Sky News – COVID-19

Monday, 16 March 2020

ANNELISE NIELSEN, HOST: Welcome back now it’s time for our weekly panel with Amanda Rishworth, Labor MP and Shadow Early Childhood Education Minister, as well as Julian Simmonds, Liberal MP. Thank you both for your time, Amanda Rishworth let’s start with you first. The question on many parents’ minds is should schools be closed? Will that help with the COVID-19 crisis? What’s your insight as the Shadow Early Childhood Education Minister.

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: I think we need to take the best possible medical advice and schools need to get clear and concise information from their Departments of Education, that is critically important. I know in South Australia some clear advice has come from the Department of Education about cancelling assemblies and other gatherings where the whole school community comes together, but continuing with classroom activities. We’ve got to make sure our response is based on the best medical advice, and that’s the case for schools and also child care centres.

But there will be a challenge going forward if the medical advice does suggest schools should be shut, where do those children go? Who looks after them? And obviously concerns around older grandparents looking after them. So we’ve got to be very vigilant around this and make sure we’re taking the best possible advice, but also getting clear advice to parents and school communities. And to prepare for the eventuality, if it does occur, of schools being shut for proper online learning.

NIELSEN: Julian Simmonds do you think the Government’s doing enough to make sure that message is clear?

JULIAN SIMMONDS, LIBERAL MEMBER FOR RYAN: Certainly the message is clear but it is evolving and people need to make sure they’re following the latest advice and keeping up to date with the latest advice. But I’d agree with Amanda’s point that its important schools are getting the most up to date information, that parents are getting the most up to date information and that’s why the Prime Minister has established this unprecedented National Cabinet so himself, the Federal Government, all the States and Territory Ministers are in lockstep on this to make sure we are getting Australians the most up to date advice.

NIELSEN: Amanda Rishworth we’ve had some confusion in the community about the difference between self-isolation and social distancing, what the best advice is and that’s obviously been contributing to a lot of concern. What do you make of the Government’s messaging?

RISHWORTH: I think there needs to be a clear advertising campaign. I have to say it’s been very confusing, I’ve been talking to people about what they’re required to do, what they’re not required to do, do they need to get testing. So I think there’s a lot of confusion out there, and I’m surprised we haven’t seen proper paid advertising from the Government about what to do and when to do it. I mean people aren’t always watching news bulletins, they certainly aren’t always watching the Prime Minister’s address to the nation. So I do think it’s really important we see a coherent message, but importantly some proper advertising on social media with authoritative information to give people the information they need. I understand some of that maybe is rolling out but I haven’t seen any and I’m a pretty big consumer of TV and social media, so I would like to see a bit more action from the Government to give some coherent messaging.

It’s good to get the States and Territories together for the national approach, but I think it would be helpful to include the Opposition in that. We heard from Anthony Albanese last night that he hadn’t been included in that, and considering we are seeing pretty extraordinary circumstances I think getting everyone on one page would be pretty important.

NIELSEN: Julian Simmonds do you take that point? I mean I’m a pretty obsessive consumer of media as well and I haven’t seen any ads either, and that has been contributing to some of the confusion.

SIMMONDS: Certainly those ads are rolling out, they’re part of the health package that Minister Hunt announced earlier so people will see that. But certainly talking about confusion is how we lead to a situation where there might be panic. The messages are very clear and very simple and let’s just repeat them for everybody, this is wall to wall coverage where people are hearing this. Go about your daily lives but make sure you’re practising good hygiene. There shouldn’t be any mass gatherings of above 500 people. People who are coming back from overseas, whether they be citizens or visitors need to self-isolate now for 14 days. People need to practice good things, like for example getting out of the habit of hand shaking so that we practice a bit of self-isolation there. But the important thing is this information and this situation is evolving, so people do need to make the effort to keep up to date, as we will make the effort to keep people up to date as well because information can change, and you’ll see it evolving you’ve seen that happen over the last couple of days. So it’s incumbent – I know Australians are up to this challenge, it is a challenge and I know Australians are up to it and they will do everything they can to keep themselves and their fellow Australians safe

NIELSEN: Amanda Rishworth, Julian does raise a good point there about not inciting panic. There’s the flip side to all of this, the quarantine measures, we could see businesses go broke, we could see the economy really get into a dangerous space. Do you think it could be too much pressure being put on by Labor on some of these points about public messaging that could actually really do long term harm?

RISHWORTH: I think if we get accurate messaging out there it’s not going to cause public panic. A lot of people are coming to me with questions, for example if I come back from overseas and self-isolate what do my other family members do? Am I putting them at risk? There’s a lot of questions out there, people do legitimately have questions around some of these measures and would like answers. I had to say I’m not sure how you protect your other family members if you come back from overseas, so for me that was a really confusing thing. And then I had another constituent tell me their housemate wasn’t going to accept them coming back from overseas and allow them to stay in the house to self-quarantine, so they were planning to stay with their elderly parents.

So I think there’s still a lot of questions and a lot of things with the public information people want answers to, and I don’t think it’s going to cause panic by making sure there’s authoritative messaging out there around what to do. Otherwise people do go to social media and perhaps get not the most accurate or informative information, and that isn’t any good at all. Then you do have conspiracy theories and other things pop up that people are having to listen to and rely on if they don’t get proper authoritative information.

NIELSEN: Julian Simmonds we know there’s been plenty of that kicking around the internet. Do you think we should be looking at something like the Prime Minister doing a twice daily briefing because the situation does change so rapidly?

SIMMONDS: I know the Prime Minister is giving a briefing every day to the media so if people are turning on the TV or the nightly news or going onto online newspapers or whatever it is that they are getting the most updated advice from the Government. I am concerned that Amanda isn’t taking a more measured tone here because certainly we do need to get the advice out and that is exactly what we are doing. The messages are very clear and simple, but certainly if anyone has any questions there is the coronavirus hotline which they can contact, there is medical professionals, they can contact their local MPs office, give my office a call. The Health Minister has been very good about coming back to MPs who have had questions from their constituents, I know I’m giving regular updates to my constituents via social media and email and other things. So we are all working to get the messages out to Australians as soon as they become available as this situation evolves. If you have questions, don’t just go to social media and read that’s on Twitter, seek out the advice from the appropriate sources because they will answer your questions.

NIELSEN: Amanda Rishworth do you accept that? Is your tone not measured?

RISHWORTH: I think Labor has been very constructive. In a democracy an Opposition should be saying in a relatively bipartisan fashion we need to get more information out there. That is measured and I completely reject that from Julian. I would encourage people to seek information, but I would also encourage the Government to make sure they are working very hard in getting the right information out there as quickly as possible.

SIMMONDS: And we’re certainly doing exactly that.

NIELSEN: And we’re trying to do it here at Sky News, thank you for your time Julian Simmonds and Amanda Rishworth.


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