13 July 2021


SUBJECTS: JobKeeper lite; Sydney lockdown.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: And on the political panel Liberal MP Jason Falinski and Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones joining me. Welcome to both of you. And they’re both joining me from lockdown. Let’s start on this afternoon’s financial support announcement. Individuals who cannot work due to the lockdown will see their COVID-19 disaster payments increased by up to $100 a week to a maximum of $600. That’s below the minimum wage though. I’ll start with you, Stephen. What do you make of the package. Is it good enough? 

STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: I welcome an increase in the financial support for people who have lost their jobs or are about to lose their jobs. It is an admission that this thing is spiralling out of control. It’s also an admission that the support that was provided to Victoria when they were facing a similar situation a few months ago was inadequate and guided more by politics than the need of the population. I welcome some support. I don’t think it will be the last. I think we need to look at what’s going to happen in New South Wales over the coming weeks, and we’ll be urging the government to ratchet up support if it’s deemed to be necessary. But right now, Patricia, I think we’re on a knife edge. I think the financial support today is an admission by a very stubborn Prime Minister that his earlier pronouncements that they do nothing more were miscalibrated and that this has gotten out of control. We are on a knife edge. We’re nervous about where this goes over the next few days and for those of us in lockdown, even those of us on the edges of Greater Sydney, we’re deeply concerned about where it goes from here. 

KARVELAS: Jason, the disaster payment announced for workers in New South Wales is $150 less per worker a week than JobKeeper 12 months ago. It doesn’t guarantee that workers keep their jobs. Should there have been more safeguards in place, and shouldn’t the amount be what JobKeeper was at its peak? 

JASON FALINSKI: I don’t think so Patricia. I think the other thing that you’re leaving out is the cash flow booster for businesses, which is on the basis of them remaining or keeping their payroll and head count the same as it was pre-COVID. So I think this is a comprehensive package coming from both ends. But look, I have to say that I fundamentally disagree with what Stephen is saying. Large parts of Sydney, both he and I are in regions where there are zero cases. There are less than 5 active exposure sites and on the Northern Beaches, they were over a week ago. In fact, I think they were a week and a half ago. This thing is very localised. We need to target our support. We need to marshal our resources and get on top of it. 

KARVELAS: Okay, so last week you wanted the state government to better target the lockdown provisions and release the Northern Beaches and Central Coast from lockdown. Do you still feel that way? 

FALINSKI: And the Illawarra. I wanted to set Stephen free as well. 

KARVELAS: Look at you, so kind. But do you still have that view? 

FALINSKI: I think if anything my view has hardened. 

KARVELAS: How so? 

FALINSKI: The Financial Review... today had a very good graph of where the spread of these cases were. You know, two thirds to three quarters of the areas that are locked down at the moment have between zero and 10 cases. I understand the need for lockdowns. I understand the need for suppressing the virus. What I think though is the impact of them and the cost of that are huge, and we need to make sure we’re only doing it as a last resort, not a first resort. 

KARVELAS: Well Stephen, you heard there from Jason he wants to set you free too in the Illawarra because of low cases. 

FALINSKI: I know it makes me very unpopular with my colleagues. 

KARVELAS: Well Stephen, what do you think of that? You’re in a region, I’m sure some people in your region are kind of frustrated. What do you think? 

JONES: They’re deeply frustrated and I don’t think the New South Wales Government has done a good enough job of explaining why people on the very periphery, [like] Shellharbour where I’m from, why we are locked down. Whereas 30km up the road, another part of my electorate in the Southern Highlands is not locked down. There may be a good public health reason, and I want to be very clear that I actually support the lockdown, and I would support them going harder if need be. We’ve got 70 households in Victoria locked down today because somebody travelled or a couple of people travelled from Sydney to Melbourne. We’ve had cases in Goulburn. So for Jason to say that 15km is the CBD of Sydney should be excluded I think is a bit much. There needs to be greater explanation. I think the Premier needs to come to be upfront with the people in the peripheral regions such as mine, as to why we are included. If there’s a good public health reason for it to happen I think it should happen. Jason’s not alone. They’ve had Matt Canavan out there in the last 24 hours saying we should dispense with lockdowns. And I’ve got to say that from the very beginning there’s been two camps in all this. There’s been people on both sides who are willing to treat this seriously and put lives first and the public health stuff first, and basically the muppets who’ve been against any form of public health control and I’m disappointed that Jason finds himself in the second camp. 

KARVELAS: Jason - wait, let me speak. Jason doesn’t have the same position as Matt Canavan. He said he was against a lockdown at this stage full stop. That’s what I heard yesterday. I was a bit shocked too actually, given the Delta strain. What you’re saying, Jason, is you believe in localised lockdowns, but I do still want to challenge that view. Given there is a case that went to Goulburn… you’re not that far! I know Sydney really well having lived there, you’re not that far from where there are cases. You can’t really lock it down and be sure that this very very transmissible disease won’t flow into your area if you’re free. 

FALINSKI: But we did, PK. We did. Over Christmas and New Year we locked down my part of Sydney. I didn’t hear Stephen complaining then, I didn’t hear a lot of people complaining then. So if it was possible to lock it down and lock my area down for Christmas, and let’s be clear, there’s a lot of muddled thinking there and thought process from Stephen and I understand that on one hand he wants to have a go at me and on the other hand he doesn’t want to get on the wrong side of his community, but you know the lower North Shore, there are currently no cases. There is one exposure site from 9 days ago! Now I understand the need for lockdowns, I understand the need to suppress the virus, and I probably supported the two week lockdown while people got on top of what was happening and this is, but two weeks later, two and a half weeks later, we see areas like Illawarra, we see areas like the Central Coast, we see areas like the Lower North Shore or the Northern Beaches, whole bunch of places where there are zero cases. So what are we really suppressing at this point other than people’s personal freedoms? 

KARVELAS: Okay. I want to move to another issue… you can give a quick response please, because I do want to ask another question. 

FALINSKI: He’s never given a quick response in his life. 

KARVELAS: Well I’ve asked him to, let’s see if he can do it. 30 seconds, go. 

JONES: Fairy Meadow McDonald’s, there was a close contact there 24 hours ago. We’ve got people traveling to Melbourne, people traveling to Goulburn, people moving around the city. I’m not critical of them but they’re moving around the city and they’re taking the virus with them. I don’t want anyone in lockdown that shouldn’t be, but I don’t think we’re on top of this yet. Community transmission is still occurring and therefore we’ve got to be very very cautious about what we’re doing around the lockdowns and relieving it. 

KARVELAS: Just briefly, because I have my next guest waiting and I don’t want them to wait much longer. Jason, I know you’re in support of the Astra Zeneca vaccine. This afternoon the Government’s expert panel on vaccinations says young people in areas with COVID-19 cases who don’t have immediate access to Pfizer should consider Astra Zeneca. Now that might be the advice based on the changed risk but this is another piece of advice on this vaccine that’s bedevilled everyone. Is this just going to confuse people?

FALINSKI: PK, you are one of Australia’s best investigative journalists. I would love for you to get some of these people on your show and ask them why it is okay for women to take the pill every month when its risk factor is 10 times higher than Astra Zeneca? I don’t understand, you know, so many people globally have taken this vaccine, it’s worked well, it’s protecting people in the UK, in Europe, in parts of North America. It just seems confusing to me and a lot of other people. 

KARVELAS: What do you think? Are you happy about the changed advice there Stephen? It gives people the chance to get a jab in their arm, doesn’t it, if they’re in a place where COVID’s running. 

JONES: I agree with Jason, it’s been confusing. We’ve had a lot of mixed messages. That’s not a criticism of the expert panel. We’ve had a lot of confusing messages coming out of Government on this. I think it actually puts a spotlight on the fact that they’re worried. And they’re worried that the risk of catching COVID-19 and the health effects of that are actually greater than the risks associated with taking this vaccine. I think that’s what it’s an indication of which makes me very worried indeed.