PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
THURSDAY, 3 JUNE 2021
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Labor welcomes any support for people who are struggling in Victoria in the face of this lockdown.
Though, let's be completely clear; the Prime Minister has been dragged kicking and screaming for his announcement today. The Prime Minister is continually playing catch up footy. Scott Morrison is always about the politics and as a result, events constantly lead the Prime Minister and not the other way around.
And of course, none of this would be happening in Victoria right now, but for the failure of Scott Morrison and his government to take responsibility for, and put in place, fit-for-purpose quarantine in this country. Because every person who does their quarantine in a fit-for-purpose facility makes our country safer.
And the danger associated with the painfully slow rollout of the vaccine in this country has been put into sharp relief by what's occurring in Victoria now. The moment that the Prime Minister said that this wasn't a race was the moment that Australia started losing. And so it's critical that Scott Morrison starts to take responsibility for his role in dealing with COVID-19.
It's critical that the Prime Minister starts to lead and it's critical that the Prime Minister starts to do his job.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks Richard. Victorians wouldn't be in this position were it not for the Prime Minister's failures on vaccines and quarantine.
This Prime minister's first instinct all throughout this week has been to try and duck responsibility for what's going on in Victoria and to try and duckshove responsibility to everybody else to assist Victorians through this really difficult period. This Prime Minister always wants to blame somebody else, he always wants to avoid responsibility, and we've seen that for much of the week. This Prime Minister's first instinct is always to hide and not to help, and that's what we saw once again this week.
Every day that this Prime Minister has delayed providing support to Victorians, has added to the anxiety and stress that millions of Victorians feel. Every day that he has delayed has added to their stressed rather than alleviated it.
Victorians won't forget that for much of this week the Prime Minister has said the reason not to step in and help has been because he didn't want it to be an incentive for communities to be locked down. How pathetic and cruel and out of touch this Prime Minister is to think that communities will lock themselves down as some kind of cash grab.
And what we've seen again today is that this Prime Minister is not genuinely on the side of Victorians. We have a Treasurer, which who is from Victoria, but not for Victorians. As Richard says, they've been dragged kicking and screaming to this outcome today. Their first instinct, their first preference was to avoid responsibility for what's going on in Victoria.
Now the budget assumes multiple lockdowns between now and the end of the year. This is a government which assumes that communities and economies will be locked down but takes all of this time for them to step in and help communities which have been impacted.
We won't have a first great economic recovery in this country without fewer lockdowns, and we won't have fewer lockdowns until the Prime Minister acknowledges and takes responsibility for his failures on vaccines and quarantine.
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGEING: Thanks Jim, thanks Richard. The Prime Minister himself said that he had two jobs this year. A speedy effective roll out of the vaccine and putting in place a safe national quarantine system. He’s failed on both. Over the course of this week, indeed, the last fortnight, we've seen more and more detail emerge in the Senate Estimates process about those failures.
I want to particularly talk about Scott Morrison's promise to vaccinate all aged care staff by Easter. We heard yesterday that as far back as February the Government was advised that their initial plan to vaccinate aged care staff by Easter was unachievable, it was impractical. But instead of putting in place an alternative plan, the Prime Minister simply told 360,000 hard-working aged care staff, you're on your own, you have to look after yourself. We've seen a couple of initiatives announced by the Government. First the so-called pop-up clinics for aged care staff, we were promised that there would be 13 of them across the country. There are currently only three and they're all in Sydney. Not much use to anyone outside of Sydney. We were also promised that there would be a contract for private providers again to go back into aged care facilities and vaccinate those hardworking staff. But we've heard this week that the tender for that process doesn't close until the 30th of June, almost halfway through winter. Steven Marshall, the Liberal premier of South Australia in the last couple of hours is only the latest premier to say he can no longer rely upon Scott Morrison to do his job and vaccinate aged care staff, they're going to have to step in. Scott Morrison has failed his promise to vaccinate aged care staff and yet again, the states are having to step in and fix up his mess.
The other job that Prime Minister Scott Morrison had was the quarantine system. Back in October he received a report from Jane Halton about what was necessary. We've had 21 breaches from hotel quarantine, just one this week and the breach from South Australia a couple of weeks ago that has led to this state-wide lockdown in Victoria. Steven Kennedy, the Treasury Secretary, as Jim said, gave evidence this week that the Treasury assumes that there will be a week-long lockdown every single month for the rest of the year.
Hotel quarantine is not fit for purpose. These facilities were built for tourism, not medical quarantine. The Prime Minister has to put in place a network of purpose-built facilities. How many more outbreaks from hotel quarantine and city-wide lockdowns do Australians have to endure before Scott Morrison just does his job and puts in place a safe national quarantine system?
JOURNALIST: What are your thoughts on the eligibility of these cash payments, including that it has to be a Commonwealth declared hotspot? Also another interesting one in terms of less than you have to have less than $10,000 in liquid assets.
CHALMERS: We'll go through the details of what's been announced today. We welcome in-principle that the government has finally, after days and days of delay, stepped in to do something for the workers, and small businesses are of Victoria.
But this is a government which has great difficulty actually implementing policies that they've announced. We’ll go through the details, including the eligibility for this payment. We’ll make our views known on that. But what we want to see is support for Victorian workers and small businesses flowing in the Victorian economy as soon as possible. This government has repeatedly had a problem of matching their announcements with delivery.
We hope that isn't the case this time, genuinely. I will go through the details and make sure that they are what Victorians would expect.
JOURNALIST: Jim, other disaster payments like fires are basically not means tested at all? Is your instinct on this that they've tried to make this very tight in terms of eligibility?
CHALMERS: Well, our instinct is to make sure that the dollars actually find their way into the pockets of Victorian workers. We will go through all of the details, we'll match it up against some of the other programs of assistance, and all of that work that you would expect from a responsible Opposition. We have been saying for some time now that the Prime Minister should stop avoiding responsibility here, given this lockdown is a consequence of his failures. We want to see that money flow as soon as possible, we'll go through the details to make sure that it does.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister's described this last announcement as fair, yet as we've heard, there's a long list of various eligibility components. On your first reading of it, is it accurate to describe it as fair?
CHALMERS: That's the Prime Minister's words, we'll go through it and come to a conclusion on it. But I think what is fair is that Victorians, who through no fault of their own, are facing a very difficult period because of a lockdown caused by Scott Morrison's failures on quarantine and vaccines. What is fair is to see money flow to workers and small businesses as soon as possible. We'll go through all of the details, all of the eligibility, and all of the rest of it, to make sure that this is the best package it can be.
JOURNALIST: Mr Butler, setting aside the suitability of hotels for quarantine, every major State has had leaks has and had outbreaks but it's only Victoria that seems to consistently need these longer lockdown to bring those outbreaks under control. Is it your view that there must be something else at play here, accepting that there are concerns about hotel quarantine? Should contact tracing be revisited? Is these concerns about people not heeding warnings to stay home when sick? Why is Victoria repeatedly having to go into these longer lockdowns?
BUTLER: There’s no evidence that there's anything particular about Victoria compared to any other State that's driven the length of this lockdown. As everyone knows I think now, the source of this outbreak is from a breach in hotel quarantine in South Australia. There's no evidence that the contract tracing regime in Victoria has not been working as you would expect and want, or not working as it would work in other States. You know, I think Victoria has had some very bad luck frankly, and the decisions to put the state and the latest decisions about extended lockdown arrangements have been taken on the basis of public health advice. I think all States have been acting on the basis of the health advice that is delivered based on the circumstances facing that particular state.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the parameters on this payment, for example that it must be longer than seven days, which obviously isn't going to apply to regional Victoria this time around, might inform or have an influence over the kinds of lockdown and health decisions that are made? For example, would someone be more or less likely to be put into lockdown given it had to reach that threshold?
CHALMERS: We don't buy for one minute the Prime Minister's argument that stepping in and helping communities in need is some sort of incentive to lockdown, whether it's to lockdown for a longer period or to lockdown in the first place. We don't buy that argument. Premiers, Governments of all political persuasions all around Australia, have been called on to make difficult decisions in the interests of their people. And we don't except that the support from the Federal Government, which is necessary in this case of course, determines or is in any way, some kind of incentive for some of those sorts of decisions. The thing about the seven days that the Government has been talking about, they are trying to retrofit an excuse for their inaction. And they're trying to make it seem like something changed in the last day or two that made them come to the table with some kind of government support. I'll tell you what changed in the last couple of days, this Prime Minister and this Treasurer saw a political problem that had to be managed, not at human costs that had to be avoided. And they've got form in this regard. When it comes to helping out Victorians, or to stepping in, whether it was bushfires or in some other way, this is a Prime Minister who sees political problems to be managed not human cost to the avoided. And that's why we're seeing what we're seeing today.
JOURNALIST: On that point, have you been briefed on why the health advice does not say that vaccination should be required for health and aged care workers at this stage? And do you welcome the fact that the Government is reconsidering that position?
BUTLER: I do welcome the fact that the Government has asked the relevant committee to reconsider that position. When the initial position was taken in January, my understanding is that it was based upon the state of the evidence at the time, about the impact of vaccines on transmissibility of the infection rather than protection of the person that had been vaccinated. Now, that was back in January. Since then, there's been a welter of additional clinical data and research, obviously, because we're almost at two billion doses of COVID vaccines around the world now, and I think it is time we got that committee to review the evidence and consider whether or not an alternative decision needs to be taken. We will await that and obviously consider it when it's realised.
JOURNALIST: On the point about the seven days, it may be one for Jim, I don't have the Treasury in front of me, but I think the Prime Minister literally said 'we think State Governments should be able to manage their own support systems for seven days', or eight days maybe until these payments kick in, but do think it's fair enough that a State Government should have to be able to, is able to pay for their own support for that first seven days?
CHALMERS: The point that I'm making is the Prime Minister was looking for an excuse for having done nothing for the first seven days. And we're talking about a lockdown, which comes as a consequence of the Prime Minister's failures on vaccines and quarantine. And so what he's doing now, he's trying to find some kind of distinction for what is now managing a political problem rather than dealing with a human problem.
JOURNALIST: From the broader point, the Budget does take into account I guess the assumption there will be some further short State-based lockdowns over the next year or so. We might be seeing this payment be used a couple of times over the next little while, we might see a couple of three, four or five, seven day lockdowns. Do you think State Governments should be able to pay for that?
CHALMERS: The Budget's assuming six one-week lockdowns between now and the end of the calendar year, as Mark said in his introduction a moment ago. Tt's for the Prime Minister determine how he's going to respond to that assumption in the Budget. I don't think the one week distinction that he's created today has been made for policy reasons, I think it's been made for political reasons.
JOURNALIST: Senate Estimates has delved into a shocking breach of privacy with the MyGov website to do with the National Redress Scheme. They've said that an internal investigation is underway. Do you think that's something more needs to be done, given that we saw approximately 10 or so breaches last year as well?
CHALMERS: This is an absolute disgrace and we need to see somebody held accountable for this in the Government. The Minister needs to come out and explain immediately how we can have this debacle where a very vulnerable Australian has had their details released to another Australian. I mean, this is completely unacceptable. This is a Government which can't seem to manage even the most basic issues, whether it's IT or the protection of people's information. This is a incredibly harrowing thing for this person to have gone through. We don't want to see the Prime Minister and his Cabinet fail to take responsibility for what has been a horrible breach here. Thanks very much