04 May 2021

SUBJECTS: India travel ban; proxy advice rules
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST:  And now for my political panel, Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones and Nationals Senator Perin Davey. Welcome to both of you and starting with you if I can, Perin Davey, are you comfortable with the Indian border ban, Australians being stranded and facing jail or very heavy fines if they make it back home?
PERIN DAVEY: Look you know I definitely feel for all the people, the families of the people who may be caught up in this travel ban. It is devastating for all involved. However, we have to make sure that we don't it swamp our systems here onshore and that we are prepared for any increase in cases. We've done this before. In February last year, we banned all incoming travel from China and it was only once we had Howard Springs up and running that we bought back repatriated Australians from Wuhan. We, earlier this year, we saw bans from PNG. We’ve just got to make sure we've got the systems in place so that when we can reopen the flights from India, we are prepared and our systems can cope.
KARVELAS: If Australians die in the next couple of week, any Australian stranded there, does the Morrison Government has have blood on its hands?
DAVEY: Well, I, you know, I'd hate to think that anyone does die.
KARVELAS: But they could. The medical advice is that they could.
DAVEY:  People could die over in India. People could die here in, quarantine. People could die here in our communities. The fact of the matter is, this pandemic is relentless and it is throughout the world. People are struggling to cope with it as best they can. And our Government is committed to trying to keep our Australians here on shore as well as those overseas as safe as possible, without compromising our health systems to the point where it would exacerbate things.
KARVELAS: But we do you'd have to agree that there's a much higher risk of dying in India right now than there is an Australia, right?
DAVEY:  There is. And that's why we hope to live this temporary ban as soon as possible so that we can refocus our efforts on repatriating the Australians with a focus and a priority on those vulnerable Australians who registered with DFAT.
KARVELAS: Stephen Jones, is it a racist policy?
STEPHEN JONES: I think it's a dumb policy. I think it's over-reach. I think, you know there's a couple of things here. Firstly the criminalisation is just over-reach, it’s way over the top. The Prime Minister should come out today and say that no Australian will be subject to those criminal penalties in the way that they clearly said they would be in that midnight Friday press release.
KARVELAS: Wait, wait, let me interrupt you. He has said, what you're asking he's pretty much said. He said he doesn't, you know, want Australians going to jail or facing the heavy fines, so he's done that. Does that mean it should be over?
JONES: There's a couple of things here. The criminalisation of somebody exercising the rights that is clearly printed in the front of their Australian passport, this passport belongs to an Australian citizen, they'll be accorded the rights and protections of an Australian citizen anywhere around the world, they have effectively been denied those rights. That was wrong. It's a stain on the Government, it should never have happened. But secondly, the second point that I want to make, is in large part this is a problem of the Government's own making. They have ignored time and time again the criticisms right across the political spectrum, and from medical authorities, about the problems that we were having with our hotel quarantine. They have failed to put in place the appropriate surge facilities, for foreseeable circumstances like this which means we've got Australians, over 10,000 Australians, stranded in India. Their lives are at risk and they've been left in a very vulnerable situation because of the inaction and the inability of the Morrison government to listen, to reasonable expert, advice.
KARVELAS: Perin Davey, aren’t we at a point where the Government must make some surge capacity available immediately. Clearly, we're facing a surge of cases in India, so many Australians desperate to come home. Beyond the doubling of Howard Springs, don't we need some other processing centres which are within the same kind of model to try and deal with these increased cases?
DAVEY: Well, I hear often people saying that we've got capacity to implement surge facilities somewhere, but I'm yet to see anyone exactly say where. The proposals that are on the table both in Queensland and Victoria are proposals for new builds, so there's no way they would be ready, you know, within the week, the two weeks that people envisage. People say we should use defence facilities. I'm an ex Defence Force member, and I can tell you that those facilities are not designed for quarantine, they have communal bathrooms, communal dining halls. They not appropriate. And the other point we've got to consider, is whatever quarantine facilities we use need to be close to health facilities. We can't have a situation where you put people in a bus, truck them to regional New South Wales or regional Queensland and then you have a quarantine outbreak and you've got to truck them all back to the closest available hospital, that has the infrastructure and the resources to deal with the level of outbreak and the seriousness that covid is. So we need to consider all of those aspects. I know our Government is continuing to talk to both Queensland and Victorian Governments about their proposals. They have details that they're working through and we'll see what happens. But there is no overnight solution here that is ready to go and fit for purpose.
KARVELAS: Stephen Jones, is that right? There isn't something you can just kind of crank up within a week?
JONES: If covid commenced last night, the night before, last week, the month before the Senator might have a reasonable case. We have been dealing with this for well over 12 months. There has been a proposition from the Wagner family about a facility Toowoomba sitting on the Prime Minister's desk for over five months now. If that wasn't acceptable, if modifications were needed to it, they've had plenty of time to consider that. You've had, and this is about priorities, let's not forget they’re able to spend $185m to refurbish a Christmas Island Detention Center that was never used because that was a priority for them. But they have not in the midst of a pandemic, been able to stand up alternative quarantine facilities that are fit for purpose when it has been clear to everybody that the existing hotel quarantine, necessary in an emergency, necessary to do for a short-term period, but if this is going on for a long period of time as it is clear that is going to be, a more permanent proposition is needed. But the Prime Minister has stuck his head in a bucket of sand and denied his constitutional responsibility for quarantine. And those 10,000 people in India are paying the price of his inaction.
KARVELAS: Let's just go to some other issues. I've got a question for both of you, I'll start with you again, Stephen. you've taken issue with the treasurer's moved to force proxy advisors to split from superannuation funds. What are you worried about?
JONES: Look this is just revenge politics. And let's be very clear, you had the Ownership Matters organisation expose the extraordinary situation where over a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money was being paid to companies who are making ripper profits. In the next week, the Treasurer comes out and says, we're going to punish all of those firms who are proxy advisory firms by subjecting them to all these unheard of extraordinary new sets of regulations. This is revenge politics. The people who will suffer will be the people who are owning shares in those companies where company directors are doing the wrong things, either not letting their shareholders know what's going on or rewarding themselves too much when they don't deserve it. This is another example of the Government cutting down on transparency and punishing those people who disagree with them.