By Matt Keogh MP

24 June 2021


SUBJECTS: alcohol in Parliament; COVID-19 vaccine rollout; NSW COVID-19 outbreak.

JADE MACMILLAN, HOST: Sam McMahon has rejected allegations she was intoxicated in the Senate this week, arguing she's the target of a political campaign to dislodge her from her position. The nine newspapers have quoted unnamed sources, who claimed Senator McMahon appeared disoriented and barely awake during a division on Tuesday night. But a spokesperson for the Senator says she had one drink with her colleagues in the early evening, and the footage from the Senate chamber was taken several hours later, when she was feeling unwell. Senator McMahon faces a pre-selection battle this weekend for the top spot on the country Liberal Party's Senate ticket. Her office says the allegations are part of a political machine manufacturing any reason, even fictional ones to dislodge her.

Well, it's time now to bring in our political panel. I'm joined by Liberal Senator Hollie Hughes, and Shadow Defence Industry Minister Matt Keogh. Thanks to both of you for joining me. Let's start first of all on what happened in the Senate earlier this week. 

Hollie Hughes, what's your understanding of what happened that night? 

SENATOR HOLLIE HUGHES: I didn't even see Sam that night. And you can see me in the video a couple of seats over. We had two nights in the Senate that ran late, one just before 11pm, one after 11pm two nights running. I can imagine for the National Party. It's been quite a stressful week. Sam has been unwell. I know she was at the doctor this morning. And it wouldn't be the first time prior to a pre-selection, stories that aren't flattering to alternate candidates or preferred candidates or current members has gone public. So I think it's really unfortunate that this is what's been said. It is a very tiring time, sometimes at the end of some of these really long nights where you are constantly running in and out of the chamber. But I didn't see Sam, I certainly didn't see anything that indicated that she was intoxicated in any way. 

MACMILLAN: Regardless of what happened in this particular case, Matt Keogh, do you think that there is an issue with alcohol consumption in Parliament more broadly? 

MATT KEOGH MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY: I don't think there's a broad alcohol consumption problem in Parliament. I think there's certainly been instances where alcohol consumption in Parliament has been over the top. I'm not saying this is the case. I haven't seen this video and it's a matter for the Senator to respond in this circumstance. But I think in the in the whole, actually, in my experience - and our sitting hours are a lot less I should say in the House of Representatives –

HUGHES: Half days. 

KEOGH: I wouldn't go quite that far Senator! I don't think we see a broad alcohol problem actually in the Federal Parliament. And I know some people have you know, often commented about this. I think it should be noted that the bar in Parliament has long been a childcare centre, actually, and that's a good thing. 

MACMILLAN: Earlier this year, Holly Hughes, two of your colleagues, Katie Allen and Sarah Henderson said that politicians should face alcohol testing, would you support that? 

HUGHES: No, no, I think that's probably going a step too far. But I agree with what Matt’s saying, I don't think there is an extensive problem with this. Obviously, there has been instances in the past. I know, there was a Senator that had a jostle with one of our Senators, which led to him leaving the Senate. So you're right, there has been instances, but I don't think it's something that's systemic or highly problematic. And you are talking about sometimes people sitting into the very wee hours of the morning. So, you know, having one glass of wine with dinner, I don't think it's particularly problematic. 

MACMILLAN: Matt Keogh, do you think that there should be alcohol testing? 

KEOGH: I don't think we've seen instances that justify having to implement that additional level of work. But of course, every Member of Parliament has to face their electorate at every election and justify their behaviour and how not only know how they vote when they are here, but how they behave as a Member of Parliament as well. 

MAMILLAN: Let's move on to the COVID-19 situation in New South Wales. Hollie, you’re a Senator for that state, do you think that it's time for a lockdown in Sydney? 

HUGHES: No, not at all. In New South Wales, we just don't do it that way. We like to keep our economy open. If you think about it there, there's now 36 cases linked to the entire cluster. There was 11 cases today, 10 of which are already in isolation and known to be close contacts of those who already tested positive. Now, there was unfortunately 19 people die in the UK yesterday of COVID. We had 16,000 positive tests in the UK yesterday. And you know, they're back open and things are happening. We need to learn to live with the virus. There has never been an elimination strategy. I think some of the states and certainly Matt’s state, WA have who has advocated for more of an elimination style strategy, but if we go down that path, we're going to end up closed off to the world and each other for a really long time. The most important thing is to get vaccinated and we're seeing 140,000 people were vaccinated yesterday. If the same number get vaccinated today, we will hit 7 million doses of vaccine. So we are starting to see those numbers ramp up exponentially. And it's important that we do that as quickly as possible. But no, not a lockdown. I think Gladys is acting with logic, not panic, and keeping the state's economy moving, and not unnecessarily punishing people. I feel, my heart breaks, for the tourism operators in Tasmania, and also South Australia and some of the others where a lot of New South Wales families were planning to go, who've now been locked out, and it's another school holidays that will be lost for these tourism operators. 

MACMILLAN: Matt Keogh, if New South Wales gets on top of this outbreak, and everyone is hoping that it does, will it show that there is an alternative to lock downs and that states don't need to go down that path like we've seen recently in states, including WA. 

KEOGH: The New South Wales Premier said today that this is the scariest period during the whole of COVID that New South Wales is facing. And there's one key reason for that. And it's the Federal Government's failure to get the vaccine rollout working as quickly as it should be. And to deliver fit for purpose quarantine, we've seen all of these outbreaks come out of what was a temporary quarantine structure, we need fit for purpose quarantine. The vaccine rollout, yes, it's speeding up. But it's so far behind where it should be. That's how you get to a position where we can be properly opening up and coming back to normalcy. But in Western Australia, because of the different approach that's being taken. There are now no COVID restrictions within Western Australia. Life is back to normal in Western Australia. And it demonstrates some of the differences in outcomes and approach. And we've seen an economic growth outcome for Western Australia as well, because of that different approach. But until the Morrison Government actually gets this vaccination rollout properly going, we're not going to see the opportunity for states to properly get back to normal across the country. 

MACMILLAN: The AstraZeneca vaccine was supposed to be the workhorse of our rollout. Instead, it's only now recommended for people over the age of 60. And we're told it will be phased out later this year. Hollie Hughes did Australia pin too much of its hopes on this one vaccine? 

HUGHES: Well AstraZeneca is just one of four vaccines. And we will have over 2 million doses per week of Pfizer coming in by October, Moderna by the end of the year and there's another one that's coming at the beginning of next year. So there will be four vaccines that are available. I think, you know, 2020 hindsight is a great thing. And everyone being you know, lounge armchair epidemiologists is one thing as well. But this is unprecedented times, who would have thought in March when this broke out that we'd have an option of four vaccines. So it's been, you know, incredible to see the production of the vaccines they've been made in incredibly quick timeframes. And the rollouts are continuing. And if you look at now, the exponential increases of how many days it's taking to get to that next million shot of doses. You know, we're talking now less than 10 days to get to each million lot of doses of vaccine that are being delivered. You know, this has been reflected across the world, every single country when they have rolled out their vaccine, it's taken more time at the beginning, and then it ramps up exponentially. And that's exactly what we're seeing here. The rollout has been conducted absolutely with the guidance and advice of either Professor Murphy or Professor Kelly and done in the best possible way working with the TGA and Atai. So we're you know, it's following the health advice. It's making sure Australians are safe, and making sure that the economy is getting back on track. At the same time. 

MACMILLAN: Matt Keogh, Labor has been very critical of the vaccine rollout, is Labor undermining confidence in the programme? 

KEOGH: Well, no, not at all because we're trying to say more people should be getting vaccinated faster. And Holly's point is absolutely right. If the government here had started faster, we will be much further along than we are now. We are able to ramp it up. But we started late. It took us longer, and we didn't have access to the diversity of vaccine. Some of those won't come until next year or the end of this year, the government was afforded the opportunity of getting in earlier with Pfizer, when the government was saying we're going to be at the front of the queue. Instead, it literally took itself out of the queue moved back to the end of the queue and put 100 other countries in front of us. If that decision had not been taken that way, if Government had decided does not put all of its eggs effectively into the AZ basket and made sure it had a diversity of supply, then we would have been able to start quicker, we would have been able to go much faster when we started. And instead of now seeing these further and further outbreaks, New South Wales is in the most scary situation it has been in the entirety of COVID, more of those people would be vaccinated they'd be safer, we wouldn't see the spreads that we're seeing, and states, whether they're going into lockdown, or having to impose extra restrictions, they wouldn't have to do it in the way they're doing it. 

MACMILLAN: Okay Matt Keogh and Hollie Hughes we will have to leave it there as we approach Question Time. Thank you very much.