Doorstop Interview – Bankstown – Saturday 4 April 2020




SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; support for health workers; parliamentary oversight.
JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: Thanks very much for coming along to Bankstown this morning. I’m here with Chris Bowen, the Shadow Minister for Health, Khal Asfour the Mayor of Canterbury-Bankstown and Gerard Hayes the Secretary of the HSU here in New South Wales, as well as these wonderful people behind me that are on the front line of this crisis helping to save lives here in Bankstown. And people like them right across the country.
More and more Australians are being asked to stay at home. More and more Australians are working from home and that’s a good thing. The more people that stay at home, the fewer people will die. But there’s some people who can’t stay at home. They’re the people that work in our hospitals, whether they’re doctors or nurses, or ambos, or cleaners, or kitchen hands. They’re all on the front line. Whether you wear a stethoscope to work, or you use a mop, you’re on the front line and you’re helping to save lives. In the last few days, we’ve heard some pretty awful stories about nurses and cleaners in some parts of New South Wales being abused and spat on by people worried that they might be spreading the disease as they’re going in and out of work.
Now, you know, that’s not on. The people behind me they should be being saluted, not spat on. And one little way to express our gratitude and our thanks, is to make it a little bit easier for hospital workers to get to work. More and more people are going to work now by car. It’s a safer way than public transport for a lot of doctors and nurses and hospital workers. That’s why Gerard Hayes and the HSU have been running a campaign to get free parking in the car parks of our hospitals for hospital workers. It’s common sense. It’s a great campaign. The sooner state governments do it, the better. But another thing that we can do is provide free parking on the street. For hospital workers that drive to work and can’t get into the car park. Make sure that if there’s metered parking, it’s turned off. Or if there’s time limited parking, that they’re not booked and Khal Asfour the Mayor of Canterbury-Bankstown has done just that. He’ll explain what he’s doing. It’s a fantastic initiative. And just a small way to say thank you to the people that are on the front line here, helping to keep us safe, and helping to save lives here in Bankstown. And people like them helping to save lives right across Australia. I’ll hand over to Chris Bowen, then Khal and then Gerard.
CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks very much, Jason. This crisis has a long way to go. While the published figures are encouraging, there is no room for complacency when it comes to COVID-19. We need to ensure we’re detecting every case of community transmission and we need to ensure we were staying with the very strict rules that are put in place. And as we keep saying, if in doubt, do more. One thing we know is that the health workers of Australia are our frontline. They deserve our applause. But they deserve so much more. They deserve a practical support. health workers across the country have contacted me and said, they are worried about their families. And they wonder whether a nationally coordinated accommodation scheme could be put in place to help them have somewhere to stay if they’re working 12 and 16 hour shifts, and they don’t want to go home and have to socially distance from their family at home because they’ve been doing such good work. That’s a good idea. 
Also, as Jason said, we’ve been shocked to hear the stories of health workers being abused on public transport, being accused of bringing the virus onto the trains and buses. We’re all in this together Australia. Let’s stick most of all with our health workers. But as more and more health workers are driving to work, there are practical things that can be done, free parking is one of them. Whether they go into hospital grounds, or councils following the lead of Bankstown-Canterbury and others, providing free parking with a pass for hospital workers, all good initiatives, these are sensible suggestions.
Now during the week, we made sensible suggestions about extending the flexibility for nurses here in Australia on working holiday visas, to be able to work in hospitals, not picking fruit, but work in hospitals. We’re very pleased that today, the Government has accepted that and made those changes as announced that were recommended and suggested by Kristina Keneally and I earlier in the week. There’s also a range of changes that have been made for working holiday visas across the country, which we welcome as well.

But these are practical initiatives. This has a long way to go. There’s no room for complacency and health workers deserve our applause. They deserve so much more. They deserve practical measures as well.
CLARE: I’ll ask Khal Asfour the Mayor of Canterbury-Bankstown to say a few words.
KHAL ASFOUR, MAYOR OF CANTERBURY-BANKSTOWN: Thank you Jason. After speaking to Jason recently and to Gerard and Chris, we knew that we had to come up with a better way for our frontline hospital staff to be able to get better access to work. Some are getting abused on public transport, not something that we support. It’s actually disgusting behaviour. What we are trying to do here at Canterbury-Bankstown is help them by giving him a COVID-19 parking pass the ability to park on the street for free with timed parking, and they will not get booked by our rangers. They just won’t get booked and this will be at our two major hospitals at Bankstown and at Canterbury. So we want to make sure that our frontline workers have that relief. And even if it means I don’t have to get out of the hospital and move a car during the shift. That’s a good thing it gives one less thing to think about. So I really am happy that my Council and my residents are supportive of this parking pass idea and I do encourage all councils across the country to follow my lead, support this wonderful initiative.
CLARE: Gerard Hayes, Secretary of the HSU, to say a few words.
GERARD HAYES, HEALTH SERVICES UNION: I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Khal as the Mayor of Bankstown and Canterbury to who is standing up for the health workers in this area, and ultimately in New South Wales and ultimately in Australia. I call on other local governments to get on board and follow Khal’s lead here. To make life better for workers over the next coming months, Winter is coming and with that, this fight will come. And this fight is going to only be achieved by us working together. So when we can see more people working in health, and we will see people from Qantas coming, we will see people from hotels coming and we welcome that. But the fact of the matter is these people have to be able to park you got to be able to get to and from work, and if we can make it safe for people to do so. If we can make it easier for people to do so. Our health will be so much better in the long term.
Today I’m calling on Dominic Perrottet, the Treasurer of New South Wales, to look into the Treasury to open up the purses to let health workers do their job in the best way possible. And Treasurer, you need to do this, you need to do this now, to ensure that our people in New South Wales, our workers in health have got the confidence to be able to come to work, do their job, and make people well.
CLARE: Now one of those health workers who works here is Gail and Gail you want to say a few words. We’ll get you in here.
HEALTH WORKER: Hi, I’m Gail, I work at Bankstown. I’m in the food service department and a lot of my colleagues are the cleaning department. We are asking for you guys to stay at home. Stay safe, and leave us so we can come to work and be safe and go home to our families also. So please just understand that we need you to stay off the streets. Stay at home. Let us be coming to work. Let us be safe. Thank you.
CLARE: Good on you. Thanks very much. I’m now happy to hand over to questions. We’ve got a few questions on the phone.
JOURNALIST: The Government has announced it is going to allow people to extend their visas to work in regional areas, pick fruit, that sort of thing which you have welcomed. Should those jobs be going to Australians in preference to people from overseas?
BOWEN: If I did hear your question correctly, this is the right balance that the Government is going down today. Let’s be clear. Australians are staying at home on instructions. There is still fruit to be picked. There’s still other jobs in regional Australia to be done. And with the best will in the world not many Australians are necessarily in a position to go and do that. Now of course, if Australians want to go and pick fruit and do those other jobs, they deserve that opportunity. Absolutely. But also, while we’ve got working holiday visa holders here, it is very difficult for them to go home. With the necessary protections in place we are comfortable with the changes the Government has made. And also we support and welcome the fact that they adopted the changes we suggested earlier this week in relation to international nurses here on working holiday visas.
JOURNALIST: On the international students, and some of the adjustments that have been made today, we have spoken to some international students who say this isn’t nearly enough, they contribute around $30 billion to the economy, taxes and deserve a little bit more support. Does the Government need to do more to support international students?
BOWEN: Yes, to be clear, while we welcome the steps that have been put in place today, Kristina Keneally has been pursuing a range of matters on other visa holders as well, not just working holiday visas, including international students, international students are here. And they deserve the support of the system. while they’re here. They need to get that support and assistance. 
Kristina has been pursuing a number of matters. Of course, Tanya Plibersek has also been commenting on this matter as well. I’ve received feedback from international students directly. The virus does not check your visa status before it decides whether to infect you. And if you’ve got people who are here in Australia and very, very difficult for them to go home. Then obviously every consideration needs to be given to providing every support possible to them, including international students. Kristina will be making further comments but I’m sure that we will have the view that in relation to other visa holders other than working holiday visas more could be done.
JOURNALIST: Do you trust the numbers coming out of China at the moment?
BOWEN: I think you could go through every country and say that they could be doing more on testing. And indeed, in Australia’s case, we’ve said while we recognise the very good work that’s being done on testing, we must be ensuring we’re testing everybody, with symptoms, and we must be ensuring we are detecting all community transmission, and that is the big risk for Australia going forward. I’m not going to get into any particular country. The Chief Medical Officer said yesterday that all countries could be doing better with testing. And I think that’s probably a fair comment for him to make.
JOURNALIST: I guess the question is not specifically just about testing, but about whether some countries, including China, are reporting what they are testing accurately?
BOWEN: Well, look, I agree with what the Chief Medical Officer said yesterday, I think we need to assess all countries and assume that there are more cases that are being detected already. Putting a general statement which would apply across the board.
JOURNALIST: Are you satisfied with Minister Cormann’s, comments that he will allow for more scrutiny of the Government spending as it goes through the billions of dollars that are dolling out. Is that enough scrutiny?
BOWEN: Well, let me just tell you that question in two parts, it goes to scrutiny of Government expenditure. And Minister Cormann’s powers in his comments. Firstly, on a positive note, there has been an arrangement agreed to between the Government and the Opposition, that in terms of the Finance Minister’s advance of $40 billion, there will be consultation with the Shadow Minister of Finance Katie Gallagher and that is appropriate. We welcome that. That was our suggestion and the Government accepted it and it’s a good thing. And that’s an appropriate check and balance.
More broadly, though, Parliament should be sitting. I mean, we’re putting in place measures to ensure the safe sitting of Parliament. We’re putting in place social distancing in Parliament, as we did in the last sitting, parliaments around the world are providing scrutiny. When the nation is in crisis, you need Parliament more, not less, you need parliament more, not less, and the nation is in crisis. So the Parliament should be sitting for more than just one day to tick the Government’s legislation, which we’ll be doing. But then we need to be sitting on a much more regular basis.
And secondly, we continue to assess the options for parliamentary oversight and transparency going forward if the Parliament is not going to sit, including parliamentary committees or a committee to oversight and for the Government to report to its actions. Any other questions? Jason will wrap up.
CLARE: Well, thanks again, Chris. Thanks, Gerard for the campaign that you are running here on behalf of the wonderful people behind us who are at the frontline in keeping Australians safe Can I also thank you Khal for the work you’ve done, you are setting an example for the rest of the country about how we can help our health workers to make life just a little bit easier and to say thank you express, our gratitude in a in a small but important way. I know there’s other councils that are doing this as well, in Brisbane, Sydney, Liverpool, down the road, and Perth.
And it’s not an easy thing for councils to do. Lots of councils are struggling at the moment financially, some have had to put workers off, they need a little bit of help from the Federal Government or a little bit of help from the State Government. Local government is the backbone of our local community. They pick up the rubbish out the front, like keep our parks and gardens our soccer fields or sports grounds available for us, even if we can’t use them at the moment. We don’t want to see our soccer grounds turned into looking more like national parks, and it’s getting harder and harder for local government to provide those services at the moment because a lot of the facilities they run have had to be shut down so they don’t have that revenue coming in. So they need a helping hand. They need a little bit of help from the Government. A good example of that is childcare.
Who do you think runs most of the childcare centres in New South Wales? It’s local government. Who do you think runs most of the childcare centres in Victoria? It’s local government. And the initiative that the Government announced this week on child care whilst it is welcomed, has a missing part to it. It relies on the funding through the Job Keeper program, and councils aren’t eligible for that, which means that there is a risk that a lot of the childcare centres run by councils may not continue to be able to operate.
Now I’ve seen in the papers today that the Government’s identified this and if given any indication that they might be willing to fix this, they need to do it. Because there’s lots of childcare centres in Scott Morrison’s electorate. Lots of childcare centre in Dan Tehan’s electorate, lots of childcare centres all around the country that are run by local councils. And they need the Government’s help here. Because if they don’t, there’s going to be a lot of parents who turn up hoping to get their kids into that childcare centre and they won’t be open and available for help. So we urge the Government to have a look again at the support they can provide to local government. 
Thanks very much, everyone.