01 June 2021

SUBJECTS: Victorian lockdown
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: I'm going to bring in Labor’s Stephen Jones because that division is over and that's how we roll on this program when the politicians turn up. So Stephen Jones, you've heard the criticism there, pretty strong criticism I've got to say from Senator James Patterson from Victoria, saying that it's on the Victorian Government, they've pulled this policy lever this lockdown and in fact New South Wales doesn't do it. What's your reaction to that?
STEPHEN JONES:  Two things. Firstly, I can understand why James and others are very anxious to deflect responsibility away from themselves for their failure in standing up a quarantine system that was fit for purpose. We've had 12 months to do that. Failure, abject failure, haven't done it. And the failure of the vaccine rollout, described by health experts from my own region as a ticking time bomb but now looks like it's going to go off because they’ve failed in the rollout of the vaccine. So that's the first thing, I can understand why they want to deflect blame to everyone but themselves, but the fact is nobody's buying it. The fact is this is on them. Secondly, however, I mean as far as the difference between how New South Wales and Victoria has handled this, if Victoria was presented with the same set of problems as New South Wales where you had maybe a couple of dozen, maybe even up to a hundred, primary contacts, yeah limited restrictions as were applied over Christmas would be put into place. But you're looking at up to 10,000 primary contacts. And when you're faced with that sort of potential spread of the virus regrettably, if you want to keep a lid on it the sort of lockdowns that have been put in place, and agreed to by the Prime Minister by the way; the Prime Minister said in Question Time last week, I agree with what the Victorian Government has done, it is a sensible response to the health challenge that has been put in place. So maybe James disagrees with his own boss. I don't know. I can understand why they’re trying to reflect and deflect blame for this but it's actually not true when people aren't buying it.
KARVELAS: Well, you know, everyone's obviously got a bit of a different analysis on this panel. James, I do want to ask you again, you say when that, you know, that situation arose in New South Wales that they didn't go to this broad lockdown. We’ve got this Indian strain and 10,000 people that have been asked to, you know, stand down the numbers are different in the strain’s different, isn't it?
JAMES PATERSON, LIBERAL SENATOR: Well, Patricia to Stephen’s point and to your point, how do you get to 10,000 primary contacts? New South Wales could have had 10,000 primary contacts as well if they hadn't gotten top of it earlier with a really affected public health response and contact tracing. Anyone can get to 10,000 primary contacts if you let it run, if you don't get on top of it early, if you have failures of contact tracing and unfortunately in Victoria, maybe you could say this response to this lockdown was completely justified in perfectly understandable, fair enough. I'm not contesting that. But this is the fourth time we've had a lockdown in Victoria, and there does seem to be something different about Victoria. It has locked down repeatedly and it is now saying that it's the Federal Government's responsibility to bail it out from its multiple lockdowns when in fact the Federal Government has done more than anyone else to support Victorians, $46bn of support compared to just $13bn.
KARVELAS: Well, you've heard that argument being put by a Victorian Senator that the Federal Government shouldn't be bailing out Victoria. But Stephen, you think it is a Federal Government responsibility?
JONES: Can I go to that point? Firstly, there's been more Federal Government support go to New South Wales than Victoria. I don't begrudge a cent of that not because I'm from New South Wales but because I'm a member of the Australian Commonwealth. And one of the reasons we federated in the first place was to ensure that we could have the strength of a united commonwealth, enabling us to deal with the challenges of united commonwealth. And nothing is a challenge like a pandemic, the one we're dealing with at the moment. Try as you may, you can't get away from the fact that your vaccine rollout has failed and you haven't stood up a quarantine system which is fit for purpose. And that's the crux of the matter, that's why we've got this problem in aged care, that's why we've got this problem in Victoria at the moment because you haven't put up stood up a, this has all escaped from hotel quarantine. And I don't want to leave you with the impression that I thought think that hotel quarantine wasn't the right response 12 months ago. It was. When you needed to move quickly, absolutely use the vacancies in hotels to stand up a quarantine system. But we're nearly 18 months down the road now and we still have not put in place purpose-built quarantine services. It seems to me strange that if you want to bring a horse into the country, or a cat or a dog, they go into a Commonwealth built, Commonwealth run quarantine and biosecurity centre. But if you want to bring a human being into the country that's hotel quarantine and it's not a Commonwealth responsibility. That's bizarre.
KARVELAS: Yeah, we're not cats and dogs.  I’m going to fact check this moment and confirm we are not cats and dogs.
PATERSON: (indistinct)
JONES: That’s my point, we treat cats and dogs more importantly than human beings.
KARVELAS: We're not cats and dogs and James, put another question to you, please, let me before we say goodbye, which is you are clearly concerned about the fourth lockdown all the sort of, you know, multiple lockdowns in Victoria. If the Victorian Government pulls the lever and says they need to go for longer with a lockdown, do you think that would be the wrong decision for the state?
PATERSON: I'm not going to pre-empt any decision that they might make, and I do not have access to the public health briefings that they will be making in order to base that decision on it. But what I do know is that Victorians have suffered too many lockdowns for too long, and the Victorian Government has implicitly acknowledged their own responsibility in that by commissioning an inquiry into their own hotel quarantine failures last year. And it is having an enormous impact on Victorian citizens and small businesses who have suffered very much from this. And if the Victorian Government thinks that further lockdowns are necessary it is incumbent on them to provide the necessary economic and financial supports that Victorians may need to get through it.