18 August 2020



SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison’s lie arriving cruise ships would be “directly under the command of the Australian Border Force”; NSW Special Inquiry into the Ruby Princess; Senate Covid Committee hearings into the Ruby Princess today.

FRAN KELLY, HOST: Well, Federal officials will face a parliamentary grilling today over the Ruby Princess scandal. That's despite a New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry already blaming the COVID-19 debacle on the health authorities in that state. Yesterday, the New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said "sorry" for the monumental mistakes that were made with the cruise ship that led to 28 deaths and more than 1000 infections across the country and overseas.

GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN (GRAB): I want to apologise unreservedly that to anybody who is continuing to suffer, or has suffered unimaginable loss, because of mistakes that were made within our health agencies.
KELLY: That's Gladys Berejiklian admitting responsibility for the biggest COVID cluster during the first wave of this deadly pandemic. Both Border Force and the Federal Agriculture Department, which had officials on board the ship, will face questions today from the Senate's COVID Committee. Kristina Keneally is the Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and a member of that committee; she joins us from Parliament House this morning. Kristina Keneally, welcome to breakfast.
KELLY: The New South Wales Commission of Inquiry identified a litany of quote, "inexcusable and inexplicable errors" with the Ruby Princess, but all the blame was sheeted home to New South Wales Health. The Australian Border Force was absolved of any responsibility. Is it time to drop the pursuit of Border Force and of the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton?
KENEALLY: Fran, what Commissioner Walker's report lays bare is that the Prime Minister Scott Morrison... well, let's call a spade a shovel here, flat out lied when he announced on the 15th of March, that arriving cruise ships would be under “bespoke arrangements” under the “direct command” of the Australian Border Force. Four days later the Ruby Princess arrived and what Commissioner Walker's report lays bare that the Australian Border Force had absolutely no power to stop that ship. Despite the Prime Minister's grand announcements just four days earlier, Australian Border Force were unable to stop passengers from disembarking from the ship and were unable to stop the ship from even arriving.
Now Fran, this is so typical of Scott Morrison. I mean he might be the Prime Minister of Oz, but he's more like the Wizard of Oz. He's standing up making these big announcements but when you pull back the curtain, you realise it's all just smoke and mirrors there's nothing much of substance there.
KELLY: But, just to that comment from the Prime Minister, I mean he did announce on the 15th as you say cruise ships would be directly under the bespoke command of Border Force, but if Border Force had taken that command, wouldn't they still have been listening to the health experts, the New South Wales Health expert panel that was designating Ruby Princess low risk of COVID contagion. I mean the ship still would have been allowed to dock wouldn't it?
KENEALLY: Fran, I think it's useful for listeners to understand and Commissioner Walker's report lays this bear as well, how those – this spaghetti bowl – these complex arrangements at our borders operates. New South Wales Health has a role and, yes, they stuffed up. And Gladys Berejiklian is absolutely right to apologise. New South Wales Health role is in a pre-arrival report that comes in the days leading up to the ship's arrival. When the ship arrives, the only people that can grant “pratique”, that is permission, for people to disembark the ship are Federal Officials. Federal Officials from the Department of Agriculture. And what we will be questioning those Federal Officials about today is why they did not do a Human Health Inspection report, why they did not do a Traveller with Illness Checklist. These are things they are required to do, not only by Department of Agriculture policy, but indeed by the National Protocol to manage coronavirus aboard cruise ships.
KELLY: That is true, so you'll be asking the Department of Agriculture that, but that doesn't include Border Force. I mean I'm just wondering, are you saying the Border Force under the new arrangements announced by the Prime Minister four days before the Ruby Princess docked should have been making its own health assessments?
KENEALLY: What should have been done, is that the Prime Minister having made a grand announcement that Australian Border Force would be in quote, "direct command" of Australian cruise ships, he should have put in place arrangements to make that possible. What we now know is that the Prime Minister did nothing of this sort. In fact, he seems to have sold the Australian Border Force up the river, making them publicly in charge but giving them no authority or ability to do anything about an arriving cruise ship. Let's be clear here Fran, we are in the middle of a global pandemic – a highly contagious disease. We already knew from the Diamond Princess, a month earlier how contagious this disease COVID-19 was aboard cruise ships. What does the Prime Minister do? He gives "direct command" or so he says to the one agency in government, Australian Border Force, that apparently has no ability to do anything about human health. I mean that is the exposure here that the Prime Minister now needs to explain. Why did he stand up and make this grand announcement and then he did absolutely nothing to give Australian Border Force – the agency supposedly tasked with managing our borders – the power to do anything about a health crisis at our borders?
KELLY: Okay, so by doing accepting that, no, just let me ask you on that, and you're accepting then the finding from Commissioner Bret Walker, that it wasn't Border Force that stuffed up here. I mean Bret Walker said, "neither the ABF nor their offices played any part in the mishap and the relative relevant legislative revisions make it crystal clear that Border Force despite its portentous title has no relevant responsibility for the processes by which passengers were permitted to disembark." So you agree, this was not a Border Force stuff up?
KENEALLY: Fran, I think that sentence from Commissioner Walker, says it all. The “portentous title” Australian Border Force – the portentous announcement by Scott Morrison on the 15th of March that Australian Border Force would have direct command is really just that, portentous – there's no substance to it. And that is exactly a great description of how this Prime Minister Scott Morrison is operated during this coronavirus pandemic. He made a big announcement on the 15th of March, there was no substance to it. Now there are questions that Border Force has to answer and we will be putting those to Border Force today.
KELLY: What are they?
KENEALLY: Well, I'm not going to preview all of my questions here on your program, Fran, but I will make this point, you know the Australian Border Force were onboard the ship that morning. So were Federal Department of Agriculture officials. We still do not know, even after all of the time of Commissioner Walker's report, who actually lifted the rope off the gangplank and said that people could come on down and leave the cruise ship. Quite frankly, we know that Agriculture Officials gave permission at 7:37am, but people started leaving the ship much earlier between 6:30 and 7:00, and even after Commissioner Walker's inquiry we still don't know who specifically gave that permission and what basis they gave it. Now, Fran we don't know that partly because the Prime Minister and the Morrison Government threatened to go to the High Court to take legal proceedings to stop a legal summons from Commissioner Walker to get Federal Officials to appear. Part of the reason Commissioner Walker's report is unable to answer some of those key questions is because Scott Morrison refused to allow Federal Officials to appear and give evidence, even though he promised back in April, that he would cooperate fully with this with this Special Commission of Inquiry.
KELLY: You mentioned the fact that the Federal Agriculture Department and it is Agriculture that is in charge of this from a Federal level did not administer something called a Traveller with Illness Checklist, while she was on board, the official didn't do that. How big a problem was that? And, will he be able to get the answers to that you believe from the people who are fronting up to your committee today, which include the Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram and the Secretary of the Agriculture Department Andrew Metcalfe. Are you happy with that representation?
KENEALLY: What I'm very pleased that we've got Federal Officials fronting up in front of the COVID Committee. The COVID Committee instituted by the Australian Labor Party to provide a level of oversight, while the Parliament has not been sitting during this pandemic due to the decisions taken by Scott Morrison to cancel Parliament. But, let me just go to this issue of how significant is the Traveller with Illness Checklist. These Human Health Inspections, these Traveller with Illness Checklist is part of the National Protocol to manage coronavirus aboard cruise ships. It's designed specifically for Federal Agriculture Officials on board vessels to carry out in order to determine if anything has changed from the state health department's last pre-arrival report, and when the vessel docks. It is specifically designed to catch the very circumstances that were happening on board that were happening on board the Ruby Princess. We now know from Commissioner Walker's report that the ship's doctor was so overwhelmed with sick passengers, she didn't have time to upload them all onto the ship's medical log and onto the, the pre-arrival system. The reason for Agriculture Officials are there, the reason they are tasked under the protocol to do this checklist, is to catch that very circumstance. They failed to do it.
KELLY: Can I just ask...
KENEALLY: You have to ask, if they had done it, what different course of – what different actions – would they have taken, and how would the course of this disease in Australia been so different?
KELLY: So just finally, given the problems and the mistakes made by New South Wales Health, the mistake you just went through there made by the Department of Agriculture Official. Should it in fact be Border Force that has more responsibility for people disembarking from cruise ships? Is that a change that has been made or should be made?
KENEALLY: I'm left wondering why Agriculture are involved at all. We had evidence from Agriculture, last time they appeared that they are just a “little more than a post box”, was the words of the Department Secretary Andrew Metcalfe. We have a spaghetti bowl of arrangements at our borders. We've got two Liberal Governments – New South Wales and Commonwealth – and between them they could not stop the one boat that mattered, the Ruby Princess. Such a mess is the human security, biosecurity management at our borders. Now, we need to get that simplified, we need to get it straight lined. Commissioner Walker's report makes clear there is overlapping and confusing set of responsibilities, and it is now up to this Commonwealth Government to make clear how they're going to manage our borders. You know we've got a Prime Minister with a big trophy of a boat to himself in his office saying, "I stopped the boats". Well his Government didn't stop the one boat that mattered. His Government needs to make clear what are they going to do to fix that because you just can't trust the Liberals with our borders anymore.
KELLY: Kristina Keneally, thanks for joining us.
KENEALLY: Thank you.
KELLY: Kristina Keneally is Deputy Labor Leader in the Senate, and Shadow Minister for Home Affairs Immigration and Citizenship.