Anika Wells MP on ABC Weekend Breakfast




Saturday 3 April 2021


SUBJECTS:  Vaccine rollout, aged care workers, JobKeeper

JOHANNA NICHOLSON, CO-HOST:  Let’s bring in our pollie panel now, we’re joined by Liberal MP, Julian Leeser and also joined by Labor MP, Anika Wells. Good morning to you both.



NICHOLSON: Let’s start with the case this morning with the blood clots. How concerned, Julian Leeser, is the Government about this case, and what it might do for people who are hesitant to receive this vaccination?

LEESER: Well Johanna, I think it’s important to remember that we’ve had around three-quarters of a million doses so far of the vaccines, and this is the only case in Australia so far. There have been cases in Britain and Europe, and the health authorities and the TGA are looking at these matters very closely as they should be doing. The international research so far is that there’s not a particular link between blood clots and the vaccine, but we are looking at this further and I think this is ultimately a matter where we need to listen to the health experts, and that’s why they’re looking at it and they’re taking it seriously.

NICHOLSON: Anika Wells, do you agree?

WELLS: First Johanna, let me say this is my first time back with you since I had my twins, and we were watching you make your return after baby Henry, and it gave me the confidence that there was no mashed banana in your hair, you didn’t look like you were crying, and I thought “I’m going to make it too!”

NICHOLSON: Anika, make up does a lot! Make up does wonders!

DAN BOURCHIER, CO-HOST: It’s probably me with mashed banana in my hair!

WELLS: I’ve got some Vaseline over the lens as I’m patching into you from work this morning. But to get back into it, I think Julian said himself, we’ve only had three-quarters of a million people vaccinated – we’re meant to be at four million Australians vaccinated by now. I trust in our medical experts, I see some have been out in the media this morning saying they’re not concerned about the clotting issue, we’ll wait for the TGA to weigh in. I think more broadly, when it comes to Australians having confidence in the vaccine and the vaccine rollout, there are bigger questions for the Morrison Government to answer about the delays, about the aged care workers now needing to go and get themselves jabbed by their own doctors because the Feds aren’t coming to do it in their workplaces anymore, and those are the questions I think the Morrison Government should address whilst leaving the clotting issue to medical experts.

BOURCHIER: Julian Leeser, one of the big challenges here of course is around public perception and trust in the system. What are you doing to try to allay some of these concerns?

LEESER: Well I want to address one of the points that Anika raised there, which is the number of vaccines. We were clear back in January that we weren’t going to reach the numbers that she’s referred to there, and that’s because we had ordered 3.1 million doses from Europe which didn’t come, but Australia is one of a handful of nations that actually has sovereign vaccine making capacity in our own country. That is, we can make the AstraZeneca vaccine ourselves, and that’s a very good thing and that should give Australians confidence. The vaccine came here later than it came to other places because we put the vaccines through the rigorous, Australian TGA process, we didn’t rush this out, and I think that’s a very important thing and I think that should give people confidence in the vaccine process itself. The fact that political leaders of all stripes have gone on television and had the vaccine again should give people confidence in the vaccine process. It’s important that we do this, and we get it right, and it’s rolled out in an orderly manner, and that’s what we’re doing.

NICHOLSON: Anika, earlier you mentioned the vaccine rollout in aged care facilities, and aged care workers having to go to their GPs to get vaccinated rather than having it done inside their nursing home. Does it matter where people get their vaccination from, as long as they get it?

WELLS: In a simple answer, no, but I think the fact that we have found this out because a health department spokesperson quietly put out a release just before Easter long weekend when this Morrison Government has done 25 different press conferences or media releases about their triumph, their glory, their success in the vaccine rollout speaks to this actually being a failure of the Morrison Government to take responsibility for what is extremely important work. We have nearly 380,000 aged care workers across the country. These people have done the most frontline, essential work. These are the people who held the hands of our nannas and our loved ones when we couldn’t get into nursing homes ourselves, and this is the way they’re thanked? They were told that they would get this in their workplaces, with minimal disruption when they’re already so under resourced, and now they’ve got to off their own accord, in their own time, get to their own GP clinics. And we’re also hearing from our GPs themselves that there are weeks in delay, they’re having to cancel hundreds and thousands of appointments because the supply isn’t there. The Morrison Government had months to plan this, they had months to roll this out. The targets that Julian is talking about are the targets that the Morrison Government set themselves. It is incredibly disappointing, they need to take responsibility, they need to do better.

NICHOLSON: Julian, we understand now that the states will be more involved in the rollout of the vaccination. There’ll be state hubs and clinics involved in New South Wales. That is a major departure from the planned vaccination rollout from the Federal Government. Did the Federal Government underestimate the undertaking here?

LEESER: Well this is a huge undertaking, I think that’s the first thing to say. I think you’re broadly right Johanna. People don’t care who’s giving them the jab, they just want to get the jab. And look, I think it’s very good to see New South Wales make the offer they have made here. What they’re doing in terms of offering their state hubs is bringing them into line with other states as well, which is very good. And I think that having a national effort to get the vaccine out is important. That’s the key thing here that people are vaccinated. And I’d just go back again to say that one of the things that puts Australia in a better position than other places is: number one, when you look around the world at the way in which the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed, where there are half a million cases around the world every day and we’ve had 53 days until recently where we had no cases here. I think it shows that we have managed the pandemic very well. But secondly, the fact that we’ve got that sovereign making capacity of the AstraZeneca vaccine means that we’re in a better position than so many other places.

NICHOLSON: Although we certainly are falling short Julian. Australia’s fallen 83 per cent short of the initial target of administering four million doses by the end of March.

LEESER: As I made clear Johanna, I mean we were going to get 3.1 million vaccines from Europe and that didn’t happen. That didn’t happen because the pandemic is out of control in parts of Europe and they wanted to keep the vaccines to themselves. Now had we not had the sovereign vaccine-making capacity in our country, that would be an issue. But we do have that. And that is why I think Australians can have confidence in the vaccine rollout program, as they have confidence that we have managed this pandemic well from day one.

BOURCHIER: Anika, what do you make of that?

WELLS: I’m just remembering all the times in the past month that I’ve seen the Prime Minister stand up at a photo-op and say that we were “first in the queue.” That Australians were first in the queue to get the vaccine. That he had personally assured himself of that. And clearly we’re not. I saw yesterday that Rwanda is ahead of us in the vaccine rollout by targets, and Rwanda isn’t in Europe. So how is it the case that the Morrison Government can still claim that they are doing the job. It actually made me think of that quote from US politics decades ago: “At this point, would you buy a used car from these people?”

LEESER: That’s a pretty cheap shot Anika. I mean I think what we’ve tried to do…

WELLS: Where are the jabs, Julian ?

LEESER: …is to get the vaccine jabs to people, to have the sovereign making capacity so we as a country can guarantee supply. We’ve been very honest with the country. And the idea that you can’t have a press conference to tell people what’s happening with the vaccine rollout when people were telling us they weren’t getting enough information….

WELLS: You’ve had 25 of them Julian!

LEESER: … I think it’s an entirely reasonable thing to do to keep the public informed about the way things are going. And that’s what the government has been doing all along.

WELLS: Absolutely, but there wasn’t a press conference to alert Australians that aged care workers would need to get their own jabs when that changed. Whether or not that is credible or not as a decision, there wasn’t any press conference with the PM announcing that was there? He left that to the health department spokespeople to do it, buried it before the Easter long weekend when that is an important announcement that people need to know about. Frontline workers need to know if they need to go and get their own jab rather than getting it in their workplace.

BOURCHIER: Well clearly some ways to go on that. We’re going to have to leave that there because we are running against the clock and almost out of time. We’ve just had news of course this week about that short, sharp lockdown in Queensland. This comes after we saw the end of JobKeeper as well. There’s been a lot of questions about tourism jobs and the flow on from that. Julian Leeser, what do you say to those people that are at the end of their tether because of the shutdowns and of course the end of JobKeeper.

LEESER: Well I think the thing with JobKeeper was that it was always a targeted and temporary program. I think you have to look, 12 months ago predicting unemployment about sort of 15 per cent. The most recent unemployment figure is 5.8 per cent. We’ve had 88,000 new jobs created in the last month. When I look at things like Seek they’ve got record job ads, I think 183,000 jobs were advertised there only about a week ago when I last checked. Look we’ve provided JobKeeper and it’s been a lifeline for lots of people, but we’ve also provided tourism packages, whether it’s the discounted flights, whether it’s the quarter of a billion dollars on travel agents and the like, and we acknowledge that it’s a difficult time for people, but we couldn’t keep JobKeeper going. There’s been plenty of notice of the finish of JobKeeper at the end of March. We need to get the economy moving again, and the signs from the economy is that it is moving and growing in the right direction.

NICHOLSON: Anika, there isn’t an endless supply of money and assistance for people and the Government has introduced some of the targeted measures. Is that enough?

WELLS: No. And no one, like Julian says, no is arguing for JobKeeper to continue endlessly without some sort of targeted precision about where that money is going. But particularly up here, I am in the magical kingdom of Queensland, there are industries that absolutely need that ongoing support, because they are not out of the woods yet, and the vaccine isn’t here yet. We saw BluesFest cancelled on the weekend and the live music industry is taking yet another hit without the assistance that is offered to the film industry by the Federal Government for example. Aviation workers, those planes still aren’t flying up in the air, international border isn’t looking likely to lift for months yet. There is still a need for JobKeeper for people whose ability to put food on the table depends on it, and it’s galling to hear that it’s done a good job and that’s all there needs to be from the government, when people like Gerry Harvey, there are billionaire CEOs that have pocketed tens of millions of dollars personally out of the JobKeeper program, won’t hand it back, and the Morrison Government won’t go after them like they did with the millions of victims of Robodebt.

NICHOLSON: Right Anika Wells and Julian Leeser we’ve run out of time. Thanks both of you for coming on this morning.