Politics with Michelle Grattan
Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty on the coronavirus crisis and the timeline for a vaccine

Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty on the coronavirus crisis and the timeline for a vaccine

March 26, 2020

The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease COVID-19, has infected nearly half a million people and taken the lives of more than 21,200.

No person in Australia is more qualified to speak on the science of this global pandemic than Professor Peter Doherty. Professor Doherty was awarded the Nobel prize for medicine in 1996 for his work studying the immune system. The Doherty Institute, now at the forefront of Australian research on the coronavirus, bears his name.

In this episode of Politics with Michelle Grattan, Professor Doherty discusses the particulars of the pandemic - including how controlling this pandemic differs from that of other illnesses:

“It’s a problem of dealing with a respiratory infection,” he said.

“It’s different from, say, AIDS. We can all modify the way we behave in the sexual sense, but we can’t decide not to breathe. And so it’s very important that we keep that social distancing right at the front of our mind. In fact, one of the best pieces of advice I’ve seen is, think [as if] you’ve already got it and you don’t want to transmit it to anybody else. And if you think like that, you’ll protect yourself. ”

Scientists from The Doherty Institute were the first to successfully grow the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) from a patient sample. According to Professor Doherty, a COVID-19 vaccine could be available within 12 to 18 months.

“There are a few new concerns … that some vaccine formulations, not all, but some could give you what we call a bit of immunopathology,” he said.

“That is, they might actually make [the illness] a little bit worse or contribute to some bad, bad situation. So we have to be careful with the vaccine. But the first vaccine product from the University of Queensland, I’m told, has already gone into lab animals.”

Listen to the full podcast for more from Professor Doherty, including how his research and institution is furthering the vaccination effort, how the virus affects the body and the future of the crisis.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy on COVID-19

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy on COVID-19

March 10, 2020

With 100 domestic cases as of March 10, federal and state governments and health authorities face daunting challenges posed by COVID-19 in coming weeks and months - securing a workforce of nurses and doctors to treat the sick, ensuring enough testing facilities to meet a rapidly growing demand, and stemming the spread of the virus, to the maximum extent possible.

As Chief Medical Officer for the federal government, Professor Brendan Murphy is confident about maintaining enough health staff, including in nursing homes.

“You can find a health workforce if you look hard enough, and if you can fund the surge. So I think we will find them.”

Murphy is also optimistic the present self-isolation period of 14 days can be shortened at some point, as the incubation period of virus is now thought to be “probably around five to seven days”.

When will the virus peak in Australia? Murphy says: “If we had widespread and more generalised community transmission, I would imagine that would be peaking around the middle of the year, in the middle of winter. … But that’s really our best guess of the modelling at the moment. And it’s very, very hard to predict.”

Murphy re-iterates that only people in certain categories need to be tested; in the last few days there has been a “significant surge” of people with flu-like symptoms but outside these categories who have been seeking testing, placing pressure on facilities.

With eyes on Italy’s lockdown, could a single region of Australia be locked down?

“It’s potentially possible, absolutely. If we had a city, a major city that had an outbreak of some thousands, and the rest of the country was pretty unaffected, we could very easily consider locking down a part of or a whole town or city.”

Keith Pitt on the Murray-Darling Basin, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, and Nuclear Power

Keith Pitt on the Murray-Darling Basin, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, and Nuclear Power

March 5, 2020

Appointed minister for resources, water, and northern Australia in the Nationals reshuffle, Keith Pitt was handed a diverse portfolio with some highly contested issues.

As water minister, he'll soon have a report from Mick Keelty on the Murray-Darling Basin, which could spark more fighting between states, and the ACCC report into water trading, expected at the end of the year.

"We do need to ensure the trading is fair," he says. "I'm as concerned as anybody else if people are playing the market to their own financial benefit rather than what the purpose of it is."

"They'll be caught. And they'll be punished."

One of his priorities will be putting his foot on the accelerator to have the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility get its investment money out faster, after what's been a slow start, with only some $2 billion of its $5 billion allocated.

"My view's very straightforward. This is $2 billion worth of capital that can drive jobs and help drive the Australian economy. I want to get it out the door, into projects."

Pitt's pet project has long been nuclear energy as a means of clean power supply in Australia. Despite nuclear not being a policy of the government, he is hopeful community attitudes will change.

"I think there's been some change over recent years... particularly in the younger generations. They're certainly more concerned about other priorities...and they're not as concerned about what's happened in the past with the older type technology".

Mark Butler on Labor’s 2050 carbon neutral target

Mark Butler on Labor’s 2050 carbon neutral target

February 25, 2020

Mark Butler, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy, is optimistic that Labor is better placed to prosecute its climate policy at the next election, compared to the last.

“I think we are better positioned now for two reasons.”

“Firstly, I think the business community has shifted substantially over the last couple of years, and that’s a global shift that reflects, particularly the fact that regulators…and investors have recognised that climate change poses a very serious risk to the stability of the financial system.”

“Also I think people are starting to better understand the costs of not acting. Not only because of some of our tragic experiences over recent months, but because universities and other groups are starting to quantify the costs of not acting.”

“So there are enormous opportunities for a country as abundant in clean energy resources as Australia to make this shift.”

Phil Honeywood on the coronavirus challenge for universities

Phil Honeywood on the coronavirus challenge for universities

February 20, 2020

The coronavirus is presenting a major threat to Australia’s education export industry, which is highly dependant upon the China market, and a huge challenge to the universities. Phillip Honeywood, CEO of the International Education Association of Australia says:

“At the end of the day, China is the most heavily populated country in the world, it’s on our regional doorstep and it has an incredible appetite for having their children study offshore.”

Adam Bandt on Greens’ hopes for future power sharing

Adam Bandt on Greens’ hopes for future power sharing

February 10, 2020

Adam Bandt began his political journey in the Labor party, but the issue of climate change drew him to the Greens. Last week he became their leader, elected unopposed.

Asked about his ambitions for the party, Bandt aspires to a power-sharing situation with a Labor government, akin to the Gillard era.

"Ultimately Labor's got to decide where it stands, and if Labor decides that it does want to go down the path of working with us on a plan to phase out coal and look after workers in communities, then great.

"If Labor prefers to work with the Liberals, maybe we're going to see a situation like we do in Germany at the moment where there's a grand coalition between the equivalent of the Labor and Liberal parties because they find that they've got more in common with each other than with us."

Additional audio:

A List of Ways to Die, Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive.

Image:

AAP/Mick Tsikas

Michael McCormack moves on from his near-death experience

Michael McCormack moves on from his near-death experience

February 10, 2020

Starting the year with a leadership spill will be seen by many, especially those hit by the bushfires, as the Nationals being particularly self-indulgent.

Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack admits as much, but notes he wasn’t the initiator of his party’s bad behaviour.

“We should not have been talking about ourselves. This was never of my making or doing. And we should have spent the entire day, not just those sitting hours, but the entire day reflecting on just what has taken place this summer,” he tells the Politics podcast.

McCormack also says he supported Bridget McKenzie “the whole way” through the sports rorts controversy and he again stands by her decision-making.

The National leader defends his new frontbench line up against criticism that it’s short on women, mounts a strong pitch in favour of coal, and rejects claims he’s been too invisible and a weak leader.

Additional audio:

A List of Ways to Die, Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive.

Image:

Mick Tsikas/AAP

Mathias Cormann and Jim Chalmers on the mid-year budget update

Mathias Cormann and Jim Chalmers on the mid-year budget update

December 16, 2019

The mid-year budget update has seen the government downgrading its forecast for Australia’s economic growth in 2019-20 by 0.25%, and slashing the projected surplus by A$2.1 billion, to $5 billion. The forecast for wage growth has also been reduced, and unemployment is projected to be slightly higher than was envisaged at budget time.

The figures indicate a worsening economy, but the government has sought to put a positive spin on the situation, saying the Australian economy is showing resilience.

Joining this podcast is finance minister Mathias Cormann and shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers to talk about the figures and the outlook.

Additional audio:

A List of Ways to Die, Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive.

Image:

The Conversation

Andrew Hastie on foreign influence, security and veteran mental health

Andrew Hastie on foreign influence, security and veteran mental health

December 11, 2019

Chinese government influence and interference has been a contentious issue in Australia politics in the past year.

Weighing up concerns about foreign money in state and federal campaigns, candidates’ direct relationships with arms of the Chinese Communist Party and the defection of a Chinese spy operating within Australia, against the fragile trade relationship we have with our largest export market has been one of the more difficult topics for both major parties.

Andrew Hastie, Liberal member for the seat of Canning, is one of the most outspoken government members on the issue of foreign interference.

He’s used his position as a backbencher – and as chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security – to speak openly about his concerns and what he sees as the expansion of “revisionist” countries trying to “remake the world order … pushing out to secure their economic and strategic influence beyond their geographical borders”.

He also talks about why he thinks it would be untenable to have security clearance for every member of parliament, the role of the media in scrutinising candidates, and concerns about mental health among returned veterans.

Additional audio: 

A List of Ways to Die, Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive.

Image:

AAP/Lukas Coch

Minister David Littleproud on bushfires, drought, and the Nationals

Minister David Littleproud on bushfires, drought, and the Nationals

November 13, 2019

Bushfires continue to burn across NSW and Queensland, the death toll has risen, and the damage to properties, wildlife and the environment is devastating. With conditions predicted to worsen over the summer, climate change has inevitably come into the frame.

The Prime Minister and Opposition leader have said policy arguments should be avoided until the immediate crisis has passed, but many - including former emergency chiefs and some victims - disagree. And Greens and Nationals have had vitriolic exchanges.

The Nationals David Littleproud has ministerial responsibility for water, drought, and natural disaster and emergency management. In this podcast, he says while “the man on the street” can link climate change and the bushfires, but “as elected officials, we’ve got a responsibility” to wait for the right time to have such discussions.

After announcing the government’s drought package last week, Littleproud criticises the states for not stepping up their efforts, and says they have done “three-fifths of bugger all”.

Additional audio: 

A List of Ways to Die, Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive

Image: 

AAP/Dan Peled