22 July 2021





SUBJECTS: COVID-19; Sydney & Victoria lockdowns; mRNA manufacturing delays; failures in vaccination rollout. 

ED HUSIC, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND INNOVATION: Thank you very much for joining us today. I'm here with my friend, colleague and next door neighbour the Shadow Communications Minister and Member for Greenway, Michelle Rowland. We're both here today, at one of the vaccination centres that's been set up to help ensure that the vaccination programme actually gets achieved on the ground here in western Sydney. 

Thousands of western Sydney residents are doing the right thing by themselves and the nation by getting vaccinated and ensuring that we can take the steps required to beat COVID. But what they really need is a federal government that's on their side and doing the right thing to help them out. By that, I mean sorting out this horrendous vaccine rollout programme that has completely gone off the rails that has seen in our parts of western Sydney medical centres, based on what doctors are telling me, running out of vaccine supply, people lining up for ages in suburbs around here, where at the end of the queue, they're told there's not enough vaccine around for them to get vaccinated on the day that they've taken to do the right thing by themselves and the nation. 

There are two ways to sort this out. One is to get enough vaccine here in the first place and the second is to manufacture vaccine on shore. This vaccination manufacturing programme has stalled just like the broader programme with a federal government that makes a lot of promises and fails to deliver. In this case, we had the Deputy Chief Medical Officer in August last year say that we needed to look at manufacture on shore, we had the then Industry Minister in Karen Andrews in October saying she expected in nine to 12 months for that to happen. We have now have the new Industry Minister last month tell Parliament, it might take 12-to-18 months to happen. His own department saying it might take four years to happen. Then the Prime Minister suggesting last week that it might be 2023 until we will see local manufacturing of the vaccine. 

The reason this is a big deal is that this virus is going to alter over the course of time and we do need to have local manufacturing occur that can take that into account and produce the variations of vaccine required to keep people safe. We cannot afford to have a federal government stuff this programme up in terms of local manufacture. They're not bringing enough supply in, they're not making enough here and this is a problem. As I said, there are some ways in which this can be fixed. And there are also ways that local communities and particularly in western Sydney can help in the manufacturing process as well. I'll invite Michelle to talk further in relation to local manufacture, but also the impact of this poor vaccine rollout programme on her part of western Sydney.

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Thank you, Ed. It’s just after 9am and I firstly want to do a shout out to those millions of Australian parents and caregivers at home who have logged on for home-schooling yet again. I know from personal experience that this is hard. There are points during the day where this honestly feels debilitating. Like many other families in our local area, I have two young children, and this is a most difficult time. 

The thing is, we were all told that our key to getting back to normal, to ensure we have the quality of life we’re accustomed to, was vaccination. This Federal Government has let those Australian families down. They have let those children down. They have let the tradies in our local communities here in West and North-West Sydney – whose construction sites, whose jobs have been altered, and all those small businesses who rely on those tradies in various forms – down too. All those small businesses who have said they simply cannot continue to operate as a result of this lockdown; a lockdown for which no finish line is in sight.

The other thing I want to comment on is that western Sydney is a big place, but it’s also an interconnected place, and suburbs of concern in the electorate of Greenway now include Seven Hills and Toongabbie. There has also been reportedly a casual contact point at King of Kebabs in Blacktown. Anyone who has the mildest of symptoms, please get tested. We want to ensure that everything is being done in our community. Ed and I, as he said, want to thank all our residents for everything they have done trying to get vaccinated, doing the right thing, staying at home and social distancing.

The last point I want to pick up on of course, just like Ed, I am getting so many inquiries from people saying, ‘why are we not manufacturing the vaccine in Australia?’ It is not as though COVID has just again appeared overnight. Precious little has been done, not only to ensure that manufacturing occurs, but that those jobs are generated here in western Sydney. This is just as much a jobs issue as it is a health issue. Exactly as Ed said, the variants of this virus are still unknown for the future. We need to have action now. It is already a vaccination program that is running behind schedule. We need to ensure that the manufacture of vaccines domestically gets on track. I want to commend our local government, Blacktown City Council, who as recently as yesterday I was in discussions with and who are prepared to do everything, they can facilitate this happening in our local area. We have a large amount of employment lands; we have smart sectors here in western Sydney and it is well-known what needs to be done here to make that happen. This Federal Government needs to stop stuffing around, they need to engage, and they need to ensure that we start a manufacturing process here in Australia before it’s too late.

JOURNALIST: Jonathan Kearsley from Nine News in Canberra thanks very much. Do you think that manufacturing mRNA in Australia is necessary before we can open the country?

HUSIC: I think it is going to be the backbone of any decision made in the future around opening the country. But we simply cannot do that, while we have the vaccine rollout stumbling, while we have no national quarantine in place, and no effective form of national quarantine facilities set up around the country. 

We also obviously need to ensure that those things are done. But we do need to fix up the national vaccine rollout as a priority. I note that the government has released some details overnight about some people that have bid or companies that have put in bids to manufacture onshore. Let me say I certainly welcome the fact that there's been interest in that happening, we desperately needed that interest to be there. 

But it is very interesting of itself to see this announced today because bear in mind, the bid process closed on Friday. And in the last 24 hours, you saw a Prime Minister have his political standing burnt to a crisp on radio, and then a tough media interview or press conferences yesterday afternoon. Plus, you saw the Industry Minister have to respond to another programme stuff up as well within his own department and they needed to be able to release details of people putting in the bid for this mRNA process and to save face. Let me make this point. We do not need face saving decisions by the government, we need lifesaving ones. We need them to get more supply of the vaccine brought in and we need them to get their act together on mRNA manufacturing  or I cannot see how we are going to be in a position to open up if they don't get this right.

JOURNALIST: So, do we need to have mRNA coming off the production line before we even consider how to open with the rest of the world? Is that what you're saying?

HUSIC: That will be a big part. So, the question was, again, if mRNA manufacture is the big test of opening, and it will be, it will form a big part of a test to do this. Clearly, I cannot as an Opposition MP be able to tell people when that will happen as a date. I think the public knows, and the common sense of the public is something I trust in. They know the points at which we've got to close the border to protect and save lives. They totally get that but they would expect at some point that life would return to normal and they would hope that people in positions of authority like the Prime Minister and his government will make the right call as to when that will happen. And clearly, we will need to have the vaccine rollout programme work much better than what it is now. 

We have to have a higher level of vaccination of the general population, and we need to ensure that we have mRNA manufacture onshore, so that we can make sure we've got the vaccine supply that can cater for variations in terms of COVID, as it will be experienced over the course of time. We're talking about the Delta variant now, there are other countries that are dealing with the Lambda variant, as well, it's clear this is going to evolve. But we know and as Michelle said, rightly said, and pointed out, we knew this was coming in terms of the need for manufacture, the government flagged it, people know that we should be getting ready for this. We've sadly been let down by a government more interested in making the flashy announcement than the follow through.

JOURNALIST: The mRNA production capability, really simply could be 12-to-18 months away. Where's the hope for Australians if Labor is going to go to the next election saying we will only open up the country when we have mRNA manufacturing?

HUSIC: So the government had said and what we are doing is holding the government to account when they have an Industry Minister and a senior Cabinet Minister in October last year, say publicly they expected in nine-to-12 months manufacturing to be sorted out. That was October last year. We then had a new Industry Minister push this off even further while the Minister's own department acknowledged to build a new facility that will manufacture mRNA might take four years. We need this programme sorted out. The reason we need it sorted out is to give people hope that when the vaccines will be around that they will actually be produced onshore and in enough quantities to ensure that people can get access to that when they need it quickly. And in terms of for example boosters, as well potentially being produced here.

JOURNALIST: We are producing one onshore it's called AstraZeneca. Yes. To the right of ATAGI in the wake of <inaudible> what's wrong with that.

HUSIC: As the advice has been provided, AstraZeneca will work great for some parts of our population but won't necessarily be appropriate for all parts of our population. There are a range of different mRNA vaccines that are being produced, notably by Pfizer, and Moderna, who's also been in the latest product programme that the federal government's put out, they will potentially be able to do that onshore as well. But we need to have a range as Labor has said. Even when Chris Bowen was the Shadow Health Minister, now backed up by the current Health Shadow Health Minister in Mark Butler, we needed to have a range of options in the vaccine supply, not just two, but a range just like other countries had set themselves up to have and we've had this government let us down on that.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of the Treasurer this morning saying that the current lockdown dealt with <inaudible> costing the economy $300 million a day that's too weak to dislike based on responsibility?

HUSIC: I think that the states are trying to do the best they can in a situation where not enough of the population has been vaccinated. They've had to make the tough decision about lockdowns. There's some debate naturally in New South Wales given the length of this lockdown, as to whether or not the lockdown had been given effect, soon enough or comprehensively enough as it should. In Victoria's case they've had to now respond to that, and we've had South Australia and parts of Queensland affected as well. 

We needed to see better vaccine supply, more vaccination, and a solid information campaign that would back that in and encourage people to go and get vaccinated and to see some moves towards manufacturing. Lockdowns are hurting people, both financially and the broader economy as well. While they have to be done to protect lives this comes at a cost. 

Now, Josh Frydenberg was big and tough last year in bagging out the Victorian Government over its lockdown, but he was a bit more muted when it came to his Liberal colleagues in New South Wales.  We've had a very, very imbalanced approach by the federal government to dealing with the states and they certainly will remember that longer term and they are reacting to the obvious failure of the federal government to get that vaccine programme sorted out, and certainly, myself and Michelle are seeing firsthand how western Sydney residents have been impacted because they can't go about their day to day work. 

We've seen construction shut down. There are a lot of people in our electorates that simply cannot work from home, if they work in manufacturing, logistics, transport, retail, going through a lockdown, all that activity that has been shut down. This is the Morrison lockdown. It's come a result of Scott Morrison's failure to get the vaccine programme sorted out. And, Michelle, I don't know if you wanted to comment on the economic impact from your perspective in the electorate as well, and the cost of the lockdown.

ROWLAND: Ed, you’re absolutely right about the economic perspective. It certainly is one that doesn’t just impact single sectors. As I mentioned just as an example, all the construction that we see taking place, particularly for residential homes in this part of Sydney, has stopped. That means that those tradespeople are not utilising local small businesses, be it everything from the cafes to local service providers, all of them being impacted. We’ve got local providers who cannot open at all, such as hairdressers. 

The fact that there is no end in sight for these people makes it particularly concerning. The other impact of course other than financial and economic is the social and mental impact that this is having on people; people who are missing out on really important occasions in their lives, people who haven’t been able to see their families and the people they love, and people whose work has been compromised because they are both working from home and home-schooling at the same time. 

This is having a profound and broad impact on so many people in so many different ways. Again, I just want to point to we were always told that the pathway out of this was to have mass vaccinations. That has not happened. Scott Morrison has let all of those Australians down and his complete lack of self-awareness, and still, the complete lack of urgency in this area of ensuring we have some plan in place for local manufacturing of vaccines speaks volumes of how the Prime Minister simply doesn’t get it and doesn’t understand the impact that this is having on western Sydney residents.

JOURNALIST: Have you had your vaccination?

ROWLAND: I have received my first jab – a Pfizer jab – last Tuesday. May I point out, I registered on the NSW Health website as soon as that become available to me. I was given a first vaccination date at Blacktown of September this year. When the lockdown started, I decided that simply wasn’t good enough. So, I went again on the website, and I’m not someone who is digitally illiterate, but it took me hours to be able to find somewhere where I could be vaccinated sooner. I took that first opportunity to be vaccinated last Tuesday with Pfizer. Ed, would you also like to answer?

HUSIC: Thank you. I'm getting my first vaccination shot tomorrow of Pfizer, working with my local GP in Mount Druitt and look forward to doing that. Like a lot of us we were very concerned early on about the fact that we needed to ensure that frontline workers had adequate access, given the supply issues that we've been concerned with for quite some time. I've obviously been encouraging and sending the message out to people to please get vaccinated. It is very important for you to do so for your own health and for the health of your family, your friends, community, and the broader nation. It is very important for this to get done. Know that I'm just following the advice of the what's being put out in terms of age groups, and who's appropriate to get AstraZeneca or Pfizer. Any other questions? Thank you.