April 05, 2021

LAURA JAYES, PRESENTER: Joining me live now is the Shadow Minister for the Pacific, Pat Conroy.

Pat, thanks so much for your time this morning. First of all on the vaccine rollout, is that what you’re picking up as well? It’s really hard cutting through the data that we’re being given by the Government now and we don’t even know whether all those people in the 1A category are being vaccinated.

PAT CONROY, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND THE PACIFIC: Well what I am seeing on the ground is chaos and dysfunction. To give you a couple of examples, one of my largest GP clinics which is on the vaccine rollout - the courier didn’t deliver the vaccine to them, they delivered it to the wrong GP. So they lost a few days’ vaccine. 

And I’ve got 24,000 people in my electorate in Phase 1B - people over the age of 70. I’ve only got 11 GP clinics that are getting doses on average 80 a [week], so we worked out on the current rate it will take to the end of September just to get Phase 1B getting their first shot, let alone their second shot, let alone the October deadline for the rest of the country.

The fact is we were promised four million vaccinations by the end of March. We got 600,000, and it’s not getting any better. It’s chaos and dysfunction. And this isn’t about politics. We’ve got both Labor and Liberal State Governments saying the Federal Government is delivering this in a substandard, unacceptable way.

JAYES: Well do you think we’ve sorted out this issue that we had last week? The states, particularly Queensland, said it was holding back some of those vaccines, using that as an explanation as to say why, you know, the rollout was slow in the states when you look at the data between what they’ve been given and what they’re actually putting in arms. They’re saying ‘well, we certainly don’t trust the Federal Government to deliver the second doses on time, so we’re holding those back’. Now would you be urging the states not to do that, because that is slowing down the vaccine program?

CONROY: Well I don’t think any State Government of any political persuasion can trust the Federal Government’s commitments in this area, therefore it’s very understandable that the Queensland or the NSW State Governments choose to withhold some vaccinations to make sure that their frontline staff receive both vaccinations, both jabs in the appropriate time limit. I just think that there is zero trust with the Federal Government and State Governments are doing what they think is appropriate in those circumstances. 

But you’re right to look at the case of the United States. President Biden set a goal of 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days. He achieved that in 50 days, for example. And the UK has mobilised massively. 

The fact is this Government was too slow in arranging agreements on vaccines. We didn’t sign up to enough vaccines. We didn’t set up the manufacturing facilities early enough. We are hostage to the global supply chain queues because of this Government’s quite frankly lax attitude to it.

JAYES: Well look it’s having an effect on our neighbours as well I’ve got to say. PNG is suffering a crisis at the moment and it’s had an explosion of cases. The Government has sent over 8,000 doses for those frontline workers. It’s also requested that the EU send a million doses urgently, but that hasn’t happened. What is happening in the Pacific as you understand it? Is China putting those vaccines into PNG and more broadly?

CONROY: Absolutely. So China has already got 200,000 doses of the vaccine in PNG compared to our 8,500. They’re very close to landing vaccines in the Solomon Islands and in Fiji. Once the WHO verifies the Chinese vaccines, the Fijian Government has indicated they will use them.

So what’s happening is we are no longer the partner of choice in the Pacific which has huge geostrategic implications for Australia, and secondly it means that our neighbours are massively exposed to the ongoing COVID crisis. We have a pandemic of COVID in PNG. I’ll remind people that the closest point of Papua New Guinea to Australia is four kilometres. People regularly travel across the Torres Strait in tinnies.

So not only is it in our, sort of, diplomatic interest to help PNG, it’s in our selfish national interest to make sure that COVID does not spread from PNG, and 8,500 doses just won’t touch the sides of this crisis.

JAYES: No it certainly won’t. Pat Conroy, thanks so much for the update this morning, appreciate it.

CONROY: My pleasure.