SUBJECTS: Western Sydney lockdown; Vaccine hesitancy; Labor’s $300 incentive proposal; Christine Holgate.
ANDREW CLENNELL, HOST: Michelle Rowland, thanks for joining us. Take me through what lockdowns have been like for your family and for other families in your seat. What sort of feedback are you getting from constituents?
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: It’s a very diverse community here in Blacktown, Andrew. So there's a range of experiences. Everything from older people who are happily at home at the moment watching the Olympics, many of them fully vaccinated. To people who are struggling to work and undertake remote learning at the same time. To small businesses, as you can see around here in the middle of Blacktown, just about everywhere is closed. It's like a bit of a ghost town, and a lot of people are really looking down the barrel of losing everything.
CLENNELL: You ran an educators forum last night for local people to help them with home schooling, any tips out of that?
ROWLAND: I took a lot of tips from that. I think the first is to recognise that, as parents, we are not the educators. We are there to facilitate and be kind to one another, work on the basis of reward, and give positive reinforcement. A lot of these tips seem pretty self explanatory, but I must say, I'm going to really try and put some of them into practice. Because like a lot of parents, I'm getting a bit fed up with yelling at people I love and feeling like I'm not getting very far. But I think one of the key points coming out of that was children are resilient. They are good. The teachers know what they're doing. And really we just need to try and step back a bit and relax. I guess the hardest part of this though is not knowing how long this is going to go for. And seeing your kids missing their friends, not exercising those social skills that they usually have, I think that is part of it - wondering what impact this is going to have on them in the long term, again, with no end date to remote schooling in sight at the moment.
CLENNELL: And I mean, can you see the difference between this sort of lockdown and a Melbourne style lockdown, or not so much in your area? And again, are you concerned basically Sydney's down until the end of the year?
ROWLAND: Well, I have Melbourne friends and they still say to me, this isn't a lockdown. They say to me, are you allowed to, is it only one hour that you're allowed to exercise? No, it's not. Now I'm not advocating either way, I mean this is apparently based on the best medical advice. But as you yourself have pointed out, the numbers don't seem to be going down.
CLENNELL: How is the rate of vaccination in your electorate? Are people starting to rush out and take up AstraZeneca? Is there some vaccine hesitancy still? What's your experience around that?
ROWLAND: I think it's mixed and it does reflect the cohorts that Grattan identified. There are those people who were always going to get vaccinated, really wanting to get vaccinated. Unfortunately, for a lot of these people, it is difficult to be able to do that. I myself, when the lockdown started, I had a date booked in. The earliest date that I could be given at Blacktown hospital was September and I decided that wasn't good enough. I had to spend hours going through the vaccination app to try and find somewhere that could see me sooner. And thank goodness I did because I've got my second jab tomorrow. But there's that component. You've also got people who straight out don't intend to get vaccinated. And then I think you've got a cohort in between that something needs to get their attention, where they need to have some sort of reason, some sort of desire instilled in them, to go out and get vaccinated.
CLENNELL: Now you just spoke about people who are telling you flat out that they are not getting vaccinated. Do they come from a particular ethnicity? Is it across the board and what are their reasons?
ROWLAND: It's very mixed, but there is certainly a lot of the misinformation component, and I think that is of particular concern. The number of people who don't engage in traditional media channels, for example, they take their advice from different people who've sent them information and they form their own judgments. So it really is across the board. But I will say this, I think that there has been a real struggle here for people of non English speaking backgrounds to get information about COVID safety, let alone about vaccination. And I mentioned in the Parliament, when you go to the vaccination checker, you can get information in Icelandic, but you can't get information in Tamil. And I have one of the highest proportions of Tamil speakers in all of Australia in my electorate.
CLENNELL: Now, Anthony Albanese has announced this policy of $300 per jab and I guess you're on the expenditure review committee for that. Why is it $300? Why not $100? $200? How did that magical figure come together?
ROWLAND: It was a combination of what would be a reasonable fiscal stimulus, but also, what people would consider to be a reasonable reward. And there's been a lot of different studies around the world already. So that figure was out there and sort of commensurate with some of those.
CLENNELL: Why didn't it go to the Shadow Cabinet or Caucus? Do you think the leader was worried about opposition in those forums, or leaking, or what was the reason?
ROWLAND: Not at all. And I think at times like this, you need to show some leadership on an issue and the leadership Anthony Albanese has shown here is to say I want to start a conversation. I want to put forward a constructive proposal. And we know that Grattan is looking at lotteries, for example, and that hasn't been ruled out by the Government. But I think it's clear that we need to be talking and we need to have a serious discussion about every opportunity available, about every lever that can be pulled, to get that vaccination rate up and to reach that target as soon as possible.
CLENNELL: And finally, I just wanted to ask you about the payout to Christine Holgate, a million dollars. The Australia Post saga - what do you make of the end result of this? I guess it started out with action you and Kimberly Kitching took in estimates. Did you ever think it would turn into this?
ROWLAND: Well Labor was doing its job here, of course, exactly as Ms Holgate said of asking questions, and scrutinising the expenditure of public money. But let's be very clear Andrew - where this started was the juvenile and premeditated act of the Prime Minister to spew those words forth on the floor of the Parliament, effectively sacking Ms Holgate in October last year. That is what has cost the taxpayer $1.1 million.
CLENNELL: Well, do you think she should still be in the job?
ROWLAND: I think there are, if you were to apply due process, she very well could have still been in the job. That's the whole point here. The Board didn't do its job. The Board is still there. The Board is a dysfunctional swamp of Liberal Party hacks. But still it is Ms Holgate, who ended up losing her job.
CLENNELL: What action should have been taken over the watches then? Clearly you didn't approve of that purchase. Should she just have been wrapped over the knuckles? Or what should have occurred?
ROWLAND: Due process should have been applied. And there was a Government initiated review of this, and also we had a Senate inquiry into this. But let's be clear - all of those things may have happened - but what was the real catalyst for where we are today is the Prime Minister effectively sacking Ms Holgate on the floor of the Parliament. She made that quite clear in her evidence at a later time as well.
CLENNELL: Michelle Rowland, thanks for your time.
ROWLAND: My pleasure, stay safe.