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25 March 2022


SUBJECTS: Melbourne’s new COVID vaccines; Pressure building on NATO over Russia and Putin’s attendance at the G20; Labor’s position on an inquiry into Kimberley Kitching’s claims; plans for a Chinese military base in the Soloman Islands

LEILA MCKINNON, HOST: More now on that significant news out of Melbourne this morning, Monash University and the Doherty Institute developing two new super vaccines to protect against future more potentially deadly forms of COVID. Say it's not so. For more, we're joined by Shadow Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten and 4BC's Scott Emerson. Welcome to you both. Bill, we keep hoping that this is nearly over, but these mutations just keep on coming. We've got the laboratory opening there in Melbourne. Are we ready as we possibly can be for the future?

BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: COVID’s a part of our ongoing future. You know, the kids are getting it at school, new variants, but I like the idea that Australian scientists are on the front line. We owe our scientists a great debt of gratitude. I'm optimistic that Australian scientists are the smartest in the world. And so, I think this is good news that we're doing radical new research. Labor believes in doing things in Australia, not just relying on the rest of the world and our scientists are smart enough to step up.

MCKINNON: Yeah, we did learn that lesson, didn't we? What do you think, Scott? Is it good to have this power in our own front yard?

SCOTT EMERSON, 4BC: Yeah, it's wonderful to have it here. There was a lot of disappointment when the University of Queensland vaccine didn't work out and I think a lot of hopes were laid on that. So, it'll be great to have that home grown capacity going forward. As you say, it does feel a little bit depressing to think we've got more and more mutants, variants, of COVID coming up. But I think that is just the reality. And to have an investment in this, I think that's the way to go.

MCKINNON: Yeah. International pressure on Vladimir Putin is ramping up NATO's leaders agreeing to upgrade weapons supply to Ukraine in a joint show of support, while Scott Morrison is calling for Russia to be kicked out of the next G20 summit in Bali in November. What do you think, Bill? Is it time to kick Russia out of the G20?

SHORTEN: I think that we have to take a strong stand about Putin turning up at international forums. What he's doing in the Ukraine isn't a police action, it's a war crime. And we have to walk the walk. We have to be consistent. If the Ukrainians are strong enough and fighting back desperately, the very least we can do is add our voice to the family of nations and say to Mr. Putin, until you stop doing what you are doing, you aren't welcome.

MCKINNON: Is that right, Scott, or is it important to sort of keep lines of communication open now?

EMERSON: No, I reckon we've got the G20 in November - Indonesia says it hasn't sent an invitation yet to Putin, just giving him a kind of a notice of a date for it - but if Indonesia doesn't rule out Putin becoming part of the G20, going to that G20 meeting, they are the president of the G20 at the moment, I just don't think Australia should be going at all. I think the Western countries, the allied countries there should just boycott the G20 this time if Russia goes, if Putin is going to attend.

MCKINNON: A boycott, okay. Well, let's move on. Bill, I want to ask you about Anthony Albanese’s refusal to order an inquiry into the bullying allegedly suffered by Kimberley Kitching. And I know she was a friend of yours. What do you think? Should there be an inquiry, he’s standing firm?

SHORTEN: I have at no point advocated for an inquiry. We had the funeral on Monday. It was quite an extraordinary event. Sometimes you learn more about a person in death than in life. We heard a lot of good stories. Did you know there was a representative of the Dalai Lama there, you had Peter Dutton and Tony Abbott and you had John Setka from the CFMEU. I mean she was eclectic, but I accept the decision of the Labor leadership on this.

MCKINNON: Okay, what do you think, Scott?

EMERSON: Oh look, of course there's going to be an inquiry and I think it's just rank hypocrisy from Labor in this case. If, if this was a Coalition senator, then claims of bullying by the Morrison Government, Bill Shorten, Albo, and you know, the Senators, the mean girls as they've been called, they'd be all crying out for an inquiry, a public full inquiry. And what we see today is just, look it is gutless by Labor and hypocrisy, the fact they're saying, well let's depoliticise this, of course there should be an inquiry.

MCKINNON: Well that's true isn't it Bill Shorten. It's, it's hypocritical. I think that's what people are saying. You know, is Labor paying the price for calling for too many inquiries over the last three or four years?

SHORTEN: Well and this one as you just said, I'm a very big friend of Kimberly's. It's been a tough week. For me, I want her remembered for being the fierce person she was. And so, you know, I've spoken. I gave the eulogy. I pretty much said all I'm going to say on her, and I'm just going to now grieve and try and come to terms with the gap, which is in the life of my family and for the people who knew her and loved her.

MCKINNON: Going forward, should the ALP perhaps stop calling for an inquiry at every time something goes wrong for the Government?

SHORTEN: That's something which you're going to have to ask other people. For me, I'm thinking about Kimberley. She should be remembered as a strong person and certainly that's what I want to do. Also, I would just say that when we talk about the contribution that politicians make, I get that people get cynical and outraged at politicians, she was special, and that's how I intend to remember going forward.

MCKINNON: When nobody is questioning Kimberley Kitching here. We're questioning the fact that there is no inquiry. Now let's move on, because we've quite a concern this morning to hear about a Chinese military base perhaps being put in the Solomon Islands. Given the current tensions, is that concerning for you?

SHORTEN: Oh, absolutely. I understand that the Solomon Islands is a sovereign nation with a sovereign government. They get to make their decisions. But this is a development. Australia should be the partner of choice for Pacific nations. The Morrison Government has been asleep at the wheel. I think this is a major foreign policy blunder and that when we've got these sorts of agreements being signed in our backyard, that's the day job of the Morrison Government. They keep polishing their defence credentials. Well, I'm afraid this one is going to hang around for a very long time. And it's a miss.

MCKINNON: What do you think, Scott?

EMERSON: Oh, look, I think there's a real concern out there across the whole of the Pacific and this is another example that China and its wolf warrior approach to the Indo-Pacific there. This is an example of them doing that. I think both sides of politics, the Morrison Government and you know, if there is an Albanese Government, have to go as hard as they can on China. It's interesting that when we've seen Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton calling out China, you've had veiled criticisms of those kind of comments by Labor during this. Well, here's an example of where both sides need to go as hard as they can against China in the Pacific.

SHORTEN: But it is true, though, Scott, isn't it, that the Morrison Government keeps saying watch out for China yet then they react with surprise when China executes an agreement with the Solomon Islands on their watch. I mean, when does the Morrison Government say, I mean, the best way we can improve relations in the world and in the region is for us to be the number one choice as a partner. And we're not.

MCKINNON: It's David versus Goliath. We need the Davids to stick together, don't we? Thank you very much to you both.