31 July 2020











FRIDAY, 31 JULY 2020


SUBJECTS: Ruby Princess; Border Force confusing negative flu test results for negative COVID test results; the need for Scott Morrison to apologise for failing to stop the one boat that mattered; the need for paid pandemic leave.


MADELEINE MORRIS, HOST: The ABC has revealed that the Australian Border Force allowed passengers to disembark the Ruby Princess after a senior officer mistook negative flu results for the results of COVID-19 screening.


BEN KNIGHT, HOST: Well, to get more, let's bring in the Shadow Home Affairs Minister, Kristina Keneally, who joins us now from Sydney. Kristina Keneally, good morning to you. This story that appeared on 7.30 last night showed that – it appears that a Border Force officer looked at a list of results, thought they were COVID-19 results, and they turned out to be flu test results. What does this tell us?


KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Good morning, Ben. Good morning to your viewers. You know, the documents revealed on ABC's 7.30 program last night showed a number of mistakes made by the Morrison Government with the arrival of the Ruby Princess. It showed us, one, that it was Australian Border Force officials on board the Ruby Princess that morning who made this tragic mistake, misreading flu test results for coronavirus results, and who made the decision, Australian Border Force, to allow passengers to disembark the ship. 


It was also Federal Agriculture officers on board the ship that morning, and they failed to complete the required traveller with illness checklist to manage for COVID-19. But what these documents also reveal is that, despite the fact the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, said that his Government would cooperate fully with the New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry into the Ruby Princess. In fact, the Morrison Government has been fighting a legal summons and refusing to allow federal officials to appear at the Special Commission of Inquiry. So, what we know from these documents is that from 20 March, the day after the Ruby Princess arrived, Australian Border Force realised and understood this tragic mistake, but Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison have been covering it up ever since, seeking to blame New South Wales Health, and refusing to cooperate with the special commission of inquiry.


KNIGHT: Well, the Border Force has put out a statement. It says that it strongly refutes the story, because it says, "The officers simply don't have the authority to allow people off the ship."


KENEALLY: Well, they don't have the authority, but this isn't about what legal authority they have. It's about what they did. And right there, in black and white, in these documents, it is very clear that it was the Australian Border Force officers who gave what's called "practical pratique". That is, the permission for passengers to leave the ship. 


It was Australian Border Force officers that were receiving the health results. In fact, one of the officers actually created his own Excel spreadsheet in order to tabulate the results of those flu tests. This response from the Morrison Government, quite frankly, is Trumpian. It doesn't surprise me, though, that Scott Morrison's Government would take such a Trumpian response to these allegations. They're not just allegations, they are there in black and white. What the Morrison Government is trying to do here is deny the reality of what actually happened. 


Now, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton can clear this up today. They can say what they knew and when they knew it. They can make sure, they can direct federal officials to go to the Special Commission of Inquiry and answer Brett Walker's questions in public. And quite frankly Scott Morrison should today apologise. He should apologise to those front-line Border Force officers who he left without the resources. Because let's not forget it was the Prime Minister who said that arriving cruise ships would be “under the direct command of the Australian Border Force.” He left them without the resources and the training to do their job. 


But the Prime Minister should also apologise to the hundreds of Australians who contracted coronavirus from this Ruby Princess wave, and the Prime Minister should apologise specifically to the dozens of Australians who lost husbands and wives, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, partners, loved ones, because they died as a result of coronavirus they contracted through the Ruby Princess.


KNIGHT: That's a big stretch, saying that the Prime Minister should apologise for those deaths?


KENEALLY: The Prime Minister should apologise for the failures at our borders. The Commonwealth Government, under the Constitution and in practice, are responsible for our borders. That's why Australian Border Force and Federal Agriculture officials were on board the ship, Ruby Princess, on the morning of 19 March, and New South Wales Health wasn't, because the Commonwealth are in charge of our borders. Now, this is a Prime Minister who's got a trophy on his desk that says, "I stopped the boats." Well, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton failed to stop the one boat that mattered, the Ruby Princess. And the Australian people should be able to trust their Commonwealth Government to manage the borders. Tragically, here in this case of the Ruby Princess, that did not happen. 


They failed to stop the one boat that mattered. People died. Australians died as a result of this. Australians contracted coronavirus. We had a wave as a result of the Ruby Princess. And so the Prime Minister and Peter Dutton need to apologise this morning for the consequences of the failures of the Federal Government at our borders.


KNIGHT: OK, well, there has also been some pretty big failures in Victoria, where clearly there is an intense second wave unfolding at the moment. And what - it appears... We certainly heard the Premier, Daniel Andrews, yesterday saying that people who have the virus have been going to work. Now, that's put the focus back on paid pandemic leave. That is, a special payment for people who can't afford not to go to work, in order to make a sort of more... well in order to keep them at home, essentially. Now, this is under discussion by the Federal Government. It says it's going to talk about this with employers and also with unions. You're saying that it needs to happen sooner?


KENEALLY: Absolutely. If anything, what this virus has exposed is the uncertain and difficult situation that casual workers, in particular, are placed in, in Australia. The increasing casualisation of our workforce, the gig economy, the fact that people don't have the capacity to access sick leave, that they're forced to go to work otherwise they're not going to get paid. You know, if we're asking people to isolate at home, if they've got suspected cases of COVID, or while they're waiting for a test result, they need to have the surety that they can still put food on the table and they can still pay the rent and they can still look after their kids. You know, I have to say, this is one of those things - if we're all in this together, we need to make sure that when people, particularly those in insecure work and casual work, if they need to isolate at home for the good of themselves, their families and our whole community, then we need to make sure that they're able to do that, and paid pandemic leave is a way that we can.


KNIGHT: Who pays for that? Because business are saying, "This is just not something we can absorb at the moment in any amount."


KENEALLY: Quite frankly, we are in a circumstance where the Federal Government has - and I will give them credit, rightfully acknowledge, we needed a direct wage such as JobKeeper. They were late coming to the table, but they got there eventually. They increased the JobSeeker payment. This needs to be part of the Government's response to coronavirus. You know, Scott Morrison is fond of saying "we're all Melburnians now, we're all in this together," well, he can show that, he can demonstrate that by stepping up, working with the unions and employers, and putting the Federal Government's resources behind a paid pandemic leave.


KNIGHT: Alright, we'll leave it there. Thank you for talking to us this morning, Kristina Keneally, the Shadow Home Affairs Minister.