12.12pm | April 13, 2021



SUBJECTS: Australia Post; Vaccine Rollout. 

JANE NORMAN, HOST: Well, On that note, let's bring in our Monday political panel to discuss these issues and more. I'm joined by Labor frontbencher, Jenny McAllister and Liberal MP Katie. Allen. Thanks for your time today.

NORMAN: Katie Allen, let's start with you, Michelle Rowland, certainly not pulling her punches there. But the timing of today's announcement is pretty questionable, on the eve of that senate inquiry.
KATIE ALLEN: Look, Jane, I think there's no doubt at all, both sides of Parliament, were pretty clear that the gold Cartier watches just didn't pass the pub test. And I think there's no doubt at all that people want Australia Post to get on with the job of delivering post. And I think that's about it.
NORMAN: Did she deserve to lose her job over that, though, given that there are serious questions about who signed off on it? There are sort of varying allegations between the chair and the board and the executive.
ALLEN: I think there was a pretty general pile on from everybody around the whole gold watch issue. And there was a lot of pressure being applied right across the spectrum, whether it was politically all through the media and social media. And it was pretty difficult time for Christine. But I will say that Christine has been an amazing CEO, she has been an excellent CEO, for Australia Post. And I think she is someone who is of enormous good standing. And I really look forward to seeing her going on to perhaps bigger and better things, because I think she's a woman of immense character. And I would say that at this point in time, unfortunately, that issue did not pass the pub test. And it can be very hard in the public eye very hard to deal with the massive amount of negativity that came through that issue of gold watches, Cartier gold watches, simply don't pass the pump test.
NORMAN: Setting aside whether or not she should have been removed from the role. Is it appropriate for the government to announce her replacement today, a day before she's due to appear at a Senate inquiry and five months before that replacements due t actually start in the role?
ALLEN: Look, I’ve been on boards of companies and I've been chairman of a board. And I have to say, the most important thing as chairman of the board or for someone running a company is to make sure that the CEO is in the driver's seat in the most appropriate timing that you can get them there. So, appointing someone who then needs to transition from a pretty senior role in Woolworths to Australia Post, you need to make very clear to the company and to ensure a good transition process takes place. But replacing a CEO, obviously, he won't be starting until September. But that clear signal has been sent. Australia Post has certainty around the new leader going forward. And that's important because Australia Post plays an incredibly critical role in delivery of our mail and our post in particularly through the post COVID period, we want to make sure that Australians are getting the mail that they need.
NORMAN: Okay, Jenny McAllister, let's bring you in here. Is that a fair comment that the decision had been made, therefore the appointment can be announced and giving the agency some certainty?
MCALLISTER: Well, it's really typical of the government's overall approach to managing nearly every problem that's put before them. It is always about political management and media management. And that is always more important than good governance or good decision making. What signal does it send that you are racing out announcement of an appointment as significant as this appointment on the day before the Senate commits its investigations? It has all the hallmarks of an attempt to put a layer of spin, a media intervention designed to… that is disrespectful to the Senate's process, and designed towards media management, not towards good governance.
NORMAN: So, will this announcement today by the government effect in any way the Senate's work on beginning tomorrow?
MCALLISTER: The Senate has the opportunity to scrutinise a whole range of issues that have been presented to it and that senate committee will do a good job. There are some very serious allegations that have been made by Ms Holgate in the submission she's provided and the senate committee will have an opportunity to test those.
NORMAN: And that was actually my other question on this. There are some serious allegations she believes she was unlawfully removed from the position. So, Jenny McAllister, I mean, it could this I suppose, make Paul Graham's entry into the job a bit more murky if these clients allegations haven't been tested?
MCALLISTER: I think it's important that the Senate is able to do its work. And I think it is disrespectful to race out an appointment today, both to the Senate and to Mr. Graham. At the end of the day, the government needs to bring its focus back to doing the right thing. It should pay less attention to media management and marketing and more attention to governing in the interests of Australians.
NORMAN: Okay, let's move on to the issue that I think he's consuming the minds of lots of Australians right now and that is the state of the nation wide COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Katie Allen, first to you. The Prime Minister said last night that in light of the advice from Atagi, which is really throwing the programme into disarray, he wouldn't be setting any new targets for firstly when Australians would receive their first dose and secondly, for when they would be fully vaccinated. Coming from a medical background that you have come from, is that okay? Can we accept that?
ALLEN: Yes, Jane, actually, I feel very comfortable with the way the Prime Minister has landed on this. And that is because the Prime Minister has delivered time and time again, a great deal of certainty around what our targets are, and what we're hoping to do with regards to COVID. Whether it was aggressively suppressing COVID in the first place, or now a vaccine rollout. And what he's made very clear, is that when there's uncertainty, he'll be honest with the Australian public. Now, going back to February, there was a great deal of hope about where we would be, but there's absolutely no doubt that Europe has failed to secure a supply and deliver it. And that is the problem. We know that the system here in Australia is ready. It's waiting, it's receptive, there's a huge amount of demand, we just need the secure supply to come from Europe, so that we can get on with the job of making Australia safe. Now, I think it's very appropriate the Prime Minister says is that we have a rollout priority programme. We've been very clear about what that is 1A and 1B for those who are older citizens, those who are in aged care, and those who, you know, have some difficulties with disabilities, or shouldn't, you know, from the disability sector, both the workers and those in the sector, and they are our priority because of being highly vulnerable population, because we need to protect those who are most at risk from adverse events, ie, you know, unfortunately, from dying from COVID. We need to target that and make sure we get that right. We've already commenced that. But with regards to moving forward, we have to wait to make sure that we get the full supply of the vaccine going forward. And once we get that I think you'll see more of a timetable coming back on. But it is true that AstraZeneca has had difficulty with the export licence from Europe, the supply of the vaccine has been held up from overseas. Europe has had a great need for the vaccine because they haven't been able to control the vaccine, the virus, like we have here in Australia. But what I'm most worried about is that we would like to also provide support for our neighbours. Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste, who are sitting on the edge of a crisis. We want the 1 million vaccines that we've ordered from Europe to come to them. There are some urgent humanitarian issues in our close neighbours. And I think it's very important that the work continues with regards to procurement because that's where the problem has been. And that is where Australians should feel very disappointed in the inability for the supply to come through. Now, we've had a diversified portfolio of vaccines from the very get go. But it is true that we have to really recalibrate and pivot to making sure that we get the vaccine supply right. And then, of course, because we've been cautious in going forward, we're also hearing some of the side effects that are coming to light. And that's good for Australians, because we know what it is we're dealing with. We know what it is that are the risks and benefits for this COVID vaccine rollout. And we can be sure that safety is the number one issue that the Australian government is working towards, with regards to this COVID vaccine rollout.
NORMAN: Just on the issue of the target there. Katie Allen, do you think the government should set a target outline some new goals? So, once it does, in the Prime Minister's word recalibrate the program's rollout, we know that the ATAGI advice has thrown a spanner in the works right now they've resetting the programme. Once that's done, though, once the new phases are outlined, should there be a target associated with that?
ALLEN: I think Jane, that's an excellent proposition. But what I think is that when you see the rollout start, they can reset. We said from the beginning that there would be some early hiccups, but that as we start to roll it out, and then we start to get on that trajectory, we know that exponentially, you get a big rollout happening. And that's happened in every country that we've seen, you get some starts and stops to start with. And then once you get onto the sure footing of the trajectory, the exponential rollout, when we've got that rolling, then that is the time to provide those timelines and certainty. We don't want people to be confused in any way about what the rollout will be, and that the government will want to deliver certainty. Because that's what businesses need and that is also what the Australian population wants. So, there's no point at this point, sort of predicting when we're in the early stages of that exponential increase. But once we get into that really steady state with a million per week, hopefully even moving up higher than that, then that's when we should start putting out targets because then we know what it is we're aiming for. And then we can then move to the certainty of how are we going to open up, back with the rest of the world. Because the great thing is, Australia's doing well onshore, but we want to make sure we can go back to connecting with the rest of the world from the point of view of tourism, but also from the point of view of trade  Australians are keen to get back to connected, but we want to make sure we do this carefully. We want to make sure we do this safely. And we need certainty around it. So, I think we need to wait till we get a few more, a few more sort of runs on the board with regards to the rollout. And then when that happens, I think you'll see timelines starting to be reactivated again, but we have had to pivot it's happened very quickly, just in the last few days and that is due to the secure supply issues coming from Europe. But then of course, it will So I've been side effects that have made us rethink things. And of course, that is important because putting safety first is what we want to do.

NORMAN: And Jenny McAllister, I mean, there have obviously been issues beyond the government's control, like the latest advice from ATAGI. But even before the slightest setback, the government had effectively missed every role every time to have let it sit for itself.
MCALLISTER: Look, we went into this pandemic, in the unusual position of being an island nation and having a whole lot of advantages in how we manage the way the pandemic hit our shores. The government's complacency means we are at great risk of not taking advantage of the positive situation that we started with. I mean, let's be clear about the pandemic, about the vaccine rollout. From the beginning, the government was late to start. It then did not secure a sufficiently diverse supply, leaving us vulnerable to the kinds of challenges that have arisen now.  It has not established a clear mechanism for it to be rolled out through the community. And GPs are really anxious about the lack of information about their responsibilities, patients that are really anxious about their inability to use the online booking system. This part of it is a shambles to the point where the New South Wales Government is setting up a separate system, a vaccine centre. And fourthly, the communication has been dreadful. People do not know what's going on. And the Prime Minister has failed to communicate about how this vaccine rollout is to occur. Instead of dealing with all of these actual problems, clear failures on the part of the federal government, they are choosing instead to just try and move the goalposts and say, oh, well, now targets are unimportant. If they weren't important, why did Scott Morrison stand up and tell the country that 4 million people would be vaccinated by the end of March, a target they have completely failed to hit?
NORMAN: Well, the pm has clearly been burned by that having missed several targets now. But is there also a need here to manage expectations for Australians to sort of convey the message that we're really safe here right now, we don't have any community transmission. And you know, therefore, there's no point perhaps putting a date on when we'll all be vaccinated, only to miss that target, perhaps and then disappoint people further off.
MCALLISTER: I think the idea that there is no rush is a very big problem. And it's one that we're hearing from government ministers from the PM down. The vaccine programme is our key to restoring normality, socially, in terms of the way we interact with one another, but also economically, and that matters a lot for the millions of Australians who are either unemployed or don't have enough hours. We can't afford to be complacent. And the truth is that what you measure matters, The Prime Minister's failure to set any targets for himself, any means by which his government can be held accountable speaks volumes about his entire approach to the pandemic.
NORMAN: And just finally, Jenny McAllister, and before we have to let you guys go, we've put so much store in this vaccine programme, it's seen as our key out of COVID-19. How worried are you? I suppose the question is, what will be the impact if we do continue this rollout well into next year? What would that mean for Australia?
MCALLISTER: I'm really concerned about a slow rollout, which seems to be what the Prime Minister is telling Australians we should now expect. Australians need us to get to a point where people can resume their lives, where travel can recommence, where commerce can recommence where we can get the economy going again. These things matter to the lives of ordinary people. And I'm really concerned that the Prime Minister shows no urgency in dealing with, in recalibrating the targets which so far, he's spectacularly missed.
NORMAN: And Katie Allen finally to you, we know that an election has to be called by May next year. Are you concerned about your re-election prospects if people are still getting their jabs in sort of March and April of 2022?
ALLEN: Well, I'm more interested in what's the right thing for the Australian people. I don't look at those things that you raise, because for me, what's important is getting it right for the Australian people. And that means a safe and certain way forward and making sure that we put all the right resources there. And yes, early on, we were hopeful that was going to be faster. I think that that we've had some setbacks because of this supply issue. And because of the side effects issues, but those setbacks aren't going to hold us back. Because at the end of the day, we've determined to make sure that we get Australia reconnected back to the rest of the world. And protecting our most vulnerable is going to be the way to do that. Because let's be clear, the vaccine isn't a complete silver bullet. For all of this, I think we're going to be living with COVID for a very long time. And we’re probably going to have to deal with COVID in different ways for a very long time. It's not a silver bullet for how we're going to reconnect back with the rest of the world. What I would say is the vaccine is going to help move this from being an incredibly deadly and dangerous disease to being a serious nuisance. And that can actually mean that the way we think about protecting Australians is making sure we protect our oldest citizens with a fatality rate that's as high 10% in those over 70, for those who get COVID. If we can protect particularly that group of Australians, then the issues about vaccine rollout becomes about how to protect our most vulnerable. And that can happen much sooner than the end of this year. And that may mean that we can move on to a footing, which means connecting with the rest of the world. Now, there's a lot more to go on that. And that's why I really welcome the national cabinet under the direction of our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, to take us forward with regards to a roadmap to reconnection because no one yet knows the role that the vaccine plays in herd immunity, it doesn't matter which vaccine we're talking about. All we know, is of the five vaccines that we've committed to the diversified portfolio of vaccines, we do know that they are all very good at preventing fatalities, which is a great outcome. What we don't know is how long they'll last because we've only had this vaccine for less than a year, or any of these vaccines for less than a year. And we don't know how it's going to work for herd immunity, nor do we know how it will work for emerging mutant strains. So, there's a lot we don't know about COVID. But what we do know is Australia has suppressed the virus brilliantly. And that is because of the Australian people, their trust and respect in health authorities and the governments, the many government that are leading them to this great place. And we know that those many governments and that great health sector is going to lead us to a better place with the COVID vaccine.
NORMAN: Okay. Katie Allen and Jenny McAllister, on that note, thank you for your time.