Interview with Michael Rowland, ABC News

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Vaccine roll out, Christine Holgate.
14 April 2021

Michael Rowland: The Trade Minister, Dan Tehan, joins us now ahead of his overseas mission. Good morning to you, Minister.

Dan Tehan: Morning Michael, how are you?

Rowland: Very well, thank you. Let's talk about the Prime Minister moving to get National Cabinet back to meeting twice a week. Now, we're sure the premiers and chief ministers will play their part, but people should be left in no doubt, shouldn't they, that this mess, this delayed vaccine rollout, is squarely on the Morrison Government?

Tehan: No. What has happened, Michael, is ,obviously, we're dealing with a pandemic, but also we're dealing with changes in advice which have been given around the AstraZeneca vaccine, and also around restrictions that were put in place by the European Union with regard to supply of the vaccine. So, we now have to recalibrate the planning of the vaccine rollout and National Cabinet will be asked to do that job by starting to meet twice weekly.

Obviously National Cabinet was a key component of getting us through the pandemic and dealing with the pandemic and now it's going to be vitally important that state and territory governments and the Commonwealth work as closely together as they possibly can in planning how the rollout will work now that we have had the medical advice with regards to AstraZeneca and only been used for over 50s, and now with regards to Pfizer and when the Pfizer vaccine will arrive in Australia.

Rowland: Well, that's the big question asked by many people—when will it arrive? The second dose? We're told in the last quarter of the year, but that's not guaranteed. And again, the question is why didn't the Federal Government mitigate this back last year in trying to sign deals with other vaccine-makers like Moderna?

Tehan: Well, as you'll remember, we set up an expert panel to look at what vaccines we should be using here in Australia and to enter into the contracts. And, we also took that decision to make sure that we could have domestic production here of AstraZeneca. So, we will continue to work through what vaccines we need, contracting those vaccines, and one of the key things that I'll be doing on my trip is making sure that where contracts are entered into, all countries understand how important it is that those contracts can be honoured. Because, we're—not only is it important for Australia in terms of planning the vaccine rollout here, but it’s critically important for our region, especially countries like Papua New Guinea where the situation is fraught at the moment.

And I had a phone call from my New Zealand counterpart yesterday and he's asked me to also use New Zealand's name in pressing the case against export restrictions being used, because they can disrupt planning right across the globe of the vaccine rollout.

Rowland: But, I guess, the question remains, Minister, and I'll go back to it—you'd have more contracts potentially being honoured if you had more deals in the first place. In hindsight, was that advice wrong not to go with more vaccine makers?

Tehan: Well, as I say again, Michael, we're dealing with a pandemic; we're dealing with new vaccines, these vaccines had to be trialled; we had to make sure that we could guarantee the safety of those vaccines. And we’ve listened to the expert medical advice right throughout this pandemic and that's why Australia is in a position that is the envy of the rest of the world. In a position that is the envy of the rest of the world. And we'll continue to take that medical advice.

We, obviously, were very cautious in our approach in going through all the safety tests of the vaccines. Some countries sped up that process, we said, no. We wanted to make sure that we put the safety of Australians first. So, we'll continue to take the medical advice as we work through this and we'll also continue to work cooperatively with state and territory governments because this is a joint project, this vaccines roll out.

Rowland: A joint project, but the rollout of the program was a- it was and is a Federal Government responsibility.

Tehan: Yes, it's a Federal Government responsibility with the states and territories and that's why National Cabinet will meet twice a week from now on to make sure, with the changes that have been made, that we can plan this rollout. And that's- that will continue to be the focus until we have got a framework in place that, that all governments are comfortable with and know that that means that we'll be administering the vaccine as quickly as we possibly can to as many people as we possibly can.

Rowland: Christine Holgate, former Australia Post boss, wants the Prime Minister to apologise for, as she puts it, bullying her. Should he?

Tehan: So, what this issue is about is about the misappropriate use of government expenses and Christine Holgate resigned and as far as I'm concerned I think that’s, that's where the matters ends.

Rowland: Was she bullied?

Tehan: What this issue was about was about the misappropriate use of government expenses. Now-

Rowland: [Interrupts] Yes, that was one issue. But Christine Holgate is clearly taken aback in a medical way as well, as we heard yesterday, by the Prime Minister's spray—and there's no better way, better way of describing it in Parliament—you saw it, you were probably there in the chamber. She said that was bullying. Was that bullying?

Tehan: Well, I think the most important thing here is that we just understand—and you’ve got to remember, at the time, the Leader of the Opposition said that Ms Holgate's position was untenable.

Rowland: [Interrupts] And I took that up with Richard Marles, the Deputy Leader, earlier in the show. I want to ask you again; did the Prime Minister, in your view—and let's not forget the treatment of women is an open wound for the Government at the moment—was his treatment of Holgate, in your view, bullying?

Tehan: What the Prime Minister was doing was dealing with an issue around the misappropriate use of government expenses and that, that was what he was talking about, that is what this matter is about. It’s not about-

Rowland: [Audio skip] bullying? Was it bullying?

Tehan: It’s not about, it wasn't about the person who was the CEO of Australia Post. It was about the misappropriate use of government expenses.

Rowland. Yeah, that was—again, that was another issue involved—we are talking about that. I'll ask you again, did the Prime Minister bully Christine Holgate in the language he used in that spray during Parliament?

Tehan: And I'll say, I listened to that, the answer to that question and what it was about, it was about the misappropriate use of government expenses.

Rowland: Okay. So you don't believe she was bullied at all?

Tehan: No. He was talking about the misappropriate use of government expenses.

Rowland: And you don’t—and therefore, she doesn't deserve an apology from the Prime Minister, in your view?

Tehan: Well, I'll go again to the point. What this, what this was about, and what the Prime Minister was addressing was the misappropriate use of government expenses.

Rowland: Okay. I’ll just give you a single word answer choice. Yes? Or no? An apology?

Tehan: Well, what I'll say is, this was about the misappropriate use of government expenses.

Rowland: Okay. We'll leave it there, Trade Minister Dan Tehan, thank you.

Tehan: Thanks, Michael.

Media enquiries