27 August 2021


SUBJECTS: Political Panel with Andrew Wallace MP; Vaccination Thresholds; Doherty Modelling; Afghanistan.

DANICA DE GIORGIO, HOST: Liberal MP Andrew Wallace and Labor MP Alicia Payne to discuss the day's top stories. Great to see you both, let's get straight into it. I want to begin with the national plan to reopening this 80% target as set out by the Doherty Institute and agreed to by National Cabinet. Today, once again, it is on the agenda. Alicia this week, we heard from premiers like Mark McGowan, Annastacia Palaszczuk saying, well, they're not necessarily going to open up at 80%. Should there be consequences for premiers who do not stick to the reopening plan even once we reach that threshold?

ALICIA PAYNE, MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: Thanks Danica. While we all can't wait to reopen and get back to life as normal, we need to know that we're safe to do so. And I think that at the moment, so much of the country is in lockdown, and we're in lockdown for a reason, because we're unvaccinated. We need to get to that rate, and that will take time. And we're at least two months away from that 80%. And I think it would be completely unreasonable for a Federal Government to withdraw support and assistance for states that chose to do that, in keeping their residents safe. The other really important issue is that our children, it's been really welcome news that 12 to 15 year olds will now be eligible as well. But they're not included in what that 80% currently reflects. So they need to be included in that as well. 

DE GIORGIO: And I do want to touch on that shortly. But Alicia, in terms of these states that did agree to the National Cabinet decision, what is the game plan here, though, for them? Do they shut their borders for years to come? People seemingly want to get on with their lives. What should be done in the interim?

PAYNE: Well they're shutting the borders because we're not vaccinated at the moment. They're shutting the borders and going into lockdowns because that is the health tool that is available to us at the moment before we reach that high level of vaccination. And I think no one can blame them for doing that. People are concerned about their safety with the number of cases active in the community at the moment, and premiers are doing what they can to keep their communities safe. I think that we need to get- obviously we are really wanting to get to that 80%. But there's still, we're still around two months away from that. And the other thing that needs to be in place in order to open up, and this is included in the assumptions of the Doherty modelling, is that the system of testing, quarantining and contact tracing needs to be working well. And for example, in NSW at the moment, that system is pretty much overwhelmed and the health system is under a lot of pressure. So we need to know that those things are in place in order to open up as well. 

DE GIORGIO: Andrew, when we hit that 70-80% vaccine target, is it time to end the lockdowns and get on with life? Should we be calling out premiers who refuse even when they reach that threshold?

ANDREW WALLACE, MEMBER FOR FISHER: Well absolutely, Danica. I mean these two, and when I say these two I mean Mark McGowan and Annastacia Palaszczuk, committed as partners of the National Cabinet to start lifting those lockdown restrictions at 70 to 80% double vaccinated. They committed to that. And what we've seen repeatedly, is that what they commit to on Friday, they're usually walking away from at least the next day. As someone from Queensland, I can tell you that Queenslanders are really getting to a point where they are totally disillusioned with the Premier of Queensland. They want to see, they want to see a pathway out of this. Our plan provides that pathway. They committed to that pathway, and now they're saying that they won't abide by that agreement. Well, I think that the people of Queensland and Western Australia are very, very rightly disappointed. And as Alan Joyce said just yesterday, if not at 70 to 80%, then when? Are they going to lift the restrictions at 95% or 100%? Well, I mean, the reality is, there will be some people who just refuse to get this vaccine and there will be some people who can't get the vaccine for health reasons. The Doherty Institute has said that these restrictions, these lockdowns can be lifted at 70 to 80%, and that is so very, very important that we keep on aiming for that. I think it's really very important to point out that the two states with the lowest vaccination rates are Queensland and Western Australia. Now, admittedly, both those states have done reasonably well to date. But what we've seen in the ACT is a classic example. We've seen in the ACT very, very long periods of no local transmission but what that's done in Queensland and Western Australia is that it's resulted in people - unlike the ACT going out and getting vaccinated, more power to the people in ACT 

PAYNE: The best people.

WALLACE: because it's got 40%, the highest vaccine rate in Australia - but in Queensland and in Western Australia, they are the lowest vaccine rates because I think, unfortunately, we've sort of been lulled into a false sense of security, that it's not going to come our way. But the ACT shows us that it can.

DE GIORGIO: I want to ask you, in regards to the changing in ATAGI advice, what Alicia had touched on. 12 to 15 year olds now recommended to get the Pfizer vaccine. Andrew, I'll start with you. Should children be added to the reopening target from the Doherty Institute?

WALLACE: I would I would be guided by what the Doherty Institute say on that. If they think that they should be, then that's what we should be doing, and I'm sure that's what

DE GIORGIO: Well children, in particular, for example in New South Wales are being impacted by the Delta variant. So should we include 12 and up into that final threshold? 

WALLACE: Look, Danica, I'm not an epidemiologist. If the experts, if the Doherty Institute, if they say that they should be, then they should be. So I can't, sort of, throw any more light on it than that.

DE GIORGIO: All right. Alicia, you mentioned before that they should be certainly part of this national plan. Do you agree, though, that in doing this, it could potentially push back the threshold to reopening?

PAYNE: I guess it would, because it will take us longer to get to that 80% because it's, they've just been deemed eligible and we need to because of the constraints on supply, that will take time. But it's really important, and I think that the community would want to see that. I know that I've got lots of parents, the Delta variant has shown to impact children, of course, in particular, and here in Canberra, the average age of people who've been impacted is 19. And we've had our schools involved in in the outbreaks here in Canberra, and we even have a young child in hospital at the moment. And I know that people would desperately want to see those young teenagers vaccinated as soon as possible.

DE GIORGIO: Even if it does delay the reopening times?

PAYNE: I think so.

DE GIORGIO: Alright, let's move on now to the Afghanistan explosions overnight, these devastating scenes that are continuing to come out of the capital there, Kabul. Andrew, what should happen to Australian visa holders still stuck?

WALLACE: Well, the first thing to say about this, Danica, is that our hearts go out to the 72 victims that were killed. We don't have a figure on the number of people that were wounded out of these appalling twin terrorist attacks. Our hearts go out to the 13 US service people that were killed, and I don't have any figures on the number of wounded US service personnel. But they have done such an incredible job in airlifting over 100,000 people in just over a week. It is quite mind-blowing to see the number of people that have been evacuated out of Kabul, and that's in no small part due to the incredible ability of the US military. As far as getting Australians out, we have evacuated more than 4100 Australian since the 18th of August. That's an incredible task on our part. We don't at this point in time, know the number of Australians that are left. The Prime Minister has made it very clear that our evacuation mission, because of the intelligence that we've got there of the terrorism threat is very, very high, the Prime Minister has come out today and said that we're not going back in, that our task there from an evacuation perspective from the ADF is over. Our ADF is now back at our base in the UAE. For those, any remaining Australians that that need to get out, you know, we will work with our partners that are still in-country at the moment to try and get those Australians out as best we can, as soon as we can 

DE GIORGIO: Absolutely. 

WALLACE: But there's no doubt that it is going to be difficult

DE GIORGIO: Absolutely. Alicia, I'll throw the same question to you, and as Andrew alluded to, we just don't know how many Australians could be still left. But what happens to those that are still in Kabul who are desperate to get out?

PAYNE: Well first, I'd like to echo similar sentiments to Andrew's, and that is that this is absolutely devastating, these attacks today and the situation in Kabul, and that my heart is really with, of course, those there, but the community, the Afghan community here in Australia, and here in Canberra, who I've been talking to over the last couple of weeks. And everyone who has been, everyone who is desperately trying to get their family members home, and those who, you know, at this point, don't know, are still you know, terrified for the safety of those family members. And also all of those that have been helping with this process, community advocates, and also staff of parliamentarians across the board who have been working really hard on this in recent weeks, and all the people at DFAT and the like who have been doing the best. And also want to just, yes, thank our ADF for their brave work trying to get people out, and thinking of them today. In terms of those still there, we look forward to updates from the Government on that plan, and just to say that we really welcome the Prime Minister's comments that the 3000 humanitarian intake is a floor, not a ceiling. And just to again, to call on the Government to please consider extending that as much as we can.

WALLACE: Danica.

DE GIORGIO: Yes, certainly a very difficult situation. I have to cut you off unfortunately, Andrew, we are running out of time for this panel chat. Andrew Wallace, Alicia Payne, hold that thought, we'll talk about it next week. Thanks for joining me this arvo. 

WALLACE: Thank you. 

PAYNE: Thanks, Danica.