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27 May 2021




SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison’s failure on Quarantine; Canstruct; Morrison’s rorts and waste; Senate Estimates.

LIAM BARTLETT, HOST: Talking of the latest problems with Melbourne, Victoria, generally, and of course, the news this morning about the hard border between WA and Victoria being reinstated has once again raised questions about the quarantine hotels and the quarantine problems. There's more than 20 of the cases, at the moment in Victoria that's been linked back to hotel quarantine, that has caused some to once again, push for purpose built quarantine facilities one of those leading that renewed push is the Leader of the Federal Opposition in the Senate, Senator Kristina Keneally. She joins us on the program, Senator Keneally, good morning. 


BARTLETT: Nice to talk to you. You still think that's the way to go do you?

KENEALLY: Liam, there is no doubt we need a purpose built national federal quarantine system, and you know I'm not the only one saying that. In fact, the Prime Minister's handpicked expert, a woman named Jane Halton did a review of the hotel quarantine system for the Prime Minister last year, last September and she said then hotel quarantine is not fit for purpose. Now, we're going to be living in a world, quite sadly, where we're going to have to deal with COVID for some time to come, we are going to need a quarantine system to allow people, whether they be international students, tourists or Australians to cross the border safely, and right now we don't have that. Hotels are meant for tourists, they're not meant for medical quarantine and it is past time to have a proper quarantine system. 

Let me make one, one observation here Liam and I think your listeners might be interested in this fact. We've now had seventeen outbreaks of COVID from hotel quarantine in the past six months. And, that alone shows that these hotels are not fit for purpose into the future, it's past time to get a national quarantine system.

BARTLETT: What about the time factor? I know you say and look a lot of people will agree with you COVID will be around for quite a while, but vaccination rollout notwithstanding, by the time we get something built, will it be almost too late?

KENEALLY: No, I think you can put together something quite quickly. Look, we're talking about individual cabin style, you could do a range of ways that that can be done - 

BARTLETT: What, like a Howard Springs sort of facility?

KENEALLY: Indeed that is right and one thing we've learned from this virus is that it's airborne and that's one of the reasons hotels are not fit for purpose. And look, I want to pay tribute to the states, who did an immense job of getting hotel quarantine up fast in the first place. Scott Morrison and this Government have been responsible - the Federal Government have been responsible for quarantine for over 100 years - this pandemic hits, Scott Morrison and the Liberals vacate the field - they leave it all to the states. The states had to scramble and they quickly put together a hotel quarantine system.

Now, that might have been fine and it was fine at the beginning of the pandemic but now knowing what we know about this virus that it is, it is airborne. That hotels are not fit for purpose for quarantine and then we are going to need a quarantine system for some time to come. It is time for the Commonwealth to do what it must and should be doing under the Constitution: be responsible for our borders, be responsible for quarantine and ensure that we have a fit for purpose quarantine system, quarantine facilities in Australia.

BARTLETT: What are we talking though Senator? Are we talking more than one? Every capital city just outside, where are you thinking?

KENEALLY: Well you know I want to also pay tribute to the states and territories who are putting forward proposals - right now you've got a proposal for a facility in Queensland. You've got a proposal for a facility in Victoria. There is an opportunity to use a facility - another facility in the Northern Territory - at Blaydin Point - it's currently being used to house US military personnel. There are options available. There's Commonwealth land right around this country, we have an ADF and a range of other support services that could assist. I cannot understand why the Commonwealth Government, this Liberal Government has sat on their hands on something that is their core responsibility.  

Let's understand this Liam, if you want to bring a horse into Australia, it's going to go into a federal quarantine facility. But, if you are a person coming across the international border, suddenly the Commonwealth pretends it's not their problem and it's all on the states. And quite frankly, while our state premiers like Mark McGowan and you know, Gladys Berejiklian in my home state and Dan Andrews and Anastacia Palasczuck have done a tremendous job. It is time for Scott Morrison and the Liberals to do their job. And inject urgency into two things: getting us a national quarantine system and getting the vaccine rolled out.

BARTLETT: Alright, we will find out what our listeners think of that. Senator Keneally, can I ask you another question in your role as Shadow Home Affairs Minister, well you and I have spoken about this on the program. A few weeks back now but I wanted to return to the subject of Nauru - were you happy to take a question on that?

KENEALLY: Of course Liam, I know you've got a really keen interest and deep knowledge of what's going on here.

BARTLETT: Well, the thing is, I mean, last time we talked about the overall contract from the Queensland based company Canstruct, the money, the five year contract. What was it $1.4 billion to look at after this?


BARTLETT: Now at last count there are just 109 people left on Nauru. Thanks to the work of a couple of very good journalists from the Sydney Morning Herald, there was the revelation the other day that another company - multinational company - called Applus Wokman, which secured $121, million contract back in 2017 to support the asylum seekers. They've been boosting their profits by billing the Australian Government - that's the taxpayer, you and me - $75 an hour for local workers who would then turned around and paid just $8 an hour to. What the heck is going on there?

KENEALLY: The extraordinary waste of taxpayer money in the contract to support the offshore processing centre in Nauru is, it's just shameful. And, it is taxpayer money and this is why I'm so concerned about it, you know, we do need an offshore processing facility in Nauru, and we do need to provide things like food, welfare support services while people are there, but quite frankly, that we have got now two extraordinary examples of: one, this $1.4 billion contract to Canstruct that was given without a tender process, it was the Commonwealth just entered into a direct negotiation - pretty much handed them a contract on a platter. Now, two, this company Applus, as you say, it looks like that from the information that's been put in the public realm, they are just skimming money right off the top - money that should be going to local people who are working instead seems to be going into that company's corporate profits. 

This is not what the taxpayer expects. They expect value for the money that they're spending. And you know what was quite frustrating in Senate estimates this week is that Home Affairs officials could not explain this contract. They couldn't explain the contracting processes. They couldn't justify why they had done a limited tender, and really, they couldn't explain why, as the number of people on Nauru is decreasing, they are increasing their payments to the to the Canstruct company. It boggles the mind so look, we're going to continue to pursue this through the parliamentary processes. I think there is a role here for the Auditor General to come in and have a look at these contracts.

BARTLETT: Oh, definitely.

KENEALLY: Because value for money is something that a government should hold dear to its heart. And, I'm also concerned because Canstruct we know has made 11 political donations to the Liberal Party. Now, it maybe that their contract is unrelated to their political donations, but I think it raises enough questions that the Auditor General should be looking at it, and quite frankly we should have a federal and national anti-corruption commission, a national integrity commission, that could examine contracts like this, because the public needs to have confidence.

BARTLETT: Oh, I couldn't agree more 

KENEALLY: That their money is being spent wisely.

BARTLETT: Couldn't agree more, hundreds of millions of dollars. I mean we're talking about quarantine facilities, that's how we started this conversation. There's a heck of a lot of money to put toward looking after Australia's own people not looking after 109 people that we should have dealt with years ago. 

KENEALLY: Can you imagine if we had funnelled, at least, even just half of this money into quarantine and vaccine rollout? We'd be in such a better position today. The people of Melbourne wouldn't be facing a lockdown. It boggles the mind that this is how Australian taxpayer money is getting spent by this Liberal Government.

BARTLETT: Well, I know, I know people on the right will say, this is probably inflammatory but I'm going say it anyway. I think you've had a very busy week at Senate estimates but thank goodness for Senate estimates because at least the questions are being asked.

KENEALLY: Yeah, it's a great feature of Australian democracy. And quite frankly, it's one of the few ways we now have to hold this Government to account and let's not forget two years ago Scott Morrison said he’d deliver a national integrity commission, he hasn't done that, you know, a Federal Labor Government will ensure we have an integrity commission in this country, but in the meantime we're going to use every avenue available including Senate estimates to hold this Government to account.

BARTLETT: I think you'll have to do something about Albo before that we won't get into that discussion today, Senator. Thanks very much for talking to us. We appreciate it

KENEALLY: Thank you very much. I look forward to coming back as a Minister in an Albanese Labor Government to continue the conversation.

BARTLETT: Senator Kristina Keneally, Shadow Home Affairs Minister.