ABC NEWS AFTERNOON BRIEFING
MONDAY, 4 MAY 2020
SUBJECTS: Eden-Monaro by-election; Australia New Zealand travel; COVIDSafe app.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: I want to bring in my political panel this afternoon. Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Stephen Jones joins me and Liberal MP, Andrew Laming. Welcome to both of you. Let's just begin on the political contest we're going to see. Andrew Laming, it's understood that Andrew Constance will put his hand up and announce his nomination as a Liberal candidate or that he wants to run for the seat of Eden-Monaro. Do you think that this should be contested? I mean, do you think that here should be a field of candidates here?
ANDREW LAMING, MEMBER FOR BOWMAN: Well, the Coalition agreement firmly allows, in an open contest like this, both the Nationals and the Liberals to run and put up a candidate and that'll be up to both parties to think through. I think it's unlikely. I'd like to see Andrew prevail if indeed he's pre-selected, but that's a decision for the National Party.
KARVELAS: Why do you think he should prevail?
LAMING: Well, us Andrews have got to stick together, PK.
KARVELAS: Is that really your political endorsement for him?
LAMING: Coming from north of the border, I won't be doing anything more to have any impact on his political trajectory right now. I wish him all the best.
KARVELAS: Okay, that's it's safe territory to be on. Stephen, Kristy McBain has been endorsed as your party's candidate, but why wasn't there a rank-and-file vote on this? Why did the National Executive come in and decide who the candidate would be, given we're not even going to see this election probably till June there's enough time clearly. Why not allow democracy to prevail?
JONES: Democracy will prevail. There will be a vote of all of the constituents of Eden-Monaro.
KARVELAS: I mean internally, that was the question.
JONES: I understand and we've got party rules. I'll leave it to the National Secretary to explain some of the details of that but we've got party rules which enable, in exactly these sorts of circumstances, for a decision to be made so we can get a candidate out in the field quickly. Kristy McBain is a fantastic local champion, local mayor, and she's hit the ground running. She's already out there campaigning, which is exactly what you want to see. If it is Andrew Constance who is the Liberal Party candidate as we all expect, then he's going to have to explain why the very frank character assessment that he gave Scott Morrison a few months ago, where he roundly criticised what an absolutely appalling job had done in supporting local communities through the bushfires, why that character assessment is somehow changed because at the end of this by-election, whoever the new Member for Eden-Monaro is going to be, Scott Morrison will still be the Prime Minister and you'll still have responded in an entirely inadequate way to the bushfire crisis.
KARVELAS: Let's just talk about kind of the lifting and the easing of restrictions, particularly what's potentially going to happen, the creation of a Trans-Tasman travel zone on the agenda when New Zealand's Prime Minister joins Australia's National Cabinet tomorrow. Andrew Laming, is that a good idea? Do you think that should be up and running?
LAMING: I've been a firm supporter of that all along. Both New Zealand and Australia followed a very similar trajectory. New Zealand was a little worse than New South Wales as state. They brought in far tougher lockdowns, but still their cases and deaths per million slipped away with cases per death up over 300 compared to Australia's 268. So she can hold her head high, the New Zealand Prime Minister, with how she's managed it, but she probably has inflicted more economic damage than she needed to and the Australian evidence speaks to that, that the trajectories of the two countries almost identical with New Zealand doing far more. I think it's excellent to open that border, of course Australians will be asking where are the domestic borders being relaxed. I predict they will be relaxed within two weeks as well, except where there are hot spots. So obviously if there's hot spots in New South Wales, Victoria other states will be slow to open those particular borders. It takes two to tango, but I don't think that opening is far off.
KARVELAS: Okay. So you say you predict two weeks that these borders will be lifted on. What basis do you think they should be lifted?
LAMING: Well, the global evidence is that you have domestically acquired cases of no known origin ceasing for a 14-day period, which is two incubation periods of the virus. It's exactly what needs to happen. And well we had this natural experiment of different states of the Federation taking slightly different paths. What's clear is in New South Wales and Victoria the overwhelming challenge of cruise ship and overseas traveling to Tasmania with its own challenges, but the other states are really ready to open up boundaries and borders straightaway. Unfortunately most of them join onto New South Wales so they can’t, but in reality we're ready to do that after 14 days of no new cases. Every state is there except the two big ones on the mainland and Tassie.
KARVELAS: Stephen, do you think we need to sort of lift restrictions on domestic travel and then work towards travelling to New Zealand?
JONES: Look, I agree with the Chief Medical Officer on this in fact, of course I do. You have got to follow the science. What is clear as the most effective public health control measure that we've put in place is the restriction or the closure of international travel. Now with New Zealand, a country that has been incredibly successful in battling the virus as have we in Australia, I think there is a case for special arrangements to be put in place, of course 15 percent of New Zealanders live here in Australia they make up about 2 percent of our population. So we have incredibly close ties. I hope that some arrangements can be put in place and satisfy the needs of both countries. It’s good for the economy, but good for families and good for our relations with friends across the ditch.
KARVELAS: Do you have any idea of what you think the downloads for the COVIDSafe app should be, Andrew Laming first to you, before restrictions should be eased? I think the Government had said 40 percent. We are on 4.5 million downloads right now as the latest reports go. What do we need to reach before easing restrictions?
LAMING: I'm not giving any expectations about what they should be. 16 million smartphones, if we get half of them at eight million, that's around a third of the population it just gets you there. So we're still a ways to go to that 8 million. The Government has a slightly lower number, but let's wind back a step. I don't believe there's any causal link between number of downloads of this app and the ability to follow the science, which is that if you have your 14 days of no domestic cases of unknown origin, you've effectively got eradication at that point and used need to be opening up the economy and you don't need to be holding these individuals, these million or so Australians, to ransom. They've all downloaded the app. They shouldn't have their businesses in suspended animation because people haven't downloaded an app down the street. I mean, there's no direct correlation. It's one of 15 measures. Let's not get too obsessive on downloads because this is all about following signs and then opening up the economy. The wound of COVID economically now is the challenge and if we get an over swing there will be paying a far bigger price than we need to to get control.
KARVELAS: Andrew Laming, it’s your government that keeps telling us, your Prime Minister, that the downloads are directly linked to the easing of restrictions. Are you saying that that's the wrong approach?
LAMING: Well, it's one of a menu of 15 and I'm just pointing out that every single person wants to get back to work tomorrow and should, based on the science, can't because someone else down the street hasn't downloaded the app. I mean, that's unfortunate. The reality is we need to get businesses back based on science. The COVIDSafe app is a helpful addition to the science. It's not science and we need to be guided by the science.
KARVELAS: Let me just pin you down on this, because this has been made the prominent issue. Yes, there's a list but this is the one they keep talking about honestly non-stop. Are you saying the prominence of those two being linked, the downloading and lifting restrictions, shouldn't be so prominent?
LAMING: They should be absolutely concurrent activity. But starting in the next few days should be all those tiny micro and small businesses which aren't held up by having 5 million and not 8 million app downloads. If the science says we should open that's exactly what we should do. I'm arguing the science has already there to get the small and micro business in this country up and running. I've gone through that list before we don't want congregation. We need isolation. We need distancing, hygiene, sanitation, but no one's saying that acupuncturist can't go back to work. I mean, that's my argument pure and simple.
KARVELAS: Stephen Jones, that's interesting. It's essentially a critique of the sort of prominence that's been given to this app. Do you think it should just be based on the science, not really how many of us have this this app?
JONES: Not for the first time in a fortnight Andrew Laming has been out of step and contradicting the advice of the Prime Minister and the Chief Medical Officer. I'll probably take my medical advice from the Chief Medical Officer, acknowledging Andrew's qualifications. I think the Government will probably struggle to get to the forty percent level. I've downloaded it. I'm encouraging everybody I know to download it. Whatever the shortcomings are, it is a useful tool in tracing contacts if somebody has contracted the virus and been in contact with other people, so it's a useful tool and let this not be interpreted as any less enthusiasm than Andrew's or anybody else to get the economy moving again. Of course, we want businesses open, we want pubs and clubs open again, we want people getting about their daily business, but it has to be safe for us to do that. The pressing community transmission is a part of that and then having tools to track a transmission when we do get outbreaks is also a part of that. We need to have all parts of the puzzle moving together.
KARVELAS: Andrew Laming, do you have the app?
LAMING: Yes, I do. I download as soon as I could PK. No problem with the app. I think the privacy provisions are all exceptional. There's this big issues in the Google Apple API interface that's got to be fixed next few weeks. We take the word of the Government that will occur, but at the moment there are challenges with other apps competing with the Bluetooth bandwidth and making that handshake weaker. There's concerns that the app switches off. Of course when you're making a phone call and they sort of elements we hope to tidy up but we're taking the word of Apple and Google that that will come through on their API and be updated in the the coming weeks.
KARVELAS: Thank you to both of you for joining me this afternoon.