ABC AFTERNOON BRIEFING
MONDAY, 19 OCTOBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Federal Integrity Commission; Badgery’s Creek land deal scandal; covid health response.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Time now for my political panel, and it's a parliamentary sitting week, Senate estimates is on so lots of stuff going on. Shadow assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones and liberal MP Katie Allen, welcome to both of you.
STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good to be with you.
KATIE ALLEN, LIBERAL MP: Hi PK.
KARVELAS: Katie Allen, that was quite a revelation by Mike Pezzulo that this is actually so widespread that there were representations made even federally. Doesn't that just demonstrate that there is a sense of urgency around establishing a federal ICAC?
ALLEN: Look I'm very much a supporter of a federal ICAC, and there has been a lot of consultation going on. And there is a draft ICAC. It's actually called a Commonwealth Integrity Commission that's in preparation, as I understand it. It was put on hold because of covid, but I absolutely agree. I think the public want to see a properly organised Commonwealth Integrity Commission and that is in process and in fact money's been put aside in the budget with regards to moving some of these things forward.
KARVELAS: And would you agree that there's a sense of immediate urgency that this is established, a body with teeth, immediately. That there should be no more delay?
ALLEN: I think the issue here is the body with teeth. I think it's important that the Commonwealth Integrity Commission that's going to be put forward will have more powers, and more bite, than a Royal Commission. And I think that's what the public want to hear. I don't think we want to do it in a way that isn't going to be the proper commission for the long term, because we do know that getting the balance right is very, very important. And sometimes some of the state-based integrity commissions have caused some, you know real harm to individuals.
KARVELAS: Do you mean that some liberals have lost their jobs? What harm have they caused?
ALLEN: No, I think there's some evidence that some of the commissions have brought people forward and put them on public display. And it's very important that we get the balance of justice correct for the individuals who are, whether it's Labor, Liberal crossbenchers, that there's justice for the individual who's being assessed. But, of course most importantly is the integrity aspect for the Australian public. And that's what Australians want and demand and I'm a very big supporter of that.
KARVELAS: Stephen Jones?
JONES: Look what we've seen today is absolutely extraordinary. This morning we've heard in Senate estimates that the Australian Federal Police have launched a criminal investigation into the $30m Badgerys Creek sale scandal. This afternoon, we hear that there are investigations underway into the McGuire visa-for-cash affair. In the case of the former, the only reason we know about this is because the Auditor-General’s put a spotlight on it. The Government's response? Slash the funding of the Auditor-General. The Government has been promising for over three years now to do something about an ICAC. We don't buy the covid excuse. We think they should be able to walk and chew gum. It's high time that we had a federal integrity body. I started campaigning for this back in 2013. So we've been on it for quite some time. And if Katie's a supporter of it that's good to hear, but we know that she's in a minority in her party room.
Only this weekend we had the influential Sydney backbencher Jason Falinksi saying not only should the federal integrity body be dumped but there shouldn't be a New South Wales one as well. We've had former National party leader Barnaby Joyce saying over hell or high water. Will we have a federal integrity body while he's a member of parliament. So we can see the obstacle is not covid. The obstacle is the Coalition aren't supporting a federal integrity body while evidence of scandal and potential criminal behaviour just stacks up and up and up and the stench is overwhelming
KARVELAS: Katie Allen I want to change the conversation and talk about the roadmap that's been announced by the Premier in Victoria to get us out of these restrictions. Some really strong words that have been used, a war of words really, by the Treasurer of Josh Frydenberg and today the Premier in relation to coming out of these restrictions. Why is there such a partisan fight like this? Why is the Federal Government engaging in what looks like an argument with the Victorian Government on this?
ALLEN: Look, I think it's very important to realise that we are all Australians and the Victorian economy is a very important part of the Australian economy. In fact is 25 percent of Australia's GDP, and I certainly am being you know lobbied hugely by my local constituents of why isn't the Federal Government doing something? And I say to them look the state of Victoria is in control of these decisions. And so I'm being lobbied to bear my influence to make sure that there is balance bought into what's happening in Victoria. There's kind of a sense that after a hundred days of Premier Andrews coming out day after day that he's almost lost perspective. We've lost the balance. And you know, not only individuals concerned but businesses are concerned as well.
KARVELAS: Sure, there's no doubt that they’re concerned. I don't mean to be rude and interrupt. There's no doubt there's concern. We all know this. Anyone who lives in Melbourne knows people want to run up their businesses are very concerned. But then there's the science, right? And clearly it's not just the same as New South Wales. Would you agree that there's no doubt probably more covid running through the community in Victoria during that, given that high watermark of over 700 cases, wouldn't you say that more caution is necessary?
ALLEN: If you know something that I don't know then then please let us know. If there's something that Premier Andrews is letting you know that he's not letting the rest of the population know, because the rolling average is very low …
KARVELAS: No, no, no Katie Allen. I'm going to be clear on this, if I could explain because you've just said, you've just suggested that Premier Andrews just told me something which has clearly not happened, right? What I'm talking about is, you're an epidemiologist as you've told me before. Do you think the likelihood is that there is more covid in than the Victorian community and therefore an exit has to be really cautious than perhaps a New South Wales?
ALLEN: Well, I'm an empiricist and if there's data out there then I would like to see it. That it is, you know, we've come off the top of the peak. We are now down to less than a 10-day, 14-day, sorry less than ten cases, 14-day rolling average and less than 2, 3 day rolling average. So the evidence is that we have, you know, a very small a number of cases. So just because we've had cases doesn't mean we do have cases, let's be clear. I think would be fair enough to say the things that people might be concerned about is the quality of the test and tracing and that is because in the past the Victorian Government wasn't delivering that service adequately. Now, I believe, and they tell us that they are now. That is true. We are not absolutely 100% sure that their test and tracing is up to scratch and up to the New South Wales Government’s level. But it has to be tested. We cannot wait, hoping that maybe someone will work out what's gone wrong and let's move forward. We actually have to have listened to New South Wales expertise and we know that the Victorian Government has sent a team up to New South Wales to find out what's the best way to do testing and tracing. We understand it's now being digitalised. We now know that there's more resources being thrown at this, and we have got control of the cases. So we can't just wait huddled in fear that maybe the cases will reactivate. The most important thing is how we got the defence system in place. And I've always said from the very start if the defence system for covid is in place, then we should open up the economy. That is the point of having the defence systems in place. It's a safety net and what we need to do is to test carefully that safety net. And there are concerns that we are doing it too slowly. And in the meantime, the unintended consequences, the economic and mental health unintended consequences, are immense. So we want Premier Andrews to be confident about the steps and the way forward and to provide that confidence and hope for Victorians, because I can tell you they are losing patience.
KARVELAS: I don't doubt that. That's absolutely very evident to me, that there is a lot of people are very frustrated in Victoria, would not contest that. Stephen Jones, you're in New South Wales where you are pretty much operating freely. That's where your electorate is. And yet, we know that the case numbers are really much of a muchness, quite similar between the New South Wales and Victoria now. Shouldn't Victoria, I mean you're in an economic portfolio, be opened up now?
JONES: Look a couple of things. I think at the end of the day what we're talking about is the difference between 10 days, 15 days …
KARVELAS: Makes a lot of difference to people who’ve been out of work for a number of months now though, doesn't it?
ALLEN: A thousand jobs a week.
JONES: I just want to finish this sentence. I always feel a bit of trepidation as a bloke from Wollongong in New South Wales talking to two Victorians about the impact of the lockdown. I know that they have had an enormous personal toll. But our job as leaders is, we've got a choice. We can focus on the sacrifice. Or we can focus on the objective and the goal. And I choose to focus on the objective and the goal. And I just want to make two points. Last week the Reserve Bank Governor gave an important speech where he said the economic solution is the health solution. There is no sustainable economic solution unless people have confidence that the health trajectory is in hand. And as we sit in Australia, we look to the rest of the world. We see Madrid, we see London, we see Paris we see most of the United States of America and then we see the way we're bringing down the cases here in New South Wales and Victoria we say, for whatever the sacrifices we've got a much better approach here in Australia than the one that is being taken in those other countries overseas, which is having devastating economic impacts as well. We're talking about it. I know at the risk of again triggering people who have who are doing it really, really, really tough. I think the argument is over a couple of days here, not over whether we're still doing this in January next year.
ALLEN: Can I just argue that point actually? Because it's very important that people outside Victoria don't understand that what we feel is happening is that a Premier is not telling us that he's driving for elimination. And that elimination strategy is not a strategy that's been agreed by the National Cabinet. It’s not a strategy that's been agreed to by the AHPPC. He's not letting us in on what his strategy is. I want to know, why is he driving for zero?
KARVELAS: I’ve got to, he says he’s not driving for zero. He’s not saying that.
ALLEN: I know but he doesn’t sounds that way. That’s the irony.
KARVELAS: But I have to challenge you just on the facts. Which is today, hairdressers opened, right? And we've got four cases. Is he really striving for elimination? I'm not sure how that marries up.
ALLEN: In the US there were two hairdressers who both had covid, and they saw 153 clients and they didn't give covid to those clients. So we know there's lots of ways of being very careful with covid safe, a covid safe approach. And we know that businesses are very good at applying that covid safe approach. So we know that the most important public health initiative that has been undertaken by this country which has stopped the covid pandemic from having an absolute effect, like carnage, like other countries is our quarantining in the first instance and closing our borders internationally to the hot spots. That is actually been the most powerful thing we have done from a public health point of view.
JONES: Together with the social distancing, together with the PPE.
ALLEN: No, the second thing, the second thing is the testing and tracing when cases get through quarantining, which again failed in Victoria. The third thing as a third layer of defence is PPE and is physical distancing and hand hygiene. But we know, public health experts know, you never get 100% guaranteed that people will do absolutely everything that you asked them to do. That's why you have to model for small mistakes that people make. If you get on a plane people, we know that people leave their phone on even though they're told to turn it off. That modelling is put into any risk assessment for a plane and the same is true from a public health point of view. We never get 100% mandatory mask-wearing.
JONES: And Boris Johnson said all those things as well, and they've seen their case numbers jump up to where they were pre the first wave. And what we’ve had now is an economic and social disaster and no one wants to see that.