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04 June 2021




SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison’s failure on quarantine and vaccines; Quarantine facility in Victoria; COVID outbreak; Stranded Australian children in India; NSW Labor.  

KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY: As I begin this morning, I want to send my thoughts to the people in Victoria. The news that there are four more cases and the lockdown extending, as was announced earlier this week - into next week is very difficult news for our friends and family and fellow Australians in Victoria and we are thinking of them today. I'd also like to begin by acknowledging the news that is broken this morning that Ms Brittney Higgins has been hospitalised after what she and her family had described as a torrid week here in the Federal Parliament, and that she was blindsided by the Prime Minister's tabling of a report done by his own office into his own staff's conduct, apparently clearing them.

Mr Morrison and the Liberals continue to treat Ms Higgins like she is a political problem to be managed, not like a human being and the victim of an alleged crime. Quite frankly, it's shameful.

I do want to speak today, about the Morrison Government's announcement of an MOU with the Victorian Government for a quarantine facility. After 21 breaches of hotel quarantine and a bungled vaccine rollout, Australians simply cannot afford any more of Mr Morrison's dangerous complacency. Outbreaks from hotel quarantine remain the single biggest threat to our health, to our lives, to our jobs and to our economy. And we don't just need a facility in Victoria, we need a network of national quarantine facilities fit for purpose for this pandemic. Now, Mr Morrison should not expect a pat on the back from the Australian people for realising 15 months into a global pandemic that we need fit for purpose quarantine facilities. This is 15 months since this pandemic began. Nine months since Jane Halton told Mr Morrison, that hotel quarantine is not fit for purpose. So my question to Mr Morrison is this: what has taken you so long?

Why is it always about the politics with Scott Morrison? And what is with this dangerous complacency about the lives and the livelihoods of the Australian people? Every capital city that receives international visitors and puts them in hotel quarantine is running the risk of an outbreak. So Mr Morrison, we don't just need a facility in Victoria. We need a network of facilities across the country. Fit for purpose, for this pandemic.

Now we don't even know the details are, of what Mr Morrison has announced. We know that Mr Morrison loves an announcement and he is rarely there for the follow through. It appears that this facility in Victoria may not be operational until 2022 - a whole two years after this pandemic started. That's simply not good enough. Mr Morrison's complacency is putting lives at risk. What we need is a safe, fit for purpose system of national quarantine and it is past time for Mr Morrison to come to the table and deliver that to the Australian people. The Australian people, in the middle of this global pandemic, need a government that is on their side. Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Senator, the quarantine facility in Victoria will be 500 beds. Mr Morrison says this is in addition to hotel quarantine not as an alternative to hotel quarantine, would you be expecting that once we see facilities up and running that you would actually see Melbourne's hotel quarantine system wind down?

KENEALLY: Let's go back to something Mr Morrison said earlier this week in Question Time. He said 'we have implemented fully the Halton Report'. That was a flat out lie from Scott Morrison. They have not. What Jane Halton said to the Prime Minister is that we need a fit for purpose, risk management approach. She made the point that for some visitors coming from countries where there's quite strong vaccination rates and where there is very little COVID, you might have a different approach than a quarantine facility. But what is quite clear is we are going to need a range of quarantine options as this virus evolves. But what we need more than anything is fit for purpose quarantine facilities for an airborne virus. Now there are risks with hotel quarantine. We know that and that is why we cannot simply leave every other capital city with just a hotel quarantine option. What did we learn from senate estimates this week? That Mr Morrison hasn't even considered the Toowoomba proposal. That is what I'm talking about when I say there is a dangerous complacency from Mr Morrison. He is leaving Australians behind to go it alone.

JOURNALIST: Just to be clear, you would be seeing those two systems running together?

KENEALLY: Jane Halton made it very clear. We need a range of options on the table. And we need a risk management approach. For people coming from certain countries, you might take a different approach depending on what their vaccination rates are, depending on whether or not they themselves are vaccinated. But what is fundamentally clear from Jane Halton's report is that we need safe, fit for purpose quarantine facilities to manage the most serious risk. And this is what Mr Morrison is failing to do. He has announced a facility that might not be operational until 2022. He has left behind the people of New South Wales and Queensland and WA. This is a Prime Minister who's dangerous complacency is putting the lives and the jobs of Australians at risk. Right now, there are millions of Australians in Victoria living through a lockdown they do not need to have if we have an efficient and effective vaccine rollout and if we had a fit for purpose quarantine system.

JOURNALIST: On Tuesday, Greg hunt told the Coalition party-room that within six to eight weeks, Australia could introduce trials to allow vaccinated Australians to leave Australia and to come back with the softer quarantine restrictions. Are you in favour of that or do you think it's too soon to be doing that? 

KENEALLY: You know what I'm in favour of? I'm in favour of Greg Hunt announcing it, not to his party, but to the Australian people. There is a fundamental lack of urgency from Greg Hunt and Mr Morrison. Where's their target on vaccination? Where's their plan for state quarantine facilities outside of Victoria? Why isn't Mr Hunt, telling the Australian people what his plans are? Why is he only sharing with his party-room? 

This is a Government that has got such a dangerous complacency. It is embarrassing, it is shameful and it is wrong that they are simply leaving Australians behind. 

JOURNALIST: But in principle should vaccinated Australians have these restrictions, ie allowing them to leave Australia?

KENEALLY: On these matters we would always take the advice of medical experts. I'm not going to sit here and provide a running commentary on what Mr Hunt may or may not have said behind closed doors in the Liberal Party room. 

JOURNALIST: On the Victorian facilities, how realistic is it that a facility could even be built within this year and there are reports this morning that the facility could potentially be used for athletes that are coming from overseas for sporting events like the Australian Open or the F1? How appropriate is that?

KENEALLY: Let's just be clear here. We need a Victorian facility, we need a Queensland facility, we need a WA facility, we need a New South Wales facility, to deal with the demands of this pandemic. And we are, we are a country that is clever, resourceful. And if Mr Morrison puts his mind to it, he could have these facilities up and running quite quickly. We have an ADF. We have the capacity here in Australia to build things quite quickly. It is not for lack of resources or capacity. It is a lack of leadership and urgency from Mr. Morrison. The Commonwealth Government has been responsible for quarantine for over 100 years. We are now 15 months into this global pandemic and the Prime Minister Mr. Morrison used to parade around you know, extolling his own talents in managing the borders, went missing in the middle of a global pandemic. Quarantine is Mr Morrison's responsibility. He needs to get it up and running across the country and the number one need for quarantine is the need to keep Australians safe from COVID. 

JOURNALIST: One of it matters that's up for discussion and National Cabinet today is the issue of mandatory vaccinations for care workers. Do you think the community would expect people working in such a sensitive setting like aged care should be forced to get vaccines?

KENEALLY: I can understand, well understand, those Australians who have a family member in aged care or indeed those Australians who are in aged care, to expect that the staff that work in that facility are vaccinated. I can well understand that the staff in that facility would expect to be vaccinated. But what have we found out this week through Parliament and Senate estimates? That only some 8% of staff in aged care facilities have been vaccinated. Some 21 aged care facilities across Australia haven't even had their first dose. When I talk about the dangerous complacency and the lack of urgency from Scott Morrison - aged care is the number one example. We saw hundreds of our fellow Australians die in aged care from COVID in over the last 12 months. When we finally get a vaccine the fact that we do not even have a plan for Mr Morrison and his hapless Aged Care Minister, Richard Colbeck, to roll out the vaccine in aged care facilities tells you all you need to know about the dangerous complacency and the lack of urgency. 

JOURNALIST: Yesterday in Senate estimates we heard that there are 209 Australian minors in India without their direct parents. They might be staying that their grandparents or extended family but they are their without their parents. Would Labor be advocating for special mercy flight?

KENEALLY: We have. In fact I have said this. It is inexplicable that the Australian Government are leaving Australian children behind during a global pandemic. There are Australian children currently in India, who are separated from their parents, and the Australian Government just throws their hands up and says 'oh, well, we don't know how we're gonna get them home.' This is a global pandemic, Mr Morrison, what kind of country leaves its own children behind during a global pandemic? Again, it's not a lack of resources or money. It is a lack of will and leadership from Mr Morrison to get these children home. And can I also just say, what a farce from officials yesterday in estimates, not wanting to call these children unaccompanied minors. I mean, what was their term something like solo travellers? These are Australian children. They're separated from their parents in the middle of a global pandemic. Mr Morrison needs to ensure that these children are able to get home safely. 

JOURNALIST: Just a question from Sydney as a former NSW Labor leader, how important is it for the Party to resolve the leadership issue quickly? 

KENEALLY: I hope that this matter is resolved today. Because quite frankly, there is a corrupt, sleazy government in Gladys Berejiklian's Liberal Government there in New South Wales. And frankly, they need a strong effective opposition holding them to account.

JOURNALIST: Would you like to see the vacancy filled without having to go to the ballot?

KENEALLY: This is a matter for the members of the NSW Labor caucus. I don't intend to start providing them with advice. My only encouragement is that the NSW Labor Opposition come together and focus on Gladys Berejiklian and her merry band of corrupt, sleazy rort loving, incompetent ministers. This is a Government in New South Wales that has a Premier who's had a secret lover who's in facing corruption charges -who has got right now a budget with a big black hole in it due to some dodgy paperwork and dodgy budgeting systems. This is a Government that has multiple members before the ICAC. This is a Government that has seen sleaze right throughout its coffers. Quite frankly, this is a Government that doesn't deserve to be re-elected and a strong Labor Opposition, united, can take that fight up to them.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the disunity will hurt you on a federal level going into the election? 


JOURNALIST: Do you think one of the candidates should withdraw? 

KENEALLY: This is a matter for the members of the NSW Labor. I anticipate and hope that they will get this resolved very soon. 

JOURNALIST: Who do you think should lead the? 

KENEALLY: I'm not going to start providing that type of commentary. I was a member of the NSW Labor caucus. And one thing I know, they deserve to have their say. They don't need a lot of advice from people outside.

JOURNALIST: You're a former Premier. What's the NSW Labor (inaudible). Why can't they cut through?

KENEALLY: Quite frankly, I'm not going to start providing political commentary. I always say there's nothing more ex than an ex-Premier and an ex-leader of the Labor Party. I don't intend to provide a running commentary.