Today Show 24/12/21

24 December 2021

SUBJECTS: Mask and health mandates; Best gift we can give this Christmas is to help keep each other safe; Frontline workers under huge pressures this Christmas; Australians worried Scott Morrison is stuffing up the booster rollout like he stuffed up the vaccine rollout; Surfing chicken; Dress code for Henley Beach.   




SUBJECTS: Mask and health mandates; Best gift we can give this Christmas is to help keep each other safe; Frontline workers under huge pressures this Christmas; Australians worried Scott Morrison is stuffing up the booster rollout like he stuffed up the vaccine rollout; Surfing chicken; Dress code for Henley Beach.   

CLINT STANAWAY, HOST: It's not quite the Christmas present we were hoping for. Mask mandates returning to Sydney, Melbourne and also Perth, as Omicron cases grow across our country, with many families still struggling to reunite in time for the big day. Let's discuss more with Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers in Adelaide, and Guardian Australia writer Van Badham who's in Sydney. Good morning to you both. Jim, first to you. New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet has resisted reintroducing mask mandates but with a record 5,715 cases he didn't have any other choice, surely?

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: I think so, it's just common sense that you need those mask mandates right now. You need people to check-in. All of those sorts of common sense measures. It's a bit strange, frankly, that they held out for so long, and in that period we've probably lost a bit of ground when it came to tracing and tracking outbreaks of the virus, particularly the new strain. It's good to see this outcome but disappointing to see them wait so long, when it was so obvious for so long.

STANAWAY: So Van, as a Sydneysider I want your take on this. We all want to feel good at Christmas, but it's hard to feel that it's not one step forward, two steps back at the moment?

VAN BADHAM, GUARDIAN AUSTRALIA: Oh yeah. I mean, I just don't understand why the mandate was relaxed. I mean, this is, if we're trying to make Christmas special for everybody - and we need it, like everybody's exhausted, you hear the stories every day of the fatigue of the past two years and we need a proper holiday - but it's very difficult to relax if you don't know if you've been exposed to Omicron or not. You know, my cousin who spends Christmas with us, he's in quarantine at the moment. We don't know if we're going to see him and that's pressure that didn't need to be put on families if common sense measures had have just been maintained.

STANAWAY: Jim, what do you make of the messaging - just on the mask mandate and mask enforcement - from the feds?

CHALMERS: It's been a shocker, clearly. The Prime Minister was on your show trying to make some kind of equivalence between wearing suncream and wearing a mask. He seems to have missed the whole transmissibility of this virus. So it's been a shocker. 

I think the most important thing to remember is if Christmas is a time for giving then the best thing we can give each other is to do the right thing by each other - wear a mask, check-in, and also remember those frontline health workers in particular.

There's some really disturbing stories about how hard it is for health workers in particular to keep up with these thousands of new cases. You read those stories in today's media, you speak to people who work in the health sector, it's a really, really tough time for them. It's an especially tough time this Christmas. It's always a bit difficult being away from loved ones, so we need to spare a thought for them as well and make sure that we're doing the right thing by each other to take the pressure off them as well. 

STANAWAY: Let's get more on that now because as we look forward to the big day, let's spare a thought for our emergency workers, working throughout the festive period under enormous pressure. It must be said, the system close to buckling under COVID. Jim, we just heard from Ambulance New South Wakes, don't call an ambulance unless it's absolutely vital, this surely an important message?

CHALMERS: Absolutely, crucially important message, those call lines are just getting absolutely swamped at the moment. You only should call that if you're really crook, if you really need an ambulance, not if you've got a minor condition. I think it's really, really important that we remember how much pressure that people are under at the other end of the line. You don't want people who are genuinely very sick to be missing out on the care that they need.

STANAWAY: Van, what about your take? Some of these calls are just staggering.

BADHAM: They're completely bonkers, some of them. I think a common-sense measure is to have a designated dialler in the house. You know, somebody who is not under the influence of alcohol, who makes the judgement call about whether you really do need an ambulance or not. Because we know it's a silly season, people get carried away, there can be a lot of drama, especially if your family's prone to dramatics. And it is just so important. I mean, how many health workers are quarantining at the moment? Something like 1,500. There's so much pressure on the system, and we can make it easier for them and for all of us, if we have responsible adults in charge of the phone.

STANAWAY: Absolutely. Also, the words we never thought we'd actually hear from a Chief Health Officer. Queensland's John Gerrard yesterday saying he actually wants the Omicron variant to spread so we can all get immunity from the virus. Jim, did that take you by surprise?

CHALMERS: Not really Clint, in the sense that in some ways it's a statement of the obvious. There are two ways to boost immunity: one to catch the thing, or two to have your vaccine and then your booster. Obviously, we want as many people as possible to get vaccinated and to get that third booster shot.

I think in addition to the concerns that people have about frontline health workers, I think the other big concern people have at Christmas is they're really worried that we're going to see a repeat of the debacle on vaccines from Scott Morrison with this booster program. I think that's what's really worrying people, the delay in getting a booster shot.

People know how important it is to do that, but they can't access it, and we don't want to see the same sort of stuff-ups with the booster that we saw with the vaccines. I think that's why Scott Morrison spent so much of this week trying to avoid and evade responsibility for the rollout of the booster and pretend that anything that goes wrong is somebody else's fault, because he knows there are genuine issues with the booster rollout.

The Queensland Chief Health Officer was saying, I think, a statement of fact. You can boost immunity by getting it or by getting vaccinated and boosted. We want people to get vaccinated and boosted. We don't want the Prime Minister repeat the mistakes on the boosters that he made with the vaccine rollout earlier this year.

STANAWAY: Sure. Van, just to you. In terms of Queensland, they haven't really been exposed to the virus too much up until now. Are Queenslanders, and are we more generally, ready to accept a much wider spread of Omicron do you think?

BADHAM: No, I don't think so, and I think it's really important to put his comments in context. I mean, he said we can either get vaccinated or get the virus. Personally, I prefer to get vaccinated. I'm triple vaccinated and that gives me a lot more confidence. I want people to understand this as well. In England, where they've had a bit of a let it rip strategy, people are getting Coronavirus again, and again, and again. A really good friend of mine there has had Coronavirus four times, and she's now vaccinated and she's still picking it up. Other friends have had it twice. Like, we've never dealt with anything like this before, and I think the public safety message is do everything you can to avoid getting the virus. We know Omicron virulent. We know it's spreading seventy times faster than Delta did. And to maximise our safety, if it is in the community, it's social distancing, masks, density limits, all of it. We've just got to keep doing it.

STANAWAY: I really want to get to this final story. All I have to say, simply, let's show you the pictures right now of this surfing chicken.


STANAWAY: It is a chicken surfing. She's called Mrs Chook and loves hitting the waves in Ocean Grove in beautiful Victoria. Jim, I suppose it's a lot more exciting than a chicken actually crossing the road?


CHALMERS: Did you say egg-citing, Clint? If so, that was a really bad day joke. Look, I'm at Henley Beach in South Australia, only seagulls so far. But I've seen the footage of that surfing chicken, looks like a beauty. I don't know how they get a leg rope on but it's a good effort.


STANAWAY: Van, we've been speaking COVID a lot. Surely, we've got to celebrate a story like this. It is the silly season after all?

BADHAM: I think we should give an Order of Australia to that chicken, who has brought joy into the lives of everybody who's seen this clip. I just think we're all so desperate for good news, this chicken is a national hero.

STANAWAY: Yeah, maybe.


STANAWAY: By the way Jim, you're at Henley Beach. Are you dressed accordingly?

CHALMERS: I am, I've got the pluggers on today.


STANAWAY: The cameraman's doing the right thing. There we go.  


CHALMERS: That's what you want.

STANAWAY: Stereotypically Australian, I love it Jim Chalmers. 


STANAWAY: Van, also thanks to you. Guys appreciate your time this morning on The Today Show.

BADHAM: Lovely to be here, good to see you Jim.

STANAWAY: Thanks guys.

CHALMERS: Merry Christmas guys, and to your viewers, all the best.