2GB / 4BC Summer Drive 04/01/22

04 January 2022

SUBJECTS: Rapid test “Hunger Games”; Australians at their most vulnerable and most contagious abandoned by Scott Morrison; Australians either unable to find rapid antigen tests or being ripped off when they do; Scott Morrison doesn’t take responsibility; Queensland’s management of COVID. 




SUBJECTS: Rapid test “Hunger Games”; Australians at their most vulnerable and most contagious abandoned by Scott Morrison; Australians either unable to find rapid antigen tests or being ripped off when they do; Scott Morrison doesn’t take responsibility; Queensland’s management of COVID. 


CHRIS O’KEEFE, HOST:  Jim Chalmers is Labor's Treasury spokesperson. Jim, G'day.

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER:  Good afternoon Chris, Happy New Year.

O’KEEFE:  Happy New Year to you too. Now, I know you're seeing it in Queensland where you are, we're seeing it in New South Wales, these queues they're completely out of control. Surely we could have prepared better for this?

CHALMERS: It's an absolute shambles. I just heard you talking about the fact that we should have seen this coming. The Government, the Prime Minister, was warned about this by the Australian Medical Association some months ago, we were told today. It's been no surprise that yet again the bloke that is supposed to be the Prime Minister of this country has gone missing. We've got people who are going undiagnosed because they can't afford a test and that puts their loved ones and co-workers at risk. You’ve got people getting absolutely ripped off when they can find a test. Or you’ve got people who are fainting in queues waiting at a testing site. This is two years into the pandemic now and we've got Hunger Games in our chemists and in our shops as people try and do the right thing and get a test, as they've been told to do, but the Prime Minister's gone missing and as you said, he wants to pretend it's all somebody else's fault and saying it's all the states’ responsibility. He's always banging on about taking personal responsibility, well it's about time he took personal responsibility for this absolute shambles.

O’KEEFE:  The rapid tests. If Labor's elected in March or May, will you make them free?

CHALMERS: We've said for some time now, Chris, that nobody should miss out on a test because they can't afford one. We've been really clear about that.

O’KEEFE:  So you're going to subsidise them rather than make them free for everyone?

CHALMERS: Your question was, if the government changed hands in May. We don't know where we'll be by then. That'll be too late for this current wave of tests that we need. So we’ve said all along you shouldn't miss out if you can't afford one. That means free for a lot of people. But we haven't had that leadership. At the very least what we need here and what you’d get from Anthony Albanese and a Labor Government is someone who take responsibility and provides some leadership, not go missing every time it gets difficult. We can't wait for a Labor government to fix this current mess that the Prime Minister has created. We need to be providing tests to people so they're not excluded. Too many people are putting their co-workers and their loved ones at risk. Too many people are getting absolutely ripped off trying to get a test or standing in line for five, six or seven hours in a queue to try and get a test. Unfortunately, March or May will be too late to fix this current debacle. The Prime Minister needs to fix it and part of that means providing tests to people so they're not excluded if they can't afford one.

O’KEEFE:  Isn't this one of the problems we've got in political discourse in this country and in pandemic management? We always sort of say this part of the pandemic will be over by May but there's stuff that can be foreseen right now. There will be another variant. It could be more transmissible and we need to have plans in place yesterday to deal with the one that's coming on the horizon.

CHALMERS: No doubt Chris. One of the big failures of the last couple of years has been a failure to plan. This government wants to pretend that everything is fine and hunky dory and they want to give themselves a pat on the back, they want to be there for the photo opportunity, they want to take credit when things go well, but at multiple times over the last two years, there has been a failure of planning. The original vaccine rollout was a debacle. There was no purpose built quarantine. The booster program right now is not where it needs to be. It's well short of what it needs to be and then you've got this shambles of a rapid test program. So I do accept your point, we do need forward thinking but right now today, we've got Hunger Games in our chemists and shops. People are incredibly worried as you know, you're tapped into the community more than most and you know the people are going absolutely feral about this and for good reason. A couple of the reasons for that is not just that this Prime Minister always talks about personal responsibility then doesn't take any, but also because people know he's prepared to spray tens of billions of dollars around in rorted marginal seat funds and all the rest of it to get himself through an election, but now he says I can't afford to keep people healthy and safe. That has economic consequences as well.

O’KEEFE:  In your view, there's no economic deterrent to making these tests free, is there?

CHALMERS: No, it has to go the other way. You can't have people thinking I've got all the symptoms but I'm not going to get a test because I can't afford one. I'm going to front up to work or I'm going to go and see grandma even though I'm not quite sure if I've got it. There the economic imperative is that people get a test when they need to. You can't have a $30, $40 or $50 test being a deterrent for people doing the right thing and that's why -

O’KEEFE:  It's unaffordable for people at the moment.

CHALMERS: Totally. People are getting ripped off and there is gouging and there is profiteering while the Prime Minister and Treasurer Frydenberg and others go missing. They hide under the doona while people are so worried about this with good reason, getting ripped off or going without or standing in queues for hours on end, and people have had a gutfull of this. This is not the first time we've seen this movie. Over and over and over again we've got a Prime Minister and a Treasurer and a federal government always there to take credit but they're never there to take responsibility. Now is the time for leadership. The Australian people are worried about this outbreak. They're worried about the tens of thousands of cases. They want to do the right thing by each other and get a test. People just can't afford to fork out $40 and $50 at servos right around Australia to get that test and there's a role for government to fix it.

O’KEEFE:  But it sounds like in a government that you would be a part of they still would have to fork out because you're not committing to making them free.

CHALMERS: No Chris what I've said multiple times is if it needs to be free for you to get a test than it should be. You shouldn't be avoiding a test because you can't afford it. Anthony Albanese and I said that in Adelaide a week ago, and Anthony said before that, Mark Butler and others we've all said in different ways. Let's get to the end of this point where people are avoiding tests because they can't afford one. We cannot have that situation. That means providing them for people and providing the national leadership so that we can get through this very difficult period together, doing the right thing by each other with a national government led by somebody who's prepared to take responsibility for once.

O’KEEFE:  What do you think about Annastacia Palaszczuk? Because there's a lot of criticism of her with the requiring a negative PCR to get into Queensland about it clogging up the system in New South Wales.

CHALMERS: I think inevitably when you're making difficult decisions, they won't be unanimously supported. But I'll tell you what -

O’KEEFE:  Did you support that decision?

CHALMERS: I support the decisions that she has taken, based on health advice, she has taken some difficult decisions, but I think Annastacia Palaszczuk has got it bang on throughout this pandemic. I think she's been one of, if not the best performing, state leader and that's because she's prepared to do difficult things. She cops the criticism on the chin. When the health advice changes, she changes the strategy and it has been remarkably successful. When I run into people and they want to talk about Annastacia I tell you there's not that many people I run into who want to bag her. Mostly people cross the street to tell me that they understand that she's tried to do the right thing by us at every point.

O’KEEFE:  You mustn't have been in Sydney lately Jim.

CHALMERS: I understand your point, these are difficult decisions. Not everybody supports them. They're not unanimously supported, as I said, and they're really tough and you've got to weigh up the health advice, and all of that. But I think she's always tried to do the right thing. Where there's needed to be a change in strategy she's made it based on the health advice and I think that's a good thing. You'll never be unanimously supported when you're making difficult decisions, but I think overall, she has had an absolute blinder when it comes to the pandemic.

O’KEEFE:  What about the pharmacy guild of Australia? Have they been in touch with you about these rapid tests and potentially either making them free or subsidising for people who can't afford them?

CHALMERS: I think if they would have been in touch with us, they would have been in touch with our health spokesman Mark Butler or perhaps other members of our team but not directly, however I'm aware of their views. I think one of the things about all of this, you know, whether it's the pharmacies, the doctors or all the rest of it, people will push their own points of view -

O’KEEFE:  Everyone's trying to get an earn here, and people just want a rapid test to see if they've got the bloody virus.

CHALMERS: That's what I want. I want people to know whether they've got it, what they need to do about it, whether they need to avoid going to Grandma's, whether they need to avoid going to work for a period of time so they've got a bit of peace of mind. It's not that hard to imagine right now, in this hunger games that we've got now in the absence of leadership, people are so worried because they want to do the right thing by each other. I keep coming back to that for a reason Chris. Australians have got through this last two years because we are fundamentally good to each other. We don't want hunger games scenarios. We don't want to have to battle for tests. We don't want people who can't afford a test to miss out. That's not Australia. That's why there's such a big disconnect between the language and the actions of the Prime Minister when he says you're all on your own, you all have to fend for yourself and let's not undercut the market by doing the right thing by each other. There's a big disconnect between that sentiment and what I think people genuinely feel, which is we've had a really rugged couple of years and it's got to be rugged for a little bit longer. Let's not make it harder on ourselves and on each other by making it impossible to get these tests.

O’KEEFE:  Just before I let you go the ACCC. I know you said this morning that the ACCC have been missing in action basically. And to be honest, I agree with you because they don't need an investigation to see that this price gouging going on and Rod Sims has just crawled out from under a rock and said we don't know if it's supply or demand or what's going on. Well, if you're getting charged $30 for a rapid test that's in a cling wrap bag then hello.

CHALMERS: I'm not going to hop into the ACCC. I did see that Rod Sims popped up today and I always take seriously what he says but there's again a role for government leadership here. There's capacity for the government to direct the ACCC. I haven't really heard whether it's Scott Morrison or Josh Frydenberg or the other Treasury ministers, I've not heard them say anything substantial about this issue. Australians are getting ripped off while the government is sitting on it's hands. So from my point of view, yes, the ACCC is absolutely crucial here but ACCC would do more and more robustly if they had the support and the encouragement and the direction of a government which has once again gone missing.

O’KEEFE:  Jim Chalmers thank you so much for your time.

CHALMERS: Appreciate it, Chris, all the best.