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Australia Federal government accused of failing the nation over AstraZeneca vaccine on Q+A as Martin Iles defends Israel Folau

18:51  08 april  2021
18:51  08 april  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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a woman in a green shirt: Labor MP Anika Wells took the federal government to task over Australia's vaccine rollout. (ABC) © Provided by ABC NEWS Labor MP Anika Wells took the federal government to task over Australia's vaccine rollout. (ABC)

The Australian government has been accused on Q+A of "failing at the first hurdle" when it comes to the nation's vaccine rollout and problems with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The show aired on Thursday night following Prime Minister Scott Morrison's press conference where he and his team announced the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has a possible link to rare blood clots in a very small number of recipients, would no longer be given to Australians under the age of 50.

Instead, they will be given the Pfizer vaccine, meaning Australia's already behind-schedule vaccine rollout threatened to slow further.

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On Q+A, multiple panellists criticised Mr Morrison for "backing the wrong horse" and not taking a wider approach to acquiring more different vaccines such as those from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

"Australians really set the global standard in looking after one another, locking down in a way that reduced our COVID numbers, and our reward for that was meant to be that we would be able to get back on track and for us to maybe get the jump-start on other countries," said federal Labor MP Anika Wells, from Queensland.

"Now all that is in jeopardy, and it feels like we're failing at the first hurdle.

"It comes down to, I think, the Prime Minister's judgement about the vaccines that he chose, the numbers of those doses and why.

"When the UK, the US, chose other pathways like Moderna or Johnson & Johnson."

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Asked by host Hamish Macdonald if she was saying the Australian government had "backed the wrong horse", she responded in the affirmative.

"We've been saying since last year, we need more horses in the race. We need five or six different vaccines."

Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman refuted the claim Australia did not have enough vaccine options and said the government had invested in five.

But Indigenous lawyer Teela Reid also said the government had failed and accused them of being incompetent before also saying they had really failed First Nations people.

"I think the country needs options available to be vaccinated," Ms Reid said.

"To be honest, it's no surprise to me about the government's incompetence to handle this and administer the vaccine and keep us safe.

"It has been absolutely the people who have come together and kept us safe, locked down and done the right thing — and I just think that, you know, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the majority of us are under 50.

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"I think that it's just been completely reckless and unacceptable in a developed country that we are here now and we're still waiting for the option to be vaccinated."

While Ms Reid and Ms Wells took the Prime Minister to task over the rollout, other panellists, journalist Antoinette Lattouf and Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) Martyn Iles, felt the slow rollout was a blessing in disguise when it came to not too many Australians receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Ms Lattouf said this was a good problem to have while Mr Iles said the pivot in the vaccine strategy was not a massive problem before calling on people to leave people who have vaccine hesitancy alone.

"We don't need to manufacture a crisis over the vaccine when we just don't have one, " Mr Iles said.

"It's turning out that there's some benefits of watching the rest of the world go just a little bit ahead of us.

"There are people in the community who have vaccine hesitancy and feel as though they, in good conscience, can't take the vaccine.

"I actually want to go in to bat for them, I think we can respect someone's conscience and achieve public health outcomes possibly at the same time.

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"Everyone who wants it should get it [but] there'll be some people who don't want it, I reckon leave them alone, because the protection of conscience matters."

'Melanin count doesn't change my access to truth'

Issues of gender bias in the halls of Parliament have been front and centre of late and one issue that has been raised is quotas.

Most of the Q+A panel was for the possible introduction of them except for Mr Iles, who drew scorn for, as he put it, being "the stereotypical white guy".

"Quotas say a couple of things," Mr Iles said.

"Some of them might be good, but some of them I'm concerned about.

"One of the things it says is that a parliament that is majority man or majority women, or majority one race or another cannot govern in the common interest, cannot govern for the common good, cannot actually seek after what is right and true.

"The melanin count in my skin doesn't change my access to truth, it doesn't change my ability to do good."

It was then that Ms Lattouf immediately called him out.

"But it changes your lived experience," she said.

"It changes your lens, it changes where you are in terms of privilege.

"It doesn't mean that you can't have empathy, it doesn't mean that you're not clever and good at your job but you don't have skin in the game when it comes to women's issues, when it comes to Indigenous issues.

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"You just don't get it as much as somebody who has walked in those shoes."

Regardless of quotas, Ms Reid said they were not the major issue and said other issues should first be examined.

"If you look at the experience of some women at the top, take for example Julia Gillard, that was a horrendous experience to witness as a young woman, but also I can't even imagine what she's experienced, and that's looking at a white woman," she said.

"I wouldn't even want to know what a black woman experiences in those contexts."

Iles defends ACL support of Folau

Mr Iles, who has long been a staunch supporter of former rugby league and union star Israel Folau, featured prominently throughout the show.

In 2019, Mr Iles stood side-by-side with Folau and even helped launch a fund to support the then-rugby star in his legal battle with Rugby Australia after fundraising site GoFundMe pulled down his page asking for financial help for the fight.

Rugby Australia said they had sacked Folau for breaching their social media code of conduct for religious posts he made which also preached homophobic views, before the sides eventually settled.

This week, the Australian Christian Lobby spent a large sum of money on an advertisement in The Daily Telegraph to pressure the NRL into allowing Folau to return to rugby league.

Mr Iles was asked to defend that use of money and his relationship with Folau and the ongoing support he is receiving from the ACL.

Mr Iles began by saying Folau had been misrepresented in the media.

"The media have repeatedly said that Israel condemned homosexuals to hell, that is not the overall point of the post that he made.

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"What he said was that sinners are destined for judgement, and yes, Christians understand that as hell … but then he turned to the other side of the coin and he said, 'and forgiveness awaits to all who repent and put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ'.

"He said all of that in his post. Either you believe both sides of that coin — in which case, you are free, you have condemnation and salvation, you have judgement and release, you have repentance, you have faith — or you believe neither side.

"And if Israel Folau can lose his livelihood because he said that, then we should hunt out every single Christian in this country who works anywhere and fire them on the spot, because they all believe it and they have all said something similar at some stage in their life."

Mr Iles rejected a comment by Ms Latouff that Folau had spread hate, saying that was not his motive.

But Mr Zimmerman, who in 2015 became Australia's first openly gay MP, said that was in his view not the case with Folau.

"I'm not a religious person, but I was brought up in a religious family in the Uniting Church. It may not have been about hate, but it was certainly about love.

"And I don't see much love coming from Israel Folau, I have to say."

Mr Iles then went on to take aim at Rugby Australia and accused them of lying during the 2019 battle with Folau.

"He did not break a contract or a clause, if he did, it would have been relied upon by the tribunal that disciplined him.

"It wasn't relied on because it didn't exist.

"That's a lie that was put out, I believe, by Rugby Australia to try and ruin his reputation."

The AstraZeneca jab and the price of fragmented decision-making .
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