines?

PAYNE: Well, I hope that we reach it as soon as possible.

WALLACE: Sorry, was that to me?

DE GIORGIO: Sorry, continue.

PAYNE: I think it was to me. Yes, I hope that we reach it as soon as possible. But as Andrew Barr noted today, states and territories weren't given much of a heads up about that either. And, you know, here in the ACT, our Government's been doing the best to get everyone vaccinated. At the moment 30 to 39 year olds are getting vaccinated, which was earlier than other places around the country. But at the moment, they really are vulnerable, so I don't think now is the time to be talking about opening up again and those sorts of things. We've seen what's happened in New South Wales with their failure to go into a short sharp lockdown and really lock this virus down is that now, you know, most of the country is in lockdown, and people are at risk and businesses and livelihoods are at risk. Whereas a short sharp lockdown means that these things wouldn't be going on and on having that impact on the economy as well.

DE GIORGIO: Andrew, it was interesting comments made by the Treasurer, threatening states who lock down after reaching that 80% mark, that they're not going to get funding. Do leaders across the country have to level with the public? You know, if someone's gone out and got their jab, they've done their bit, surely isn't that enough?

WALLACE: Well I think the state premiers and chief ministers do need to level with the public and that is that they agreed in national cabinet that once the Australian population, or in their relevant state or jurisdiction had reached 70 to 80% dual vaccinated that they would open up. I think that's a compact that they've entered into with their own people in good faith. Australians all across the country have come out in droves, more than 16 and a half million now have been vaccinated. And we're seeing those numbers increase dramatically. You know, we, we've been talking about this for months now, Danica. And you know, it took 45 days to vaccinate the first million. And we're now seeing somewhere between three and five days to vaccinate our last million people. So, you know, we have got a lot better at it, as you would expect, and we'll continue to get better at it. And what you'll see is those numbers of people being double vaccinated, will increase very, very quickly. But onto your point, you know, people have gone out have been vaccinated based on that, on that commitment from the premiers. And I think that it'll be a brave premier to go back on that.

DE GIORGIO: Well, fingers crossed, they can reach that national agreement and stick to it. I want to move on, now. The very serious situation currently playing out in Afghanistan. Alicia, the Federal Government has indicated that more than 3000 humanitarian visas will likely be issued. Do you think that this is sufficient?

PAYNE: I don't, I think this is another instance of too little too late from this Government. We've seen, you know, I'm very pleased that we've seen now two planes come back to Australia rescuing some people. But it is absolutely heartbreaking that the Government have conceded that all the Afghans who helped Australians in our mission will not be brought home, and that we're now in this very dangerous situation of trying to get people out now, when we have known for months that the situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating, and that we should have been doing it earlier. We've had people, I know I have constituents, and I'm sure many of the Members of Parliament do, who have been waiting, some up to five years, to have family visas processed, and now their families are in this life-threatening and terrifying situation. And it's simply not good enough. And I just hope that this Government will do all they can at this late stage to get as many people out as possible, but it shouldn't have come to this.

DE GIORGIO: Andrew, should Australia increase the humanitarian visa intake to allow more people than what we currently are now?

WALLACE: Look, Danica, this has been an absolutely heartbreaking series of events for the world. I was in Afghanistan, in fact, I was in the presidential palace this time two years ago, actually meeting with President Ghani. And it is a very sad instance for me, it's the second time I was in Afghanistan. And I feel very, very deeply for the people of Afghanistan right now. And I, it's not correct, what Alicia has said, she's going off the Labor Party talking points. But since 2013, the Australian Government has brought home more than 1800 of our interpreters that worked with the Australian Government and our ADF. So you know, to say that, you know, this is all too late, we've been doing this since 2013. We've brought back around 450 of these interpreters and their families just since April. So it is fundamentally incorrect to be saying that, you know, it's too little too late. Now, there have been, I accept, there have been some people that we haven't been able to get out yet. But look, the Defence Minister, Peter Dutton has been at great pains to point out that as we've seen, just in this last week, allegiances can change very, very quickly in Afghanistan.


WALLACE: And just because someone, just because someone was working with the ADF 10 years ago, five years ago, two years ago, doesn't mean that they, they may not necessarily represent a threat to Australians today. 

PAYNE: Can I just.

WALLACE: So Peter and I are very, very careful about who - well just hang on one second Alicia - Peter has been very careful about who we bring into this country. And to your question about, should we have more people in, let more people in? I would like to see the Australian Government bring more than 3000 people in. We brought in 13,000 Syrian refugees. I think we can do more this time.

PAYNE: If I could just respond to that quickly, Danica. I'm referring to the Prime Minister's own comments that said that, he conceded that we would not be able to bring all those people in, so I'm not saying something incorrect there - well, I'm quoting the Prime Minister. But also, I'm amazed to hear Andrew doubling down on the Defence Minister's disgraceful and frankly, ridiculous comments. We are talking about people who were wearing the Australian uniform and working alongside Australians. And we, they deserve our help. And the idea that they would switch allegiances is, is it's ridiculous. And I think it's a disgraceful slur.

DE GIORGIO: Well, no doubt that 

WALLACE: You might live in La La Land, Alicia, but this is the reality of it. 

DE GIORGIO: All right. All right. Unfortunately we do have to leave it there. We've run out of time. But no doubt. It's certainly a very serious situation unfolding right now in Afghanistan. Alicia Payne and Andrew Wallace, great to chat. Thank you for joining me this afternoon.

PAYNE: Thanks for having us.

WALLACE: Have a great weekend.