22 August 2021



SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison’s failure to accept responsibility or put forward a plan; lockdowns, high case numbers and Doherty Institute modelling; low vaccination rates and missed Government targets; Scott Morrison and always being too little, too late; Afghanistan and unclear advice.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: This morning was a real lost opportunity for our arrogant and dismissive Prime Minister. It was a lost opportunity for an acknowledgement that it’s supply of the vaccines at the heart of the current outbreak, the failure to secure enough vaccines and to roll it out effectively over the first half of this year that left us running last in the developed world when it comes to vaccination rates. There's a failure to put out a plan to ensure that we had purpose-built quarantine facilities, because at the heart of the current outbreak is the Prime Minister's failure when it comes to vaccines and quarantine. Australians deserve better going forward.
It was also a failure to accept responsibility. On the day in which half of Australia is locked down and New South Wales has broken the record, set yesterday, for the most number of COVID positive cases by any state or territory, the Prime Minister has written “rising cases need not impact our plan to reopen”. Now, he says this is based upon updated advice. But he hasn't given that advice to the National Cabinet or released publicly.
Australians are looking for certainty. No one wants to be locked down for a day longer than is necessary. But they need to know what the advice is based upon. And the statement from him, and his comments on Insiders this morning, seemed to contradict the director of epidemiology for the Doherty Institute, Jodie McVernon, and her comments on Sky News also this morning, just an hour before the Prime Minister's interview. Australians want less confusion and more leadership from this Prime Minister. And yet what they get is boasting, consistently trying to paint a rosier picture than the one that is there.
The fact is that every case represents heartache for an individual, but also a family, and for loved ones more broadly. There have been five Australians who’ve lost their lives in my electorate over recent weeks. And indeed, two of those people were known to me. We know that every outbreak is a concern. And we know also that families, mums and dads, are really worried about their kids, and are worried about the implications of what plan we need in terms of vaccinating those people who are under 16. And that is unclear at this point in time, as well. We know as well that for some particular groups, just 26 per cent of NDIS participants are fully vaccinated. The figure for those NDIS participants who are in group homes remains at just 50 per cent. These are vulnerable people, they were in category 1A. We were told they'd be fully vaccinated by Easter. We're also told that Indigenous Australians were a priority. And what we know is that just 14 per cent of Indigenous Australians are fully vaccinated, and in Western New South Wales, that figure is just 8 per cent, less than one in 10 of a group who were told as well that they'd be the absolute priority.
The PM today dismissed criticism as being “wise in hindsight”. Well, the truth is that he ignored the advice from veterans on Afghanistan, and he ignored health advice about the need to roll out the vaccine effectively for a long period of time. Chris Bowen was writing op-ed pieces in The Australian and other publications more than a year ago and we were asking questions in Parliament about the rollout of the vaccine, and we're told “we're at the front of the queue”. We know that that wasn't true.
The Prime Minister seems continually to be content with saying “she'll be right, mate”. Well, Australians deserve better. They deserve straight answers from their Prime Minister who has access to the best advice in the land, from public servants and from other organisations like the Doherty Institute. They're looking for certainty. They're looking for leadership, and they're looking for honesty. What they're getting from this Prime Minister, and they saw this morning on the Insiders program, is just anger and more spin. And that is why there's increasing frustration out there from an Australia that, as I said, is more than half locked down as we stand here today, including, of course, our capital city. Kristina?
KRISTINA KENEALLY, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Thank you, Anthony. I particularly would like to acknowledge the people in my home state New South Wales, who today have seen a terrifying record set, 830 cases in New South Wales today, two days straight of the highest records of COVID in a single day since this pandemic began. Quite frankly, Mr. Morrison hasn't seen a problem that isn't somebody else's fault, or a crisis that isn't someone else's responsibility to solve. He had two jobs this year – to set up national quarantine, and to roll out a vaccine and he has monumentally failed at both. The people of New South Wales and across Australia are now paying the price. Children are missing school, small businesses are closing, people in south-western Sydney, in particular, are distressed, locked down and highly uncertain what the future holds for them. Whether it's Robodebt, whether it's Car Park Rorts, whether it's bushfires, and whether it's the COVID vaccine rollout, Australians cannot risk another three years of Scott Morrison's too little too late, “I don't hold a hose mate”, “it's somebody else's responsibility”. That is not the attitude and the leadership Australians deserve from their Prime Minister.
I particularly want to address the too-late action that we have seen from the Morison Government when it comes to Afghanistan. Yesterday, I held two Zoom meetings with Afghani leaders in southwestern Sydney. The people in southwestern Sydney from Afghanistan, and indeed, the people across Australia, who have come here from Afghanistan, are incredibly distressed and worried. They are getting WhatsApp messages and text messages from family in Afghanistan. They have family members who are literally moving every few hours. They have so little information from the Government. They have so many questions that the Government is not answering. These 3000 humanitarian places, what are the criteria? What form are you supposed to use? What application process? My office has been in contact over recent days with legal services and refugee community groups who aren't getting any information either. These are the groups that are set up to provide advice to help people fill out the forms. They're not getting information from the Government. There's so much confusion going on right now. We're in an emergency in Afghanistan, a humanitarian crisis, where Australian citizens and people who are family members, immediate family members of Australian citizens and permanent residents, and people who have assisted Australian soldiers, particularly those interpreters, they're not getting the information they need. And the Government acts like this is some usual process. They're responding to a humanitarian crisis in an emergency with the usual bureaucratic process. Quite frankly, it's not good enough. They were warned by veterans. They were warned by lawyers, they were warned by former Prime Ministers from both sides of the political aisle, that the window was closing and they needed to get people out of Afghanistan. Now I acknowledge and pay tribute to the brave ADF, Home Affairs and other Australian personnel who are over there in incredibly difficult circumstances, doing their very best to save lives. But I also acknowledge the heartache and the pain and the confusion amongst all those Australians who have family in Afghanistan who are just simply not getting enough information, support and advice from the Morison Government.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much. Questions?
JOURNALIST: Mr. Albanese, should all states open up once we get to 70 per cent, 70 to 80 per cent, vaccination rate, regardless of how high the case numbers are in Sydney?
ALBANESE: Well, let's not what the original Doherty advice said. And that's not what the Director of Epidemiology from the Doherty Institute said this morning. So, we need to base action on expert advice. No one wants to be locked down for a day more than necessary. And I make this point about Sydney at the moment – my electorate, there’s streets in my electorate, were on one half there's a curfew on the other half there isn’t. That is causing enormous confusion and it certainly busts the idea that we're all in this together. And I'm really concerned about that. The information that's there is just so complex, it's changing all the time. And what we need is some certainty. Now, if the Prime Minister has a different view, that I heard for the first time again this morning, that rising cases need not impact our plan to reopen, then he needs to release that advice. And he needs to outline to the National Cabinet, as well as to Australians deserve to see that advice.
JOURNALIST: But once we get to 80 per cent, surely Australians would have the expectation that we start to open up?
ALBANESE: I certainly hope that that's the case. I don't want there to be closures for one day more than necessary. But we have to take action based upon health advice. Remember, this current outbreak occurred for two reasons. One, because we failed to take the advice about purpose-built quarantine. This comes from one limo driver, taking a foreign air crew, to hotel quarantine, unvaccinated, without a mask, without appropriate facilities being in place. And now, not just half of Australia, but parts of New Zealand as well, are in lockdown. And it came also because of a failure by the Government to take early enough action. I don't think anyone now doesn't acknowledge, although of course Scott Morrison won't accept responsibility for the fact, that he stood in this Parliament when we sat here and congratulated New South Wales on not taking action in locking down. And as a result, now, we have curfews, we have people who can't go to work. We have small businesses that are shutting, because this lockdown is about to go beyond two months.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister today said that Australians in Kabul should get to the airport. The US has given advice that is different. What should Australians do? In your view, is it safe for them to get to the airport?
KENEALLY: Yesterday, in my meetings with Afghan community leaders here in Australia, they were asking the very same question, should people go to the airport? Or should there be some other point in which they are encouraged to gather and been provided safe passage to the airport? The Prime Minister today failed to provide that advice. And the Prime Minister continues to fail to communicate clearly to Afghan community leaders here in Australia as well as people in Afghanistan as to what they should do and what should happen. Now, we know that this is a very fluid, dynamic, and dangerous situation. And that's why it's incredibly important that that advice is being provided. We welcome the fact that some people have been able to be airlifted out of Afghanistan. But surely the Government could have done more, earlier. And surely they can be doing more now particularly to meet with community leaders and families here in Australia. Let me make this point. Members in Senators have been overwhelmed this week with requests from their constituents for help for family in Afghanistan. My office alone has processed more than 1,000 applications and requests for help from the Morison Government for people who are either former interpreters or family members of Australian citizens and permanent residents who are seeking refuge from the Taliban's takeover in Afghanistan. So, we call on the Government to do more to talk to the Australian community, and particularly to do more to provide clear advice to those people who are currently stuck in Afghanistan.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Albanese, there’s concern from Doherty Institute itself that some state and territory leaders have misinterpreted their modeling when it comes to opening up at 70 to 80 per cent, because the modeling is more-so based on the capacity of our health system rather than the case numbers. If this is the case, do you think WA and Queensland had misinterpreted the advice? And if not, why are they still seem to eliminate the virus when it's not economically viable?
ALBANESE: Well, the fact is that the advice this morning, for anyone who watched TV, will be more confused, not less confused, including state leaders. Because you had the Prime Minister saying something that was quite different from the Head of Epidemiology from the Doherty Institute. The Doherty Institute modeling was predicated upon what they saw as being at low numbers, not zero numbers, but low numbers. And, so, if there's a change in that advice, and that needs to be communicated. Certainly. Jodie McVernon today was clear about her advice this morning.
JOURNALIST: What’s your personal view though? Should we open up at 70 or do we stay shut?
ALBANESE: My personal view is I know less than Jodie McVernon of the Doherty Institute who has spent a life doing these measures. I don't want, my personal view is, I don't want anyone to be locked down for a day more than is necessary. That's my starting point. But you need to do it safely. And you need to do it safely based upon that advice.
JOURNALIST: Now, the Doherty advice is to open at 70 per cent.
ALBANESE: No, the Doherty advice is predicated upon, it isn't just “open at 70 per cent”, it has some assumptions in there and it's predicated upon low numbers of cases. If there's a change in that, then that should be communicated. Thanks very much.