24 August 2021




SUBJECTS: COVID; Afghanistan.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, ABC HOST: The ACT has joined Queensland and Western Australia in breaking away from the national plan to reopen. What do you make of this?
KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Patricia I think right around Australia people are crying out for a plan out of these lockdowns. And really the only way that is going to be achieved is if we have two things: vaccination and fit for purpose quarantine. Now the other thing that the Doherty Institute modeling is equally important; things like the contact tracing system being able to keep up that our hospitals can absorb the cases that are occurring. And so, when the Prime Minister focuses on just one thing, vaccination, he needs to also be quite upfront with the Australian people, in terms of what does that pathway out of lockdowns look like? Up to now, he's been slipping and sliding saying he's got modeling, saying he doesn't have modeling, it's verbal it's not verbal. Just be straight with us Prime Minister, people desperately want a national plan.
KARVELAS: Well, the Doherty Institute has gone on the record now and made it clear that they stand by their report. They've issued a statement overnight clarifying the modeling on the plan to start reopening the country. That even with hundreds of cases a day, it is possible to reopen once 70% of the population is fully vaccinated. This is the institution themselves putting out their own statement, this isn't the Prime Minister. Doesn’t that address concerns about its currency?
KENEALLY: What I would say, Patricia is look at what else the Doherty Institute said overnight. It made this very clear point that this assumption, also assumes that our contact tracing can keep up with the hundreds of cases. It is the situation right now in New South Wales that our contact tracing system is really struggling, it's getting overwhelmed. There are people, particularly in southwestern Sydney who have been notified 10,12, or 14 days after a contact. Quite frankly that's not keeping up.
The other thing Patricia here is the 70% figure; parents are starting to contact my office and other MPs offices, incredibly concerned about their children. That 70% figure doesn't seem to include children and we know that children in the US and United Kingdom are getting sick with COVID-19 and dying. We know that our children are fast becoming the front line on this.  And so, if the Prime Minister is seriously talking about opening up, which by the way, everybody wants, no one wants to be in lockdown a day longer than they have to be. We also need to be assured that the nation's children are going to be safe.
KARVELAS: Okay, so if children over 12  that's where the vaccine approvals are at, are included in the plan would Labor be satisfied by that 70% opening up figure? Given you say people are really clamoring to open again. I mean, clearly there's a lot of fatigue this far into the pandemic.
KENEALLY: Patricia, let's be clear about something. The Prime Minister has been seeking to pick a fight with Labor this week; let's just call the political play here. He's been trying to say that Labor wants to be locked down, he has rocks in his head quite frankly Patricia, if he thinks, anybody wants these lockdowns to continue.
KARVELAS: Labor has been politically debating the Prime Minister too; I mean that's what I see.
KENEALLY: Patricia, two points I want to make here. Quite frankly, last year, my father died overseas, I said goodbye to him on an iPad, I watched his funeral live streamed on Facebook and I still haven't gotten overseas to see his grave.
I am just one of millions of Australians who've been separated from their families because of the necessary COVID measures that have had to been put in place. Now we have a Prime Minister who failed at the two jobs he had this year to roll out the vaccine, and to set up fit for purpose quarantine.
The fact that half the country is in lockdown today, that the parents are doing the hard work of trying to educate their children at home, that small businesses are going under and people are trying so hard to keep them afloat, comes down to the very fact that the Prime Minister did not do enough vaccine deals. He did not set up a national fit for purpose quarantine, even though he was wanting to do so.
Australians are working really hard to make these lockdowns work. What they want is a Prime Minister that equally does the hard work, delivers the vaccines that are going to keep them and their children safe and delivers the fit for purpose quarantine. What they don't want is a Prime Minister who just picks political fights and runs political spin.
KARVELAS: Well one of the political slogans that Labor has been using is that the Prime Minister only had two jobs, quarantine and vaccination. The Prime Minister has contested that today and said that just shows that the opposition leader Anthony Albanese is not ready and is not going to be a decent Prime Minister in the Prime Minister's view. Because clearly is not the only jobs that a Prime Minister has; he has many roles. How do you answer that critique?
KENEALLY: This Prime Minister hasn't seen a problem that isn't someone else's fault, hasn't seen a crisis that isn't someone else's to resolve. He's too little, too late, that's a problem for the States, I don't hold a hose mate, that is the attitude that he brings to every crisis that is confronting him in his job.
Australians wanted two things from their Government this year, they wanted those vaccines. I get sick and tired of hearing Government ministers almost blaming the Australian people for not getting vaccinated. I invite them to go out and listen to the people of Western Sydney who spent hours trying to figure out how to get a vaccine. Who wait hours outside in mass vaccination hubus, who actually can't get access to a mass vaccination hub because the Government says they are not necessary in Western Sydney.
They are in the epicenter of this outbreak and are facing the harshest lockdown conditions anywhere in Australia. This is a Prime Minister who congratulated Gladys Berejiklian when she didn't lock down Bondi, and then told her she had to lock down Western Sydney. It is the people of Australia that are paying the price for this Prime Minister's failure to do his most important jobs; to secure a vaccine and setup a fit for purpose quarantine.
KARVELAS: The Agriculture minister has argued debate over the plan to start easing restrictions is testing the Federation, and if there is a misunderstanding or a different interpretation or a different plan from different states and territories. Well, that's no doubt true what needs to happen to move past that, so that there is actually a national plan?
KENEALLY: Well you know I think we need to acknowledge that last year, it was the Premiers’ who supported a national plan through the so-called National cabinet. When Scott Morrison didn't want to do state border closures, it was the Premiers’ who stepped up and made sure that they happened. When Scott Morrison didn't want to set up mass vaccination hubs, it was the State Premiers that stepped up and made it happen.  I think when we look back at this pandemic the thing, we will notice is the extent to which Prime Minister Scott Morrison went missing in action when the key decisions needed to be made. The I don't hold the hose mate, too little too late attitude of this Prime Minister is not what Australians deserve at any time, but particularly in the middle of a national crisis,
KARVELAS: New South Wales has reached its 6 million jobs target, and we will find out details by the end of the week from the Premier about what sort of restrictions can be eased, do you think that they should do that? That there should be a reward for all the people who've been going out and getting vaccinated?
KENEALLY: Well of course I think there should be a reward for people who go out and get vaccinated. That's why Labor has proposed a $300 cash incentive.
KARVELAS: items not just cash as well.
KENEALLY: But Patricia. My point is if you incentivize people to get vaccinated, they will get vaccinated,
KARVELAS: But people also want to participate in the world as they once did
KENEALLY: Of course, they do. Again, my family is no different to any other Australian family. My two sons haven't been able to be together, because one of them is vaccinated and a frontline worker and the other hasn't been able to get an appointment.
Come on, you know, Australian families like mine, like yours, like all of ours, like the people who are watching this interview want that freedom. I think it's great that so many New South Wales residents have gotten a jab, but there are so many more who are desperately trying to do so and they are unable to get appointments, there are pregnant women, people with disabilities, aged care workers.
I'm hearing from them every day in my office who are just so frustrated that they can't get appointments. Let's not forget that Scott Morrison has failed every vaccination target he had that, to the point that now they've just given up setting targets. Vaccination is the way out of this, but we need to be sure that we are vaccinating the most vulnerable people in our community and right now with this strain of COVID that includes our children.
KARVELAS: Moving to the situation in Afghanistan. The Pentagon says the US hasn't ruled out keeping troops on the ground passed the current deadline. Do you support that? Do you think that would be wise?
KENEALLY: What I would like to see is the ability for the airport to continue operating safely for as long as possible, so that we are able to get as many people out as possible. And in that I include of course not just the interpreters and other Afghans who helped the Australians, either at the embassy or helped our troops, but of course, Australian citizens who are still stuck there. Family of Australian citizens and permanent residents who are trying to get visas and other vulnerable groups women activists, Hazara people. This is our opportunity to do the best we can in the middle of a humanitarian crisis to give safe haven and refuge to as many people as possible.
KARVELAS: Hundreds of former Australian Embassy guards and families were left standing in sewage outside the Kabul airport yesterday, only to be told they couldn't enter without visas despite being told they would be allowed into Australia on a another humanitarian visa after initially being rejected on what was a technicality. Obviously, this is pretty a volatile situation. Do you accept that these kinds of mistakes may be happening because of that volatility?
KENEALLY: Patricia, these are incredibly distressing stories and we have had other stories of people who've had visas emailed to them by the Australian government but, yet unable to get through to the airport. They are standing in those moats, standing in sewage. It's been quite distressing and yes of course it is volatile yes of course it is chaotic, but what we are doing is working cooperatively as we can  with the Government and I do credit, Minister Alex Hawke  for working cooperatively with me.
It would appear to me that the challenge isn't so much the granting of the visas, as it is people accessing the airport and I would encourage the Government to do as I understand other Governments are doing, working with security forces and others to try and set up zones, outside the airport to provide safe passage through to those desperately needed airplane seats on those Australian planes.
KARVELAS: Almost 1700 Australians and Afghan nationals have now been evacuated the Prime Minister says the initial 3000 humanitarian visa allocation is not a floor, it's not a ceiling. What figure would you like to see? Labor hasn't been clear about how many of you think should come in.
KENEALLY: Well, Patricia that is not a call that one can make in Opposition. Let me make this point Patricia, the 3000 figure does appear to be piecemeal and somewhat plucked out of thin air. The Government hasn't exactly explained themselves why that is the number. What Labor's been pointing out is that our humanitarian intake this year stands at 13,750, and most of those spaces will go wanting due to the border closures and because of COVID and are available to be filled. Patricia  I do acknowledge that the Government seems to be trying to grant this as fast as they can in what is a chaotic situation, and I make the point, again, that for me right now, the issue is not so much the number or the intake, the issue is actually securing safe passage as fast as possible for as many people as possible.
KARVELAS: Thank you so much for your time this afternoon.