Television Interview – ABC Weekend Breakfast – Saturday 18 April 2020






SUBJECTS: Support for Virgin Australia; Airbnb; Schools.


FAUZIAH IBRAHIM, HOST: Let’s return to one of our top stories and the Queensland Government is offering $200 million to help Virgin Australia, as the troubled airline struggles to avoid collapse. The Federal Government has announced $165 million for Virgin and Qantas to run a baseline domestic service for the next eight weeks. But Virgin says it is not enough to stay afloat.


JOHANNA NICHOLSON, HOST: Let’s discuss this further with our Saturday Pollie Panel. Liberal MP Andrew Laming joins us from Brisbane and Labor Frontbencher Jason Clare is in Sydney. Welcome to both of you. Good morning.


JASON CLARE: G’day guys.


ANDREW LAMING: Good morning.


NICHOLSON: Andrew Laming, I’ll start with you. The Queensland Government has committed this $200 million. As Fauziah mentioned, we’ve had that money from the Federal Government announced, $165 million for Virgin and Qantas. But the airline is calling for $1.4 billion of loan from the Federal Government. Can the airline expect any more help from the Federal Government?


LAMING: Well, the airline certainly got enough money now to run through the eight weeks, obviously Virgin suggest that they’re in a more dire position than Qantas. The Queensland Government’s contribution reflects the huge employment base up here in Brisbane. I think that’s the appropriate move as well. And certainly, we’re just going to let these two airlines reopen those six or so hundred routes start working and we’ll see where it all falls from there. It’s still a pretty generous package and it’s tailored to aviation. They’re far luckier than many other sectors out there at the moment.


IBRAHIM: Jason, all right. So Queensland has decided to stump up this $200 million. The airline says it needs $1.4 billion to stay afloat. Do you think other states will come to its help as well


CLARE: Well, I hope the Federal Government helps. We need two airlines. If we don’t have two major airlines in Australia we’ll have fewer flights and flights will cost more. That’s the truth of it. And it’ll mean not just 15,000 Aussies losing their jobs, but it will mean the task of grappling and crawling our way out of the crater created by the Coronavirus will just get harder. Think about all of those tourist destinations that Virgin flights to, all those tourist jobs that rely on people jumping on those Virgin planes and flying to those destinations. We need two airlines so that we’ve got enough planes in the sky to help the economy recover after the worst of this virus has come and gone.


NICHOLSON: Andrew Laming you say that, you know, we’ve put this money out there, and we’ll just see where it falls, where things fall. Well, that could mean that Virgin goes into voluntary administration.


LAMING: Well, anything’s possible. But what will happen is all of these flights will return. You see there’s no point flying if there’s no one on the plane, there’s no point flying if there’s nothing to do at the other end. So ultimately, the only solution here is getting the economy rolling again, tourism happening again. In the meantime, it’s about hibernation. I think Australians get that as well. We’re not going to be handing out billions of dollars, unless it’s actually going to make a difference. And we can’t be basically distributing taxpayers’ money purely on the whim of what is an ambit claim for over $1 billion unless it actually does make a difference. At this point, there is no conclusive evidence that’s the case. There is conclusive evidence that this money gets flights going again and we’ll take it week-by-week proposition. You couldn’t ask for any more than that and Australians deep down in their gut know ultimately aviation only gets going again when people want to get moving again.


IBRAHIM: Jason, we want to move on to this other story that’s just coming out. We’ve got reports that Labor Senator Deborah O’Neill had accepted guests at her coastal Airbnb. Now, of course, there’s a travel ban, this is not supposed to happen. And again, these are reports that’s coming out now. It certainly doesn’t look good in terms of optics, does it? What it does look like is there’s one rule for the public and another rule for politicians.


CLARE: Well, the same rule needs to apply to everybody. I think it’s right to say that Airbnb can still be used, but there’s strict rules about who can access it and that applies to the people who own the properties, but also the people who use Airbnb. And I understand that Senator Deb O’Neill, for an abundance of caution, has now said that she’s not going to make that property available on Airbnb anymore. So that’s a good thing, that’s the right thing to do.


IBRAHIM: Well, isn’t that what everyone with Airbnb is doing?


CLARE: Airbnb is still being used. But it’s not allowed to be used for people to fly interstate or to go up the coast for a holiday. But it can be used for emergency personnel, for example. I know somebody that’s using it that’s helping people with the Royal Flying Doctor Service, for example. So there are strict rules about it. And when you do apply to rent somebody’s house using Airbnb, you’ve got to tick certain boxes and make it clear that you’re complying with the laws of the land.


IBRAHIM: Sure, but just going back to Senator Deborah O’Neill’s responsibility here in letting out this particular place to certain guests. You can understand that under current measures, the current measures have the support of the community at the moment. If this is happening for politicians, then surely that support will be withdrawn by the community soon.


CLARE: I think, you know the Australian community are doing fantastic. There’s some really tough rules, everyone being told to hunker down and stay at home. We’re not grizzly bears, we’re not used to hibernating at home. But we’ve seen that curve flatten and lives being saved here in Australia, you know, an incredible job compared to the rest of the world.


IBRAHIM: We’re not disputing that. What we are asking about is Senator Deborah O’Neill’s responsibility here in letting out this Airbnb to the public.


CLARE: I hear your point Fauziah. I guess what I’d say is that I’m sure Deborah O’Neill’s not trying to break the law here. She knows, like all of us know, that you’ve got to comply with the law and the law applies to everybody, whether you’re a Member of Parliament or anybody else, and for an abundance of caution she said look, to make sure that she’s not breaking the law, she’s not going to let the place out under Airbnb.


NICHOLSON: Andrew Laming, what do you make of this?


LAMING: Look, I’d back Deb O’Neill on this one. And I know this will surprise everyone and I am meant to take a free hit. But ultimately, it’s up to the individual to make sure that if they leave their home it’s for an essential purpose. There’s no evidence that the person hiring this particular property wasn’t following the Queensland Government advice about where they move, you’re just assuming a holiday home means a holiday, and it may not. I mean, Jason doesn’t want to be too sort of, you know, aggressively supportive necessarily of a colleague for what would be perceived as supporting his own mate. But look, I think this is ultimately up to the person who’s renting this place. If they’ve made a call that their employment takes them there for a short period and they’re going to domicile there, there’s no laws against that. I myself own a holiday rental. I couldn’t tell you who’s using it at the moment because it’s a managed property. So, I think we need to back off a little bit. I’m not going to be taking free hits on politicians over this, fundamentally until you have all the facts, you can’t make a judgement.


NICHOLSON: Andrew Laming, we might move onto the topic of schools. It’s front of mind for a lot of people in Australia and each state and territory is doing their own different thing. In New South Wales Gladys Berejiklian has flagged the possibility of a rostering system to sort of cycle students through to make sure everyone gets some face to face time with their teachers. I know it is a state issue, but is that something you personally would support?


LAMING: There’s a hierarchy here isn’t there? The public health evidence is schools are completely safe to reopen and that’s kind of where the conversation should end. But in reality, those that run schools also have a say. In Queensland we’ve had the Premier recognise that it’s not just vulnerable and working parents, it’s those for whom learning at home, simply can’t be achieved for any reason. I’ve said to parents hold that piece of paper above your head, turn up to school on Monday, if that’s your choice. If you choose not to go to school, I respect that parental choice as well. But what schools are doing very cleverly is making sure that there’s no premium in turning up. It’s an extremely shrewd move, particularly in Queensland, where they’re actually saying we will give you no additional care at school, over and above what you’d be getting home with online learning, which is bring your laptop, bring your headphones, you’ve got a relief teacher, you’re all in mixed age groups, sit there for the six hours. Which is effectively babysitting, and if our schools want to do that that’s fine. But I can tell you what the independent sector will be doing. Many of these schools will be letting parents choose and getting down to the hard work of educating. And at the end of the year when you look ATAR scores, I’m guaranteeing you now you will see a difference in outcomes if schools soft pedal through the next five weeks. This will all come out eventually. The goal is to educate our children, that is an essential service and if schools don’t take it seriously and just child mind with headphones, then I think you’ll see the results at the end of the year, and it won’t be good.


IBRAHIM: Jason, I want to flip this on the other side though, you know, we’re always talking about parents getting the choice to be able to send their kids to school or to have them learn via remote. But what about the teachers? You know, the Prime Minister appealed to teachers to keep schools open. It’s an emotional appeal, I understand. But surely teachers should have some say in whether they want to teach face to face or by remote?


CLARE: Yeah and let me give teachers a plug. They do a fantastic job and, you know, they’re not credited enough for the incredible work they do. It’s one of the most important jobs in our society. And teachers aren’t lounging around at the moment on holidays. They’re trying to put together classes to be able to teach their students online. It’s not an easy thing to do.  I’m sure that most teachers want to be back in the classroom teaching the kids they love. Most parents would probably love their kids to be back as well. I’m sure a lot of kids would love to be back at school.


I’ve got a mate who lives around the corner here, he’s got a little girl in primary school. He told me that she was given an assignment the other day to draw a picture of a favourite place and she drew a picture of her classroom. Now, can you imagine that a couple of weeks or a couple of months ago? She wants to be back with her friends, she wants things to be back to normal like all kids do. But it’s not that easy. That’s why, for example, New South Wales is talking about that structured or staggered way of getting kids back into the classroom. The sooner that can happen the better, but you know, as we’ve seen overseas if we make the wrong steps here, then things can get out of control very quickly.


IBRAHIM: Let’s hope it does happen soon.


LAMING: Can I just jump in there very briefly? And that is we can jump into school as of Monday. We can jump in, the public health advice is that and I don’t think states should be soft pedalling as they do. We’ve asked them for the evidence why they’re doing it, there is no public evidence for the state’s go slow approach in school.


CLARE: Well, and one of the problems there Andrew is you’ve got the Chief Medical Officer saying that, then you’ve got the Victorian Medical Officer saying something different. So parents watching this will be thinking, you know, just give us some clarity. What can we do and when can we do it? And give us a give us a clear trajectory as to when schools go back and when things return to normal.




IBRAHIM: Any sort of clarity. We’re going to have to leave it there. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us Andrew Laming and Jason Clare.


CLARE: Thanks guys.


LAMING: Thank you very much.