22 February 2021




SUBJECTS: COVID-19 vaccinations; Newspoll; Facebook; Brittany Higgins. 

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Joining me live is Michelle Rowland, Labor’s Shadow Minister for Communications. Michelle, good to see you, thanks for joining us this morning. Our top story is the rollout of the vaccine. It is positive news, we have been waiting for the best part of a year now. Now that’s happening, what are your concerns going forward?
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: My main concern here is to ensure that Australians have confidence in the vaccine and that Australians come forward to get themselves vaccinated. I think what we have seen in recent days with Facebook withdrawing news in Australia I think it had shone a light on the potential for misinformation to proliferate on the internet which would be a very grave thing at a time when we want Australians to come forward and be vaccinated.
STEFANOVIC: Well that allows the anti-vaxxers to run rampant, doesn’t it?
ROWLAND: They are already doing that unfortunately, in a physical sense and we know that that is happening even before Facebook withdrew its news. I think some of the analysis has been very telling, both before and after news was switched off. Prior to that, there were some arguments that this could make Facebook a less compelling platform because it could be proliferated by fake news rather than official sources. Some analysis in the past couples of days has indicated that has come to fruition, so its deeply concerning. All public policy makers want to make sure that Australians have confidence in the vaccination process and ignore the misinformation.

There’s also of course the issue of scams. Scams cost billions of dollars each year, and we’ve seen overseas various forms of scams including phishing techniques, ways in which people’s personal information has been derived from them through various scams is again deeply concerning. We want to ensure that the Government is very alive to this, the ACCC itself has noted this and we should make it a priority.
STEFANOVIC: Do you think that Anthony Albanese should have been given a vaccination shot with the Prime Minister yesterday?
ROWLAND: Well, I’m sure he’s prepared to have his shot in line with everyone else. I saw reports that the Prime Minister was looking to have a shot at the same time as Anthony, but I don’t think he’s concerned about the timing in particular. We’ll wait our turn like everyone else.
STEFANOVIC: It would have been a good message though, don’t you think?
ROWLAND: It would have been a good message, but I think the bigger message should be that Australians should have confidence in the vaccine and we should all get it.

STEFANOVIC: Just still with Anthony Albanese and on Newspoll today, he has dropped three points to 26 per cent favourability. It has Scott Morrison at 61. You must be concerned about that?

ROWLAND: I think we should be concerned about all the things that are of concern to the Australian people – they are front of mind more than anything else. As I move about my community and speak to people, people want life to get back to some sense of normality, they understand a lot of things won’t be the same, they are looking forward to the vaccine rollout. There are supposed to do 4 million done by March, so we will hold the Government to account for its own projections.
I think it’s more important that we focus on the Australian people. There are a lot of people doing it very tough and it’s going to get tougher for a lot of people when JobKeeper comes off as well. That has been the 100 per cent focus of Labor during this time and it will continue to be so.
STEFANOVIC: And another act of normality will be when borders and those shut down do end. Do you believe that now that the vaccine is rolling out, that argument becomes much less persuasive?
ROWLAND: I think it should go a long to alleviating the concerns that have been raised by different states. But at all times I have confidence in the advice of the Chief Medical Officers of the various States and Territories, and certainly our national one. We should always take their advice, but it is very clear that people have been frustrated by those border closures, but they were based on medical advice and we should always take medical advice.
STEFANOVIC: Just on Facebook and the Government not advertising on Facebook, do you support that decision?
ROWLAND: I do and I think there are other mechanisms by which these messages can be disseminated. Whilst I respect the decision in this case to do that, I can completely understand why. I wouldn’t say that this should be a blanket issue the Government should take up, there are very sound reasons to advertise in some circumstances and not others. It is unfortunate that this has come about at a time when we are in the middle of a pandemic. It is unfortunate that there are so many people who will fall victim not only to misinformation but also scams during this time.
STEFANOVIC: Yep, just a couple of quick ones. There’s a report in The Australian today that another alleged victim has come forward claiming she was sexually assaulted by that same Liberal staffer, who allegedly raped Brit[tany] Higgins as well. It’s beyond disturbing isn’t it?
ROWLAND: It is deeply disturbing. What’s even worse in this case is that there now appears to be an alleged serial rapist on the loose in the Ministerial Wing of Parliament House. How on earth have we gotten to this position where we now have the Prime Minister saying he didn’t know and no-one thought it was prudent to tell him. I can tell you Peter, I worked in the private sector before coming to this place. There is no way the Managing Partner of my law firm would not have known an alleged crime on his premises. When I worked in-house, there is no way that the CEO of those firms would not have been made aware of an alleged crime having occurred in their workplaces. There are so many discrepancies coming through here, you can drive a rig through them. But the questions of who knew what when really need to be answered. Ms Higgins has been really brave. She deserves justice and so do the other alleged victims.
STEFANOVIC: Michelle Rowland, appreciate your time.
ROWLAND: Pleasure.