22 April 2021



SUBJECTS: National Cabinet; Stranded Australians; Vaccine rollout; Biloela family; Victoria’s Belt & Road agreement; Home Affairs clothing policy.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Kristina Keneally is the Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Government Accountability. She has been patiently waiting and watching, of course, the Prime Minister's press conference too. Welcome to the programme and thank you for waiting while the Prime Minister updated us. What do you make of the Prime Minister's announcement today, particularly in that 30 per cent reduction we're going to have from India, but also a different approach to high risk destinations?
KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY: Good afternoon, Patricia. And let's start with the vaccine though, because no amount of recalibration or PowerPoint slides or spin from the Prime Minister can hide the fact that his vaccine rollout is a shambles. And this slow rollout which sees us about 90th in the world - and by the way, the Prime Minister said we'd be at the front of the queue, we are about 90th in the world in the rollout of vaccines - that is affecting our economic recovery, it is putting at jeopardy our health and wellbeing and it is making it harder for stranded Australians to get home. And particularly, when it comes to aged care and disability care. It is embarrassing, it is risky and it is wrong that we have had such a slow rollout of vaccines in residential aged care in aged care workers in disability. Quite frankly, Scott Morrison had one job and that was to get jabs into arms. And he has so far, failed to deliver on that.
KARVELAS: Well on that. The - I think it was Professor Murphy - made it clear that it would be still a couple of weeks till we saw all aged care residents vaccinated. So clearly, there has been a delay there. What did you make of that comment?
KENEALLY: You know, the government has constantly said, oh, there's no problem here. We're gonna have, we're gonna have four million people vaccinated by the end of March - didn't happen. Oh, we've got enough supply, we got our deals in time - that's not the case. What we have here is a government that is now unwilling to actually set targets. And, you know, I do agree with David Speers, and your listeners should take note that Professor Brendan Murphy said they'd have everyone done in aged care in a couple of weeks time. Well, we're going to be watching, because what we know is that everything that the government has, that the federal government has tried to take or claim they are responsible for, you know, keeping residents, aged care residents safe during COVID, quarantine - these are things they duck, they weave, they pass responsibility. So I have to say, I am highly alarmed that we have some 300,000 aged care workers who aren't getting the vaccine, we have something like less than 10% of people in disability care who've gotten the vaccine. You know, I welcome the fact - well, well, we'll see if it happens - but I'm welcoming the fact that there is a plan, at least, to try and get jabs into people's arms if they're aged over 50. But we have to be abundantly clear, we have vulnerable people in this country who are not getting their vaccines. And nobody should be getting a vaccine at the expense of our residential aged care, our aged care workers and people with a disability and their carers.
KARVELAS: Is it fair enough for the government to be designating countries like India as high risk given the soaring levels of infection there today? Just a staggering number - no doubt you're across - 314,000 new infections in one day, a new record.
KENEALLY: Look, we should always be taking the advice of medical experts when it comes to these types of decisions. And it's, you know, the question I would have here, Patricia, is the Prime Minister's claim that they're going to be greater restrictions placed on outgoing exemptions. I think it's useful for everyone to understand there are already in place significant restrictions on people who want to leave Australia. So it does beg the question, what are these additional rules that are going to be put in place if you want to leave Australia to go to what is going to be designated as a high-risk country? Because they're already really significant restrictions. I wasn't able to go to my father's funeral, for example, in the United States of America, because of the extreme restrictions that are already in place. So that's one question. The other question I have coming out of this is, is this just an announcement with no plan? We heard in that, at that press conference there when the Prime Minister was asked, when do these new restrictions come into place? He couldn't say. He couldn't say. Now, how can you stand up and announce something without having any sense of the detail of when it's going to come into effect? And as is always the case with this Prime Minister, he's always about the announcement, he's never there for the follow through.
KARVELAS: Do you think these new restrictions - including that a person pass a PCR test 72 hours before getting on a plane - are reasonable? And are people are at risk of getting stranded potentially in transit countries?
KENEALLY: That is a risk and it is something that other countries though have been doing. And it does beg the question why, as Mark McGowan raised earlier today, why we haven't been doing this. I can tell you that I'm aware of other countries have got these things in place. And it is it is a question as to why we haven't done it earlier.
KARVELAS: Are you worried about where this leaves Australians in India who are trying to get home? The Prime Minister was asked whether people should rush to try and get home. He didn't suggest they rush, but it does potentially if there's that is that intake, that 30% reduction, there's inevitability that it will be harder to get home.
KENEALLY: Well, we do remember, of course, that the Prime Minister promised that the stranded Australians will be home by Christmas. There are still some 36,000 Australians stranded and the biggest country, the biggest source country for stranded Australians is India. And that is largely because flights have been so restricted leaving India as well as the government has been incredibly slow - the Morrison Government - in sending charter planes to India to get those stranded Australians home. Now, some of these people have been there for more than a year. They have been crying out for the Morrison government to help them come home. And we have seen with Jane Halton's report into quarantine review, that the current system isn't sustainable, Jane Halton said. She said that the Commonwealth Government needed to put in place national quarantine facilities to get the stranded Australians home, she wanted a surge capacity. And again, what we have seen with Scott Morrison is that he has shoved quarantine onto the states, he has not taken responsibility for getting stranded Australians back. And now we're at this situation where he has had to restrict the flights based on medical advice. Once again, Scott Morrison's failure over the past year to get these stranded Australians home is the reason these people are still stuck there.
KARVELAS: Does it demonstrate that the government doesn't have confidence in hotel quarantine, if it believes it needs this 30 per cent reduction? If you think your systems working, why would you need a reduction?
KENEALLY: Well, in fact, we saw in Jane Halton's report that she said the hotel quarantine system wasn't sustainable in the long run. She said we needed other options. And she did recommend things like expanding that, not just expanding Howard Springs, but other nationally-run quarantine facilities where you could manage these types of high risk cases. And so, Scott Morrison's, you know, I don't think he's even responded to that report. I think he's acknowledged it and put it on the side and let it gather dust. You know, this was his hand-picked expert. So the fact that we still have 36,000 of our fellow citizens stranded overseas, and so many of them in India, they must be heartbroken this afternoon. They must be heartbroken. Now this is being taken on medical advice. And I get that and I accept that. But what I can't accept is a failure for the past year for any meaningful action from the Commonwealth to get these people home.
KARVELAS: Now, I just want to change the topic if we can, have you raised the case of the Sri Lankan family from Biloela on Christmas Island with the New Home Affairs Minister?
KENEALLY: Indeed, I did. I did it as soon as she became the Home Affairs Minister. I wrote to her congratulating her, I raised a number of issues that I suggested she and I, Karen Andrews and I, meet to discuss, including the Biloela family. And the point I made to her in that letter is that this doesn't need to be a political issue. I mean, most of Home Affairs issues should not be political. That's national security, we should be approaching it in a bipartisan way in the national interest. But when it comes to the Biloela family, this doesn't need to be a political issue. And indeed, there are senior figures in both the Coalition and the Labor Party who support the family coming back home to Biloela. You know, I would hope that Karen Andrews can approach this as a human, as a person, as a mother, as a Queenslander, and as someone who understands that there's a regional town in Queensland that loves this family and wants them to come home.
KARVELAS: Just very briefly on a couple of other issues. The federal government has torn up the Victorian Belt and Road MoU with China. Should we brace for trade retaliation? Is that something you're concerned about?
KENEALLY: Well, this legislation which the Foreign Relations Bill which the Labor Party supported in the parliament, was one where the Morrison Government said they had responsibility for foreign policy. And so they should, so they should. And what I say with that responsibility - for determining what agreements are in Australia's national interest -  comes also the responsibility for ensuring that Australian businesses have access to a diverse market. And quite frankly, under Scott Morrison's leadership, under this eight-year-old, tired Liberal government, Australia has become more and more dependent on China, in our trading relationships. We need a more diversified set of trading relationships, and it's now on the Morison government's responsibility to ensure that that happens.
KARVELAS: Kristina Keneally. I want to finally end with something that I don't know if everyone will know about, but it's quite interesting - is it reasonable for the Department of Home Affairs to ban its staff from wearing sleeveless tops even on zoom calls? And I ask as the woman who took a stand in our Federal Parliament, as you know, Kristina Keneally to wear sleeveless tops - journalists can do that now in question time thanks to my work. What do you think of this decision?
KENEALLY: Hang on Patricia.
KARVELAS: Have you just stripped off in our interview? No wonder people love this show, Kristina Keneally.
KENEALLY: There you go. This is what I think of the Home Affairs decision to ban sleeveless tops on Zoom calls. Why don't they stop fighting fashion wars and start taking responsibility for things they should be focused on like cyber-security and foreign interference.
KARVELAS: That was one of the best ends to an interview I've done on television, Kristina Keneally, so I thank you for that alone and I will lift my top up in solidarity. Kristina Keneally. Thank you.
KENEALLY: Thank you.