24 August 2021


SUBJECTS: Covid lockdowns; Kabul evacuation.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Time now for my political panel, Liberal MP Jason Falinski and Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones. Welcome to both of you.

Hey, good to be with you. G’day Jason.


KARVELAS: Let's start on, I don’t know, what do you think? Covid? Let's do covid!

JONES: Let’s do something different.

FALINSKI: I thought you were calling to wish me a happy birthday.

KARVELAS: All right, huge confusion around the country around reopening and relaxing restrictions, when that should happen. The states are clearly breaking away from, well, the Federal Government's national plan or what they thought they everyone signed up to. Stephen, just beginning with you, why are we seeing these fractures?

JONES: Look at the quite understandable from the Queensland or the WA perspective. They've got little or no covid there. They're enjoying the sorts of freedoms that people like you and me and Jason and in Victoria could only could only envy and hope for and hope we get back to very soon. So I can understand they've had a pretty good run of it, not many lockdowns if any, and they will not hang on to that.

KARVELAS: Sure but is that realistic? I mean, covid’s around the world.

JONES: Yeah, to your point, I don't think there's any disagreement that people want to end lockdowns. I don't think there's any disagreement that people want to do that in a way that's safe and sustainable and I think that's what everyone's getting back to. And I heard you discussing this, and I've heard the Prime Minister today trying to fit Labor up with, you know, being on the side a lockdowns. Frankly, these are Scott Morrison's lockdowns. We're not barracking for them. We don't want to be there any longer than we absolutely have to. So we can put all of that aside, let's make sure it's safe and sustainable. High vaccination levels. Get the community controls in place.

KARVELAS: I just want to challenge you on Scott Morrison's lockdowns, which is obviously a huge politicisation. It shouldn't be surprising. This is a political panel. But that the idea that he owns these lockdowns. Even if we're on track at the kind of vaccination levels we would have liked to be at, we’d still, even if you look at the Doherty modelling, there’d still be a case for some lockdowns. So how does he own the lockdown?

JONES: Because you didn't do his job on the quarantine system and he didn’t do his job on the vaccine roll out.

KARVELAS: On that question of even if the vaccine rollout was on track, you'd still be in a situation where lockdowns would necessary.

JONES: Yeah look fair point, but we've been a lot stronger position. For example, in Western New South Wales we wouldn't have the crisis that is beckoning with indigenous communities west of Dubbo. We’d be in a lot stronger position there. We'd been a lot stronger position with our people with disabilities who have still not yet had rollouts in some of these most vulnerable communities. So the point I'm making is that we'd be in a lot stronger position to deal with the crises that are now confronting Us in New South Wales, in the ACT and in Victoria.

KARVELAS: Jason, obviously you know many people are frustrated by the speed of the vaccine rollout. We’re still a real long way away, if you look at the national story, from vaccinations. What do you want to happen on Friday or whenever the New South Wales Premier makes her announcement about some lifting or some easing of restrictions? What do you anticipate or what would you like to see?

FALINSKI: Look, what I what I anticipate is that they'll be some lifting around things like hairdressers. She's pretty much indicated that. What I'd like to see is children back at school.

JONES: I completely agree.

FALINKSI: I think that is actually the critical thing that we need to see. You ask me what I want. That's what I would like to see on Friday. In terms of the vaccine roll out, well, you know, we're now rolling out vaccines faster than anyone else did in the world. Yes, we started off slowly. We all know the issues around that. It is important I think that when states reach that magic figure of 70 or 80%, that they're not held back by premiers who want to turn Australia into some sort of kingdom of Narnia with its hundred year winter.

KARVELAS: Okay. Narnia Kingdom. Okay. Stephen?

JONES: Look, we've gone from The Croods to people hiding in the wardrobe. The imagery is just baffling today. Get back to subject. If you're a citizen, if you're a small business. I’m with you on the need for a haircut, Jason, all right? But if you're a small business operating or a pub owner or a club owner in Western Australia or Queensland, you'd be saying, well, we're doing all right at the moment. And yes, we know I can't be like this forever. Yes, we know we're going to have to lift the international and the national border restrictions. But for God's sake, can we do it in a way that is safe, sustainable and manageable? And if you're looking south from Brisbane at the moment into New South Wales, you're not seeing safe, sustainable and manageable. You’re seeing a bin fire. And I can understand why they are very, very nervous about signing up to the Prime Minister's plan about letting things rip.

KARVELAS: Jason, let me ask the question, I spoke to Marylouise McLaws, Professor Marylouise McClaws, in the program before. She, like many others, has pointed out that that includes a higher proportion of single vaccinations and many young people weren't eligible for the vaccine and that's what concerns her when you talk about getting to this point. That's right, isn't it? That's the risk?

FALINSKI: Well, then you've also spoken to Tony Blakely and Peter Collignon and they have made other points and different points to Marylouise McClaw. I’d say Mary, Professor McClaw, has a particular view on this that is not in line with a lot of other people, including the Doherty Institute. But what I would say to Jonesy on this is that where you end up with is that what Queensland and WA are doing at the moment is not sustainable. Because once you even get to vaccination rates of 70 or 80%, you are still going to have instances and cases of covid-19 in the community. The point of high vaccination rates is not the elimination of covid-19. It is allowing us to live with it in the community.

JONES: Yeah, I agree.

FALINSKI: What is going on in Queensland and WA at the moment and for that matter, South Australia. Sorry Jonesy, it's my birthday, mate.

JONES: I’m not disagreeing with you on that fundamental point. I'm not disagreeing with you. For the life of me, I can't see anyone saying we never want to leave Queensland and we never want our international tourism industry to open up again.

FALINSKI: Well there are two people. The Premier’s locked up …

KARVELAS: One at a time, one at a time. It’s very hard to hear for people. Stephen, finish up.

JONES: The thing that we agree on, the thing that Jason and I agree on, is that where we're living, and where we are at the moment is absolutely not sustainable. Nobody wants to live like this forever. Where there appears to be some disagreement, around the edges I would argue, is what the trigger point for opening up our international and then our state borders are. I think that's where the disagreement is. Not whether, you know, we think when we get 80% or above of the whole state population, we have to go into a lockdown again. Everybody agrees on that. But what understandably, some of the Premiers are saying is if a co-worker at 90%, say 80%. Let's keep it easy, 80% vaccination rate. We've got hardly any covid circulating. There's a bin fire going on in New South Wales. We're very nervous about opening that up and overwhelming our hospital system in Queensland. So I think that's where the disagreement is. Not about whether we continue to lockdown in Queensland and New South Wales, or anywhere else, but at what point do we say okay, it's now safe to move between states.

KARVELAS: Okay, Stephen just staying with you, Last time we spoke you wanted restrictions and New South Wales tightened and we have seen that. But now the Premier says there's a new announcement that will be made at the end of the week because of this 6 million vaccine target and the fact that it's been met. Are you worried about any loosening?

JONES: Can I say nobody needs a haircut more than I do. But frankly these are things that you would willingly forego to keep our community safe, to keep my family safe and everybody else's families safe. I hope we do this based on good medical advice, not on the political urgings. If the Premier is able to present a case towards the end of this week that shows that it's safe, then obviously that's a case based on good scientific and medical evidence. I suspect what's going to happen is that there'll be parts of New South Wales where some restrictions are able to be eased and there'll be parts of New South Wales where there are not. But my overwhelming concern at the moment is the lack of social cohesion that has been created by different rules applying in different areas without good reasons and the fact that we have got a real humanitarian crisis going on in Western New South Wales and let's hope we're able to fix up those issues in indigenous communities.

KARVELAS: Jason Falinski, there is an issue there with the disparity of the way people are being treated and it seems to me that some of the more affluent white suburbs are, you know, they don't have curfew. They don't have the extreme restrictions that we're seeing in areas which are very multicultural, very very working class, where people are at the front line having to work. Does that sit well with you?

FALINSKI: Absolutely, PK.


FALINSKI: Because you're talking to someone who wasn't able to spend Christmas and New Year with his family because we were locked down while people in Western Sydney and in Wollongong and the Central Coast were able to enjoy their Christmas New Year period, and no one here on the Northern Beaches, as far as I'm aware, complained about that, even though for the vast majority of people it had nothing to do with them. These restrictions are not on the basis of anything other than the data, the science, the medical advice, which basically says, and by the way, I want to be quite upfront and say I don't support curfews. There is no medical justification for them.

KARVELAS: So you're against the curfew even in those local government areas?

FALINSKI: Absolutely. I mean you had, that's right PK. You had the police commissioner, the day of which these curfews were announced, saying "I don't know that this actually has any impact or does anything but maybe we should try them anyway." We know that there is no reason in the health orders to do it, but going back to what Jonesy was saying before, there are two people who are saying that 80% or 90% they might not open up, and they happen to be the Premiers of Western Australia and Queensland. And in doing so they are seeking to divide Australia. Now Jonesy says, oh they look at New South Wales and see a bin fire. I really reject that analogy. I mean you are not seeing our hospital system overwhelmed in New South Wales, in fact quite the opposite. What we are seeing is the targeted vaccinations that have occurred, the massive ramp up, I mean, in New South Wales, and this is the problem, in New South Wales last week 800,000 people received vaccinations. At the same time 112,000 in Queensland received it and in Western Australia it was even lower than that. Now, they are already significantly behind the rest of Australia. At that run rate, they will fall further and further and further behind unless we are willing to say that when states reach 70% and 80%, they should be allowed to go free, we are simply being held back by the lowest common denominator, and that's not right.

KARVELAS: Alright. I want to pause and just ask both of you this question before I bid you farewell. The refugees from Afghanistan. How many do you think we should be bringing in? What's your view first, Stephen?

JONES: I'd start with the people who are already here on TPVs. I'd give them full citizenship rights. They've been here for over a decade. They've shown themselves to be good citizens. We're well below our 13,000 humanitarian quota that we've set but not filled. So I'd be doing that as a first step. I'm not going to name a number for the number of people that we should be bringing over because I simply don't have the data in front of me, but I would start with the proposition that everyone who's aided and assisted us should be able to come. And those people who are here and have been here for over a decade but have made applications to have their family over here, but the Government has been sitting on those applications for a decade. I think they should be at the front of the queue as well. Two groups, they should be our priority. Can't tell you how big it is, but it's a good start.

KARVELAS: Jason, should they be the priority? If some people are here and they've been here for a decade. Why not allow them to stay permanently?

FALINSKI: Indeed PK, and I'm sure there'll be announcements around that.

KARVELAS: I just want to get your position. You do think people on TPVs, yeah?

FALINSKI: My position is that as long as they have met security clearances, they don't want to go back to Afghanistan, that is definitely something that should be a high priority.

KARVELAS: So you don't think that just because they came here by boat they should be denied ongoing permanent visas in Australia?

FALINKSI: Well the fact is the situation has now changed significantly in Afghanistan. That will mean changing the assessment criteria on which the Department will be assessing those people. But in answer to your question along with Jonesy I cannot name a number, but I would think that we would need to do all that we possibly can to help those people who want and seek a better future. Especially the young women of Afghanistan who potentially face a brutal future, potentially, we hope they don't. But let's face it, history does not give us any reassurance that that will not be the case.

JONES: 100%.

KARVELAS: Alright, I must say goodbye to both of you. And Jason, happy birthday.

FALINSKI: Thank you.

JONES: Happy birthday!