13 August 2020












SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison’s slack aged care “plan for COVID-19; Scott Morrison shifting blame for aged care; Scott Morrison blocking Federal officials from appearing at the NSW Special Inquiry into the Ruby Princess.


KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Let's go live now to the Shadow Home Affairs Minister Kristina Keneally. The Ruby Princess Commission of Inquiry hands its report to the New South Wales Premier tomorrow; I'll get to that in a moment. But I want to start with the Aged Care Royal Commission, the counsel assisting saying none of the problems we've seen were unforeseeable. So he's had a crack at federal authorities over that but to be fair to the Government, they have had a plan, have worked with the health professionals, including Brendan Murphy and other experts, to adapt that plan, quite clearly it hasn't been enough to stop the deaths, but it's wrong to say there wasn't a plan involved?


KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Kieran, good afternoon to you and to your viewers. First, can I just, again, express my absolute sympathy to the families of those people who have died in aged care settings right across Australia, particularly in Victoria. It's just been such a tragedy for the families, the residents and the workers in aged care and a great deal of empathy and sympathy to them. You know, Kieran, the Prime Minister, he stood up in the Parliament, he waved around this plan that he said that he had. He claimed, the Government claims, they have a plan but Kieran last week in front of the Senate COVID Committee, Brendan Murphy and the Department of Health gave evidence that in fact, in their view, it was unforeseeable. Nobody could have imagined what was going to happen in aged care and particularly around issues around workforce and they couldn't have planned for it. Well, Kieran, that is just ridiculous. They had the Newmarch situation. They had the Dorothy Henderson Lodge. They even had Earle Haven last year in Queensland. Now the Government cannot have it both ways. They can't say that they had a plan, and then they can't say it was unforeseeable and they couldn't anticipated what was going to happen.


GILBERT: But in every country around the world where there's COVID-19, we've seen it hit the elderly, harder. That's the reality of this virus.


KENEALLY: Kieran you're making my point! That is why the Government should have had a better plan. We have known, we have known how contagious this virus is. We have known how deadly it can be in an older population. We have known how it spreads through institutions like aged care. It is extraordinary that the Government was so slack in implementing a plan to manage it, particularly after they saw what happened here in New South Wales with Newmarch House and with the Dorothy Henderson lodge.


GILBERT: But Newmarch didn't lose their entire staff like St Basil's did in Melbourne; it's a different situation.


KENEALLY: Again, entirely foreseeable though, Kieran. I know of other institutions that have managed their staffing so that they can avoid the kind of loss of significant parts of staff. Clearly what the Government has not done here is what they said they would do in this plan the Prime Minister waved around. And the Prime Minister cannot have it both ways either Kieran. I mean, those who are following along at home, page 21 of this plan, the Prime Minister waved around in March, it says the "Australian Government will also be responsible for residential aged care facilities". Now, if they're responsible, they're responsible and the Prime Minister has to stop this ducking and weaving. He needs to front up. He needs to answer questions. He needs to take responsibility, accountability, and, quite frankly, he needs to express his sympathy and his apologies to the families of those who have died.


GILBERT: Well, he's definitely expressed his sympathy and condolences on it. There's no doubt about that. Every time he's spoken about it he's expressed his condolences and sadness about it.


KENEALLY: Has he taken responsibility? No, Kieran, he's not taking responsibility. He's not fronting up and answering the questions. With this Prime Minister, he ducks and weaves. Every time is a tough question he either cuts the reporter off in the media conference, or he tries to shift blame to another level of government. Responsibility with aged care sits with the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth themselves acknowledge that in this, you know, booklet they bandaged about back in March. The reality is the Commonwealth are the ones who are failing here, they're failing the older citizens of Australia.


GILBERT: The Ruby Princess Inquiry to be handed to Premier Berejiklian tomorrow; the inquiry the Bret Walker SC, the Commissioner, had sought to speak to some Federal staff- one particular staffer at Agriculture. The Government has sent written submissions, the Federal Government have provided written submissions, they have cooperated. But the precedent is, the Government says, that they don't want federal staff to be summoned to appear before state inquiries; they will cooperate through written answers. Is that sufficient?


KENEALLY: No Kieran, it is definitely not. We are talking about the Ruby Princess- a ship that, you know, really was the only boat that mattered and Scott Morrison failed to stop it. Again, this plan, if I go back to it does say on page 21 as well that the Commonwealth is responsible for our borders. We know that it was the Australian Border Force and Federal Agriculture officials, not New South Wales health, that were on board the Ruby Princess that morning. We know that it was those federal officials that didn't complete the required Traveller with Illness Checklist; that didn't complete the paperwork that they were supposed to. They gave permission for people to leave the ship.


GILBERT: But it was New South Health that deemed the ship low risk. It was New South Wales Health that said it was a low risk ship.


KENEALLY: These are the kinds of things that if the Prime Minister sent his federal officials that Brett Walker could put to them. Because Kieran, in fact, under the federal Biosecurity Act, it is the Federal Department of Agriculture that makes that final decision. Yes, New South Wales Health has a role to play in the days leading up to the ship's arrival, but onboard the ship, it is the Federal Department of Agriculture officials. These are the ones that Bret Walker wants to hear from. These are the people that the Prime Minister has threatened to go to the High Court- to take the New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry to the High Court- to fight a legal summons for these federal officials to give evidence. Now Keiran when the Prime Minister stands up in a media conference as he did on the 21st of April, and says that he will cooperate fully with the New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry and then a few months later is threatening to go to the High Court to block of legal summons from that Commission, that's not cooperation. That is not cooperation. I mean, come on, this is a Government, this is a Prime Minister who's got a statue to himself in his office that he stopped the boats. He failed to stop the one boat that mattered- the Ruby Princess- it spread coronavirus throughout Australia. It was the cause of our biggest outbreak until we have this wave in Victoria. And the reality is, when it comes to accountability, this Prime Minister is nowhere to be seen. He's pointing the fingers at other people. He's ducking the responsibility. The buck should stop with the Commonwealth when it comes to our borders.


GILBERT: Kristina Keneally, we’ll talk to you soon, thanks for that.