07 September 2020


SUBJECTS: Victorian roadmap out of lockdown.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Time now for my panel, Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones and Liberal MP Dr Katie Allen. Lovely to have you back on the panel with me. Katie Ellen, you're back in Melbourne after the sitting fortnight in Canberra and of course yesterday the Victorian government revealed its roadmap out of lockdown. What did you make of that roadmap that the Victorian government announced?

DR KATIE ALLEN MP, MEMBER FOR HIGGINS: Look all I can say Patricia is I don't think I've had any more phone calls and emails of despair, quite frankly, than over the weekend and of course the last 24 hours. The good news is the numbers seem to be better, which is great. But the bad news is it seems that we've got a very long tail to this lockdown and what I'm hearing from people is that they hope that the track and tracing will be sorted so that we can have more positive projections going forward. Because I suspect some of these projections are based on what’s been a bit of a disaster when it comes to tracking and tracing here in Victoria.

KARVELAS: I want to bring you in here Stephen, you're in an economic shadow portfolio and the Prime Minister says he hopes the latest Victorian plan is a worst-case scenario and a starting point. Should Victoria moved to open earlier given the devastating economic consequences on the state?

STEPHEN JONES MP, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: First thing I want to say is I got a lot of mates and some relatives down in Victoria, and I know you're both Victorian residents. I’m feeling your pain. It's terrible that this is a necessary pain that people have got to go through. On the relationship between health and economic outcomes, they're intertwined. There is no sustainable economic recovery without a health recovery, you know people don't tend to spend up big when they can see people around them are catching this terrible disease, when they see hospital wards chock-a-block full when they know that there's a health going on. So the health solution and the economic solution are as one and that's exactly how it should be. I'll take the advice from the health experts, if they say we can pull the restrictions up in Victoria and start to lose them a little earlier, fantastic, I'm sure the Victorians will be rejoicing a lot more than I will, but you know, we think that's going to be a great outcome, but the health has got to come first. Nothing would be worse than to prematurely lift those restrictions and then have to reimpose them. It would be devastating from a mental health point of view as well, but also an economic point of view. I think that'll be the end of a lot of businesses.

KARVELAS: Katie Allen, that's the argument that the Victorian government articulated yesterday in the modelling that if it comes out of those restrictions too soon there’ll be a third wave and actually Christmas will be cancelled and didn't quite put it that way but was really the gist of it all. Do you accept that in the modelling that they have put forward?

ALLEN: Look Patricia, a lot of people, a lot of epidemiologists have been contacting me about this modelling. I sit on the national health COVID response committee at the federal level, which has 35 professors that meet twice a week and discuss all the difference evidence-based with regards to questions that federal government is grappling with. I would like to see a very similar broad spectrum set of experts gathered at the Victorian level, because clearly what's happening now is there's an opening up of a two speed health and economic response. There's Victoria and then there's all the other jurisdictions and I'd like to see that the premier's listening to the broad range of epidemiological expertise here in Victoria. We have probably 50% of medical research expertise is based in Victoria, and there's a lot of expertise here and there's some frustration that starting to emerge from the experts themselves. We know modelling is complex and as the supercomputer said itself through a thousand models put in they've come up with one response. Now there is a lot of guess work that goes into predicting where we are going to go with our pandemic response. And what I would say is that the federal level there's been a pretty clear and consistent approach which is that we're going for aggressive suppression, we're not going for elimination, quarantining our external borders of the most important aspect of what we've done with our public health response. And then the second thing that's the most important thing is the tracking and tracing and we're seeing in New South Wales and absolutely fantastic response by the New South Wales government with regards to, first is quarantining and secondly, it's COVIDSafe app and directed track and tracing and keeping on top of this pandemic and we're not seeing that same response here in Victoria. So I'd like to see more of an evidence-based approach and I think there's some concerns now about the data that is being shared with us with regards to the responses. There is a lack of confidence coming from the people who are contacting me about where we are going with our plan. Now, that's not to say that the Premier is not doing his very damnedest. I know that he's working very hard for the people of Victoria. I know he's well-intentioned, but the along the way there's been some issues with regards to whole of postcode type testing which was not evidence based. He's not using the COVIDSafe app, or he hasn't been using it.

KARVELAS: Isn’t that because it hasn't been very effective, the app actually itself isn’t very effective?

ALLEN: Well, actually if you look to New South Wales, Patricia, there’s actually been a large number of people who have been traced using the COVIDSafe app. And if you go, before there was lock down, if you went to local cafes and restaurants, we're expected to put our name and number down, well, he could have offered to put your name and number down or to put your COVIDSafe app down. I mean there could have been a lot more support for the program that has been rolled out at the federal level. We had 7 million users take up the COVIDSafe I would like to have seen the tracking and tracing and we do know that at the Victorian DHHS level there has been some failures with regards to automation of the tracking with regards to digitisation of the tracking. It's been a paper-based response. I'm not hearing every day the premier saying I'm getting a hundred percent track and tracing going on. I'd like to hear that number. I'd like to hear that he's going after every case and he's tracking and tracing every case. That's the number that I'd like to hear and I'm not hearing that. But I'd also like to hear his response about it being an evidence-based response with regards to what we're closing down. I'd like to hear where are the problems. I mean yesterday Jennifer Westacott came out and said she was unaware that there are any case outbreaks in the businesses, well perhaps there are but I'm not hearing that data. I'd like to know where the where the touch points were and where the touch points are with regards to the plan now. So I'd like more evidence base and I like to hear that from the premier.

KARVELAS: Look the other issue is of course, the economic response. The Prime Minister was asked about that. He said he wants to see what the Victorian government offers. Stephen, I want to bring you in here. What do you think the federal government and the state government should be offering given the really the very dire economic consequences on ordinary Victorians?

JONES: Yeah, look, I think a couple of things need to be announced by the government desirably before the October budget statement. The first is an alignment of the income support with what's actually going on in the economy. We've got arbitrary dates set at the moment for tapering off that income support. which aren't attached to anything that's actually happening in the real world. For example, if we've got public health restrictions such as border closures, international and other restrictions in place, which are preventing certain businesses from operating, or operating as normal, then some special support is needed for those businesses or those areas. So that's about JobKeeper. Then you've got the JobSeeker arrangements, which are also designed to taper off and then the additional arrangements closed off at Christmas time. Frankly when you've got a million people unemployed now, one and a half million people expected to be unemployed by Christmas, why on Earth would you say it's a good time to be tapering off income support? I'd also go further and say, so that's just about maintenance about what's already in the field, the second thing we need to be looking at is additional suspend and support by the government. So infrastructure always talked about, yes, we should be doing it. There should be lots of diversified projects that can be done in every suburb or every region around the country so it's not all capital city based, that we're getting out to the areas that are affected. But finally, we've got to look at some stuff that is actually going to pick up the people who have lost their jobs in greatest numbers during the government's recession. Let's call them women, because they're over-represented in that group. Aged care is a standout but let's not stop there. Let's boost our spending in some of those areas to ensure that the people who are most affected are the ones who are get the support that they need.

KARVELAS: Katie Allen, you are a Melbourne-based MP for the Morrison government. Would you like to see the federal government make more commitments to support Victorians during this downturn? 

ALLEN: Well, I think the first thing to say is that the federal government has now committed three hundred billion dollars of economic support and combined together the states and territories have only committed 40 billion dollars. Now of the JobKeeper commitment, which as we all know is now extended out to March to provide certainty for businesses, of that 101 billion dollars almost 40 billion dollars is coming to Victoria. It's true that Victoria is going to need more support though. I don't think there's much doubt about that. I'd like to see the Victorian government step up its commitment. It is the one that's making decisions about what is effectively causing almost a suffocation of some of the businesses I'm hearing from all over Higgins and I'm sure right across Victoria. Cafes and restaurants are really struggling. They feel a sense of loss of hope actually, sole traders, gardeners who could be out working in gardens out in the open air without even any contact with anyone, you know, there's a sort of dismay about the lack of interest in engaging with business. And yesterday again, we heard from Jennifer Westacott that, you know, a COVID safe approach by businesses is something that is being, you know, should be really engaged with and thought about get businesses back online soon. There's some really interesting research coming out of places like the US where there was a couple of hairdressers, for instance, who were COVID positive and they saw a 137 clients and not one of them infected their clients because they were using a COVID safe approach. So there are ways to deal with COVID and now that we're getting the numbers under control and now that we're getting tracking and tracing under control and now that the federal government is offering and giving support to the Victorian government, I'm hoping that will move further, quicker, to lift restrictions on businesses, which will then mean that will have less economic support that would be required both by the federal and the state government. 

KARVELAS: Well, we'll see. Thank you to both of you for joining me this afternoon.