Transcript - ABC Afternoon Briefing [16 September 2020]

September 16, 2020

SUBJECTS: COVID-19; State borders; international borders; human rights; right-wing extremism

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Time now for my political panel this afternoon. Liberal MP Tim Wilson and Labor MP Anne Aly are both my guests. Hello Anne and Tim, hello! And Anne, I’m going to start with you, the WA Premier says the state’s hotel quarantine system is at capacity and the Commonwealth should instead accommodate returning Australians in army barracks, or immigration facilities. Isn’t it the obligation on all states including WA to bring more Australians home? I mean, these people are Australian citizens, they want to get home, they’re entitled to get home under the, under a citizenship obligation, shouldn’t the states be doing more heavy lifting here?

ANNE ALY, MEMBER FOR COWAN: First of all, PK, I completely agree with you that there are a huge number of Australians who are stranded overseas. I know that my office has been inundated with calls from people who are stranded overseas. But let’s be very clear where the lines of responsibility are here. The international border is a responsibility for the Morrison Government. Kristina Keneally has outlined some very practical steps that can be taken to ensure that those Australians are brought home. They include using chartered flights. They include using open airports and Mark McGowan has also included some practical steps to increase the capacity of quarantine. They’re all parts of the puzzle, but the biggest part of the puzzle is that Scott Morrison has shirked his responsibility here. He is not doing anything to bring these Australians home. This is a Federal Government responsibility and there is absolutely no plan in place to bring home Australian citizens who need to come home. Some on compassionate grounds – in fact, most on compassionate grounds, I have in my electorate a case of a family that’s being torn apart, and I know that Tim and other MPs have got those same cases. So Scott Morrison needs to take responsibility here, he needs to step up to the plate, take on some of those great recommendations that Kristina Keneally has made. These are practical steps towards solving this issue.

KARVELAS: Anne Aly, you’re actually accidentally promoting my next guest, who is Kristina Keneally, on the program, so I’m going to have to park those issues and raise them again with her, but I want to talk about something else with you – we’re having, actually, issues connecting with Tim Wilson, so I’m going to stay with you and we can talk about a couple of other issues.

ALY: Sure.

KARVELAS: I want to talk to you about this story that’s broken that’s suggesting that the Prime Minister will quarantine, if he wants to go to Queensland and campaign, for two weeks before he can do anything. Is that… what do you make of that? Is that logical to you that you'd ask a Prime Minister of the country to quarantine for two weeks?

ALY: Is the Prime Minister not human? Is the Prime Minister…

KARVELAS: He is human, I think, last time I checked, but either way he’s leader of the country – you know, isn’t he sort of in the category of somebody who you'd want, just putting it out there, if… to have free movement to try and kind of do his job?

ALY: Well his job – only part of his job is campaigning for the Queensland opposition party in a State, in a State election campaign, isn’t it Patricia, and I would say that all Australians need to be treated equally. I would imagine that if I was to fly to Queensland to help Labor members there, campaign at a state election, then I would have to quarantine as well, and in fact I understand that Anthony Albanese has also been required to quarantine if he enters Queensland for the same purposes. So there is no reason why anybody should be treated differently, and I think most Australians want to know that everybody is being treated equally in this, in accordance with the health advice.

KARVELAS: I want to talk to you about another story, because yesterday Ed Husic and Matt Canavan were talking about lots of issues on the panel they were on, and they talked about right-wing extremism and I know you’ve had many things to say about this too. Matt Canavan raised that he couldn’t name any of these right-wing groups that should potentially be listed. What’s your take on that?

ALY: I think Matt Canavan needs to learn how to use Google. Look, I’ll reiterate what Ed said yesterday, which I believe he said, you know, it’s pretty extraordinary – I know Kristina Keneally has said the same thing – it’s pretty extraordinary that we are the only nation in the Five Eyes who has not listed any right-wing extremist groups. We know that they exist in Australia. We know that they are active in Australia. I know here in Western Australia we have had a case of somebody who travelled to the US and trained with a listed right-wing extremist group. That person is now in jail serving time for murder. But the group that he established has morphed and morphed and morphed, and has become increasingly more organised and increasingly more violent. It’s time, it’s time that Australia took this seriously, and the first step to that is by proscribing those groups. I would say to Matt Canavan, get on Google, look it up, you will find a plethora of information out there. If he wants me to I can put him in contact with Exit Australia which is set up by a former right-wing extremist, and is connected to exit groups all around Australia, and he can give them a little bit of a presentation on exactly what’s going on in Australia.

KARVELAS: Look Anne Aly, we’ve spoken to you about a range of issues, I’ve now got Tim Wilson, I’m gonna start on, not that issue, but one we were previously talking about, and that’s in relation to the Prime Minister being, just like everyone else, asked to quarantine for two weeks if he wants to go into Queensland. Do you think that’s reasonable, Tim Wilson? He is just, of course, a citizen just like everyone else.

TIM WILSON: Well I think the law should apply to everybody equally. But I’ve got to question whether the motivations are purely based on health measures, and I increasingly raise a question about some of the expectations, for instance, Federal MPs that come from Queensland that go to the ACT are now being expected to quarantine even though there aren’t any crises in the ACT, and now there’s this new standard, ah, being applied to the Prime Minister, and, I mean, I just want fair and consistent rules for everybody in the country.

KARVELAS: So, they are currently fair and consistent though, aren’t they? Obviously lots of people have to quarantine in Queensland.

WILSON: Well, people from the ACT are, but there’s an expectation that Federal MPs who go from Queensland to the ACT are now expected to quarantine, and so I know that Annastacia Palaszczuk is coming up to an election, I know the Prime Minister is very popular, um, there and I’ve no doubt this works very much in her political interest, but the focus should be on health measures on a health basis.

KARVELAS: So, okay, that’s one of the issues I talked about with Anne Aly. The other one is, of course, people, Australians who are stranded overseas, who are desperate to come home. Tim Wilson, given, clearly a lot of them want to get home and there seems to be bipartisan agreement that they should come home – they’re Australians and they want to come home, they should come home – why shouldn’t the Commonwealth look at opening up some of these other facilities, as has been suggested, for instance, by Mark McGowan today, to ensure that happens, given some states say they’re at capacity?

WILSON: Well, I just don’t accept that, you know, WA is at capacity at all, they’re accepting about 500 people per week. And I’ve gotta say I find it increasingly difficult to accept that the State Premiers are being sincere in their approach. We have Australians stuck overseas, I think it’s despicable that they’re being kept, uh, overseas when there’s more capacity in other states. Most of the people returning to Australia are coming through Sydney. Victorian, or Melbourne Airport, is offline entirely. And I think there is a capacity for the states to pick up their responsibility where… the issue is not getting the flights in, the issue is hotel quarantine at the standard and the security levels to make sure that people can properly quarantine and reintegrate into the community. And I think, um, frankly this is the WA Premier putting cheap populism against the interests of citizens returning to their home country.

KARVELAS: Tim Wilson, I’ll stay with you just on another question, just to sort of balance up the time that I give you. You’ve asked the Human Rights Commission to examine whether Victoria’s curfew is a violation of people’s rights and freedoms. Now, under the, the sort of coronavirus changes in many ways, lots of things are a violation, but the reason is, of course, that we’re all doing things collectively to get rid of the virus. Why would this be any different and have you received a response?

WILSON: The fundamental difference is between, uh, the measures that have a substantial basis and are justified under human rights principles, uh, you know, you can have measures that restrict people’s liberties so long as they’re reasonable, they’re necessary, they’re proportionate, there’s no less restrictive way to restrict them. The difference is we were told, uh, that a curfew is necessary on the basis of public health. The Chief Health Officer said he didn’t request it and it isn’t necessary for that purpose. Then we were told it was on the basis of public order. Then the chief of police came out and said, no it isn’t necessary for that either. So it’s been sold to us on a deception and now what I’ve asked the Australian Human Rights Commission, and more critically the Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, who’s responsible for looking at the measures introduced by the State Government, to simply review and assess, is it necessary, is it proportionate, is it reasonable and does it have a justification. I don’t think that’s unreasonable at all. Whereas the other measures did not raise the same problems, and anybody, if they came out and said let’s be clear, curfew doesn’t meet that test, Victorians would still be restricted to their homes for 23 hours a day and not able to travel more than five kilometres. They just wouldn’t be dictated to about when they could leave their homes.

KARVELAS: Anne Aly, you’re in WA, you don’t have these restrictions, I know you’re living your best life, as I like to say about people in Perth, with all your free movement and your bars and your restaurants, which I’m very happy that you get to do! But what do you think of what Tim Wilson’s put on the table there, that there is a restriction that does violate human rights?

ALY: Look, I’ll just clarify that I’m at home today because, I mean, I’m in isolation…

KARVELAS: Not living your best life.

ALY: …I had to have a COVID test on day 11 and so I’m waiting, I’m awaiting my results, so at the moment I feel what many Victorians feel in terms of not being able to leave their homes. I do want to say something about restrictions because we are in – and I know this term is bandied around a lot and I hate using it – but we are in extraordinary times, and what makes this particularly extraordinary is that we’ve securitised health, so we’ve taken a security response to what is essentially a health issue. Normally you would deal with health issues by changing health behaviours. We’ve done that by enforcing health behaviours, and in times of crisis, like this, the measurement of risk and the measurement of threat often does impinge on what we normally consider civil liberties, and in times like this civil liberties do tend to take a backseat to things like restrictions. I would say that the utmost and first priority for everyone is to keep Australians healthy and keep Australians safe. I think that, Tim, if you and your Government want to help Victorians, maybe you could lobby your Prime Minister – the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison – to do something for Victorians like, extending JobKeeper and JobSeeker, perhaps a more regimented and better approach to contact tracing. We heard with much fanfare the announcement of the COVID app and that’s been an abject failure. So there are other things that I think could be fruitfully done to ensure that Victoria gets out of restrictions as soon as possible.

KARVELAS: Tim Wilson, I’ll give you a right of reply there and then we have to wind up. There are some areas that, that might help Victorians, particularly Victorians that are about to see a cut to their JobKeeper for instance, but they’re still under restrictions.

WILSON: But this is, this is, just a farce politely, this is Anne trying to distract from the fundamental problems that we are facing here in Victoria. And the reality is 80 per cent of JobKeeper is now going to Victoria alone. We actually have offered consistently support with contact tracing, it’s been a failure at a State Government level and this is what is now coming out as part of the inquiry into, uh, the hotel quarantine system. The COVIDSafe app, I’m sorry, does work, it’s just that Victorians didn’t use it where they did in New South Wales. I know Anne likes to distract from these issues by making a cheap political point. What we actually want to do is focus on what we need to do to get Victoria back on its feet. I’m sorry, human rights do matter in this time. Just because we do care about safety and health and they’re very important, it doesn’t mean that we just discard liberties. This is just a fundamental flaw in the approach that our State Government has taken, they haven’t taken the approach which they should take, which is to accept that people are free and put restrictions in place necessary and proportionate, they start by locking things down and then deciding what it is they’re going to permit.

KARVELAS: All right we’re going to have to leave it there. Thank you to both of you. Bit of a shaky Skype line sometimes but I think we got there at the end. Thank you so much, Liberal MP Tim Wilson and Labor MP Anne Aly, who is not living her best life – hopefully she will be cleared of COVID though and be able to enjoy the freedom in Perth.