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


SUBJECTS: Slow vaccine  rollout; Tourism Package; Quad; historic rape allegation against a Cabinet Minister. 

JOANNA NICHOLSON, HOST: Let’s bring in our poli panel now. We’re joined now by Liberal MP, Dr Katie Allen, also by Labor MP Jason Clare, who’s the Shadow Minister for Housing, Homelessness and Regional Services. Thank you both for joining us this morning. Dr Katie Allen, this morning we’ve woken up to the news of a major hospital in Brisbane being locked down. And you know, this plan by the government with the half price flights is reliant on states really opening their borders and keeping their borders open, does it concern you that we’re still seeing these outbreaks?

DR KATIE ALLEN, MEMBER FOR HIGGINS: We know that we’re going to have to live with COVID. That’s been very clear from the pandemic start a year ago, that there are going to be small outbreaks. And the way that Gladys Berejiklian has handled this has been really excellent, which is about closing down hotspots not closing down borders. She’s done it three times not just with Ruby Princess, but again through the Victorian outbreak and then through the Northern Beaches outbreak. She knows how to do this. And I really encourage Premiers to look at this model, because Australia has aggressively suppressed Coronavirus. We’ve done it better than almost anyone else in the world. And that is the way to go forward to go to [INAUDILBLE] have the COVID vaccine  rollout ongoing now. We’re learning to live with the virus. We need to have confidence in our system. And we know that looking at going forward, this is going to be where we get the balance right. So we know that there’s going to continue to be cases coming to Australia in the foreseeable future, and there going to be small outbreaks, how do you manage that outbreaks with excellent contact tracing and making sure you’re getting control of these small outbreaks as they occur, clamping down on them so the rest of Australia will keep going about it’s working play as we want it to.

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM, HOST: Jason Clare it’s all about trying to revive the economy trying to get the economy going and this is what this package is for. Given that Labor premier in WA Mark McGowan is expected to win the WA elections and we know that he is a premier who’s very much dedicated to border shutdown so we say instead of just hotspots, do you think he and perhaps other premiers like him who are quick to shut down borders will be that huge challenge to the economic recovery for the nation?

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMLESSNESS: Well, I think the key thing is we’ve got to roll out the vaccine as quick as we possibly can. Until everyone’s vaccinated we’ve got the risks of outbreaks that Katie talked about, but we’re also not going to get the economy revving at full speed again, we’re not going to be able to open up international borders and get tourists in from around the world, until we get everybody vaccinated. That’s my main concern here is this is taking too long.

What’s happening in Queensland is a reminder that we’re just another outbreak away from another lockdown. And rolling out the vaccine is frankly taking too long. It’s like, it reminds me of Cliffy Young, that ultra marathon runner that used to shuffle down the Hume Highway, in his gumboots. We will get there eventually with the vaccine rollout but it’s just taking too long.

The Prime Minister promised us that 4 million people would be vaccinated this month. It turns out that was rubbish. He promised us we’d all be vaccinated by October. Now that’s not going to happen either. And at the same time, President Biden is telling the United States that he will vaccinate 300 million people by the end of May. We can’t vaccinate 25 million by the end of October. The longer it takes Fauziah, the longer it’s going to take for the economy to recover and for people to get their jobs back.

NICHOLSON: Katie Allen, we said in the introduction that the places that were chosen for this half price travel was based on their typical reliance on international tourism. And obviously international tourists go and visit Launceston and Broome and Cairns all those places that were on the list. But what place in Australia do international tourists not visit?

ALLEN: Well, that’s a good question. We want international tourists to enjoy all the fantastic tourism opportunities that are here in Australia, absolutely right. But these ones have been chosen as initial offerings.  I think if you’ve got a tourist destination you think should be on the list, then I think you should lobby your local MP and get it added to the list, I would say because the Prime Minister has been very clear this is the initial group of offerings based on international tourism and the need. Because we know that tourism private sector in Australia has been decimated. They’ve been doing really tough. This is great news for that sector. It’s great news for Australians about getting out into the regions going to those great travel destinations is great. Australians are great tourist, but we know those things the majority of their money overseas, so this is a great opportunity for the sector, and for people out in Australia to discover their own backyard and to get out to see the wonderful offerings that Australia has. This is a great way for this COVID tourism to get back off its knees. And if we could keep the money that’s been flying overseas, to international tourism destination spent into the Australian economy we’ll be fine. So we really want to encourage this. And we can see already that with this stimulus package, even just being announced before it is being rolled out there has been a massive uptick in Australians buying more flights. And there’s no doubt that when you start to stimulate the sector, with this initial offerings  people looking at all sorts of destinations, and we want them to do that, we don’t want to just keep it to the select set of destinations, we want them to look right across the sector. So this is a stimulus package. It’s the right stimulus package, because we want to stimulate the whole sector. We want people to get out there and spend into the region’s into these travel destinations, cafes, and hotels and tourism destinations themselves we want them to get on them to get on these planes. And I’ve just myself been to three places in Tasmania. I recommend people go down to Tassie, it’s a beautiful place to go and see the outback and see the world and really enjoy themselves out in the regional areas of Australia.

IBRAHIM: Very, very jealous.

CLARE: Yes, it’s great that it gets people on planes, but it picks winners and losers. If you’re working in the tourism industry, in one of these 15 places then it’s fantastic. But if you work in the tourism industry anywhere else, then it’s terrible. If you’re working in the tourism industry in a place that’s not one of these, these identified places, and you’re on JobKeeper, you’d be terrified at the moment about what’s going to happen in twoweeks time. There’s no incentive to go to those places.

And we talk about Tasmania, think about this, they’ve picked three airports all in the north of Tasmania, where the marginal seats are, but didn’t pick Hobart Airport. Hobart is the only International Airport in Tasmania. This is supposed to be to fill the gap left by an absence of international tourists and they don’t put Hobart because it’s not a marginal seat. You know, I can only think this mob’s got form here. They did it with Sportsrorts, giving money to places based on how marginal the seat was and we’re getting this here again. If they’re fair dinkum they’ll put Hobart on the list. And they’ll help everybody that works in the tourism industry, not just a select few.

IBRAHIM: The government has said that more places, more destinations will be added to the list as the months go on. We want to move on to other news that’s broken overnight. And we know that Prime Minister Scott Morrison was part of the quad meeting that happened earlier this morning, Australia time, of course, it was a meeting with the leaders of the United States, Japan as well as India as well. Katie Allen, I want to put this question to you, you know, the US of course, courting their allies to stand up to China’s rising regional influence, could this possibly just inflame the Sino-Australian ties even further, again, affecting the national economy?

ALLEN: Look, I think the important thing is to realize that China remains a very important trading partner for us. So we do need to continue to explore all our trading partners and all our alliances. And that is what Australia should do. We should pursue our national interests with regards to security, with regards to trading alliances, and I’ve been sitting on the trading investment growth committee, and that’s been a very clear message that’s been given to this bipartisan committee that Australia needs to ensure that it has great multilateral arrangements with all the regional partners and I think this quad alliance with Japan, India and America, is an incredibly significant alliance. It is very important for the region, the Asia Pacific region is seen as a very rapidly growing economic powerhouse. Australia has a very important role as a strong liberal democratic leader in the region. And this quad alliance is not just about security issues, it’s not just about our trading partnership, and about making sure that we diversify that trading partnership with other countries within the region. It’s also about ensuring that we show leadership to the region regards to the COVID vaccine rollout.  We know that of course, keeping Australia right for our vaccine rollout is absolutely essential, and we are doing that very safely very carefully. But we also need to look in a responsible way to our international partners, and that includes our wonderful Pacific family and this quad alliance has already flagged that the alliance will work towards helping and supporting the COVID vaccine rollout for those countries that aren’t in the wonderful position we are in to purchase out of vaccines and roll them out in the free and voluntary way to every citizen in Australia. We want to be able to offer that opportunity to other regions that we partner with from a trading and from a tourism point of view. I really welcome the quad alliance. It’s incredibly significant.

NICHOLSON: Some other news that broke overnight was that former finance minister Mathias Cormann won the leadership contest for the OECD and it’s being seen as a coup for the government. Jason Clare is this good for Australia?

CLARE: It’s great for Australia. I congratulate Mathias and congratulate the team at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that helped with that. It’s good for Australia if we’ve got Australians in big, important international jobs. So I congratulate Mathias. It’s hopefully the lesson here, for the Labor Party and the Liberal Party is that when you’ve got an outstanding Australian that’s competing for an international job that we get together, and back them. That hasn’t always been the case. But it should be, because it’s in Australia’s national interest to get involved in these things to be on the global stage.

And just on Katie’s point, I agree with her that this meeting overnight is fantastic for Australia. It’s great to have President Biden at the table focused on our region. I don’t think, we didn’t have enough focus from President Trump on our region, to be honest. So having him there is good. It helps hopefully, in building peace and stability in our region, which is what you need if you’re going to have trade, and more jobs. And as Katie said, this is not just about economic security, it’s about what we can do to help everyone in our region. If this meeting lives up to its word, and it helps to deliver a billion vaccines to our region, then that’s fantastic. Because COVID doesn’t stop at any border, it doesn’t have a passport. We need to make sure that we vaccinate the whole world if we’re going to get back to what life used to look like in 2019.

IBRAHIM: We want to address another story that’s been hogging the headlines over the last month in particularly over the last week or so. And that is the issue of the allegations of rape that is linked to Attorney General Christian Porter, from 1988. I wonder Katie Allen, and I think a lot of people are wondering about the kind of conversation that is being had within the Liberal Party at the moment, at a time when the government wants to focus on economic recovery, on vaccine rollouts. But at the moment everyone is focused on calling for an independent inquiry into whether the Attorney General is fit to continue in his role. What are the conversations that is being had in the party at the moment over that?

ALLEN: Look, I think it’s important to say that there are definitely conversations that are happening about all sorts of issues, including the issues that we’ve just talked about the COVID vaccine rollout, economic recovery, making sure that we’re doing the best thing we can for every Australian and making sure that the taxpayer is front and centre of that. But I think what the issues with regards to Brittany Higgins case and other issues that have been prosecuted in the media is it has raised awareness for people, about we need to do better when it comes to society’s response to sexual allegations and particularly with the Brittany Higgins case. There’s been a lot of conversations in Parliament right across both sides of the Parliament.

IBRAHIM: I think it is acknowledged and the conversation has moved on from the fact that society needs to do better. But what is the Liberal Party doing to do better when it comes to issues regarding women and safety of women working within the Liberal Party?

ALLEN: Well, I think the issue that we’re looking at with regards to women in the Liberal Party is that things have already been changing. And I’ve been very clear about that. But they need to change faster. And I think we need to have more women who are representing their electorate in the corridors of power. And we saw the difference between the 45th Parliament and the 46th Parliament. There has been this massive influx of fantastic women into the coalition ranks. In fact, it doesn’t feel like you’re unusual, being a woman in the coalition party room now. I feel very supported by my colleagues. But that doesn’t mean that there are not issues and there are not problems that we need to address. And those things are being addressed. There are lots of conversations about how to do this better. Because people in Australia look to their leaders in Parliament to show that they are doing things better and that they are holding themselves to the highest level of accountability and the highest level of behaviour.

NICHOLSON: Jason Clare, Labor has called for an inquiry into the allegation against the Attorney General Christian Porter, the rape allegation against him. With Parliament sitting this week, would you put a motion to the House of Representatives to press for that inquiry?

CLARE: Well I won’t foreshadow what the Labor Party will do. But you’re right we’ve called for an inquiry, because we think, frankly, it’s the right thing to do. It’s the right thing for the family of this young woman who has now passed away. I think it’s also the right thing for Christian Porter, because there is a cloud over his head with these allegations, this is an opportunity for him to clear the air. 

The longer this goes on, it doesn’t just create a problem for Christian Porter, I think it will increasingly create a problem for Scott Morrison. The longer it takes, the worse it gets for him because people start to question his judgment. That he won’t take responsibility for this and show a little bit of leadership. It looks like all he’s trying to do here is wear out these calls, think he can weather the storm, and that this will blow over, it just won’t. It’s going to continue to linger until the Prime Minister acts people are forming the view that this bloke doesn’t hold a hose, doesn’t hold an inquiry, won’t take responsibility.

Think about this Jo, if this was the chief executive of a big Australian company where these allegations were put, what do you think the board of the company would do? Do you think that they’d just put it in the bottom drawer? Or would they hold an independent inquiry to see whether the person that put in charge of their company is a fit and proper person to do the job? This is the Attorney General, the chief law officer in the land. I think that the right thing to do here for Christian, for the family of this young woman and just a general principle that we need to know that the Attorney General is a fit and proper person, is that we should hold an inquiry and the sooner it’s held the better?

NICHOLSON: Jason Clare and Dr Katie Allen, we really appreciate you coming in this morning. Thanks.