Transcript - ABC Afternoon Briefing [2 September 2020]

September 02, 2020

SUBJECTS: COVID-19; State borders.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Time now for my political panel, Liberal MP Tim Wilson and Labor MP Anne Aly. I’ll start off with Tim because Anne Aly is still in a division, which is of course, you know, the way the Parliament works, as people know she’s got to be there. Tim, I want to start with you on the numbers that have come out today, and the point that Labor’s been making that, given the contraction in the economy – I mean this is, this is, a pretty horrific event, we haven’t seen anything like this since, what, 1974 at this level – that taking money out from JobKeeper for instance is the wrong time to do it. Now I know you’re going to say, yeah that was the right thing to do, but my question is different: do you think other stimulatory measures are needed in the budget, given the situation the economy finds itself in?

TIM WILSON: Well, firstly we need to recognise that while there’s been a significant drop in GDP there’s also been an increase in household income, and that’s because of the stimulatory measures that have been put in place to date. Now I think when we come up to the budget – and, you know, I don’t think we should get into specifics, this is up for the Treasurer to outline – but the focus of this government is going to be squarely on what we need to do to make jobs or create jobs for Australians. So, ah, will there be measures that will support certain sectors? I suspect there will be. Will there be measures that are designed very clearly, like the JobMaker plan to reskill Australians so they can be in a position to get jobs for the 21st century and that we can build an economy for the 21st century, not simply resuscitate the economy of the 20th century? I’m absolutely sure there will be and I’d support that. Now how it comes down to the targeted measures and what’s needed is what’s being decided now. But we’re looking very much at the circumstances we’re presented at, presented with, and seeing both the risks and the opportunity attached with it.

KARVELAS: Tim, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s commented on the Victorian lockdown saying the State’s Premier wanted to extend a health dictatorship by extending a state of emergency powers. Do you agree with that language?

WILSON: Well it’s not language I would use. What we know is the Victorian Premier has sought to extend the state of emergency which gives certain powers particularly to the Chief Health Officer for a further six months. My personal view is that there was, ah, there might be a case to extend it but it should be reviewed regularly by Parliament rather than just by the Minister, because it’s up to responsible legislators, responsible politicians and responsible premiers to, ah, to put the case forward about why the measures that they’re implementing are justified in the circumstances and constantly review them.

KARVELAS: But do you accept that in other states and territories, actually they don’t need to do this?  That Victoria was the anomaly?

WILSON: While I wholeheartedly accepted Victoria is in its own camp because we’re dealing with this Victorian-specific wave.

KARVELAS: No, no, but I’m talking about the actual powers, that they actually existed in other states. Victoria was seeking to actually create laws that were, like, you know, the laws in other states.

WILSON: Well no, we already had powers to declare a state of emergency. Ah, it was declared some time ago. The issue is how long it can operate.

KARVELAS: Yeah well that’s what I’m talking about.

WILSON: And I think, no, I think the powers should be reviewed regularly by the Parliament, because in the end we can never find ourselves in a situation where too much power goes into, to the hands of too few people. That’s why State Parliament should meet, it should review if the State Government’s getting it right, the State Government should justify and explain the measures, and it should be up to the Parliament to comfort itself –they are the elected representatives, that’s the point of a Parliament, to hold the executive to account, not just to hand over powers so that the State can operate at the whim of the Premier.

KARVELAS: Mr Abbott also said governments need to ask uncomfortable questions about the number of deaths they’re prepared to live with. Should that uncomfortable question be asked?

WILSON: Again, it’s not the way I would phrase it. I mean, we know that unfortunately, tragically, people died throughout the year even without COVID-19. And what we should be doing is looking at a balanced approach, recognising that we have the issues and the health costs of COVID-19, which are more than just deaths, but tragically there are deaths; we also have them associated with mental health issues, we have them associated with the consequences of delayed surgery and delayed identification of other health conditions. We’ve had 33 percent increase in the number of young Victorians who have found themselves committing self-harm. So, ah, you’ve got to look at a balanced approach and assess all of them and factor that into to thinking as a responsible government, about how to govern a state in a sustainable way. And I think that’s what’s really been missing is what’s sustainable.

KARVELAS: Anne Aly, I want to ask you the sustainable question, but you’ve just joined us, so I want to ask you the first question I asked Tim Wilson as well on JobKeeper – and I know Labor pursuing this issue in the Parliament in relation to JobKeeper being reduced. Clearly that’s what’s going to happen, so, do you think there should be other stimulatory measures looked at? What’s the answer rather than just sort of hammering this question – because you did vote through the reduction?

ALY: Yes, yeah, absolutely right. And I think, I think what’s important here is the question of timing, Patricia, because absolutely there’s no doubt that JobKeeper… we’ll have to transition away from JobKeeper. Sorry I’ve just lost the… here we go, wardrobe failure.

KARVELAS: No, you look fantastic! You always look fantastic, so now we can just look at how good your hair is. Anne Aly. I’m sure you don’t mind me saying that, I can get away with it, I think.

ALY: No not at all. I’ve gone back to au naturel too.

KARVELAS: One of the few people who probably can.

ALY: Okay. So, I think, you know, it really is a matter of timing, where right now we’ve just had these figures released, we’re in the largest recession in living, in living memory, really we need to be looking at the fact that it’s not the right time at the moment – with one million people unemployed, 400,000 more to be unemployed by Christmas. Is it the right time to withdraw JobKeeper? And, if JobKeeper is the centrepiece of the Government’s COVID economic, economic COVID response, then let’s focus on that. Let’s focus on: when is the right time to transition away from JobKeeper. Surely, surely, now is not the right time.

KARVELAS: And on that question in relation to Tony Abbott’s intervention, which has been well-publicised and saying that uncomfortable questions have to be asked around life, is he right? I mean it’s probably a pretty crass way of putting it. But is he right that those sorts of calculations need to be made?

ALY: Well I think it’s an incredibly crass way of putting it. I certainly did not put, take the very difficult decision of putting my father into an aged care facility to die, I put him there to live and I imagine that everybody who, who faces that decision of putting an elderly parent into an aged care facility does, does so with the same intentions. I think that the question of sustainability is an important question and if we have a look at the case of the Spanish flu, for example, that was an 18-month-long pandemic, and learning the lessons from the Spanish flu we should be planning for something with the COVID-19 that may well also last 18 months. But I am not prepared to accept that the death of even one person is a necessary death in this. I think that we should be all working towards a COVID-free future, and one where every person, every life, is valued, not just the one, the ones that Tony Abbott thinks are worth saving, and are worth valuing.

KARVELAS: Let’s just talk about National Cabinet, they’re working to define a Commonwealth hotspot. Tim Wilson, if I can bring you in, what does that mean? Because clearly some states don’t necessarily plan to be bound by it. Annastacia Palaszczuk, you know, says Queensland will do what’s right for their state. So are we going to see any outcome here? Is there really gonna be national unity around a hotspot and borders by Christmas?

WILSON: Well I certainly hope so, because this goes to the heart of having sustainable solutions to manage the challenge of COVID-19, in case it does go for 18 months or potentially longer, and potentially an environment where we may not have a vaccine for some time. So, uh, by getting the states together to come up with some sort of standard understanding about what measures are taken, at what time, in particular areas if there has been an outbreak, will be critical. But it’s also very important because what it provides is an opportunity to create controlled environments to then assess what measures may work, and weigh what work less, and be able to weight them against, and judge them against, competing approaches. So I think that the potential for using some sort of a hotspot standard definition is not just in the interests of the states and obviously the communities affected, but it’s actually in the interest of everybody to maintain a sense of control, and practical policy solutions to any targeted COVID-19 outbreak.

KARVELAS: Anne Aly, shouldn’t the states including your state of WA be bound to whatever this definition is – which might mean WA having to open up, for instance, to Queensland if it, if it’s not deemed a hotspot area?

ALY: I don’t accept that. I think the approach that the WA Premier has taken has fared really well – I mean his job is to look after Western Australians.

KARVELAS: But is it fair?

ALY: But no, also practically, Patricia, I mean, you look at, WA’s economy is recovering quite well, WA has been relatively COVID-free, life in WA is relatively normal – and this is due to the actions taken by Mark McGowan. His job is to look after WA. His job is to look after the health and wellbeing, as well as the economic wellbeing, of the Western Australian people. It is the Prime Minister’s job and the Federal Government’s job to look after the national issues. So I think that what we’ve got in WA is a great example of how well the border controls have worked. And I think that other states are looking to follow suit with WA. And perhaps there’s a question here, not so much around hotspots, but what have we been doing well so far? And certainly WA is an example about, of how well we’ve been doing.

KARVELAS: I have to say goodbye to you both, but thank you so much for joining us.

ALY: What a shame.

WILSON: Thanks PK. Say no to nativism.

ALY: Thank you!

KARVELAS: Liberal MP Tim Wilson and Labor MP Anne Aly there.