Transcript - ABC Afternoon Briefing [19 August 2020]

August 19, 2020

SUBJECT/S: Oxford vaccine; State borders; Chinese investigation into Australian wines

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Liberal MP Tim Wilson and Labor MP Anne Aly are both my guests. Welcome to both of you.

ANNE ALY: Good afternoon.

KARVELAS: It's been reported the government has an agreement to secure 25 million doses of this vaccine but the company says there is no agreement on a number of doses. Can you clarify first Tim Wilson what this letter of intent actually means? Does it secure Australians a dose of this medicine because Labor's been arguing that it's just a letter of intent that it's a bit over egged to say that this is the case?

TIM WILSON: Ah well, I mean, I wouldn't be trusting the Labor Party on these issues. When it comes down to it, the Government's entered into a clear agreement with AstraZeneca, one of the major pharmaceutical companies, that should the Oxford University pharmacy vaccine trials for a COVID-19 vaccine become available that there'll be a pathway to produce it in Australia for Australians at the volume that Australians need. And so what we're making sure is that we're at the front of the pack, that we can get the, the access to the intellectual property and for the potential to manufacture the vaccine so that we can protect Australians. And of course the details about how all of the functional components of it will come as a result of whether there is a successful vaccine. That's why we're not just having just negotiated with AstraZeneca but also look at other potential successful trials because we want Australians to have the option freely available to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

KARVELAS: Look, Anne Aly, Labor has been saying “hey, this is just a letter of intent”, but clearly a letter of intent is the beginning of a process. Why has there been a negativity around this process from Labor? Can you tell me what the problem is?

ALY: Oh, for my mind I don't see it as negativity. I think it's cautious. I think we should be mindful of getting ahead of ourselves, and there's a reason for that, Patricia, and that is we don't want the hope – and we do all have hope that there will be a vaccine, but we don't know when that's coming, it could be 18 months off. We don't know whether this vaccine, this trial, is going to be successful – we don't know that. And in the absence of a vaccine, the immediate issue that we have now is dealing with the threat of COVID and ensuring that people adopt the behaviours that are necessary to stop the spread. What you don't want is to be undermining those efforts to have behavioural responses to COVID in the absence of an immediate vaccine. But you know, again, in terms of getting ahead of ourselves, some of the questions that I would like answered around a plan for when we do eventually – cross fingers, hope and pray – that we do eventually get that vaccine is, how is it going to be managed? You know, it's not like we're going to go, we're going to get 25 million hits in one go. So who are we going to prioritise in getting the vaccine? Is it going to be people who are vulnerable to getting COVID or people who we know are vulnerable to spreading COVID? I think these are some of the more immediate questions that I'd like to see answered as part of this plan towards a vaccine and a COVID-free Australia.

KARVELAS: WA and Tasmania have delayed loosening COVID-19 restrictions. I wonder what you think on this, Tim Wilson, because it seems that, you know, the great hope of reopening Australia in July has certainly not eventuated. We're seeing significant delays. Do you think the borders should reopen by Christmas? And why has there been such an individualist approach?

WILSON: Well I'm not going to give a commitment on timeframes Patricia. The stakes are…

KARVELAS: Well you can't, you actually don't have the power. But do you think it should happen? That's the question.

WILSON: The debate is. Sorry, if you can't and you accept you can't, then saying it should be done by Christmas sets a deadline. So the states should take actions cooperatively to manage the challenges they face based on their circumstances. Now the high degree of community transmission in Victoria has made it very difficult for many states to plan. I guess what I would like to see is more cooperation as the basis of border closures between New South Wales and Victoria – we saw that there was an acknowledgement by Victoria that there was a right for New South Wales to do it, but also to manage some of the challenges around border communities, because there are of course communities that sit on both sides of state borders depending on where they are and raises fundamental issues of access to essential services. And I'm not just talking about Albury-Wodonga but other communities that sit across other borders – you get them on the borders of Queensland and New South Wales etc. So state governments to work cooperatively together and proportionately and sensibly as well. And that's going to be critical to maintaining confidence rather than just taking a very hard approach.

KARVELAS: Anne Aly, look, WA looks like it might not be re-opened by Christmas. What do you think about that as a West Australian MP?

ALY: Well you need to come and have a look at Western Australia, because right here in WA we are living relatively COVID-free. Mark McGowan has done absolutely the right thing in maintaining the hard border. And when Tim talks about cooperative and working cooperatively, is he referring to Scott Morrison and Christian Porter cooperating with Clive Palmer to try and bring down that border? Clive Palmer today has taken out a two-page ad in The West Australian basically downplaying the effects of COVID. This is the man that the Federal WA Libs and the Prime Minister wanted to support in bringing down the borders. A hard border in WA, following the health advice, has kept West Australians safe. We watch what's going on in Victoria and New South Wales and we feel so bad for those states, but here in WA our economy is on the road to recovery. We are safe. We are relatively COVID-free and all you do all you need to do is go out there today, the sun is shining on occasion, and there are people out there enjoying their life and enjoying everything that Western Australia has to offer. And that's thanks to Mark McGowan and the border closures.

KARVELAS: Anne Aly don't rub it in.

WILSON: You would… you wouldn't guess that Western Australia has an election very short time.

KARVELAS: Either way, rubbing it in.

WILSON: Anne's comments starting from a position of you should come to Western Australia. The whole point is we can't and no one's arguing against that. We're just highlighting that there should be cooperation between the states. Where there are borders and particularly where there are border communities because sadly there are circumstances where people are finding it hard to access medical care and support because they're sitting on one side and perhaps the local hospital is on the other one. And the basis of cooperation would actually deliver better human outcomes.

KARVELAS: I just want to talk before I let you both go about a big announcement yesterday which has huge repercussions of course: Beijing launching an 18-month investigation, alleging Australian wine producers have been flooding the country with cheap wine to gain a greater market share. Matt Canavan was on the program yesterday, he said that he doesn't think China can be a trustworthy business partner anymore. Tim Wilson, do you agree with that?

WILSON: Well I think there is a lot of politics behind this decision. Of course it's very disappointing because in a nation of a billion people the idea that anybody even with as strong and successful and important wine sector as we have could flood that market is frankly absurd. Of course there's always been countries that have used trade processes and trade politics as a backdoor signal to deal with other issues. Now ultimately China will have to put its case – I suspect its case will be somewhere between weak and very weak – and I hope, I think, for everybody is that it doesn't have too much of an impact on our wine industry, because of course not just in South Australia, but in many states wine – and I know in Western Australia have down in Margaret River, and of course in Victoria – some of the best quality wines in the world, and people in China should have the freedom to drink them as much as Australians.

KARVELAS: Anne Aly, this idea that China isn't a very reliable business partner. What do you make of it?

ALY: Look, I think that every day we have an issue with our trade relations with China, that seems to be dominating how we relate to China and how we talk about China. I don't think that this is really new for China, to be honest, like, I think over the last few decades it's been very clear that China has been pursuing a soft power policy and increasing its influence around the world, and it kind of seems to be shifting now to using more hard power tactics, which says to me that we really need to be thinking of our strategy and how we deal with China, and our strategy and how we deal with countries that we need to be able to deal with China. Are they trustworthy? I wouldn't take everything, or well I would take everything that they say with a grain of salt. I agree with Tim on his assessment just then.

KARVELAS: Anne Aly, are you going to Parliament next week?

ALY: Yes I am, and I've got my foot in a moon boot. So I'm going to be rocking the moon boot in Parliament.

KARVELAS: Are you?

WILSON: So the hard border isn't that hard then?

ALY: I had foot surgery.

KARVELAS: So, what happens when you go back to WA?

ALY: Okay. So because we've got some very strict rules around how Parliament is running – as Tim would know, having also received all the information from the Presiding Officers and being kept in the loop about how Parliament is going to be running for the next two weeks – we will be spending two weeks in Canberra. We won't be coming back for the weekend, and it's yet to be determined about whether or not we'll need to self-isolate when we come back.

KARVELAS: Tim Wilson, you are in isolation in Canberra, living your best life. How's that going?

WILSON: It's challenging. It's kind of like at a point where you're counting down the final few days, you know it's coming to an end, which makes you more anxious and want it to end because having been stuck in this 8m by 8m space now for nearly two weeks. It can be challenging, but it's only what other Australians have had to do in sometimes more challenging circumstances in hotels, having returned from overseas. So I'm looking forward to it being over just like anybody else in my shoes. But it's so that I can have the privilege of representing the Goldstein community in the nation's Parliament.

KARVELAS: And have you binge watched any new shows? I know I ask you these questions at the end.

WILSON: You asked me that last week, but not since I think I said Search Party. Oh, and there's another show, I think it's on Stan as well, called The Other Two

KARVELAS: The Other Two?

WILSON: … which is very funny.

KARVELAS: Okay I'll write it down, because you've got decent taste in television shows – thanks to both of you for coming on the show.

ALY: Thanks PK, see you next week Tim.