RADIO INTERVIEW - ABC 702 MORNINGS - Friday, 31 July 2020

31 July 2020











FRIDAY, 31 JULY 2020


SUBJECTS: Ruby Princess; Border Force confusing negative flu test results for negative COVID test results; NSW Special Inquiry cover up; the need for Scott Morrison to apologise for failing to stop the one boat that mattered. 


WENDY HARMER, HOST: The exclusive report by the ABC's political editor Andrew Probyn has revealed that a senior Australian Border Force officer mistakenly believed that passengers with flu like symptoms had tested negative to COVID-19, when they had tested, instead, as being negative for the common flu. And this is, you'll remember, going back to when 2,700 people are allowed to disembark the Ruby Princess cruise ship in Sydney. Now, since then, you will, since Andrew Probyn's report the Australian Border Force has pushed back and they say, well, we're not we're not responsible here. I'll give you the quote, "The Australian Border Force strongly refutes the claims in Andrew Probyn's ABC 7.30 reporting that a senior ABF officer allowed those people to disembark." They say that "no ABF officer had all authority to make biosecurity decisions in relation to the Ruby Princess." We should just say before we continue that we've requested to speak to New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard but he won't be commenting it until the Special Commission of Inquiry into the incident is finished and as you heard there Robbie says that's due in about two weeks.


ROBBIE BUCK, HOST: Kristina Keneally is the Labor Senator for New South Wales and Shadow Minister for Home Affairs. Good morning to you.




BUCK: This is quite a tangled mess and I guess we'll get some more detail in a fortnight's time but the revelations or the allegations that we saw aired last night. From your point of view you suggest that the responsibility in this case, sits at the feet of border Force?


KENEALLY: Well the documents that Andrew Probyn relied on last night In fact come from the Government, their Freedom of Information documents and evidence, thousands of pages of evidence they tendered to the Special Commission of Inquiry. I think it's important to understand what those documents show in black and white. They show that it was Australian Border Force and Federal Agriculture officials on board the Ruby Princess on the morning of 19 March. They show that it was the Australian Border Force who missed took those flu tests for COVID tests. They show that the Federal Department of Agriculture officials did not conduct their required travellers with the illness checklist for COVID-19. And they showed that it was the Australian Border Force that gave permission for the Ruby Princess to disembark her passengers, spreading coronavirus across Australia. Now, I'll agree with the Australian Border Force statement. They don't have the legal authority, but this isn't about the legal authority that they have under law, it's about what they did. And what the evidence shows, in black and white, is that the Australian Border Force received those health reports, misinterpreted them and made the decision to allow the passengers to get off this boat.


HARMER: So when you read the statement in their press release, the Australian Border Force press release that ABF officer had authority. Let me read it very clearly, no ABF officer had or authority to make biosecurity decisions in relation to the Ruby Princess, you're saying that does not get them off the hook?


KENEALLY: No it does not. A couple things to bear in mind here, Wendy. Four days before the Ruby Princess arrived, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that arriving cruise ships would be, quote “under the direct command of the Australian Border Force.” And what these documents show, in fact, is that it was the Australian Border Force who made that decision. In fact, the Australian Border Force, if I can quote the actual documents that we're relying on, and this is what the Morrison Government has admitted in writing: “At the conclusion of ABF Customs and Immigration checks, someone from the Ruby Princess crew asked whether the vessel had clearance to disembark, and the ABF responded "Yes".


HARMER: Now I would understand you, you'd be very keen as a Labor senior member, to be sheading back the responsibility of this to the Minister, Peter Dutton, do you think that that chain can be clearly established?


KENEALLY: What I'm really concerned about here is that the Commonwealth Government are responsible for our borders. It's in the Constitution, it has always been thus. You know, this is a Government that prides itself on its border security. This is a Prime Minister who has a trophy to himself in his office saying he stopped the boats. They failed to stop. Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton failed to stop the one boat that mattered, the Ruby Princess. And when they put Australian Border Force in direct command of arriving cruise ships, they didn't give them the resources or the training or the support to do the job. So I would say the Prime Minister and Peter Dutton need to apologise to those frontline Border Force officers, they need to apologize to the hundreds of Australians who got coronavirus and they need to apologise to the family members of dozens of Australians who died as a result of contracting coronavirus through the Ruby Princess wave.


BUCK: Alright, as we mentioned before, though this is a complicated affair. And we know that it wasn't just Border Force who were involved in the, I guess, the care of these passengers when the Ruby Princess docked, but also New South Wales Health. And we know as part of the Special Commission of Inquiry that New South Wales Health were regretful that they didn't have an officer there to meet the ship, we know that Kelly-Anne Ressler who's a representative from New South Wales Health, when she spoke at that Commission of Inquiry.


[GRAB] KELLY-ANNE RESSLER, NSW HEALTH OFFICIAL: "Myself and my colleagues at the public health unit were working very hard. We did what we could."


BUCK: And they're obviously regretful that there wasn't more done, so it's not entirely the responsibility of Border Force, surely?


KENEALLY: You know I'm really glad you brought this up because I think it helps explain to people what how this spaghetti bowl of arrangements works. You're right. New South Wales Health has a role to play. And they, it looks like they didn't do their job properly either. But let's understand, New South Wales Health works under a delegated authority from the federal Biosecurity Act, they are delegated officers operating under a Commonwealth regime. And there is a reason that Australian Border Force and Federal Agriculture Biosecurity officers were on board the Ruby Princess ship when it arrived, because the borders are a core a responsibility of the Commonwealth and the final decision as to whether or not a ship can disembark her passengers does not sit with New South Wales Health. It is actually meant to be given by the Federal Department of Agriculture. In this case, it was given practically by Australian Border Force on the morning, and an hour later given formally by the Federal Department of Agriculture. But this is only after Agriculture didn't complete their traveling with travellers with illness checklist to check for coronavirus and after Australian Border Force misunderstood flu tests to be COVID tests.


HARMER: Now, Senator we know that, you know, for us, mere mortals are they trying to unravel this, this is a very difficult proposition and as we have mentioned, there is a formal Inquiry which is yet to hand down its details. I know that you will be pursuing this for a number of reasons, not the least of which is some political motivation, what do you hope will come out of this entire process or lack of?


KENEALLY: I’ve got to say, Wendy, the thing that really impresses me the most is the fact that we have, in the middle of a global pandemic, with all the risks of cruise ships that were known at that point—let’s not forget, the Diamond Princess was a month before the Ruby Princess, we knew cruise ships were a problem—and the Federal Government didn't put in place the proper arrangements to manage it, and Australians got sick, and Australians died. And quite frankly, the Australian Border Forces has known of these mistakes since the 20th of March. I want to know, did the Minister know? Were they involved in covering it up? And quite frankly, can I also point out that the Special Commission of Inquiry has been barred from getting evidence from federal officials. The Prime Minister said that they would cooperate. In fact, what these documents also show is that the Commonwealth Government, the Morrison Government is fighting a legal summons from Brett Walker, the Special Commissioner of the Inquiry and refusing to send federal officials to give evidence and answer his questions. Now, the first thing I would like to see come out of this is that the Prime Minister reverses that decision, contacts Bret Walker and makes sure that these federal officials are there to give evidence to the Special Commission Inquiry, but more broadly I'd like an apology from the Prime Minister, not for me, not for any political purposes but because there are people whose parents, partners, husbands, wives brothers and sisters, died because of the failure to manage the risk of this ship. Those are the people that deserve an apology. They're the people I'm most angry and upset for. And lastly, I'd like to think that our Commonwealth Government, that is responsible for securing our borders, could get its act together, I mean, you used to be able to trust the Commonwealth Government can secure our borders to manage our borders but, sadly, you can't trust this Liberal Government with our borders anymore.


BUCK: We will leave it there Kristina Keneally, but thank you very much for your time this morning.


KENEALLY: Thank you, Robbie. Thank you, Wendy.