JIM CHALMERS MP
MEMBER FOR RANKIN
ABC BRISBANE DRIVE
MONDAY, 22 NOVEMBER 2021
SUBJECTS: Anti-vax protests and educating people about vaccines, Scott Morrison’s dog whistling double speak, Religious Discrimination Bill.
STEVE AUSTIN, HOST: Jim Chalmers, do you agree? Are they extraordinary achievements, as the Prime Minister says?
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: I do Steve and full credit to the Australian people who have done the right thing by each other, looked out for each other, looked after each other and recognised that we're part of a society and that means we've got responsibilities to each other. I think one of the reasons why people are getting increasingly angry about Scott Morrison, including on this topic, is because he seems to want to take credit for some of these good outcomes, whether it’s vaccinations or in other ways, without taking full responsibility or fully supporting some of the difficult decisions that are necessary to get those vaccine rates up.
AUSTIN: Like what?
CHALMERS: He's trying to walk both sides of the street on mandates. For example, we asked him in the parliament today, why is it that he says that hospitality conditions in Queensland are wrong, but the same identical conditions in New South Wales are okay? I think people are just working it out. He's trying to play a game here. He's trying to cosy up and cuddle up to the extremists who are making violent threats against Labor premiers at the same time as he pretends we're all on the same team. I think people have worked out that Scott Morrison's only ever on his own team. Australians have done the right thing. They've done it by sticking together and we'll get out of this together. We'd be a much better chance if we didn't have a Prime Minister who's trying to divide and diminish us.
AUSTIN: The Prime Minister did condemn some of the violent statements that were made. He did speak against that.
CHALMERS: He said he understood it. He said he understood it -
AUSTIN: That was the second part of his statement. You're missing out something.
CHALMERS: As I've said, repeatedly, Steve, as I just said a moment ago, and as I said over the weekend on television, he's got this kind of sneaky, dog-whistling doublespeak, where he gives encouragement to people who are making some pretty bizarre and extreme claims, and in some cases, violent threats. If you don't want to take my word for it, or your listeners don't want to take my word for it, think about this, and we asked about this in the parliament today too: when Scott Morrison put up on his Facebook page his comments from that day, he removed part of it. He removed the part of it which was critical of the protesters. I think that speaks volumes of what he's trying to do here. He's trying to cosy up to and cuddle up to some pretty extreme, pretty dangerous elements in our society. He's doing that for political reasons, because he wants Clive Palmer's preferences. He thinks his best chance of winning an election is to divide us and diminish us. I think Australians deserve much better than that.
AUSTIN: I want to ask you about the protests because it was very clear on the weekend, Jim Chalmers, that the protests that took place in Melbourne and Sydney were very large, not so much here in Brisbane. But they are clearly a very diverse group. In other words, they're not on an amorphous mass of extremists. They seem to be a very broad range of people. The thing I want to focus on is why is it that those people, this broad range of people, are not accepting the authorities' comments or statements about the safety and the efficacy of the vaccine. It seems to me that the federal health authorities, maybe Greg Hunt, and maybe the Prime Minister himself, need to actually do some serious leg work. Unfortunately, it's a slow process, but to get out there and explain to Australians why the federal government and state governments are actually trying to save their health and possibly their life. In other words, for some reason, people are believing the internet more than they're believing their own elected leaders, irrespective of their political colour. I'm just worried that political leaders not seeing this as an example of where people believe the internet more than they believe their own elected leaders, and that's a problem for everyone.
CHALMERS: I agree with you. I do mobile offices on Saturdays in my electorate, and people from time to time will talk to me about something that they have read on the internet about the vaccines. I say to them with great respect, and I say to your listeners now, the overwhelming view of the expert medical community is that the vaccines are safe and necessary. I'm not an expert on health. I'm not an expert on vaccines. I'm prepared to take the overwhelming weight of expert medical opinion. Some people would prefer to take something that they've read on the internet, a tiny sliver of opinion on the internet, and put a lot of faith into that. I think that is dangerous. But one of the reasons why this is happening, and you mentioned it in your question, there is an absence of leadership from the Prime Minister and from the Government. And it comes from his -
AUSTIN: From all governments, state and federal.
CHALMERS: I think state governments and many people, not just governments, I think many people are doing their best to encourage the take up of the vaccines.
AUSTIN: But you can't just lecture people. I take your point Jim, but you can't just say get the vaccine, get the vaccine, get the vaccine, get the vaccine, you have to engage with people's questions or fears. People are scared. There's something else going on. In other words, you have to engage with that.
CHALMERS: I agree with you. I agree with that 100 per cent in the sense that there's a job for us to do, to convince people. It's really important for all of us that as many of us as possible get vaccinated. But what I'm saying is that effort is diminished when we've got a Prime Minister who wants to play politics and to send out these kind of dangerous dog whistles that say that it's okay to express your frustrations by dragging around a noose and calling for premiers to be hanged. I can't imagine that anybody thinks that what Morrison said last Thursday is defensible or something that is acceptable for a national leader of a great country like ours.
AUSTIN: So, what would you do differently? Because obviously, if we're running or quite often, I see the Federal Government advertisements about the benefits of vaccines, but clearly a large cohort of Australians are not listening, or even worse regard it as dishonest or misleading or suspect. So, what would you do differently other than just run endless ads? It seems to me that the way of getting through to Australians who are scared, needs to be tackled differently. So, I'm giving you the chance, Jim Chalmers, as a potential future Prime Minister of Australia, what you would do differently?
CHALMERS: Make the case. Put it this way: any national leader, Scott Morrison or Anthony Albanese, any national leader has to make choices about how they communicate on this issue. Our current leader, the current Prime Minister, has chosen to send out mixed messages to these protesters. Every minute that he spends doing that is a minute wasted not educating people, encouraging people, dealing with the concerns that people have raised from time to time about these vaccines. I don't really accept that these protests are a broad cross section of the community. I think broadly mainstream Australia, and you can see it in the vaccination rates, think it's a good idea to get vaccinated and do the right thing by each other. Some places have vaccine rates in the 90s. Queensland is a little bit further behind than we would like. I think mainstream Australia understands this. There is a sliver of the population that doesn't. They need leadership, and they're not getting it. Instead, they're getting this kind of half encouragement to participate in some of these rallies which have been hijacked by people dragging around gallows and making extreme threats of physical violence.
AUSTIN: I won't name them. But there are really significant Australian recognised figures who are on social media expressing very great concern about some matters around this. It seems to me that something more needs to be done to calm the fears of that group of people. So, you just think the Prime Minister should do more? So, what should he do?
CHALMERS: To be clear, you're right to come back on that, you did ask me that, and the point I'm making is, every effort from our leadership, every effort from our health system, needs to be put into educating people. We can't stuff around with this. We can't waste time playing politics with this. It is so important to our society and to our economy. So, the point that I'm making is really to agree with you that we need to find other ways to convince people and educate people and give people comfort, then we should be doing that. My point is, our current Prime Minister is at same time playing politics with his for his own reasons. It would be much better if he dedicated himself to properly leading on such a crucial issue.
AUSTIN: I know you'll have to go in a minute, but a quick question. Will Labor be supporting the Federal Government's religious freedom bill when it comes up for debate in federal parliament this year?
CHALMERS: I haven't seen it yet. It hasn't been broadly circulated. There's a lot of coverage in the media, so obviously, we read that and absorb that. But I haven't seen the Bill yet. It hasn't been broadly circulated. It gets introduced on Wednesday I believe. So, we'll have a good look at it. We've said throughout these three years of false starts and missteps and all of the rest of it that we support people in our community being able to go about their lives and exercising their faith free from discrimination. That obviously requires a lot of fine details which will be in the legislation, and we'll take our time to go through it properly to make sure that it accords with our views. But I haven't seen it yet so I can't come to a definitive final view on it.
AUSTIN: Jim Chalmers, thanks for your time.
CHALMERS: Thank you, Steve.