DEBORAH KNIGHT, HOST: And it's been another big week in politics. On the line, Energy Minister, Angus Taylor, and the Member for the Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon. We'll talk Covid in just a moment. But first up, the Labor Party, it is in a world of pain federally and at the state level in New South Wales and, Joel, Jodi McKay, she's due to hold a press conference in about half an hour's time, it's been pushed back and back, but it is expected she'll go as leader. She's got to, doesn't she? She just doesn't have to cut through with the voters. And Bob Hawke was right, if you can't control your party, you can't govern.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Let me give your listeners a little bit of an insight into how it all works, Deb. Jodi McKay, I believe is willing to go. She wants to do whatever is best for the future of the party. But typically, people in her position seek to avoid rewarding those who are coming after her. And I suppose she's been looking for a compromise candidate. I understand no such compromise candidate has or will emerge and she'll fall on her sword today, regardless.
KNIGHT: But, she said she was digging in earlier in the week. And I mean, surely the writing was on the wall.
FITZGIBBON: Well, she has dug in, I think she's done the right thing. She's invited them to take her on and they've not been able to muster the numbers to roll her. I think she's made her point and now she'll do what is best for the party. But she's facing, you know, the party at the state level is facing the same problem it's facing at the federal level. Instead of focusing – people want us to focus more on all those who work hard every day to pay the mortgage and the school fees and spend less time, and those people who haven't got the time because they're working, to focus or go to climate change marches, or have an argument about whether Captain Cook statues should remain standing or indeed, whether, you know, a Muslim should be allowed or not allowed to teach at a Catholic school. I mean, these are fringe issues for most people. They want us to focussed on their financial security, and of course, the health and safety of their families.
KNIGHT: And are you still prepared, Joel, to quit the party if Labor as you say, doesn't wake up to itself and get its act together?
FITZGIBBON: Well, while I can appreciate why that might have been misinterpreted, Deb. I've never ever said I would walk away from the Labor Party. I've been a member for almost 40 years. I'm too old to rat now. And I remain committed to the party. I meant, I would walk away from the parliament, because there's not much point me sticking around if we're just going to keep losing. And I'm not concerned about losing for my sake, I'm concerned about the millions of people who rely upon the Labor Party to form a government from time to time.
KNIGHT: Angus, you'd be sitting back eating the popcorn, wouldn't you? I mean, is it going to make any difference to Labor in New South Wales, to the horse itself by changing the jockey?
ANGUS TAYLOR, MINISTER FOR ENERGY AND EMISSIONS REDUCTION: Well, I do think that labour coming out of the Labor Party is bad for Australia, Deb. I think it's, but it's clearly getting ugly. I thought that the attack Joel's colleagues made on one of their own, Meryl Swanson, who supported the gas-fired generator in the Hunter. Another Important project...
FITZGIBBON: ... Disgraceful. Can I just interrupt you sorry, Angus? Absolutely disgraceful.
TAYLOR: Yeah, absolutely, Joel. This is because her husband, apparently because her husband runs a small business. That says everything about what's happened in the Labor Party, and I agree with Joel. I think that was absolutely disgraceful. And this is bad for Australia. It's not just bad for the Labor Party, that's an issue for the Labor Party, but it is bad for Australia when this is going on.
KNIGHT: And dirt files being circulated among New South Wales Parliament against Chris Minns who now looks likely to become the new Labor leader in New South Wales. I mean, we know politics is dirty, but it's just grubby. And voters sit back and just think, well, why would we vote for a crew who are just intent on fighting amongst themselves?
FITZGIBBON: Well, your listeners won't know, Deb, that that attack on Meryl Swanson, which was about nothing, came because she had the audacity to join my cause, to join my call for the Labor Party to put labour back into the party. And that's, you know, that was unacceptable behaviour. An unacceptable reason to be doing it, but an unacceptable method.
KNIGHT: Alright. Well, we'll see. We'll hear from Jodi McKay, that press conference is scheduled now to happen in 20 minutes time and I'll bring you the latest on that as it does. Now, the lockdown in Victoria, Angus, another one, the fourth since this pandemic started for the state and the acting Premier James Merlino, he was off the mark, in my view with the political point scoring yesterday about the vaccine rollout. He's got a point though. I mean, could Victoria have avoided another lockdown if more people had been vaccinated?
TAYLOR: Well, I mean, there have been a lot vaccinated and we're making good progress. It's 110,000 yesterday, and we continue to make progress, but you've got to have a very, very high level of vaccination to avoid any prospect of a roll out. Can I say, though, I mean, this is a tough time for Victoria. And, you know, I do feel for particularly small businesses in Victoria that have really been hammered by this. It is a, it's a very tough time. And our support has been offered to the Victorian Government in any way we can. We've got to continue to get this vaccine rollout happening. Everyone over 50 is eligible, they've got to get out there and get the vaccine. We are seeing a very good response now. And, but we've got to keep the foot on the pedal.
KNIGHT: But only two and a half per cent of the adult population has been fully vaccinated, got the two doses. I mean, that's so low compared to what's happening in other countries. And...
TAYLOR: ... Well, that’s not, hang on, hang on, Deb. That's not right. That's not right. We're now approaching 4 million. That's way above two and a half per cent who have had...
KNIGHT: ... This is to doses I'm talking about, though. Having both jabs, not just the one, both of them. Fully vaccinated.
TAYLOR: Yeah, I know, but we are at 4 million jabs, which is...
KNIGHT: ... With a single dose.
TAYLOR: In terms of when the jab started, that is very much in line with countries around the world. Very much in line with countries around the world.
KNIGHT: Well, Kazakhstan and Colombia are doing better than us.
TAYLOR: We've seen – well, we have been in a much better position than any country. I'll tell you what, I would rather be in Australia than Kazakhstan right now, Deb. And I'm sure you would too. So, let's be realistic about this and let's not sort of go with the outrage that we hear from some on all of this stuff.
KNIGHT: But what about the aged care homes though, Angus? I mean, 40 aged care homes across the country still haven't received their first dose of the vaccine and nearly 30 of them in Victoria where, you know, they've had 800 deaths last time with the deadly lockdown last year.
TAYLOR: Let's go with the facts. And any death is a tragedy, of course. Ninety-eight per cent of aged care facilities around Australia have been vaccinated. Victoria is actually ahead, 99 per cent of aged care facilities have been vaccinated. And where there's been an outbreak, the epicentre of the outbreak, which is the city of Whittlesea, it's actually 100 per cent have been vaccinated, and that's both first and second doses.
KNIGHT: So you're happy with the way it's been going?
TAYLOR: It can always – we've got to keep the foot on the pedal, and we've got to keep pushing hard. And we can always do better in anything we do. It's always been my view about everything I do, but that is, you know, we've got to come back to the facts here. And the facts are very clear on this. Now, there's a lot of people out there who are eligible for getting a jab who haven't done it yet. And Joel said last week...
KNIGHT: Have you done yours Joel?
FITZGIBBON: I have good news, Deb. I'm now booked in for June 20 – very courageous attempt by Angus to defend the indefensible, you recall they were going to have most...
TAYLOR: I'm looking after you, Joel.
FITZGIBBON: … they were going to have most done by Easter, weren't they Deb. But look, here's an observation, I always try to put myself in the position of the ordinary punter rather than an MP. You know, I've had no letter from the government, or my GP, or Hunter New England Health or anyone saying: hey Joel, you really should think about, you know, getting yourself booked in to get a jab, or two jabs, and here are your options. You can go to your GP, you can go to John Hunter Hospital, you can get to Cessnock Hospital. Now I get a letter about – I get a whole bowel cancer kit in my mail from time to time, but no one's writing to me and urging me to go and get the job and help – you get a letter right, Deb, and you think you think, oh shit, I should go – oh, I swore then – I should go and, I should go and do that. Yeah, that's a good...
KNIGHT: And that's a fair cop, isn't it? Angus? I mean....
TAYLOR: Well hang on. We go one step further than that by on our – both our mutual favourite radio station and said to Joel, time to get your jab. So, anyone listening to this program has heard me say that many times. And it is important, everyone over 50 who's eligible go out and get the jab now. Now, people are hearing that and that's why we are seeing a very significant upsurge in vaccinations – 110,000 now a day, which is an extraordinary number. But we've had confusing messaging though, Angus. I mean, really, it has been confusing, because we've had the Prime Minister and Greg Hunt saying it's not a race, that people could wait, if they wanted to. Here's what the PM had to say.
AUDIO OF SCOTT MORRISON, PRIME MINISTER: It's not a race. It's not a competition.
KNIGHT: And Greg hunter said, we could have plenty of doses so you can hold off with the mRNA.
AUDIO OF GREG HUNT, MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Right now, we want to encourage everybody over 50 to be vaccinated as early as possible. But we've been very clear that as supply increases later on in the year, there will be enough vaccine of mRNA vaccines for every Australian.
KNIGHT: I mean, admittedly he's tweaked that message and said look, if you don't get vaccinated, you could die. But I mean, it's confused things, can't you – it's difficult.
TAYLOR: It's mostly people with a political agenda have tried to confuse things, Deb. There's no ambiguity in our message that everyone who's eligible should get their vaccine as soon as possible.
KNIGHT: I'm booked in for Monday afternoon. So I'll be getting my dose of Pfizer.
TAYLOR: That is great and I'm delighted to hear that Joel's got it, got it in the diary as well, that's good news. But everyone listening here today, there's no ambiguity, if you if you're eligible, please get the jab.
KNIGHT: Will you consider putting more federal money towards the hotel quarantine camps to try to build more facilities like Howard Springs, because if we're going to be living with this thing, which is the case for, for, you know, who knows how long. The hotel quarantine system, putting some more money into building them, surely that's a way to actually help the States?
TAYLOR: Sure, look, you know, we, of course, are seeing a proposal now from Victoria, it's looking good, and we want to accelerate the timelines on that. So, we're working through that with the Victorian Government. Let's be clear about hotel quarantine, it's been 99.99% effective, it's actually been way more effective in this country on quarantining than in most other countries in the world. We've done pretty damn well. Now we can always do better, and we are absolutely open to good proposals on national quarantine facilities as you've seen in the past, and as we're seeing now with this, this Victorian option. But, you know, hotel quarantine has largely been very, very effective. And that has been an important part of how we've managed to cope extremely well relative to other countries in the world with this virus.
KNIGHT: A quick one to end, and I know that the Friends reunion was on last night. You probably were both glued to the screen there. I'm sure you’re Friends fans but I've got my 30-year high school reunion coming up in a couple of weeks and just got me thinking about friends groups of friends. Have you got anyone outside of politics who you really make an effort to see and who keeps it real for you out of the camera bubble? Joel?
FITZGIBBON: Well, Deb, I'll be at the Cessnock rugby league supporters club tonight, the home of mighty Cessnock Goannas with my old footy and school mates. I do that almost every Friday night, but I make a big effort to go and see what I call my Newcastle group, which is an hour from my hometown, and of course my Sydney group – people I know well and mates lives in Sydney but don't get the time to see as often as I would like.
KNIGHT: I'm glad it's not just the Otis group for you. What about you, Angus?
FITZGIBBON: Oh and I should add Otis, of course. We meet quite regularly, Deb.
KNIGHT: I know. I hear, so I hear.
TAYLOR: They're very, very sound group that one. But I did notice with Friends that the girls all look pretty good. But the blokes haven't aged quite so well, I have to say. Yeah, they let themselves go a bit there. But so I get together once a year with a group of my very old mates – well, we probably all letting ourselves go a bit too much now too. But we go bike riding once a year and it's always a great event. And we keep ourselves – keep each other honest and we always have, Deb.
KNIGHT: You always need friends to keep it real, that is for sure. We'll talk again next week. Thanks fellas.