ABC Weekend Breakfast – national cabinet

Saturday, 05 September 2020

KATHRYN ROBINSON, HOST: Well let’s bring in our political panel now. Liberal MP Andrew Laming joins us from Cleveland in Queensland, and Labor MP Amanda Rishworth joins us from Adelaide. Welcome to you both. Thanks for joining us. Alright, Andrew, I might just begin with you. What did you make of National Cabinet? I read an interesting headline after it wrapped up yesterday. One report read “There was an agreement to come to an agreement, an aim to have all states bar WA to reopen borders by Christmas, but not really any concrete plans.” Do you think that National Cabinet is now fit-for-purpose?

ANDREW LAMING, LIBERAL MEMBER FOR BOWMAN: Absolutely. It’s already served a great purpose going in. It’s got great challenges moving out. It has to release one or two states if they’re not going to make sensible decisions. And McGowan’s play here, in the State that’s got the lowest COVID risk of all, is quite bizarre and utterly poll-driven, and he knows it. He’s got high capital-to-labour ratios, mostly remote work, they’re unlikely to be affected by COVID in the way highly dense, low-socio economic areas are that we find in New South Wales and Victoria. The minute the Prime Minister switches off JobSeeker payments for WA, you’d have McGowan coming back, groveling for mercy. So we’ll keep paying the money from Canberra, he’ll keep wallowing in the moral hazard. Unfortunately, WA just has to live with that. But ultimately this is a virus. We don’t want to be petrified. But ultimately what happens is if you get one case of COVID in a state, it’s a political failure – that’s ridiculous. That’s why I think Gladys is doing it best in New South Wales. Soft-touch suppression and a big dose of common sense and we can get through this together without closing borders.

ROBINSON: Andrew, just before we move on to Amanda, do you reject the claims that Mark McGowan made regarding the fact that it would be an economic catastrophe for the nation if he got on the bus?

LAMING: Oh, completely. And he’s not listening to any medical advice. It’s McGowan “I want to close the borders.” His Chief Health Officer “sounds OK to me”, and then McGowan, under medical advice, “I’m closing.” There’s no advice. There’s no science. I studied with these CHOs. There’s no medical evidence to close a border. You need to red-zone and we know exactly what a red-zone is because public health defined it half a century ago. It’s just that these states won’t accept the definition of a red zone, and that’s the Prime Minister’s problem. The beauty of National Cabinet is you can’t force these people to agree, you just have to reveal that they’re wallowing in moral hazard, accepting money from Canberra. JobSeeker payments are so high, no-one is job-seeking anymore. And the longer this goes on, standing next to stethoscopes and uniforms, giving daily updates, the happier these premiers are.

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM, HOST: Amanda, it wasn’t just the borders and WA that didn’t come to the table as well, the Prime Minister wasn’t able to get consensus on the easing of the borders, a definition of a hot spot, even the agricultural code as well. A very interesting tweet I saw yesterday that said that the IKEA cabinet is far more stable than the National Cabinet. Do you think there would have been a consensus if it had been a different leader? How do you think Anthony Albanese would have handled it?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Well, firstly, I would say that there hasn’t been a consensus, and I think National Cabinet has broken down. I think partly the reason is that we’ve seen – as you just saw from Andrew – some real politicking. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer have spent the last couple of weeks I’ve been in Parliament kind of teetering on the edge of blaming states, of having a crack at states, not taking responsibility for example for aged care, when it’s primarily a Federal Government responsibility, and kind of blaming the states for that as well. So, it’s no wonder that when he then tries to get people around the table to agree on something, they’re not having a bar of it, because they know the Prime Minister’s sent a clear message that the buck stops with the States and not actually him as Prime Minister. So, if the responsibility all sits with the State leaders and the Territory leaders, then they’re going to have to do what’s right to protect their communities, to make sure that they are safe. And as you said, it’s not just WA. We’ve had the South Australian Premier say that he would not like to see community transmission in 14 days before he would open the border. You’ve got the Queensland Premier saying 28 days. Because this is what they deem as necessary to keep their communities safe. So, I think what a different leader would do would actually not spend the weeks leading up to National Cabinet blaming and politicking and criticising these Premiers for doing the best possible job they can in terms of the health response, but actually congratulate them and work with them in a better way. And that’s what I believe Anthony Albanese would do as leader.

ROBINSON: Let’s move on to the definition of a “hot spot”. Andrew, we know the Commonwealth came up with their own – 30 cases over three consecutive days in metropolitan areas or nine cases for regional cases. That is the federal agreement that they’ve announced. But as we know, the States and the Territories are now just going to think about it and how they might work on a definition. The Prime Minister said there would be a definition come rain, hail or shine. Do you think this was perhaps not quite the outcome he was expecting?

LAMING: Well, this is a definition that, of course, States would have to go and reconsider. The definition of a hot spot is effectively 14 days of no community transmission. Why? Because of the 95 per cent confidence interval is seven days. We do it twice. And that’s well-known. Under these grounds, you’d have most of local government areas in both Victoria and New South Wales already green-zoned, and no pain over this New South Wales-Queensland border, in particular. I mean, you can’t sit around and say we’re listening to the medical advice while a baby dies while a mum waits 16 hours for permission to travel. You’ve got an entire town who can’t go to a supermarket to buy essentials. And you’re threatening to lock up 12-year-old girls in boarding schools and leave food at the door for them, while they come out potentially with an eating disorder under that kind of treatment. None of that is safe. The nearest virus to these bording schools is 500km away, and the PM is begging for common sense. You can’t keep hiding behind a Chief Health Officer that’s not relying on the science. They’ve left the science behind in the last solar system. This is about appearing tough, virtue signalling and staying on the front page every day, standing next to a stethoscope and a uniform. Quibbling over this definition is a Prime Minister desperate to get the nation back into some form of activity, because this is just a virus that we can negotiate. But the world is starting to laugh at us, because we got it right in the first wave, then Daniel Andrews let it out of Victoria, Annastacia let it in through sloppy airport procedures, and now they’re using that as an excuse to lock down right through to a state election up here in Queensland.

IBRAHIM: Amanda, what does it say about the fact that States and Territory leaders have decided to actually reject the official Federal Chief Minister’s definition of a hot spot?

RISHWORTH: Ten cases obviously over three consecutive days is 30 cases. And I think what I hear – and I’m not a medical expert – but certainly what I know that people are worried about is community transmission. Where the cases pop up and you don’t know where they come from. And I think when you listen to what the Premiers are saying, the Premiers seem to be saying “Look, until there’s no community transmission, until there’s not cases where you do not know where they come from, we can’t risk allowing this virus to take off.” We’ve seen what happened in Victoria. The devastation is not just when it comes to the many, many deaths we’ve seen there, but also to the economy. So I think that we’ve got to be really clear. I don’t know where this ten cases, 30 cumulative cases over three days, came from, but I certainly know that in all the discussion the Chief Medical Officers have always been very, very concerned when they don’t know where the cases are coming from, because it means the virus isn’t controlled, and it does have the opportunity to take off. And I don’t think the rest of the world is laughing at us, I think the rest of the world is actually probably looking at us and thinking that we’ve done extremely well. Because if we have uncontained spread of this virus, then it knocks business confidence. While we have been doing well in South Australia, when issues emerged in Victoria, businesses here in South Australia said it knocked consumer confidence, people get worried. So, we do have to contain this virus. We can’t just let it out of the bag and negotiate with it, I’m not sure what Andrew meant by that. But we can’t do that. We need to make sure that we’ve got a plan that actually stops community transmission, and for us, and protecting our economy on the way through.

ROBINSON: So, Andrew, what do you see as the way forward, then? I mean, when you look at the relationship, not just between the Feds and the States and Territories, but within the country between the State and Territory leaders, we know that yesterday Annastacia Palaszczuk extended that border bubble, but she wants that 28 days of no community transmission. The New South Wales Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has reached out asking for compassion. So, where do we go from this point, where it seems that border states and territories are so diametrically opposed?

LAMING: Well it’s not as bad as it sounds. I support most of what Amanda said about identifying, if there’s spread, whether it’s of unknown origin or not. She asked where the definition came, it came from the Principal Health Committee and the medical experts. The Prime Minister doesn’t make these definitions up. I’m positive because Gladys is showing the way. New South Wales, massive COVID potential risk, very small number of cases, light-touch suppression, common sense. I support Daniel Andrews. He had to go to level 4. He is going to beat this virus. So, since hotel quarantine, 10 out of 10 for Daniel Andrews. Annastacia Palaszczuk is just off in another solar system with this, you know, getting tough on the virus when it’s not within 500km of these areas that we’re just trying to look after in the bush. Steven Marshall, focused on bringing back the $36 billion international education sector – good for him. While Queensland is obsessed with an AFL game, with 400 officials sipping mojitos around a resort pool deck. And you’ve got McGowan off obviously in his own universe. He’s at the lowest risk of COVID of all, making out he’s at the highest risk. He’s got no idea. So, there’s potential here. Follow the states that are making it work – South Australia and New South Wales.

IBRAHIM: Alright. You’re both residents of Queensland and South Australia. How do you both feel about people coming back into your states by December? Amanda, if I could start with you?

RISHWORTH: I would like to see border travel happen as quickly as possible, when it’s safe to do so. And I think if we can get the virus under control, if we can reduce community transmission, if we can suppress it in a way that it does not pose a risk to South Australians, then of course we want to see people being able to visit family at Christmas. I think trying to make this into a political football is really dangerous, and trying to make it emotive. But we don’t want to do it too soon. We saw what happened when the Federal Government was demanding Annastacia Palaszczuk opened her borders. If she had done so when they demanded, there would be an outbreak in Queensland from Victoria. So, we’ve got to be cautious about this. But no one wants to have their borders closed any longer than they have to, to keep the community safe.

IBRAHIM: Andrew, very quickly from you – how do you feel about people coming back into Queensland by Christmas?

LAMING: Well, if you are from a red zone, you can’t come. When the red zones disappear because there’s no community transmission your restart again. 95 per cent of local government areas have no disease, they should be allowed to travel freely, but if you’re from a red zone, you will get picked up at the border. We do need better airline data sharing particularly those who fly via a place like Sydney to hide that they came from Melbourne. And the final point get rid of these international caps. There is 25,000 Australians, they should be allowed to come home. We as a nation are big enough and good enough to quarantine them appropriately and safely. For goodness sake chuck those caps out. Why? Because I have got one million international students and skilled workers that we need to bring in by next academic year and we can’t do them unless we do our residents and citizens straight away.


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