Afternoon Briefing – SA cluster, culture

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Time now for my panel, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education and Development, Amanda Rishworth, and Nationals Senator Matt Canavan. Welcome to both of you. Amanda I’ll start with you because you are really in the epicentre of where this is all happening. How worried are you and people in your community about that growing cluster in your home State of South Australia?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: There is real anxiety in the community, particularly around Adelaide. I think a lot of people felt we’d done a really good job and so many people had done the right thing, yet we’re still seeing this outbreak. So there is a lot of anxiety, a lot of concern. People are immediately responding to this outbreak, changing their behaviour, adhering to the restrictions, but there is a lot of anxiety going around. I think as your previous interviewee said the next 48 hours is going to be really critical.

KARVELAS: Yes it is. Now we have seen an increase in cases, obviously there are some restrictions, Amanda Rishworth, that were announced yesterday. There’s a recommendation to try and wear masks, particularly indoors or where you’re close and you can’t do that physical distancing. Do you think that should be mandated?

RISHWORTH: I think we have to follow the medical advice. I’ve been consistent around this. We do have to follow the medical advice. So at this point, I guess I would be encouraging people. Particularly I think in areas like public transport have been identified, people still are using public transport, so I would certainly be encouraging people to do that. It hasn’t been a big thing in Adelaide so far but that’s obviously changing, so I think people will need to start changing their behaviour to respond.

KARVELAS: Matt, the WA Premier, Mark McGowan, has spoken today and he has really used some very strong words to criticise the federal government’s treatment of Victoria, saying Premier Daniel Andrews did what he had to do. Clearly we have another breach of hotel quarantining in South Australia that’s now led to this. Have we seen a difference response to the South Australian cluster compared to the Victorian cluster? Clearly there’s been a bungle in both states?

MATT CANAVAN, NATIONALS SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: Well, I haven’t seen Mark’s comments, sorry Patricia, but I think it’s a bit early days to be making conclusions. If it turns out…

KARVELAS: Well we know it came of hotel quarantine. We do know that.

CANAVAN: Sure. If it turns out that the Steven Marshall government had issued tenders to unreliable private security providers with basically no scrutiny and then tried to squash any inquiry into those contracts, well sure I’ll criticise the South Australian government as much as I’ve been critical of the Victorian Government.

KARVELAS: So it has to be an identical mistake? Aren’t you concerned about this?

CANAVAN: Of course not identical, but the clear facts are that the Andrews government stuffed it, and stuffed it big time. And they still haven’t properly, in my view, exposed exactly what happened and why these contracts were issued so quickly to security firms that didn’t seem to have much record.

KARVELAS: Okay so what we do know about South Australia is that people working in those hotels were not subjected to any mandatory testing weekly. Is that a mistake?

CANAVAN: Well look I don’t know. I’m not a health official. I think, like I was saying with the Victorian situation, obviously there needs to be inquiries after any of these types of circumstances are exposed for the most important reason, so that we can learn from them. Mistakes are going to be made. I was never critical of the situation that emerged in Queensland where some people slipped through airport security and ended up with a cluster in Brisbane for a little period of time. That was not something that, really, the Queensland government could stop. Things aren’t guaranteed in life. As your previous interviewee said we can’t just block the country out. We have to let Australians come back home. That is a risk. We have to live with risk. We have to live with this virus. There are going to be outbreaks like this. It is how we manage and respond to them that is important.

KARVELAS: Amanda Rishworth, the Health Minister Greg Hunt has also spoken today and has urged states and territories to take a proportionate approach to the outbreaks. I supposed that goes back to what I describe as the border wars. Should Queensland, WA really be shutting the border to Adelaide?

RISHWORTH: I’m going to be consistent on this. I’m going to say that each state and territory has to take responsibility. It’s not Greg Hunt that has to worry about people flooding into their health system, to be dealing with a COVID outbreak. It is up to the states and territories. So while it’s really difficult for South Australians at the moment who, for so long, have been restricted to go to states and territories where they feel there is COVID, now being restricted because we have a COVID outbreak ourselves, I’m going to defer to the states and territories. They ultimately have responsibility. As Matt has clearly said, the buck stops with the states and territories, and the Commonwealth Government seems to not take any responsibility for any of these things. So, while it’s inconvenient and it may prove to be necessary or unnecessary in the future, it is the states and territories that are responsible for this and need to take that responsibility. And being on the receiving end now, I’m not going to change my position.

KARVELAS: Okay, even though you’re effectively as an Adelaidean, banned?

RISHWORTH: Absolutely.

KARVELAS: Matt Canavan, what do you think because your state of Queensland has shut down the border to South Australia?

CANAVAN: I 100 per cent agree with Amanda there that the states have the right to impose travel restrictions. I’m a big supporter of states’ rights. Look, I’m not a health officer but I think it makes sense to now put travel restrictions on those coming and going from Adelaide, and I’d say the same thing if an outbreak occurred here where I am in Rockhampton. I do think the borders work. The reason we’ve been able to keep the virus out of the country is partly because the Australian government shut our borders down very quickly and early in the crisis. We were criticised at the time but it was the right decision. And sensible travel restrictions around the country are worthwhile as well. What I would like to move towards is this hotspot model that has been talked about but not implemented. I think sticking to lines on a map that were drawn in the 1850s is not particularly sensible. Really what is important is we restrict travel to and from where the virus is not where our state borders are.

KARVELAS: To clarify, you think it is reasonable that your State Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, has shut off people from Adelaide from coming into Queensland unless they’re prepared to quarantine for two weeks?

CANAVAN: Yeah, I see no reason to quibble with the health advice here to do that. I’m not saying that I should be the arbiter of these things. But the principle is the right one, that when a hot spot occurs, let’s put restrictions on travel to keep the hot spot contained.

KARVELAS: Just on another story the ABC is reporting on this afternoon, Amanda Rishworth, the federal Opposition Leader is denying there is bullying among his staff after an anonymous letter was posted online, containing a series of accusations about senior members of his office. These are pretty serious allegations about bullying. Are you concerned by the report, about this anonymous leak? Should it be investigated by his office?

RISHWORTH: Look I just can’t comment on something that’s unverified, anonymous, put on the internet. If I was responding to everything put on the internet that was unverified and anonymous. I’m just not in a position to comment.

KARVELAS: Sure but it isn’t the job of the Leader of the Opposition’s office to start an investigation, to find out whether it is true then? To try and get to the bottom of it, because there are serious claims there.

RISHWORTH: Labor has been very clear when it comes to bullying, when it comes to sexual harassment that there are processes that we put in place. Back in 2018 we put a range of very strong internal processes in place. Those processes really should be used by anyone that does feel aggrieved. If as politicians, we were always responding to everything that is unverified, anonymous, you don’t know the source, completely unverified claims. It is something that I just can’t comment on.

KARVELAS: Okay. Matt Canavan, I don’t know if this is a free kick I don’t like to give them to people. Do you think the Leader of the Opposition’s office should be launching some sort of investigation into what is going on?

CANAVAN: I’m going to defend here – well I suppose Anthony Albanese has put me in an uncomfortable position – but I don’t think you should put a lot of weight into anonymous claims. This sort of stuff gets thrown around all the time in politics. If someone’s not willing to put their name to it, you have got to question that there could be an agenda here. Given what we saw last week in Canberra with Joel Fitzgibbon there is a wider, whatever the merit or otherwise of this particular letter, there is a wider movement here of discontent within the Labor Party about Anthony Albanese’s leadership. And clearly Joel Fitzgibbon is trying to play a stalking horse type of role here to bring Albo down and replace him with someone else, maybe himself.

KARVELAS: Just staying with you if I can Matt Canavan. Last night your colleague Barnaby Joyce was on the ABC’s Q&A program and said this so-called bonk ban, which I’ve said I wouldn’t use the language of again but I did, the ban for Ministers to be having sexual relationships with staff, he doesn’t think it was a good idea, he thinks people should be able to have relationships with staff. What’s your view?

CANAVAN: I don’t think you should have personal relationships with your staff so I disagree with Barnaby on that. I supported the change to the ministerial code of conduct a couple of years ago. I am getting concerned, though, the concern was I think Julie Bishop put it best, that if you put this in place does it give licence for the media, but anyone, to start pursuing every gossip and rumour that goes around, a bit like what we were talking about before. We have got to be careful here because I have seen in the last couple of years young female staffers be the subject of media inquiries when it was absolute rubbish, like just complete gossip and innuendo, their careers have been destroyed because the media are going after a particular piece of gossip on the pretext of maybe there has been a breach of the ministerial code of conduct. I think that’s something serious that needs to be dealt with because that really does hurt innocent people and you end up with a situation where we try to protect those that are put in vulnerable circumstances, we actually end up hurting others. So I have a question mark over how that ministerial conduct is enforced, but as a general principle yes you shouldn’t have those sorts of personal relationships in your office.

KARVELAS: Amanda, Labor changed its policy on this, that there would be no sexual relationships between MPs and staff. Why did it take so long to get to this point? Obviously Malcolm Turnbull introduced this some time ago when it comes to Ministers.

RISHWORTH: I think ultimately there is ministerial responsibility and there is a code of conduct for Ministers. There isn’t necessarily such a thing for MPs, ultimately our arbiters are at the ballot box. But what Anthony’s been very clear about is he has this expectation and I think it’s the right expectation, because there is a power relationship there. There is a difference in power and that power does have influence, it can be coercive, it can be noncoercive but still play a role, and it’s very hard to unwind and untangle that. I think just for everyone’s peace of mind, I think it is a good policy. But as I said, we have had a sexual harassment policy, it has been much wider than just MPs and staff that has been covered like volunteers since 2018, and that’s a really important piece of policy.

KARVELAS: Thank you to both of you.

CANVAN: Can I say one more thing? Sorry. As I say I do support the general policy. But we don’t want to set up some kind of inquisition. People do fall into love and fall into relationships and the important thing is to manage those situations sensibly each time. If this starts becoming a black and white type of rule, as I say, people will be persecuted by it, not helped by it, and that should be what we’re trying to do here in these situations.

KARVELAS: Alright, thank you to both of you. Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education and Development, Amanda Rishworth, on the Labor side of politics, and National Senator Matt Canavan.

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