Transcript - Afternoon Briefing [9 June 2021]

09 June 2021

Subject/s: Victoria lockdown; Biloela family; national security.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, Host: Time for my political panel now. Liberal MP Tim Wilson and Labor MP and Anne Aly. Welcome to both of you.

ANNE ALY: Thank you PK.

TIM WILSON: Thank you for having us Patricia.

KARVELAS: Let's start off on this breaking news of a COVID case in Queensland on the Sunshine Coast. Tim, you must be concerned, as I am, about this couple from Melbourne that went to the Sunshine Coast, obviously, to, you know, avoid lockdown in Melbourne. And it seems now there's a case. What do you make of it?

WILSON: Well, I don't want to confirm anything because I don't have the information. But, of course, if that is to be the case, then people have broken the rules. And I think it's very serious. I mean, the reality is any state that has been or any part of the country that's been COVID-19 free for a prolonged period, we want to keep it that way. And of course, Victoria had to go through a number of lockdowns over recent months and over the past year because there have been leaks. But we don't want to visit that on the rest of the country. And we can only implore everybody to show responsibility in their decision making and be mindful that their decisions can actually impact not just the whole state, but, of course, if it spread undetected, can lead to significant policy responses which cost people their lives and their livelihoods.

KARVELAS: Doesn't it demonstrate, though, Tim, that a hard border works? Clearly? I mean, the hard border obviously would have would have been able to reject these people, but relying on trust means that they got through, right?

WILSON: Well, the Queensland has had border measures against Victorians being able to enter, but we also need to assess it against an environment of risk and managing the full consequences of measures that are being taken. But the first base of any measure starts with your responsibility to protect citizens, to get tested and to follow the rules.

KARVELAS: Yeah, what do you think Dr Anne Aly? And. I mean, obviously, this is just breaking this afternoon. We know a woman has COVID-19. She's from Victoria. Now, they're trying to see if there's been any spread in Queensland, but it does require obviously high civic duty, doesn't it? And not everyone always wants to play by the rules and we'll find out more about this. But that's the issue, isn't it?

ALY: Yeah, you're right, Patricia. We don't have all the information on this. But from the start, this has relied heavily on human behaviour, on people undertaking those health behaviours, social distancing, locking down, abiding by those rules, wearing masks and so on. You know, this is the new normal. You know, while we see every day something new comes up, the fact is that it is a new normal and something that we have to expect that we’ll be living with for at least another year or so at the very at the very earliest another year or so. And the fact is that we're not going to get over this until we have a comprehensive vaccine program and a comprehensive quarantine program that works.

KARVELAS: Tim Wilson, let's talk about the easing of restrictions in Victoria. Do you think these changes are about right?

WILSON: It's difficult to assess because, of course, we're still going through a process of learning. But I think the end of the lockdown is extremely welcome because there are a lot of people, small businesses, casual workers, and, of course, many people who have been locked down for long periods of time and again, denied lives, livelihoods, as well as their capacity to be able to go and live out their lives. The question really is how long these measures are going to be in place. I think people fully accept the fact that lockdown measures will be phased out. But if they're deemed to be going on longer than is necessary, then I think we'll build a sense of resentment. In addition to that, the state government needs to be much clearer and owes it to the public, I think, to build confidence that they can follow up on cases if they emerge and unless there is a significant outbreak that the first resort won't be locked down will be to try. It'll be rely on contact tracing to identify cases where they occur and to make sure that people are supported throughout that process.

KARVELAS: But just follow up on that. I mean, should people be able to visit other people's homes, it’s zero visitors still?

WILSON: Well, I think that doesn't acknowledge the fact that I think people in single bubbles are able to do so. So that's why it comes back to how long is this going to go for. The initial read is at least that there are going to be measures over the long weekend, the long weekend come up. I can understand at least partly why that is the case, to make sure that people in metropolitan Melbourne who may be at risk of transmission may end up going to rural and regional areas and broadening the risk profile. But I would have thought by the end of this long weekend, if we're staying at very low cases or no cases, that we should be able to move to another transition phase.

KARVELAS: Dr Anne Aly, Victoria's acting premier says he understands the federal government's COVID-19 disaster payment will stop once the lockdown ends on Friday. But then there are the industries, like gyms, there are other restrictions. It's not like the lockdown goes off. It's still like a partial lockdown in some ways. So what does that mean for the way that these things should work?

ALY: Well, I think there needs to be a much more nuanced approach to this, Patricia. And I've said that before. I think the last time that I was on the show, it was a point where Scott Morrison was refusing to give any payments to Victorians at that time. And that quickly changed. And they introduced that payment within, I think, hours of the last time that you and I spoke on the show last week. The fact is, even with the 25-kilometre bubble, people who have to travel beyond 25 kilometres to their work are locked out of that as well. So there needs to be a phasing out of that in a way that still looks after those who can't get to work, who, for example, work in the entertainment or in the gym industry or in industries which are still affected by the lockdown even as it eases. So I think there needs to be a much more nuanced way of dealing with this.

KARVELAS: Tim, do you think there should be a more nuanced way of dealing with this? Because it's true, right? Look, not all businesses can reopen Friday. It's not a free for all. There's actually a lot of restrictions on businesses still.

WILSON: Well, I'm not sure what nuance you're asking about, whether you're asking about the rules which have been imposed.

KARVELAS: Let me ask, I'll be really specific. So you are a casual worker that works at a gym and the gym can't open on Friday. Should the federal government be giving you an ongoing payment?

WILSON: Well, actually, I think the state government needs to stand up and take responsibility for the measures that it's implementing. And that's critical because the response of the state government so often has been to go to lockdown first and think about the human costs outside of COVID-19 last. And so I think they need to take a bit of responsibility. The Commonwealth has spent three times the amount of money supporting Victorians than the state government has spent. And even after this most recent lockdown, all they've offered is two thousand dollars to some small businesses, which frankly won't even cover the increase in the land tax. They recently wacked on small business. So a genuine system of understanding the costs and consequences of lockdowns starts with the accepting that there will be public health benefits from certain measures taken to restrict the transmission of the virus, but trade off with financial support to those who are directly affected and of course, mental health support, which is also very important. And we know that there's been a massive spike in number of Victorians have required mental health support in this time, as well as delays in surgery and everything else that flows from it.

KARVELAS: OK, Anne Aly, just a response on that, that it should be it should be state governments that if they're continuing to impose restrictions, should deal with the consequences of that.

ALY: Oh, I'm going to pick-up Tim on something there because he said assessing the human cost of COVID-19, the human cost of COVID-19 is the loss of lives. And, you know, if the health advice is that you go into lockdown, then that should be the advice that's followed. What Tim is talking about is the economic costs, which is not the human costs. The human costs is loss of lives.

WILSON: Sorry, politely that is completely rubbish. There are human cost both economically and physical, and they both need to be assessed against the consequences.


KARVELAS: Anne Aly, what do you make of that? Because there obviously are costs. It's a continuum, right? Death is the most serious in my view. There is no debate about it. But there are other costs obviously linked to COVID-19. And in any way we make decisions.

ALY: Oh, certainly there are. But which one should we be actioning on first? Right. So, you know, you have an outbreak of COVID-19. Do you think about the economic costs first or do you think about the fact that you might have an outbreak which results in deaths first and take the health advice, which is to lock down? Yeah, I think you should follow the health advice and take those measures that are going to prevent the outbreak from resulting in the kinds of deaths that we've seen and fatalities that we've seen in other countries. We've been hugely successful as a nation so far in that and that's what has kept us successful, is the fact that we've taken on health advice and taken on those measures. Yes, it does come at an economic cost. And Tim, I agree with you about other human costs like mental health. I've got a son and a daughter in law who live in Melbourne. And I know that from them how really difficult it's been for them and for all people who live in Victoria over the past year or so with the with the consistent lockdown's. Coming back to the point of whether the state government or the federal government should be responsible for the payments. You know, I think they need to work both hand in hand. To date, the federal government has been the the government that has taken the responsibility of making those payments. Why should that discontinue?

KARVELAS: Oh, well, yeah, OK. Well, they they're going to be paying during lockdown, but then this is now not considered a lockdown. So let's just park that issue. I just want to get your quick views. Starting with you, Tim Wilson, on this Biloela family that we've been reporting on for several days now, would you like to see them resettled into Australia? Should ministerial discretion be used?

WILSON: Well, I don't know the full facts of the individual case, but I know the independent courts have consistently found that the family doesn't meet the standards for resettlement as refugees. And so what I think is most important at this time is that if, as we understand, there's one of those family members that needs significant health care, that they should get that health care and that independent courts, not politicians, should be the basis of making decisions about whether people are refugees.

KARVELAS: As you know, the immigration minister has that power.

WILSON: I know. But indeed and but it follows independent courts making decisions, assessing whether they're refugees or not. And I've always believed that independent courts are the best agents to ultimately make those decisions.

KARVELAS: Why not get rid of ministerial discretion altogether?

WILSON: Well, at ministerial discretion has had a lot of the immigration space depending on changing circumstances. And again, there are a lot of people who are offering comment, and I understand why and have a lot of emotion and empathy for the circumstances. But the matter is currently before the court. My main concern is to make sure that they have access to the health services they need because it's and there are good quality health services on Christmas Island. I understand one of the individuals now being moved to the mainland to access further health services. And I hope they get every bit of health assistance they need.

KARVELAS: Anne Aly, I’ll get your response on that.

ALY: The right thing to do is to bring them home to Biloela. You have two little girls, Kopika and Tharunicaa, who were born in Australia. You have a situation where this little girl, three-year-old girl was given, did not have the medical attention that she needed for 10 days. She's now in a really dire situation in Perth. It is just inhumane to imprison this family who have been such an asset to their community. You have so many Australians who recognise that this is a humanitarian situation. All the minister needs to do is to use her discretion and bring them home.

KARVELAS: Just finally, with you Anne, the Prime Minister's accused Labor of opposing increased surveillance powers after police revealed major international organised crime scene yesterday. Why is Labor doing that?

ALY: We're not. You know, I find it really, really disturbing that the Prime Minister would undermine the bipartisanship of the PJCIS, the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security, of which both Tim and I are members. And Tim can vouch for the fact that committee works in a very bipartisan matter. The fact is that we haven't had the hearings for some of those bills, one of those bills. On another one of those bills we have just completed a bipartisan report on that bill. And on the third bill, it's languishing in parliament because the government won't take it, won't do the work that's necessary to take it to the Senate. So, yeah, I find it really disturbing that the Prime Minister would use cheap political points to undermine national security.

KARVELAS: OK, Tim Wilson, I have to ask you because Anne says, you know, you're on this committee, is the Prime Minister using cheap political points?

WILSON: I don’t think so. The Prime Minister is highlighting ongoing issues around the national security framework. But of course, I stand by the reports that have my name. And, of course, the legislation will progress through the parliament.

KARVELAS: Is Labor participating? That’s what I’m working with.

WILSON: I mean, there's some things within the realms of committees where we're not appropriately allowed to comment. I'm not saying that everything goes through as fast as I'd like to see that to be the case. But in the end, I work as a member of the PJCIS to work to get legislation through the parliament as swiftly as possible. And I will always welcome the opportunity for the opposition to be part of that conversation in the interests of both national security, but also in confidence in legislation that the government is trying to get through the parliament.

KARVELAS: Ok, we’re out of time. Thanks to both of you. Liberal MP Tim Wilson and Labor MP Anne Aly there.