Television Interview with Farziah Ibraham and Joanne Nicholson – ABC Weekend Breakfast – Saturday 13 February 2021






TOPICS: Victoria lockdown; hotel quarantine.


FARZIAH IBRAHAM, HOST: Let’s bring in our politician panel now. We’re joined by Liberal MP Tim Wilson and Labor MP Jason Clare, who’s the Shadow Minister for Housing, Homelessness and Regional Services. Good morning to both of you. Thanks for joining us. Tim, I might start with you. Did you arrive in Canberra from Victoria yesterday and what precautions are you taking?


TIM WILSON: I did arrive in Canberra from Victoria yesterday. In fact, I woke up at 6am and looked at the situation and thought, I think I’ve got to get to Canberra if we’re going to be able to sit in Parliament. What happened was yesterday, we came here, I isolated, got a test, the test came back negative, and so we’re complying with all the rules in the ACT, as I’m sure all federal MPs are, to make sure that the public can have confidence and we can get on with the job of governing the nation.


JOANNE NICHOLSON, HOST: That’s good to know that you’re nice and safe there, Tim. But let’s talk about these international arrivals. It’s something that Victoria’s premier Daniel Andrews has flagged that perhaps we need to be having a conversation about pausing the returned travellers back to Australia, and perhaps only allowing some of them back on compassionate grounds. Jason Clare, would you support this conversation?


JASON CLARE: I think vulnerable Australians need to be the top priority. We’ve had examples in the past and people with terminal cancer that have been bumped off planes. But all Aussies should be able to return home. You’ve got thousands stranded overseas, it’s the right of all Australians to be able to get home and for the life of me Fauziah, I can’t understand why the Prime Minister didn’t pick up the phone to the head of Qantas six months ago and say “Start your engines, we’re hiring a bunch of planes”, send a message to Australians overseas that “we are coming to get you” and pick up Australians, set up a quarantine system here and do it safely. He could have done that. Instead, they’ve just washed their hands of this.


HOST: But Jason Clare, it’s not just about those flights and getting them home on the flights. It’s then the quarantine system and what we’ve seen from the quarantine hotels is that we’ve seen these leaks and these cases breakout and the lockdowns as a result.


CLARE: The federal government is responsible for quarantine. They could have set up their own quarantine system. Instead, all they’ve done is leave it to the states. Just like the bushfires, they say that it’s not our responsibility, that “I don’t hold a hose, I don’t fly a plane, I don’t run quarantine”. And if the federal government is critical of what’s happening here, well then do it yourself. They certainly could. It’s their responsibility.


HOST: Tim Wilson, we spoke to epidemiologist Catherine Bennett a little earlier this morning and she said the problem isn’t the returning Australians, the problem is the fact that quarantine systems need to be strengthened.


WILSON: I don’t think anybody argues after more outbreaks, that there needs to be a review of the efficacy of quarantine. But the reality is that we have the infrastructure in part all over Australia next to airports in locations where the states can take responsibility. And that’s been the consistent advice, that the states are in the best position to practically implement quarantine. But can I go back to the point that was raised before about denying Australians access to their own country, which is the plan that Dan Andrews now wants to float. I frankly think it’s a despicable plan and a callous and a cold hearted one. There are Australians, as Jason just outlined, who have been desperate to get back into the country but have had flights cancelled all over the place. They have a right to come home. And frankly, half the reason we have so many Australians still stuck overseas is because Melbourne airport was closed for most of last year. And as a consequence, the second busiest airport in the country was closed down. New South Wales has taken the overwhelming number of Australians returning home, they’ve managed to get hotel quarantine to work. The simple expectation is that the Victorian Government could do the same.


HOST: Well, Tim, if you’re saying that Australians need to be able to be allowed home, perhaps the federal government could be stepping up its support of the quarantine not just in hotels, but perhaps what’s been suggested in these regional solutions were purpose built facility could be built, and the federal government could step up in that case.


WILSON: We had this conversation last time I was on and I had to point out that actually in Victoria, which led to the last outbreak, it was a consequence of the Victorian Government denying the use of federal government support. Now, we have got repatriation flights where flights have been cancelled, particularly from significant destinations. We do have a Howard Springs facility that’s being utilised for hotel quarantine right now. So the federal government’s working with the states (interrupted)


HOST: But is that cutting it?


WILSON: They have to be able to support and work with us as well.


HOST: Jason Clare, is it a case perhaps that other states and territories should be upping their cap numbers now?


CLARE: I think we’ve all got to pull together and each state that can do more certainly should, but the Commonwealth can do more too. The point you’re making is you can’t bring more Aussies if you don’t have a quarantine system to support it. The Commonwealth Government has just left it to the states and said “you run it”. What I’m saying here is the Commonwealth could do more. They’ve got a report that said that they could do more. Jane Halton gave them a report six months ago that said set up a national system. Now come on, with all the land that the Commonwealth owns, with the help of the Army and the Navy and the Air Force, you can’t tell me that the government couldn’t do more here. The bottom line though is we’re going to be dealing with this for months to come. For as long as this mutated version of this virus is in our community, states are going to be forced to go into lockdown and play this game of whack-a-mole trying to contact trace all the people that have potentially been in contact with people with the virus, and that’s going to keep happening until we get the vaccine rolled out and that can’t come soon enough.


HOST: Tim, given that JobKeeper and JobSeeker are expected to stop or be scaled back at the end of March, if we see these snap lock downs or border closures continue after the end of March, which is highly likely, what’s the government’s plan for supporting the businesses in those areas?


WILSON: Well, firstly, we’re hoping that it isn’t highly likely, that states will manage the quarantine system as New South Wales has, as the Gladys Berejiklian and the New South Wales Government has consistently succeeded in doing but seems to not be the case, at least in the state of Victoria. And if we do that, we won’t have these rolling lockdowns. Now, of course, we provided support and assistance through JobKeeper and JobSeeker throughout the pandemic. They were always temporary and of course, all those programmes will always be assessed based on the situation at the time. But the objective of the Commonwealth Government is not to have further outbreaks, to stop the virus getting into Australia to get the public vaccinated. That’s the biggest measure we can take to actually get people back to work and back to a new COVID-safe normal and that’s the focus of our government at the moment.


HOST: Of course, everyone is hoping that there aren’t further outbreaks. But if they are, surely the government has a plan?


WILSON: The government has plans on lots of different parts of addressing the virus but the core focus of the government’s plan is to actually get the Australian population vaccinated. Yesterday, the Prime Minister was in Melbourne himself to make sure that there was, to see the rollout of this vaccine CSL so that people can get vaccinated so that we can resume to a normal and hopefully we don’t have further outbreaks. That is absolutely, unequivocally our core focus: to stop the risk of outbreaks in the first place, not simply to address the problems of when they occur.


HOST: Jason Clare, as Jo was saying earlier there, JobKeeper support is expected to end by the end of March or so and this may mean that state governments won’t be so quick to bring up their borders, because they would really have to think about the economic consequences there. Do you think we will see few states and territories bringing up their borders as soon as there’s a localised outbreak as soon as job keep it ends?


CLARE: I think states shutting borders have helped stop the spread. It’s been a common sense approach. I think you could argue that if the United States had done this, there wouldn’t be 400,000 people dead.


HOST: Some have said though we’ve had this pandemic for about a year now, and just bringing up borders actually speaks to political interests, rather than to business interest, or even keeping states or territories safe.


CLARE: You ask people that were kept safe in Queensland by borders being shut, they’ll all tell you they supported it. It helped to stop the spread of the virus, which is good for the economy. Also popular which is why Scott Morrison backfliped last year, remember he joined a legal action with Clive Palmer to sue the WA government. He’s back flipped on that because people support that, and if people like Tim think that borders shouldn’t be shut down, then you’ve got the power to pass legislation through the Federal Parliament to open those borders up. They won’t do that because they know it works and they know what’s popular.


Just a couple of other things, Fauziah, on JobKeeper. There’s 1.6 million Aussies at the moment who work for companies who are getting JobKeeper. The big question is, how many of those people lose their job at the end of March when JobKeeper ends? How many get their hours cut? How many get their pay cut? How many end up back on JobSeeker at $40 a day? If that’s a lot, we’ve got a big problem and I hope that the government is looking at that and preparing for it now. Places like Cairns up at the top of Queensland that rely on international tourism, are buggered at the moment because they don’t have international tourists coming in and won’t for a long time to come. The Government’s got an obligation to look after the people there who either don’t have a job or might lose their job soon and end up not being able to pay their mortgage or getting kicked out of the place they rent.


HOST: Tim, I want to ask you about Nick Warner who headed Australia’s intelligence community until last year. He’s working for corporate lobbying firm, but he’s also being paid as a consultant by the Prime Minister’s department. Is there a conflict of interest there and have any conflicts of interest being declared?


WILSON: Well, I don’t know what conflicts of interest have been declared and those are questions that you should put to the Prime Minister’s Office. And since I don’t know the nature of the work, I can’t really give any answers to those questions. But what I would have thought is that if there are conflicts of interest to be declared, they should be declared, and I’m sure there’ll be proper scrutiny to identify where there are, as a consequence, not just to this article, but through the usual processes. I have no doubt though, Mr. Warner in every dealing I’ve had with him and there has been a number in my parliamentary work, has always held himself to the highest standard. And so I look forward, I’m sure, to him not having any issues and this just being an attempt by a particular federal member from Victoria who wants to draw attention to himself rather than respect the integrity of Mr Warner.


HOST: Jason Clare, Labor is pushing for the fact that perhaps this is a situation where there is a conflict of interest. What does Labor want to happen?


CLARE: Look, I know Tim Warner, I worked with him as a Minister on the National Security Committee.


WILSON: Nick Warner.


CLARE: What did I say sorry, Tim?


WILSON: Nick Warner. You said Tim Warner.


CLARE: Sorry, I know Nick Warner. He’s an eminent Aussie. He’s done great things for this country over many decades. I don’t know the details of this and whether there’s a conflict of interest or not. But as Tim rightly points out, if there are conflicts of interest, these need to be dealt with through the normal rules set up for public servants leaving employment. And I would expect here, that that’s the case, but really, it’s a question for the government about whether there’s been compliance with those rules.


HOST: And that’s where we’re going to have to leave this conversation. Thank you to both of you, Jason Clare and Tim Wilson, thank you so much for joining us on this Saturday morning.


CLARE: Thanks.


WILSON: Thank you.