Anika Wells MP on ABC Weekend Breakfast



SUBJECTS: Vaccine rollout, advertising campaign, vaccine manufacturing, financial support during lockdowns

JOHANNA NICHOLSON, HOST: For more, let’s bring in our pollie panel. We’re joined by Liberal MP Tim Wilson and also joined by Labor MP Anika Wells. Good morning to both of you. Thanks for coming on.

ANIKA WELLS, MEMBER FOR LILLEY: Good morning Fauziah Good morning Johanna.                                                                            

NICHOLSON: Good morning. So as we just said Tim, Australia’s supply of the Pfizer vaccine has been brought forward. So to clarify we’re not getting more of the vaccine. We’ll just be getting it slightly earlier. Are you confident in what the Prime Minister has said this year? That all willing Australians will be offered a vaccine by the end of the year.

TIM WILSON, MEMBER FOR GOLDSTEIN: I’m extremely confident we’re going to hit that scenario by the end of the year. The first million doses to get our Covid-19 vaccine took 45 days. We’re now trending towards a million a week. So the opportunity for Australians to get the vaccine is real. What we need is obviously people to go and either see their GPs or go to mass vaccination centres so that they can, as soon as they’re eligible, be in a position to get it. And particularly with Pfizer we know the time period is truncated to three weeks between the two doses, so the opportunity to achieve it is very real and very exciting.

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM, HOST: Anika Wells, surely this is a fantastic sign for Australia. The fact that the vaccine rollout has been brought forward this early. You know there will be more vaccines available for younger Australians as well. Surely the government can be given some credit?

WELLS: Not when you measure them by their own targets Fauziah. The vaccine rollout has been omnishambles compared to what even the Prime Minister said that we could expect from his government as of late last year. I think that Sydneysiders don’t need a couple of politicians from Queensland and Victoria to add to their burden this morning. But I do think they deserve to have their questions answered. And better answers than what we’ve had so far. There are so, so many problems when it comes to this rollout. Even Pfizer came out to contradict what the Prime Minister had said around the timing of their rollout. They said that their deadlines remain unchanged. So I think we want to know where those 300,000 doses are coming from. Are they in the cupboard at Kirribilli? But practically on the ground, people come to my mobile offices who are aged care workers, who have been told that they need to be vaccinated by September as part of these new mandatory measures. But there’s no way for them to do that. They can’t get Pfizer before September here in Brisbane. And even if they got AstraZeneca tomorrow, they’d still probably not make their September deadline. So I think we need to see a lot more work and a lot less backslapping from the Morrison Government.

NICHOLSON: Tim, it’s still only early July. It’s a long way until the end of the year. And when you say you are confident that all willing Australians will be offered a vaccine that’s not the same as all Australians actually getting the vaccine. Because I know of a lot of people who want the vaccination but they’re either not eligible yet or they can’t get an appointment.

WILSON: Firstly, I am very confident we will get there. Yes it’s July. It was always going to take the whole year to get the public vaccinated for everybody who wanted to be vaccinated. And of course some sections of the community are not eligible yet because the timelines were always set out and agreed between the Commonwealth and the States was to target populations that were most vulnerable at the beginning. And of course when you’re rolling out vaccines at a million a week we’ll progressively move through those groups, open the opportunity for other groups in the community to make sure they are eligible as well. So I am very confident and optimistic about being able to achieve it. Now we are never, not likely to reach 100 per cent vaccination rate. And the reason is because we live in a country where people have the freedom to choose whether they get the vaccine or not. I would just encourage those people who are hesitant firstly, to go and speak to their GP and to have a discussion with them. Because these vaccines are safe. They have been approved by the regulators. And to make sure that they understand, it’s not just about protecting your health. It’s also about protecting and taking responsibility for the health of others. Because of course you may be fine should you be infected with Covid-19, if you’re young or you don’t have immuno-conditions which lead to potential risk. But there might be family members, friends, sometimes who don’t even talk about their health conditions who you might be putting at risk if you don’t get the vaccine.

NICHOLSON: Anika, the Prime Minister also mentioned yesterday that there’d be a new advertising campaign launched tomorrow. Is that something that you welcome?

WELLS: I definitely welcome it. It is much overdue. There are some great examples of national education campaigns from other countries that have been in place for months. Given that we have had this now as a national emergency issue since February last year, I wonder what the delay has been. And just to pick up on what Tim was talking about there, members of the Morrison Government like Tim, keep putting the onus back on us. Back on Australians. Back on Australian workers to do their work for them. You’ve got concerns, go talk to your GP. You’re an aged care worker you need to go and find your own jab.

WILSON: Well the alternative is to (inaudible)

WELLS: Rather than taking on that work themselves, providing a national education campaign that answers people’s questions without having to load up GP clinics. And providing vaccinations for frontline workers in their workplaces.

WILSON: Please, this is ridiculous. Firstly, unless you wish to compel people and make it compulsory to get the vaccine and forcibly inject it into people’s arms, the way to persuade people about the importance and the responsibility of getting a vaccine is to encourage them to do the right thing, not to spend time on national television seeking to, seek cheap political points. We need to build confidence. This is a moment where the whole of the country needs to work together not a situation where we don’t turn to Australians and say your part of the responsibility of getting Australia to be Covid-19 vaccine treated. So that we’re in the best position to end measures which lead to things like lockdowns presently in Sydney and of course have been experienced extensively in the state of Victoria.

IBRAHIM: You know Anika Wells, a lot of the problem seems to be, and the government has been criticised for the supply issue. But supply really is very uncertain the world over. You know, if you compare Australia’s vaccination rollout to similar countries like New Zealand – New Zealand’s well behind Australia, so is Taiwan. Japan doing roughly as well as we are. South Korea only slightly better. At the start of the pandemic it was a real gamble whether it was Pfizer or whether AstraZeneca. Now the government went with both. Pfizer, an MRNa, unable to be manufactured here in Australia. AstraZeneca can be manufactured locally and therefore the government took the gamble and went with AstraZeneca which is widely available, far more widely available than Pfizer at the moment. Would Labor have made that same gamble with that much uncertainty right at the start of the pandemic?

WELLS: Yeah, I think Chris Bowen has said numerous times since late November that there were five or six vaccines on offer. And he said from that moment when the PM was negotiating that we should have a greater diversity of vaccines so that we aren’t are entirely reliant, like we have now become, on AstraZeneca. And reliant on other countries’ generosity letting us ship in Pfizer. But to pick up your point Fauziah, that’s exactly right, we should have the ability to manufacture MRNa vaccines here on our shores. Here on the northside of Brisbane, people really want to see Aussie manufacturing come back because it supports local jobs. Why didn’t we prioritise local manufacturing, the production of an MRNa vaccine, back in 2020? Because we’re now, you know, in July 2021. You would think that we would be able to have these things rolled out by now. I think what our work as local MPs should be is supporting local business, encouraging local manufacturing and making decisions to manufacture stuff onshore, locally where we absolutely possibly can. This is a missed opportunity.

NICHOLSON: Speaking of supporting business, Tim Wilson, in Sydney the New South Wales Premier has said that unless she sees a dramatic change in the numbers of Covid cases in Sydney then the lockdown won’t end as scheduled on Friday. Will the federal government extend more federal support given that we don’t have schemes in place like Jobkeeper, that we had last year?

WILSON: Well firstly I just want to correct something that was just said. AstraZeneca as a vaccine is safe and available and if people are willing to take it they should. I would have if I had of had the circumstance, the opportunity to do so. So pandering to the idea of suggesting that there is some sort of serious risk by politicians, as Anika has just done, undermines public confidence, is very bad for the vaccine rollout…(inaudible)

WELLS: I’ll just tell you there Tim, I’m actually fully vaccinated with AstraZeneca. So I said absolutely nothing of the sort.

WILSON:  (inaudible) Is that you don’t think Australians should be able to be able to utilise it. I disagree with that. I think that the evidence on this is actually extremely clear. And it’s responsible that we encourage Australians to get vaccinated. Now obviously there has been risk assessments around prioritisation but it’s very important that politicians don’t seek to inflame community concern against actual risk. Now in addition to this…

WELLS: Maybe you should have a talk to your mate Clive Palmer about not mailing out anti-vax material into marginal seat neighbourhoods.

WILSON: (inaudible) for additional assistance and support to Victorian households after a threshold had been met, including of course, it was matched by the state government to support people who were in low-income or insecure work but also an expectation of support for business. So we’re taking the same approach with New South Wales. The Commonwealth is here to assist and to help but we want the state government to stand up and support their small businesses and of course, their workers as well.

NICHOLSON: Tim Wilson and Anika Wells, well have to leave it there. We’ve run out of time. But thanks for joining us.

WELLS: Thanks Fauziah. Thanks Johanna. Thanks Tim.