ABC NEWS AFTERNOON BRIEFING
MONDAY, 29 JUNE 2020
SUBJECTS: Queensland borders; COVID-19 cases in Victoria; COVIDSafe app; Regional media support package; JobKeeper and JobSeeker; Eden-Monaro by-election.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Time now for my political panel. Liberal MP Andrew Laming is one of my guests, so is Labor MP Stephen Jones. Welcome to both of you. Andrew, I want to start with you. Cases are continuing to climb in Victoria, alarming numbers today, everyone agrees with that. Why does the Government want Queensland and other states to reopen their borders? Do you really want victorians in Queensland?
ANDREW LAMING MP, MEMBER FOR BOWMAN: The economy has to restart, Patricia, and these borders should never been closed in the first place. Closing borders doesn't treat COVID and while it's so wonderful to cocoon and think that the disease is all on the other side of the border, the reality is the economy needs to keep going and there's already tens of thousands a day of vehicles crossing this border anyway. The border is not closed. It's just closed to economic activity from tourists with fat wallets, but everyone else seems to cross because I've gotten essential excuse. So these borders aren't close they are just closed to the group that we should least be closing them to. That's the long and the short of it. Victoria's definitely got a second wave, there's no doubt about it, and we're going to have to see heightened contact tracing like Victoria's never done it before. Remembering that both Victoria and Queensland had the same number of overseas COVID cases to start this whole crisis off and Victoria today ends up having twice as many cases as Queensland purely due to community transmission that they could not contain that other states managed to.
KARVELAS: Just let's get clear on this. Regardless of the numbers in Victoria, you think the border should open to Victorians?
LAMING: Oh, the border should have always been opened. There was no evidence for ever closing them.
KARVELAS: Sure, sure. Looking to the future, I want to pin you down on this, I mean just say the figures were, you know, 200-300 tomorrow, they're not just to be clear, we report news here, but hypothetically would you argue then that the Queensland border should still be open to Victorians?
LAMING: A hundred thousand Victorians could charge over the border tomorrow and the odds of the single case coming to Queensland is around 18 percent with the possibility they might infect 1.1 other people. About two percent likely the two would come in the next two months with a hundred thousand Victorians. That's the odds. So you've got to say as a nation we fight this disease and go back to the science Patricia. Keep 1.5 meters away, hygiene, sanitation, distancing, no congregating and the disease won't spread but as long as they're places where it does that will spread. And tourists typically coming over the border, they take an apartment somewhere and they walk down the beach. So they're not engaged in inter-generational disease spread, they're not crowding into Westfields and shopping. They typically go somewhere along the Queensland coast and have a holiday on their own. It's not a high risk activity.
KARVELAS: I can report it's very cold and Victoria this morning. Stephen, you're in New South Wales, do Victorians need to be kept out of your state? The Premier hasn't shut that border but has said Melbournian's aren't welcome.
JONES: Well look, I think Australians as soon as it is safe want to be able to enjoy a holiday somewhere with warmer weather, its northern New South Wales or somewhere in Queensland, but we've got to be led by the science on this and I, frankly, find it extraordinary that on the day that Victoria has recorded the 75 new cases and it appears like the trend is going upwards, we're getting such mixed messages out of a government MP and frankly it's the inconsistencies and the mixed messages which I think are so concerning. That's how we started this took us a while to get on the right footing. I think we need clear messages and we need messages coming from the medical officers, the chief medical officers of our states and nationally and not from MPs like me and Andrew. A couple of weeks ago Andrew was criticising the black lives matter protests, he was criticising people who gathered for a protest and saying they are irresponsible. But here we are today him using the megaphone and everybody else that seems from his side using the megaphone of government to protest against all of those States who are taking a more cautious approach. I just don't think that's responsible.
KARVELAS: Andrew, I want to ask you about the COVIDSafe app. Do you think it's been effective in contact tracing?
LAMING: I don't have information yet from the states as to who's used it. It's up to states to ask for data off the COVID app. I'd be interested to know if any cases have been yet identified. As you know millions has downloaded it. I want to see it working. Just responding to Stephen, I am Mr Science, all I ever talk about is the science, Stephen, and we're allowed to shoot the breeze here and reflect on the science without speaking against the chief Health officer. My point is that we should be red zoning in particular areas in Victoria, which is exactly what the public health directives allow, but the borders themselves, Stephen, don't make any difference, if someone crosses over in a ute from one state to the other. The difference is you red zone a small area, you don't close down an entire state of seven half million people because you've got 50 cases, you deal with those directly, that's the public health evidence.
KARVELAS: I want to change to another topic. I've got so many topics today. I know that the Greens are calling on the government to release the names of the regional media outlets that are going to be receiving funding under that announcement that was made today. I want stay with you, if I can Andrew Laming, should those names be provided? It seems reasonable that we should know who is going to get the money.
LAMING: Seems reasonable. I'm not up on that one, PK. I'd love to learn a bit more about issue is there with not releasing the names.
KARVELAS: Just go with transparency
LAMING: I can't reflect on that one, no.
KARVELAS: Wouldn't it be good to know?
LAMING: Yeah, why not?
KARVELAS: Okay. I'm glad we settled that so easily. Stephen Jones?
JONES: 100%. If public money is going out to support media outlets, we need to know the basis on which it was provided and the public has got a right to know. Is money going to certain media outlets and not other media outlets? And what was the basis on which those decisions were made? We know from the very get go that the scheme was designed to exclude media outlets that the government didn't like. So I think there is a very high public interest, a very high public interest in knowing where the money has gone, to whom and how much.
KARVELAS: I want to talk about JobSeeker, JobKeeper, the economic dimensions of this crisis. Andrew Laming, do you think that the JobSeeker payment should be increased permanently by $75?
LAMING: You can pick a number out PK. I think that the government is going to have to decide two things from each end doesn't go back to where it was. But secondly, what do they do with that surplus money? So there's an argument that we need to be encouraging JobSeekers to seek out work and that the current levels are actually providing some moral hazard where people don't seek work. One possibility is that for some of that JobSeeker it becomes a job benefit, which is released once someone is employed to incentivise, in a weak economic phase, new employment. We've got a JobKeeper challenge as well, with a large number of firms that don't need JobKeeper,x receiving it. There's a number that if they were to lose it will go out of business. So it's exquisitely complicated. It's going to be painful no matter what the government does and in answer to your question, I don't have a view on how much of the extra JobSeeker is left with job seekers. I want them to seek work and to get a job and that will always be the government's priority.
KARVELAS: Sure, but you want it to be higher than the old Newstart rate?
LAMING: I'm not locking into that at all. You won't get me saying anything about where it'll end up.
LAMING: I want make sure that some of the surplus JobSeeker paid gets people back into work and the one way to do that is, what we already have, which is a up to $10,000 bonus for taking a person who's struggling to get a job as a employer incentive.
KARVLEAS: Sure Andrew, but we have to actually be realistic. We're in a recession, the jobs aren't there. This isn't people being, you know, resistant to taking jobs. They're just not in the economy for them to take.
LAMING: But I know they’re going to come back as well and you're right, we don't know how many. So it's really complicated and some job seekers will just dash out and find a job, others 12 months from now aren't going to have any work and we've got to find a middle ground. You can't have different rules for different job seekers. So this is an important debate. How much do you change JobSeeker payments, if at all, but more importantly how much can a job seeker keep in an incentive to find work, particular is paid directly to an employer, it actually creates more working hours and ultimately the principle is to distribute the nation's working hours, which are only so many, evenly through the population because Australia only needs as a single adult working about six hours a fortnight and for a couple about 14 hours of fortnight hit the poverty line. That's the lowest number of hours in the OECD to get out of poverty. So getting a job is critical in this phase.
KARVELAS: Stephen Jones, Labor says the figure should be higher, but you haven't settled on what you think. It should be why shouldn't it remain at the doubled rate?
JONES: Look, I think we need to get the evidence that has been provided to government. You might recall, PK, that a few weeks ago the treasury secretary said that we've got to look at the JobSeeker and the JobKeeper together. The analysis that they have provided government in this secret report no doubt goes through the data on all of these issues. I think it's another reason why we need to have that report released as soon as possible. There is no conceivable reason why the Government is waiting until after the by-election in Eden-Monaro to release that report. They should be releasing it this week. They've got it and we should be having an informed debate. The people of Eden-Monaro should be voting with the knowledge of what the Government is going to do with these two critical payments. After all that's an electorate, that's an area, that's a region that has been devastated by bushfire, in some parts of it by flood and now by COVID-19. I can't think of an area in Australia, which has got more at stake in knowing what the future of both of those payments are the Eden-Monaro. Why doesn't the Government release the report that it's sitting on? Why doesn't it release it this week?
KARVELAS: Andrew, that's the question I suppose. I know that the report is before the Treasurer. So why shouldn't it be publicly released?
LAMING: Well bit of a straw man from Andrew. The Government was very clear back in March. This is six months of security both for employers and for the job seekers running for six months, reviewed once if there are any errors that we needed to tighten up but running until the end of September potentially longer and the legislation all year. So we're not going to be drawn into a pre-election, you know, fighting with the Labor Party about trying to unravel these schemes where we're not even halfway through them.
JONES: You’re already unravelling them.
LAMING: There are reviews to write, the end of September. Australia's have that certainty, they have that certainty.
JONES: You’ve already unravelled them.
JONES: You unravelled them for the childcare workers, it was fair enough to unravel it for them.
KARVELAS: We’re going to have to park that one, if you don’t mind, Stephen Jones here I am, let's just pack that one. The Government's made a decision and clearly Labor was very critical of it. We will see what the electorate thinks. The Australian Federal Police are investigating a disinformation campaign about the Labor candidate for Eden-Monaro which falsely claimed she had quit the by-election race. Stephen, how concerned are you by this?
JONES: Oh look, this is really terrible dirty tricks campaigning. I don't know whether it's come from the Liberal Party or whether it's come from people sympathetic to the Liberal Party, but it's got no place in modern politics. I think it needs to be roundly condemned and I think we need to get to the bottom of where it's come from. Not for the first time has this sort of dirty campaigning occurred in the midst of a tight campaign. I'd like to see the Prime Minister out there condemning this and saying, this is the bottom of the barrel and we should be fighting this campaign over issues that matter like the future of JobSeeker in the future of JobKeeper and jobs for Eden-Monaro, not playing these low-rent games that appear to have been played by Liberal Party sympathisers.
KARVELAS: Andrew, the Liberal candidate, Dr Fiona Kotvojs, condemned the emails as offensive and inappropriate. Is this a threat to our democratic process?
LAMING: What was your question? Should it be part of?
KARVELAS: Well, it's should it be condemned? I mean this is pretty outrageous kind of behaviour, isn't it?
LAMING: Yes, and look I've seen some of this on social media myself. It was horrific. It was easily discarded as being false what I saw. I guess the message if you've got to engage in fake news, be good at it. This was ridiculous terrible and not a believable.
JONES: How about just don’t do it.
LAMING: I think that everyone should stand up against it because it’s, you know, you see it all over the world, people have a crack on social media and it's good to see that those that run social media is starting to crack down on it as well. That's a positive sign as well.
KARVLEAS: Stephen, you piped up there. Just don't do it. Yes, don't be good at it.
JONES: Yeah, just don’t do it.
KARVLES: I don't think we're instructing anyone to be good at it though, are we Andrew Laming?
LAMING: I'm being a little tongue-in-cheek.
KARVELAS: I realised that, just clarifying for our viewers that no one thinks it's a very good idea. It's illegal and it's clearly wrong. I want to thank you both for coming on the show. We'll see what happens at that by-election. So many issues swirling around. Thanks for talking to me.
JONES: Great to be with you.
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