Transcript - Afternoon Briefing [14 April 2021]

April 14, 2021

Subject/s: Christine Holgate/Australia Post controversy; vaccination rollout.

JANE NORMAN, HOST: So let's bring in our panel now. We're joined by the West Australian Labor MP Anne Aly and New South Wales Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman. Thank you for joining me today. Now, I think we might be having a couple of audio issues with ... (Anne's voice in background)... Welcome to the program. We've got you just in time.

Well, look, I want to start with this issue of the Australia Post or the former Australia Post chief executive, Christine Holgate. And just starting with you, Trent Zimmerman. Do you believe she deserves an apology, having heard about her treatment yesterday?

TRENT ZIMMERMAN: Well, I think that she has been through the wringer, there's no doubt about that. But I think also, what is also clear is that the actions that the board took and also the actions the Government took were appropriate under the circumstances because the expenditure of that money on the Cartier watches, was the wrong thing to do. And the outrage that followed, the revelations of that were entirely to be expected, and entirely reasonable. So the Government's position at the time that there should be an independent investigation and that Christine Holgate should stand aside while that investigation was conducted, I think was the appropriate course for both the board and the Government to adopt.

NORMAN: Did the Prime Minister go too hard, though Trent Zimmerman, because in Question Time, he said that an investigation had been launched. Ms Holgate had been asked to stand aside. If she chose not to stand aside, well then, she should go. If the Prime Minister of your country is saying that, that's surely the end of her career in Australia Post?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, no, I think what he was clearly saying was that it was expected that she would stand aside for the duration of the inquiry. And by way of background, this obviously followed a sustained attack on Christine Holgate and the Government from the Opposition during what was a particularly willing Question Time, if memory serves me right. So obviously, the language of Question Time is something that all of us need to pause and think about from time to time, because I find it confronting at times. But in the context of the debate that was happening, on Labor's attack on Australia Post, on its CEO, and on the Government, it's understandable, that reaction. And I think there was also a genuine anger on the part of the Prime Minister to find this out through the estimates process and also the unfortunate comment that Ms Holgate had made about this not really being an issue because it wasn't taxpayers’ funds, which I think was a particularly galling comment, and I'm sure, one that she has regretted.

NORMAN: Well which she has apologised for...


NORMAN: …in the subsequent months. Well Anne Aly, just to pick up on the point that Trent Zimmerman was making there. Do you find sometimes the language in Question Time is confronting? Because, I mean, the PM described that day as willing. But clearly, Christine Holgate says, she found it humiliating. She said she'd been thrown under a bus. So that's a very different interpretation of the same statement.

ANNE ALY: Yeah, it is a different interpretation. But look, I mean, I want to start at the outset, Jane, by saying that the gifting of the Cartier watches was beyond public expectations. I think that, that's something that Trent and I are probably in agreement on. I do think, however, that Ms Holgate's allegations of being bullied out of her job warrant a little bit more seriousness and more serious concern. I think what's really galling here is the double standard that Ms Holgate is exposing in saying that she was bullied out of her job. Yet we have Government ministers and let's be frank, male Government ministers, who behave appallingly, and aren't being asked to leave their jobs or aren't being forced out of their jobs. So I think that's the crux of the issue here. And we can talk about, yes certainly Question Time isn't that; you know; it's one hour and a half of my life every day that I'm never going to get back. But the real crux of the issue here, I believe, that Ms Holgate is making, is the double standard around her being what she perceives to be at least, being bullied out of her job, and the standard that's applied to male ministers in Morrison's Government.

NORMAN: At the time, though, the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese – we played a clip earlier in the program – said that he effectively, backed her decision, or backed the call for her to resign. Just wondering, like, how much responsibility does Labor play for this pretty messy saga? Because effectively, Labor provided the ammunition and the Prime Minister sort of pulled the trigger and then at the end of it, Christine Holgate loses her job.

ALY: Yeah, I think that the description of it being messy is pretty accurate there, Jane. And I think to come back to the point that to raise the issue of the gifting of Cartier watches, I think, was an appropriate issue to be raised. To state that, that was beyond public expectations for a public servant, I think was the correct issue to be raised and the correct way to deal with it, which is what Labor did in raising the issue of the Cartier watches. The issue now is no longer just the gifting of the Cartier watches. The issue now is Ms Holgate has expressed, in recent days, is the fact that she was bullied out of her job. And she was bullied out of her job at the behest of, it seems, the Prime Minister and the Minister at the time. I think that's the key issue here. And for that issue, I think that's something that the Prime Minister needs to answer to.

NORMAN: Well, Trent Zimmerman, what do you say about that? Because it did seem yesterday, she was clad in suffragette white, she was talking about this broader conversation that we've been having in recent months about the treatment of women. It did seem that Christine Holgate was really tapping into that national conversation yesterday, which isn't great for the Prime Minister, because as we've seen, his handling of several sort of sagas and crises over the past few months has really not met expectations.

ZIMMERMAN: Well, I mean, I have to say, I'm a bit surprised that those that are trying to make this a gender issue, I mean, I would pose the question whether there was a gender issue when Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching accused Christine Holgate of living high on the hog. Was it a gender issue when the Shadow Minister for Communications said that she wasn't living up to the standards of the CEO? Was it a gender issue when the union, on the very day of the estimates hearing, called for her immediate resignation? (The CPSU.) Was it a gender issue when Anthony Albanese called for her resignation before she'd put her own resignation into effect. I think the issue that we saw play out was obviously a huge amount of media scrutiny. And I really feel for her having to face that blowtorch, which at times, probably was unreasonable. But what the Government sought to do was to have a proper investigation in relation to behaviour which, I don't think was acceptable behavior on the part of Australia Post. They asked for her to stand aside during the course of that. But we also heard evidence yesterday, and it obviously does become problematic when you have two such very different views of events. But we also had evidence before the Senate yesterday from the chair of Australia Post saying that it was his hope and his expectation that once the inquiry had concluded, that she would be able to return as CEO because he accepted, as do I for that matter, I think that Christine Holgate was a fine CEO of Australia Post, in fact, oversaw some very positive and important reforms to Australia Post during a time of incredible transition, let alone the pandemic.

NORMAN: Yes, she clearly from yesterday's Senate inquiry, has some friends, at least in this place. But let's move on to the vaccine rollout and just sticking with you Trent Zimmerman, the Prime Minister, is now talking about putting the country on a war footing. How does that square with comments he was making just last week, when, in the midst of a concession about the sort of sluggish rollout, he was calling for calm and urging people to be patient?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, I think that what the Prime Minister is highlighting is a couple of things. Firstly, obviously, the vaccine program has faced two significant challenges. One, of course, was the supply issues that we saw play out when we didn't get the supply that we were expecting from Europe, and in fact, three million doses, which was meant to underpin the early rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine. But secondly, obviously, late last week, the advice from ATAGI to limit the use of AstraZeneca in those under 50. They're both significant things that have had an impact on the vaccine rollout. So I think that it is important that we recognise those problems. And I also think it's important that we have seen some unfortunate argy bargy between the states and the Commonwealth over the last couple of weeks. So I think that providing the National Cabinet forum meeting regularly on that war footing to really, firstly, make sure that the states and the Commonwealth are working seamlessly, is really important. But secondly, I think it's also as we go forward and we do see supplies increase from our own domestic production, but also as we see more supplies, fingers crossed, coming in from Pfizer over the next couple of months at greater levels, that when we have states like my own state in New South Wales proposing mass vaccination centres, something which I think is a good idea, that if we are going to go down that path in adding on to the GP rollout, that we do have a national approach. That it's not just happening in New South Wales, that it's happening in other states as well.

NORMAN: Yeah, I mean, Anne Aly, the idea of mass vaccination clinics, similar to what we've been seeing overseas in the UK, in the US, where the vaccine is rolling out really quickly. This is something that Labor has been actually calling for, for some time.

ALY: Yeah, we've been calling for a range of things. You know what Jane, I'm actually quite peeved about all of this. I mean, you know, Australians did the right thing. They held up their end of the bargain. In WA we're relatively safe, but, you know, we've dealt with a hard border for well over, or close to a year now. In Melbourne and in New South Wales, people were locked down for months on end. Australians held up their end of the bargain here, and they did the right thing. They needed one thing from their government, one thing. And that was to ensure that the vaccine rollout went smoothly. And the Government has just failed to deliver that. But look, I understand what Trent is saying about the supply issues and all of that. But you know what, Jane? When I drove to the studio today, I didn't plan on getting green lights all the way. When you plan for something as big as a vaccine rollout, you have risk mitigation strategies in place. You look forward and see where the risks might be, and you plan for those things. You just have something more than an announcement, to deliver to the people. And I just feel incredibly let down, to be honest, incredibly let down by the Government on this.

NORMAN: Sorry, Anne Aly, didn't mean to interrupt you, but now that National Cabinet is meeting twice a week, do you have some hope that this closer cooperation will actually see the distribution, I suppose, happen more seamlessly and actually get vaccines into more Australian's arms?

ALY: Well, once again, it's the Federal Government relying on the states to do the hard lifting and the hard yards. You know, if the National Cabinet was what was needed for a vaccine rollout, why is it only happening now? Why didn't it happen from the beginning? So you know, yes, I do have hope. I think hope is all we've got left, basically, Jane. So, yes, I do have hope and I honestly wish them the best with this. Because this is not something that is… it should be above politics, really, to be honest. Because this affects everybody's lives and it's going to put Australia behind. It's going to impact on how quickly we, we rebuild and recover from the pandemic. And I do want the best outcome for everyone on this.

NORMAN: All right. Well, unfortunately, we've run out of time, but Trent Zimmerman and Anne Aly, thank you for joining the program today.