NATALIE BARR, HOST: Hope you're enjoying your breakfast this morning. Premiers have slammed a federal minister's suggestion that the National Plan for re-opening could change. Currently, the Doherty modeling recommends a vaccination rate of 70 to 80 per cent to end harsh COVID restrictions. But Employment Minister, Stuart Robert, has caused a bit of confusion over the weekend suggesting the thresholds for re-opening could be changed at any time if case numbers keep rising.
DAVID SPEERS: So the 80 per cent might shift if you're worried about the hospitals?
STUART ROBERT, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT: Oh, goodness, anything could change next week.
SPEERS: We should have a framework and stick to it, but it might shift, and we might need to change it?
ROBERT: Well, of course plans change David, come on nothing set in stone.
DANIEL ANDREWS, PREMIER OF VICTORIA: I'd need to check the context in which he meant that.
ANNASTACIA PALASZCZUK, PREMIER OF QUEENSLAND: Well, he's not at National Cabinet.
GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN, PREMIER OF NEW SOUTH WALES: [SIGH].
REPORTER: He is Federal Employment Minister, Stuart Robert.
BARR: Yes, he is. So for their opinion, I'm joined by Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, and Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon – good morning to you. Barnaby, can you set the record straight? Can the thresholds for reopening be changed at any time?
BARNABY JOYCE, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: No they can't, they're locked in at 80 per cent. It has to be. The only thing we can't change is the views of the states and if the states have a different view, well we won't so much be locking ourselves in but they will be ultimately by their own admission locking themselves out. You'll get to a point where people will be wandering around...
BARR: Well, so they can really be changed?
JOYCE: No they can't, it's 80 per cent. But if Western Australia – they signed up to a national agreement, let's hope they stick to it. But we see right now, the states are sort of going their own merry way. We've got ridiculous statements by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk that talks about thousands, over 2000, people dying, scaring the living bejesus out of people. That's not going to happen. When they do open up, and they will after 80 per cent, what will happen then is some people will get sick, unfortunately, and tragically, most likely, almost overwhelmingly, unvaccinated people, a very, very small proportion, will die. But that's what happens with the flu. And it's a terrible thing to say it's a tragedy. But it's the truth. But no, they're locked in at 80 per cent. That's the national agreement. That's what they signed up for. That's what's got to happen.
BARR: Ok. So Joel, it's a bit of a technicality in reality, isn't it? Because they might be locked in but you've got WA saying 90, I think Tasmania is saying 90 per cent now. You've got Queensland saying possibly more than that. So in reality, it is changing, isn't it?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Well, that was a great pivot by Barnaby away from his own minister, Nat. But I just wish they'd all shut up. We have a national plan. People need certainty. We're having an argument about what might or might not happen in a few months’ time. Why don't we just stick to the plan and worry later on if things have changed in some way? And quite frankly, it would help if the media stopped asking questions about the national plan as well. Business, in particular, need certainty.
BARR: Well, Joel, they're Labor Premiers. They're your guys. Maybe you've talked to them, have you?
FITZGIBBON: Yep. Look, I'm referring to all of them, the Prime Minister, his ministers, and state Premiers. This has become now a political contest triggered, by the way, by a Prime Minister trying to dig himself out of political trouble. He's tried to make this about who says what, rather than focus on what keeps us safe, what takes us out of this pandemic, and what provides some certainty to business...
BARR: … Hang on, Joel, you've got the two that are saying we won't open till after the National Plan, like Mark McGowan, supported by most people in his state. They're Labor. So they're the ones going against...
BARR: .. the agreed plan, aren't they? Have you talked to any of them?
FITZGIBBON: I'm talking about all of them.
BARR: But, but, the rest of the are agreeing.
FITZGIBBON: I know that the Prime Minister takes ever opportunity – the Prime Minister takes every opportunity.
BARR: Yeah, but I'm talking about the Labor Premiers. Have you talked about McGowan lately, because he's the one saying 90 per cent – he's really going out on his own – have you talked to him lately?
FITZGIBBON: Look, I think Mark McGowan is wrong to talk about 90 per cent at this point in time, absolutely wrong. Business needs certainty. But the Prime Minister, too, is jumping on every word in an attempt to build political capital out of this dispute. They should all shut up and get on with their day job.
BARR: Ok, let's get on to this one a new…
JOYCE: Well, I don’t think that is correct.
BARR: Sorry, Barnaby?
JOYCE: Yeah, I don't think that's correct. The Prime Minister is doing his very best to lead the nation. But, of course, what we've seen is people basically stepping away from section 72 of the Constitution, and well, that's their choice. And by reason of so doing, you've got this haphazard approach by some of the Labor states. We look forward to that changing. I agree with Joel that we've got to have one plan and go forward because the nation can't operate as these parochial little fiefdoms. It's got to operate as a nation, which means that we have to have one plan. It means that we're going to open up after 80 per cent. If people got another plan, well it's just a plan to basically isolate themselves as some sort of parochial little fiefdom, some little hermit kingdom. And you know, ultimately, even that's going to come unstuck because it just won't work. People won't accept it.
BARR: Ok, let's move on to something else, shall we. A new report is calling for an overhaul of Australia's parental leave system to allow both parents access to equal amounts of care. Under this proposal, new parents would be able to take a combined six months off. Barnaby, you've got little kids, would this be welcome to you?
JOYCE: Yeah, of course. But, I mean, lots of things would be welcome to me, it's how you pay for it. And at a time of COVID, we’ve just got to work out how we come out of this, get the economy going, and make sure that we start paying the debt back. I mean, there's a whole range of things, if you want, you can ask for. But whether the nation has capacity to pay for them is something entirely different. You just got to be a realist. You've got to understand that, ultimately, we have to basically make our export dollars, export the coal, export the iron ore, export the beef, export the sheep, export the cotton, get the economy going and get the money in, and then down the track, when we got the thing humming again, we can have a yarn about stuff like this.
BARR: Joel, what do you think about parents sharing six months of parental leave, mums and dads?
FITZGIBBON: Nat, it's a good thing for mums; it's a good thing for dads; it's a good thing for the kids. But like Barnaby says, it has to be paid for. But it can be a very good thing for productivity. And if that's true, then it may just well pay for itself.
BARR: Okay, thank you both. we'll talk to you next week.