Afternoon Briefing – protests; government’s child care announcement

Monday, 08 June 2020

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: I want to bring in my panel, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education and Development Amanda Rishworth, and Liberal MP Julian Leeser. Welcome to both of you. I’ll start with you if I can Julian, should protesters self-isolate for two weeks?

JULIAN LEESER, LIBERAL MEMBER FOR BEROWRA: Well I think Australians can be very proud of our response to COVID-19 and the comparatively small number of cases here and the small number of deaths, and that’s because everything we have done has been based on the health advice that the medical experts have given us. We’ve taken a very slow and steady approach in terms of reopening the country. There were many people who were at those protests at the weekend and the size of those protests far exceeded the maximum number of public gatherings that have been advised by the various States and Territories. So I think we need to look at this as a very serious matter and I think people should follow the medical advice that’s been given.

KARVELAS: Amanda Rishworth, what are your thoughts on the self-isolation demand that’s been put out there today?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: I think it’s important that people follow the medical advice. My understanding is that the medical advice from our Chief Medical Officer is that if people have symptoms, to go and get tested. I’m not aware that there’s been a direction to self-isolate. If there is such a direction from the Chief Medical Officer, then that’s the steps people have to do, but I’m not aware of any direction about that. Certainly the message should be out there all the time – if you have symptoms, do go and get tested. I think that’s important for people to follow.

KARVELAS: Yes, no there is no direction to self-isolate. It is to go and get tested if you’ve got symptoms. Julian Leeser, Mathias Cormann described the Black Lives Matter protests as “quite irresponsible”, he used some pretty strong language. Do you share that language?

LEESER: Look he was looking particularly at the health aspects. He was comparing the situation with families who’ve lost a loved one, where you could only have 10 people at a funeral, and people who’ve lots their jobs and had to close their businesses as a result of this. There were a group of protesters here, regardless of the issue they were protesting about, who seemed to have no regard for the Australians who have made sacrifices that have been made.

KARVELAS: I want to interject there. Some of these people are in incredible grief as you know, Indigenous Australians who are also experiencing incredible grief. Do you acknowledge that some of this is coming from grief?

LEESER: Patricia I have had people in my own constituency contact me in incredible grief because they couldn’t go to the funeral of a loved relative, like a mother or a father, a close in law and the like. This is a difficult time for people but we have to be focused on following the medical advice here. I think one of the things Indigenous people should be proud of, particularly proud of, in relation to COVID, is that there are only 16 known Indigenous cases of COVID-19, that’s less than one per cent of cases. What we have done in remote communities to prevent the spread there has been really miraculous. What worries me is people who’ve been to some of  these protests, particularly in a city like Darwin, might return to some of these remote communities that are just opening up, and they may well have contracted COVID-19 and that could have tragic consequences. So these health warnings are put in place based on the best medical advice that Government’s right around the country of both persuasions are receiving.

KARVELAS: Amanda, are you worried about that too?

RISHWORTH: Obviously we’ve got to be vigilant, and obviously people have got to have taken precautions. But at the same time I think leaders have a responsibility as well. I think in terms of the divisive language that Mathias Cormann used, I would hope that political leaders would see the pain and the frustration, which is what this was bubbling over, and actually respond. And actually seek to unify. I think that is what needs to come from these protests. While it is true in some places it was against medical advice, in other States and Territories it was managed in a different way by governments and police. But what we’ve got to do is, as political leaders, listen to these calls and actually work to address these issues. I think that’s certainly the message I’ve taken from this and certainly something that I think we should all come back to the Parliament this week doubled-down on our commitment to get these tragedies to end.

KARVELAS: Julian –

LEESER: Can I go to the substance of the issue there Patricia and just respond to Amanda. Look I didn’t think Mathias’ language was particularly divisive. But when we look at the issue of Black Lives Matter, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lives, and we look at the issue of deaths in custody, every death in custody is a tragedy. But when we take a protest that started in the United States that related to police brutality in the United States, and you look at the actual figures in relation to deaths in custody in Australia, a couple of things need to be said. The first is that while police misconduct is an issue, it is not the major issue in relation to deaths in custody. The major issue in relation to deaths in custody in Australia today relate to comorbidities, other diseases and suicide. And when I think about the tragedy of Indigenous suicide that is twice the rate of the rest of the population, that is the issue that we really have to focus on. And it’s not as if the Government isn’t doing anything here. There’s the custody notification scheme, there’s $243 million of funds that is put into Aboriginal justice initiatives, there’s the reset of Closing The Gap which will put in place a new target dealing with incarceration and Indigenous justice issues. This is an issue we’ve got the take seriously as a country but I’m not sure these protests are the right way of doing it.

KARVELAS: But obviously these protests reflect some genuine anger in the community about police treatment as well. In fact just last week we saw that video of that teenager in Sydney and mistreatment that happened there. Doesn’t that demonstrate we do have a problem?

LEESER: I’m not saying we don’t have problem but I’m just saying if you’re relating this issue to deaths in custody, you’ve got to actually look at the issues that relate to deaths in custody and the cause of deaths in custody. One of the problems I think we face here in Australia in relation to Indigenous policy is that too much of the public policy solutions that are devised here come from overseas. We need more Australians, both Indigenous and non-indigenous, working on our own solutions to the unique set of problems that beset us here in this country.

KARVELAS: I want to pause on that if I can, and in the last few minutes we have pivot to another important topic, and that’s child care and the big changes that were announced today. No more free child care Amanda Rishworth, and I know that you have been speaking about this. Why do you think the Government should continue free child care?

RISHWORTH: What I’ve been saying is that we are now going to snap back to the old system of very, very high child care fees. We have some of the highest child care fees in the world. And what the Government’s now done has said we are going to go back to that, at a time when we are really struggling in the economy. There are workers struggling, there are people struggling to find work. And what we’re imposing on families is another very, very high cost. People were already struggling prior to this pandemic when it came to child care fees, and what the Government has done today is said we’re going back to the very same system of very high fees in an economic time which is even more difficult than it was previously. So I think there’s some real problems here, and I think what we’re going to see is a lot of children drop out of early learning and care, and a real barrier put in place for women returning to the workforce as the economy moves forward.

KARVELAS: Julian Leeser, if we do, if that prediction becomes a reality, at this stage it is a prediction that there are children pulled out and therefore women can’t go back to work because they are so affected by this system – should the Government revisit it?

LEESER: Well I don’t agree the hypothetical will happen –

KARVELAS: But if it happens was my question.

LEESER: I’m not going to play the hypothetical game, Patricia. The Minister has been careful in the way he is returning us to the system. This was always a temporary measure put in place for the particular circumstances we found ourselves in. There is a transition period, this is not starting for another four weeks so providers and parents have a chance to adjust. And the transition period runs until the end of September, during which time they can’t charge fees greater than the February/March period, employees have their positions protected, there is still a transition package of some $700 million. This was a package put in place because there were child care providers that weren’t able to continue on in their ordinary work and there were parents who didn’t have access to child care. What we’re seeing now, as we return to a version of normal as the economy gets moving, is that those settings that were in place at the time coronavirus hit us are not needed anymore.

KARVELAS: And just very briefly Amanda, we’re about to run out of time, but you’re saying that they are still needed or a different model is need?

RISHWORTH: Some sort of affordability model is needed. To expect that in four weeks’ time the economy is somehow going to be rosy, back to where we were in February, no economist is seriously saying that. Therefore we need a child care sector that is suited for the times, that can provide affordable child care for families so they can try to get back to work.

KARVELAS: Thank you to both of you for joining me this afternoon


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