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23 September 2021

SUBJECTS: Melbourne protests; Vaccination mandates; Australia’s relationship with China; Grand Final.

STEVE PRICE, HOST: Just on the question of mandatory vaccination, I note a report this morning in the Herald Sun that Victoria has recorded the nation's lowest COVID-19 vaccination rate for aged care staff. One facility, the Polish Retirement Home in Bayswater, just 60 to 69 per cent of staff have received one dose, and the national figure is high, 98.8. But in places like the Plainesville Gardens Care Community and Lakes Entrance Care Community, their facilities have declared staff have exemptions and so not all are vaccinated. The Polish Retirement Home actually refused to comment. The former Labor leader, Bill Shorten, now of course, the Federal Member for Maribyrnong and Shadow Minister for the NDIS, will be intrigued, I'm sure, on those aged care numbers. He was asked on the Today show on Tuesday morning about the make-up of the construction industry protesters. And he said, quote, “there's a network of hard-right man baby Nazis, people who just want to cause trouble and complain about vaccination”. Bill Shorten's on the line. Good to talk to you again.


PRICE: What did you actually mean by that?

SHORTEN: Oh, listen, there were no doubt some genuine people. There's some genuine construction workers in these protesters, but my sources tell me, people who were caught up in these violent demonstrations, that there is a network of some of the right-wing fringe groups who are out there recruiting, seeking to marry up their own world view with people who are anxious, stressed out or looking for trouble during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

PRICE: You're a proud Victorian. You hold a Melbourne seat. You're a proud union man. I mean, you and I both know that forever, there's been anarchists at work in Melbourne that attach themselves to these types of protests. I was doing a column yesterday when I went back and looked at, you'd remember at the old S11 protests that took place. 


PRICE: When the World Economic Forum was held in Melbourne. So, these crowds attaching themselves to genuine people with a reason to protest is not new. Didn't your comment downplay the concerns that some construction workers have, about how quickly they've been told to get vaccinated and the fact that their industry had been shut for two weeks?

SHORTEN: Oh, Steve. Once you start going violent, your message is lost. I don't think I'm downplaying it at all, frankly. All of us Victorians have been in lockdown, especially people in Melbourne. There are small businesses doing it hard. There are parents who have been home-schooling, there are kids who want to get back to school. There's people who've never experienced anything like this in their lives. But 99 per cent of us aren't taking to the CBD and occupying the top of the West Gate Bridge, desecrating the Shrine of Remembrance. These people aren't tough. The right to protest doesn't include the right to vandalize. Doesn't include the right to attack our hard-working police. It doesn't include the right to commit crimes and behave in a lawless fashion.

PRICE: But it includes the right to protest. 

SHORTEN: Yeah, a right to protest is fine.

PRICE: I mean, these guys turned up at the CFMEU on Monday after the Andrews Government, after they turned up at the CFMEU on Monday and demanded to see John Setka, their leader. They felt that they'd been dudded by Setka and the Government doing a deal on mandatory vaccination. The Government then in a late-night meeting, announced at midnight that they'd shut every construction site state-wide, off the back of these people being at the front of the union office. Is that not an overreaction?

SHORTEN: Well, if we want to talk about overreaction, violent assault passes that test.

PRICE: I'm not condoning that, you know, I'm not.

SHORTEN: No, but I'm not condoning that people can't protest.

PRICE: How many times have you marched through the city on protests?

SHORTEN: Sure, plenty of times. But I'll tell you what, when you've got an issue, it's not about assaulting the police. It's not about desecrating the Shrine. So, you know, there's protests and then there's illegal, way out of line protest and this is in the latter category. The point I'm making is that we've got nurses and doctors as we speak, tired beyond belief. I've got a vaccination hub down the road from where we live, and the nurses from Western Health have been doing a fabulous job there for months and months and months. They're not all carrying on like a very small number of people. I mean, some of these protesters, you know, whatever substances they're taking, I'm sure, can't be good for them. There are some of them carrying their grog and their alcohol and carrying on like two bob watches.

PRICE: Bill, you represented people like that, you know? 

SHORTEN: Well, hang on a second – 

PRICE: We're talking about hard working blokes who've suddenly had their jobs ripped out from under them, they probably can't afford to pay the mortgage.

SHORTEN: Let's talk about that. That is tough. I'm not decrying that, and there would have been genuine construction workers and I've made that point. But if you don't think that there are not some opportunistic extreme right groups trying to feed off this, then that's a very optimistic view of what's happening. 

PRICE: No, I'm not saying that. 

SHORTEN: No, I know you're not. But I'm just saying for your listeners in case they think that the that this is all bona fides. I mean, the best way out of lockdown, which is causing this legitimate stress and anxiety, is to get vaccinated. I mean, imagine if everyone else decided to do what these characters did. I mean, construction, it is tough. And I would like to see the public health officials lift some of the construction regulations on the domestic renovation. You know, and I hope - certainly it shouldn't take two weeks for the construction to come back. But there's been a lot of other people who've been shut down for eighteen months. I mean, construction’s had a pretty good run. And that's fair enough. It's really important to the economy. There are a lot of other people that have been shut down - the travel agents, the live events industry, the shopkeepers in the city, if they're not selling food. They haven't all gone, you know, off their brain. So yes, I would like to see construction open as soon as possible. Yes, I do think it is tough. Absolutely. And I have plenty of people coming through my door as they have for the last 18 months where we’re trying to help them, families who can't see each other. Isn't it ironic that the union who hasn't supported going the full mandatory, but has been encouraging and advertising and pushing its members to get vaccinated or arranging vaccination hubs on construction sites, the reason why they got attacked is because they're being too reasonable and that the extremists don't want that?

PRICE: What's your view of mandatory vaccination?

SHORTEN: Oh, it's a last resort. But in some sectors, I don't see how you can avoid it. Airport workers carrying people in from overseas, people working in aged care. You mentioned - I’ve just no idea why there's aged care facilities at 60 per cent vaccination. That's just absurd. But aged care, disability care where people have got are immunosuppressed conditions. Now I get that not every Australian can be vaccinated and that there'll be a small number who have got medical circumstances.

PRICE: But in general, you support mandatory vaccination.

SHORTEN: In some industries, as a last resort. 

PRICE: Not all?

SHORTEN: No if you don’t come into - 

PRICE: Not in your industry? So, it's not mandatory for politicians for a start.

SHORTEN: I think most politicians have had the jab. And by the way - 

PRICE: Well Pauline Hanson says she's not going to have it and won't have it.

SHORTEN: Oh, you know, there's always one in every crowd. But I think that where you come into contact with people on a regular basis, I don't see what the case is for not getting the vaccination, unless it's going to cause a medical issue or if you're one of a part of a very small religious conscientious objectors. 

PRICE: Teachers? 

SHORTEN: Oh, I think we're heading there, aren't we? I mean - 

PRICE: Well, they made it mandatory in Victoria now, and they announced it yesterday.

SHORTEN: Yeah, that’s right, they did that yesterday.

PRICE: Would you want to know if the teachers teaching your children were vaccinated or not? I asked the Principal Association in New South Wales this week, and they said for privacy reasons, you can't ask.

SHORTEN: Well, listen, as a parent, I want to see my child back at school, but I want to make sure it's done safely. So, listen, I've had some teachers reach out to me who desperately don't want to get vaccination, and I have to talk to them to understand why. The vaccines are not experimental. The COVID virus is real. It's not a fake conspiracy. If it's getting the choice, that's fair enough. You know, I don't know. We haven't had all the vaccines we should have in a timely fashion. I mean, I can't help but wonder if the Feds had got their vaccine rollout done earlier would we have all the grief we're having now? I don't know. Well, I guess we'll never know. But yeah, on teachers, I think sooner or later, although they've already made it mandatory in Victoria.

PRICE: Yeah, they have, and they've given a date. 

SHORTEN: It’s very hard.

PRICE: Yes, it is a hard question. It is a hard question. Just before we go, on a completely separate issue. Your former leader, Paul Keating, had a shot at you and Penny Wong and other Labor leaders yesterday about the relationship with China and the whole submarine deal that's been pulled off by Scott Morrison. Do you accept what Mr Keating’s saying, or do you think that he might be a bit off the pace?

SHORTEN: No, I don't think he's being entirely fair there. Listen, he's written his article. I didn't get around to reading it. I saw the headline. I respect Paul on many things. But I think on China, it's a different situation now to when he was Prime Minister. So as circumstances change and the views of governments change, you can't stay static. We've got to work at our relationship with China. I agree with that. But you know, I don't think China gets to pick our weapons systems and what we give our ADF.

PRICE: Given you’re a good Collingwood supporter, I can't imagine that you're going to be supporting the toffs from Melbourne to win the Grand Final over the working-class boys from the western suburbs?

SHORTEN: The Bulldogs, Whitten Oval’s in my electorate. I do own two British Bulldogs, so – 

PRICE: There you go.

SHORTEN: I'd love to see the Bulldogs. But you know, it's a great game and I can feel for the Melbourne supporters not being able to get across to see their Grand Final. So, it's a cracker of a game, but you've got to go for the Doggies if you’re from the West.

PRICE: Absolutely, 100 per cent. Thanks for helping us out again. Good on you

SHORTEN: No worries, see you Steve.

PRICE: Bill Shorten there, the Minister, Shadow Minister for the NDIS and Government Services and the Federal Member for Maribyrnong, and of course, former leader of the Labor Party.