19 April 2021




SUBJECTS: New Zealand travel bubble; vaccine rollout; home quarantine; Labor’s position on coal.

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Joining my live in the studio is Michelle Rowland, the Shadow Communications Minister. Michelle, thank you for your time and good to see you in person. Would you be going to New Zealand?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: I’d love to be able to travel. I can’t remember the last time I got on an international flight actually. I do know my passport has expired. Clearly this is a momentous day and something that the sector and Australians have been really looking forward to so it’s great to see.

STEFANOVIC: No doubt about that though, but people would be forgiven for having trepidation about going right? I mean you can go there, you can book your flight to Queenstown in the lead up to the ski season, but then all of a sudden two cases emerge and its popped again.

ROWLAND: Absolutely, and I think at the back of people’s minds is the fact that one of the reasons Australia has been so resilient is because we are an island nation, we are able to close our borders. When that starts opening up again, of course you raise a whole new series of questions. There’s also quite a mental health issue here. We haven’t been able to plan for the last twelve months or so; even planning Christmas, Easter or weddings. The notion of planning an overseas trip must be a huge thing for people to be able to take leave, book the tickets, book the accommodation. I welcome it. I do know how hard the sector has been doing it – even local travel agents in our suburbs who have essentially spent the last twelve months processing refunds from the year before.

STEFANOVIC: Do you have a preference on which bubble you would like to see next? There is talk about Singapore being ahead of the queue at the moment. Japan is in the mix as well.

ROWLAND: I’m just happy that we seem to be getting some normality. I would prefer to see the vaccine rollout get on its feet before I thought about doing that with my family, to be frank.

STEFANOVIC: And we’re a long way behind on that one.

ROWLAND: Indeed.

STEFANOVIC: Couple of points on that. Vaccination hubs. Do you realistically see that happening in the fourth quarter of this year which has been talked about?

ROWLAND: I can see some of the states are quite keen on it, and certainly in New South Wales, there’s been those discussions and I can see there’s been commentary there. It appears, taking overseas examples, that appears to be the way in which that sort of critical mass is being achieved. You have to take a step back from that and that is the supply of the vaccines itself. Before you even start contemplating where you’re going to have these centres, you need to have the supply.

STEFANOVIC: What shape would you like to see these vaccination centres take? Would they be these huge facilities where you go in individually, or like in the US where you have car parks of people not even getting out of their car and getting a jab in their arm?

ROWLAND: I’d leave this up to the experts. All of these certainly have the potential and that comes down to alleviating that vaccine hesitancy some people have at the moment. They feel there isn’t a plan, there isn’t a timeline. I think you need to address all those things, and from there, the public confidence will build and it’s just unfortunate we don’t have that yet.

STEFANOVIC: What about home quarantine, another idea that’s been floated? There are some holes in this one for obvious reasons, but do you think that’s doable by the end of this year if our vaccination can proceed as hoped?

ROWLAND: Well, I’ve seen some comments from state premiers that this really does need to be principles-based. It needs to be secure; it needs to be robust; you need to have it formalised. This is important for National Cabinet to discuss, but again, we’re talking about this in the abstract without knowing what the vaccine rollout schedule and what sort of supply we’ve got. Part of the problem is today I saw comments from the Prime Minister ruling out ankle bracelets, whereas yesterday we had a Cabinet Minister entertaining the idea. So if National Cabinet gives us that consistency, I think that’s what Australians are looking for.

STEFANOVIC: Well, there would be some holes in it. If you’re infected, you’d have to cut yourself off from every other person in your household.

ROWLAND: We’ve seen some cases of transmission where people have been in rooms next to each other in quarantine and not knowing how that happened. I don’t think anything’s infallible, and I’m obviously not a medical expert on this, but we do need to take the best advice.

STEFANOVIC: Is Labor really dropping its hostility to coal?

ROWLAND: I think Madeleine King’s comments are very astute. She’s one of the most articulate people on our team when it comes to the resources sector, and hence, she is our resources spokesperson. We had our National Conference in the last couple of weeks where we affirmed the importance of coal to the national energy mix. I welcome Madeleine’s comments and they are borne from experience and understanding that these jobs are important. They will continue to be an important export market at least up to 2050 and beyond.

STEFANOVIC: Would you like to see new coal mines explored and opened?

ROWLAND: If they are proposed, then indeed. This is about jobs. It’s also important to recognise that coal and the export of our minerals will continue to be in the top exports on any list for Australia.

STEFANOVIC: Michael McCormack was on the show earlier and he said he wouldn’t believe it until he sees Anthony Albanese stand up in an inner-city suburb and actually promise this. Would you see this happening?

ROWLAND: Well, Michael McCormack can say what he likes, but he should maybe get the vaccine rollout sorted first. It’s very clear from our National Platform that Labor has affirmed how important this is for working people and how important it is for regional communities in particular.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, Michelle Rowland, thanks for coming in.

ROWLAND: My pleasure.