ABC NEWS AFTERNOON BRIEFING
MONDAY, 18 MAY 2020
SUBJECTS: State borders; Australia’s relationship with China; JobSeeker.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Time for my political panel. Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones and Liberal MP Andrew Laming join me. Welcome to both of you. Starting with you Andrew Laming, Queensland's Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette young says that Queensland will not be opening the border before July and Annastacia Palaszczuk, as we heard, said September is more realistic. Do you accept that that's what the medical advice is in the state of Queensland?
ANDREW LAMING, MEMBER FOR BOWMAN: Sure, we’ve go to unpick the health advice and remove the political overlay here. I was encouraged that the Premier's being driven by evidence. The Chief Health officer will be looking for two incubation periods and remember that that is 6.5 days [INAUDIBLE] is the absolute hundred percent certain number but the incubation period is a fair bit shorter than that and two of those incubation periods is about 21 days. The part I don't support is saying you're not going to review it for the next month. There's no evidence behind that whatsoever. These should be weekly reviews. And finally there may well be one case somewhere in New South Wales, for instance, it's not sufficient alone on that to close down a border. We may well elect to have a red zone where a particular area doesn't come across the state [INAUDIBLE]
KARVELAS: Having some trouble quite obviously there.
LAMING: I do fall with the New South Wales Premier.
KARVELAS: Okay. Sorry. I lost you for a second. But I've got your back Andrew Laming, so you agree with the New South Wales Premier. When do you think the Border should be reopened? What's your view? How soon do you think that should happen?
LAMING: I'm very encouraged that the Premier of Queensland is talking about two incubation periods. But that's around 21 days the viral incubation period is less than seven days, we just add on a tale of uncertainty. So I'd like to be reviewing it every fortnight and we can use evidence here on both sides of the border to resolve this, because ultimately it is about the economy and you're going to have that coming back, even if there is one case somewhere, as long as you've contact traced that case.
KARVELAS: Andrew just still briefly with you, you shared this photoshopped image of the Queensland Premier as a Nazi in a social media post. You were protesting these restrictions in Queensland. Do you regret doing this? You've issued I understand an apology on your Facebook. But did you think twice this is an inappropriate image to share it?
LAMING: Never once and it wasn't meant to be. This was purely about a US sit-com. [INAUDIBLE]
KARVELAS: Andrew Laming is having some issues there with his… just right on the key question, of course. Andrew Laming, why did you repost it? Didn't you know it was inappropriate?
LAMING: A hundred percent no. It was from a sitcom for the 1970's and that was the intention of which it was done. You've got to stick with the evidence, once a link is made to that part of history, of course, I apologise.
KARVELAS: Okay, you're still minimising it, aren't you? I mean there is a link to that part of history. That's inappropriate, isn't it?
LAMING: [INAUDIBLE]. This is a GIF that's been used millions of times.
KARVELAS: And are those millions of times inappropriate?
LAMING: No, of course not they've been used [INAUDIBLE]
KARVELAS: All right, Stephen Jones. I'll come to you.
LAMING: I accept and apologise.
KARVELAS: Okay, except and apologise. Stephen Jones to you and this war of words between the Premiers first. Do you think the Queensland border should be reopened earlier than potentially September?
JONES: I don't think I should be opened any earlier than it's safe. There's thousands and thousands of people here in New South Wales, as I'm sure there are in Victoria, who would love to head up north to Queensland to escape a bit of the winter down here. I think we've all got an obligation to be safe, to ensure that we don't jump in our cars or jump in an aeroplane and head up there any sooner than it's safe to do. If I've got a choice between taking the advice of a politician or taking the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Queensland on when that decision should be made, that’s not a very hard decision for me to make.
KARVELAS: Sure but the National Cabinet gave us a timeline for interstate travel. I studied it, I'm sure you have too. July is meant to be when that's resuming and yet what it looks like to us here now, based on what Annastacia Palaszczuk says, it could be even September. I mean that's a delay, isn't it? That's going to hurt businesses in Queensland. Is that really tenable?
JONES: 100% like I said, I want to ensure that we can be travelling as soon as possible. But we live in a federation. Queensland is a sovereign state, they take their health advice from the Chief Health Officer of Queensland and I think it would be in an equally extraordinary set of circumstances if the Chief Medical Officer of Queensland was giving the Queensland Premier some unequivocal advice about what was safe and right to do from a public health perspective and the Premier of Queensland, whoever he or she was, said; I don't care what that advice is, I'm going to ignore it, I'm going to do the opposite and open up our borders immediately, or from another said date. You can imagine what the outcry would be if that happened.
KARVELAS: Okay, so obviously we can't do any international travel. We've had restrictions eased. Isn't this issue around the economic scare, I mean you're in an economic portfolio. Millions of people have lost their jobs. We know that we've got potentially a mental health crisis on our hands. Isn't that an important consideration here too?
JONES: 100%, absolutely. I want to see people back at work. I want to see you all of our industries up and running as soon as possible and as soon as it's safe to do so. I guess the sad fact is that it's going to be safer in some areas, it's going to be safer in some regions and safer in some industries to get people back on the job, back working, than it is in others. If you're working in a manufacturing sector, if you're working in an office, it probably more likely is going to be a lot safer for you to get back to work sooner than it is if you're working in the hospitality industry and tourism sector, or in hotels, or pubs, or clubs. There's not an Australian, I am quite certain, there's not an Australian that wouldn't, if they had their druthers, said; right, tomorrow 9 am we switch it all on, we go back to the way life was before. Every one of us has in the back of our minds a concern that it would be absolutely devastating, from a health perspective, from an economic perspective, from a mental health perspective, if we switch everything back on this week and then in four weeks’ time, we've got to go to a second wave of lockdowns to meet a second wave of infections, As uncomfortable as it is, I think caution, I think risk management requires us to take a judicious approach.
KARVELAS: Andrew Laming when Marise Payne called for an inquiry, in April, into the origins of the coronavirus she said having the World Health Organization involved in the probe was a bit poacher and gamekeeper. But the motion wording allows for existing mechanisms within the World Health Organization to be involved in an independent probe. Is this a backtrack?
LAMING: I'd be fully confident with the World Health Assembly making this decision and the WHO being part of it as long as there were independent expert advice, Patricia. You remember it was about five weeks ago when on this very show, I was one of the first of two MPs to call for, at least China, to be fessing up on its early involvement and supporting developing economies now struggling with COVID. Very, very grateful and delighted Australia has led the way. It took a lot of courage, we put our trade at risk by doing it I think. But as I've said before like a horse and the rider over frozen lake we go cautiously forward but you've got to do the right thing. We must learn lessons out of COVID and Australia's put their hand up to make sure it happens.
KARVELAS: The motion does not specifically mention China or the city of Wuhan. Should it have?
LAMING: We don't want to inflammatory language or presumptive language. There's nothing about tiptoeing around China here. This is an inquiry into the origins of this pandemic and I'm happy if the words get us the outcome we want. I'm less worried about the words that take us into that investigation. I've trust we’re in the right direction. The wording’s appropriate. That's why you've got a hundred countries signed up and not two or three.
KARVELAS: On that issue, Stephen Jones, what do you make of this motion? Has Australia, will you give the government some credit, led the way that’s kind of lead it ultimately to this EU motion.
JONES: Patricia, there's only one side of this debate, we want an independent investigation into what's going on. It's not only in our national interests, it's in the interest of the international community.
KARVELAS: Sure and has Australia led the way here?
JONES: I think Australia is news done a good job. Yep. Credit to Scott Morrison. Okay, credit for Scott Morrison for saying we need an independent investigation. Absolutely, end of question, there's only one side of this.
KARVELAS: Okay, but yet one of your colleagues has said that Australia looked like it was playing deputy sheriff to the US. Do you see if that way?
JONES: I saw those comments. I understand what Andrew was saying and I don't think it is useful if we are seen as taking a position on an issue just because one of our international allies has taken that position. I think it's important that we explain our position out of our own national interest and I think, frankly, on this one there is only one side of the issue. Ask anybody, it doesn't make sense that we have an independent investigation into the origins of this virus and how it spread throughout the world. Every sensible person is going to say; absolutely, yes.
KARVELAS: Andrew, Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has said that this is a watered-down COVID-19 inquiry. I mean this is different to what you just said, but she's actually, you know on the Government side and get she's said that this is watered-down. Is it slightly watered-down?
LAMING: I'm not too sure of the context of her comments, Patricia, this is the first time that I've heard it, but I guess I answered this question by saying it's more important to get everyone on board, if it was watered-down, I'm not sure it was, with generally agreed language and to get it conclusion there than it is to come up with something that isn't water-down that maybe not even allow this inquiry to happen. I think we've taken quite a leap because it was the Prime Minister who set it, at least three weeks ago, and it was good to see Stephen to recognise that and we were held out a bit too dry, the media didn't dive in immediately, but they now have. I think that has supported that early move to ask for the inquiry. And you're right, in the middle of an emergency it's hard to do that kind of thing. But certainly now we're in a position where we need to have unanimity amongst member states and we're seeing that starting to occur. Let's find out tonight what happens.
KARVELAS: Before we get onto just a couple of other issues. I also want to touch, with you still Andrew Laming, on I know you put out a press release concerned that the closure of schools could lead to some consequences that you say a concerning including teenage pregnancy. Really, on what basis?
LAMING: I'm not the sub-editor of the Courier Mail so I don't write my headlines, unfortunately Patricia.
KARVELAS: Were you misquoted, or did you mention pregnancy?
LAMING: I've definitely said that the risks of dropping out of school was a series of elements which is well established in evidence. But my point is that many students are just clinging on to the last caboose in the train that is school education and you have hit major interruption of weeks that can become months. Then that is a bad thing. The sooner they get back to school the better. It's one of the few elements of sanity in the lives of many, many confused young adolescents. School is critical and I didn't want to underplay the fact that in my city one half of all vulnerable children that were surveyed by a community centre in my electorate had no connection to any home learning at all and that is a problem.
KARVELAS: I think we've got a bit of a moment on our hands. It's the first time we won't have daily briefings about coronavirus from the Chief Medical or the Deputy Medical officer. I think we're going to have them three times a week as my understanding which is significant. Firstly to you, Stephen Jones. It's a turning point in and of itself, isn't it? Doesn’t that demonstrate just how successful we've been at sort of smashing this virus.
JONES: Well, I hope that's what it demonstrates, Patricia. We want to see the economy following the health imperatives here. We want to ensure that we have done a good job. The states, the territories, the Commonwealth governments have done a good job of ensuring that we've got to the spread of the pandemic, at least in this first phase, under control. I don't think that what should follow is that we start getting relaxed and complacent and as I've got around a bit over the last 48 hours I've got to say I have been a bit concerned that there have been some evidence of people being a bit relaxed about some of those social distancing rules. I think it's important we've all got a responsibility to ensure that we both demonstrate and lead by example and I will say this, if the result of having a three times a week and not once a day briefing from the Chief Medical Officer is that we let our guard down on some of those public health measures than that will be a bad thing. If the result of that is that we just continue on maintaining our social discipline and that's fine.
KARVLEAS: Yeah, are you concerned, perhaps, also about like basic accountability, because obviously we have different things that emerge every single day. I know the National Cabinet’s not meeting until the end of May and equally we won't have daily briefings. Does that leave a bit of a vacuum in terms of being able to ask questions and you know hold people to account on the management of this virus?
JONES: I think it does and I said right at the very beginning of this, I think on your program Patricia, that it's important in a circumstance like this that we hear more from the science, more from the medical offices and less from the politicians. Of course, we need to be able to grill the politicians and keep them accountable for the decisions that they make. But it’s absolutely critical that we are hearing from the Chief Medical Officers of state and territories and the federal, particularly where there is an issue of contention or a disagreement. It's important that we're hearing from them directly, not meandered through others.
KARVELAS: Okay. So you prefer to have them every day, that's what you're telling me.
JONES: I prefer to have them as regularly as we need them.
KARVELAS: What is that, every day?
JONES: Well, I certainly haven't grown bored of hearing the evidence from the Chief Medical Officer on a daily basis. I think it's very good for the country.
KARVELAS: Andrew Laming, why should we go down to three times a week? I mean isn't it important for accountability that we're able to ask questions of these people?
LAMING: Well Patricia, you know how much a politician loves getting in front of a camera. At the moment whenever my street gets together just over here they know about Nick, Michael, Paul and Jenny and my little kids in are saying to me; just say what that Dr Brendan says. And have others decide to me; who's the Health Minister again? They all know their CMO. So it's been a real change here and I've got photos of the Deputy CMOs on the walls of my kids rooms, they put a helmet and a little crown on top of each one as they do their press conferences. So it's a little bit disturbing. Yeah absolutely running the show from a politician’s point of view, but I think the rest of the country is loving it.
KARVELAS: So you like to see them every day?
LAMING: Yes, I don't mind it. I think they're doing an awesome job. And it's fantastic we even added an extra Deputy Chief Medical Officer just last week. So this stage wait till we get through COVID. The more the better, the more often the better, it means the less of politicians.
KARVELAS: Alright. Yeah. Look, I agree with that. I like you both, I invited you both but I agree. Just very briefly and I'm sneaking this in because I do ask about this particular question. The unemployment benefit was doubled during the coronavirus pandemic period. Firstly to you Andrew Laming, do you really think it should go back at the end of this six-month period to that very low Newstart level?
LAMING: Well, it's going to be looked at according to how the economy is tracking, obviously, that's the plan at the moment. It would be really foolish of me to venture other ideas, but it was initially, when brought in, based on that science, Patricia, that the money directed to those who are most likely to spend and least likely to save have the greatest effect on the economy during a crisis and that was the rationale at the time. I still have to defend that and say that the people I speak to it still working very well.
KARVELAS: At that the doubled rate, is what you're saying?
LAMING: Yes, correct. That's right. And of course it will have to go back and I wouldn't venture changing dates at the moment. It's six months.
KARVELAS: Going back to that low level again, that low-level, not a sort of higher rate?
LAMING: That’s right, yes.
KARVELAS: You think that people can live on that if there's much higher levels of unemployment?
LAMING: Well, it won't be if the conditions are insufficient to go and get jobs. So what I've already said in the Fairfax press is that we'll be looking at things like hope, like the ANZ job index to make sure that when it goes back to normal, the circumstances around seeking work and securing work are also back to normal and that will be a decision for Government and the Opposition will have every right to critique that strategy.
KARVELAS: Alright. Nine press. just going to fact-check you there. I'll just quickly go to you, Stephen Jones, on that. What should that rate be? Labor doesn't think it should be doubled. So what should it be?
JONES: It’ll be an unmitigated disaster if the rate is reduced to $40 a day in September, when under every scenario unemployment is going to be closer to 10% than 5%. Unmitigated disaster. We think the Government should be looking very closely at what the evidence that in the submissions that ACOSS and others have been making. We think it would be economically, and on a humanitarian basis, completely irresponsible if people fall off a cliff in September.
KARVELAS: Thanks to both of you. It's been a great panel.