Interview – Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Let’s go to the national situation. As we mentioned, relations between the Federal Government and some states have deteriorated even further this week over border closures and that re‑opening plan. The Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce joins us now from Parliament House. Mr Joyce, good morning to you.

BARNABY JOYCE: Good morning, Michael. How are you?

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Very well. There’s always been a fair bit of back and forth ahead of National Cabinet meetings, but things seem to have stepped up a notch this week. Can Australians watching on be forgiven for thinking that the national reopening plan is starting to come apart at the seams?

BARNABY JOYCE: Well let’s hope not, Michael, because the Australian people I know want their liberties and their freedoms they were born with back. We’ve got to make sure that we progress along that path in a coordinated way as a federated nation.

We now see other issues creeping in, especially mental health issues, especially a rise in suicides, and that means that we have to drive towards opening up. Australia opening up in a form that takes into account that COVID will remain with us. It will be like the flu, a more virulent type of the flu.

We must continue our drive towards higher vaccination rates, and we’re doing that. We have over 20 million inoculations now, 35 per cent of the population have received two inoculations. You were going through your report just before there, you noted that I think it was New South Wales has 70 per cent of people who have received one. This means that the motivation of the Australian people is absolutely apparent, and we’ve got to have the premiers understanding that, even on the politics of this, things are changing, people want to get to the other side, they want the premiers to work together, they want to get, like myself and so many others, out of your motel rooms, be allowed to go around the lake, be allowed to do things that you would expect as just a basic right.

I genuinely believe that the weight of opinion now is if they see premiers as being recalcitrant and not working to a national plan of some sort of parochialism, they’re going to deal with it and take it out of their political hide at a later stage.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Can you understand though the fears, the sometimes deep‑seated fears by Queenslanders and people in Western Australia, about COVID getting in, especially if, and it looks likely the cases in, say, New South Wales could still be in their hundreds once that 70 per cent double dose target is reached?

BARNABY JOYCE: I can understand that that’s part of the debate and it’s part of the argument. But the other side of that, I mean in everything there’s two sides. Do you just stay locked up forever? Do you just isolate yourself from the world? Is that it? Do you become a hermit kingdom all of your own in the South Pacific? It’s just not possible. People want their right to travel. They want their right to go between states. I’m sure that the people on the Gold Coast in the tourism industry will be pulling their hair out to say that you’ve just completely rearranged our economy. How’s it going to work? Are you intending on opening a mine on the edge of the Gold Coast because what are we going to do for a job if we don’t have tourists?

MICHAEL ROWLAND: It all comes down to the vaccination effort. Everybody’s on a unity ticket on that front, right, and there’s a fair way to go before we reach 70 per cent. We just showed the pictures of that batch of Pfizer doses coming from Singapore. It followed the deal of a million doses coming from Poland. The Prime Minister this week, Barnaby Joyce, said there were more irons in the fire, suggesting more deals with other countries. Given the fact that Australia has had to scramble to sign individual deals with countries like Singapore and Poland, doesn’t that underscore what a disaster the vaccine roll‑out has been?

BARNABY JOYCE: No, it doesn’t. Because what it does show is that the adroit process of moving forward, of having basically the global IQ to find where doses are, to bring extra doses in, to make sure that we accelerate the roll‑out. And everybody knows the roll‑out is racing ahead now. I mean the general conversation… interrupted

MICHAEL ROWLAND: But the point is why didn’t we get these doses at the start like the people who –

BARNABY JOYCE: …is that people, the general conversation is that people who… interrupted

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Excuse the interruption. Why didn’t we get the doses at the start like so many other countries?

BARNABY JOYCE: The general conversation with people is that they’ve had an inoculation. That’s what I’m seeing with everybody around me, and I don’t think that’s a particularly peculiar subset when I’m back home in the New England. If people want to go back into history and say, "Well with foresight I would have done this and I would have done that", you know, if we’ve all got to live our lives again we’d do all sorts of things differently, but we don’t get that. We live in today and the future and we’ve shown absolute competency in being able to accelerate this roll‑out. We are now making sure we get it through as quickly as possible. The participation is such that overwhelmingly the people watching this will know people who have definitely had one inoculation, they’d be in the majority, and many of their friends will now have two. And that’s what they want to focus on. If the Labor Party, when you had on your masthead on the weekend, on the Insiders, Mr Butler, the Shadow Minister for Health, when they said, "What is the number that you are driving for", there was no answer. What that shows is political rhetorical flourishes without answers but merely history lessons which at the time and prior to that, there were no speeches that they had a different view.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: You say people are getting vaccinated. It’s great. No one disputes the fact that more people should get vaccinated more quickly. But we hear a lot from people who struggle to get doses. What do you say, Barnaby Joyce, to the mums and dads of 16‑year‑olds and 17‑year‑olds who are desperate to get their kids vaccinated with Pfizer? They simply cannot. And if they can, they have to wait months to get doses, particularly in those hot spots in Sydney. Can you honestly look them in the eye and say the Government has done a good job with the vaccine roll‑out?

BARNABY JOYCE: We’re rolling it out. We started with the most vulnerable people in the community. We started with aged care facilities. We’re dealing with people in remote indigenous areas. We’re dealing with people who have disabilities. We are making sure that those who are most likely to be more dramatically affected by the virus are vaccinated first. We also say what is the truth, that your risk the younger you get is vastly less, and as children in many instances are asymptomatic and they wouldn’t realise they’ve got it. We understand, we tell them the truth, that there are exceptions to that. We understand and tell them the truth that when this is over people will still get COVID. And tragically, tragically, some people will die.  But we have to be pragmatic and we have to move to a society that is opening up, because the Australian people want their liberties and their freedoms back. I would also say to those if we want to do this properly, we must coordinate across the nation and not for some sort of grand parochial purpose, say that it’s by some magic trick it will never arrive in Western Australia or it will never arrive in Queensland unless you just want to completely shut the place up like North Korea.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Just finally, I mean you’re talking about telling the truth and you speak candidly, which I think a lot of people like, can you honestly say telling the truth that you reckon the Government has done a good job with the vaccine roll‑out?

BARNABY JOYCE: I’m telling the truth. At the start, with hindsight, of course you would do things differently, but we don’t live in the past. What that shows is a disrespect for where we’re going here into the future. If you want to have the debate, show the competency of the debate and the competency of your knowledge and engage in the debate from here into the future. If that makes things work better, then that is the right thing to do. But if your weight of the debate is some sort of history lesson, then really you’re frolicking in the process of thinking “I’ll get political gain out of the pain, but I’ll never offer any substance in a debate for the future", and that just reflects completely where you were in the past. You had no different ideas. It was exactly the same. Just like you have no different ideas now.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: You’re talking about the Labor Party of course.

BARNABY JOYCE: Of course.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: And we’re talking about the real-life consequences of people who are waiting unnecessarily long times for Pfizer. Anyway, thanks for joining us, Barnaby Joyce.

BARNABY JOYCE: It’s always a pleasure, Michael, thanks mate.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Yes, thank you.

Ends