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15 February 2021




SUBJECTS: Stranded Australians; Hotel Quarantine and National Cabinet; Halton Review; Safer Seats Rorts.

SENATOR KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY: Laura, good morning and let's begin by remembering that Scott Morrison promised that the stranded Australians would be home by Christmas. That's a broken promise. They were not brought home by Christmas and many of them are still of course stranded overseas facing the northern hemisphere winter. Now, Jane Halton six months ago first briefed the Prime Minister about her review of the hotel quarantine system in that she made clear: the system is unsustainable. It's not fit for purpose and that the Commonwealth should set up a national quarantine facility with surge capacity to bring the stranded Australians home ahead of the northern hemisphere winter. 

So, when I look at Dan Andrews' comments,  I see that he's only reinforcing what Jane Holton has said in her review. And, the fact that Scott Morrison, who bought himself a trophy to celebrate his own border management has now abandoned the international borders and shoved that responsibility on to the states. It's no wonder that Dan Andrews and the other premiers are growing frustrated with the lack of national leadership and a national plan to quarantine and the borders.

LAURA JAYES, HOST: But what Dan Andrews says isn’t anything about state or federal quarantine in this particular segment, he's worried about the more contagious UK variant. This forces the numbers of overseas coming home, overseas Australians coming home, needs to be reduced and those that come home need to be only accepted on compassionate grounds.

KENEALLY: And Laura, if the Prime Minister had done his job, manage the international borders, follow Jane Halton's recommendation six months ago to set up a national quarantine facility with surge capacity, those stranded Australians would be home.

JAYES: We have to deal with it now so with the system that we have, do you agree with Daniel Andrews that only Australians come home, that have a compassionate argument?

KENEALLY: Well, I understand why Daniel Andrews is making this argument. And, what I say quite clearly Laura, is that if the Commonwealth Government did its job, if they stood up today and say 'we're going to do our job, we're going to follow the Halton review, we're going to set up a national quarantine facility that can be appropriately managed to ensure that people can come home safely and the community here in Australia is kept safe from risk'. Well, I would  welcome that, but the fact is that will take some time to set up, and that delay sits on Scott Morrison.

JAYES: We've got hotel quarantine being run by the states, is your position that the numbers, need to be reduced in Victoria, as Daniel Andrews argues, only compassionate grounds?

KENEALLY: My position is two-fold. One: there should be a national facility, there should be national leadership, and we should have months ago set up, as Jane Halton recommended, safe quarantine facilities to bring stranded Australians home ahead of the northern hemisphere winter. Secondly: that we should be following medical advice, and all of the outbreaks in the current lockdowns that we are seeing have been as a result of hotel quarantine. 

Jane Halton made the point Laura, that hotel quarantine is not fit for purpose, and it's not sustainable. Scott Morrison knew that six months ago and he has ignored it. The problems that exist in hotel quarantine today are because we have not had national leadership to take responsibility here. 

Let me say this to your viewers Laura, if you want to bring a horse into Australia, it will go into a national quarantine facility. But, if you are an Australian who wants to come home to Australia, Scott Morrison does not want to know you. He has not taken the national leadership required now back in November..

JAYES : So in the system as it stands, do you...

KENEALLY: I have said several times the system as it stands is not fit for purpose.

JAYES: Do you think the numbers coming home in hotel quarantine, should they be reduced? As Dan Andrews says before any federal facility is put in place?

KENEALLY: Laura, this is a decision that should be taken by the National Cabinet and what I was just about to say is I asked in the COVID Committee last November, I asked the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, if states and territories could unilaterally reduce their quarantine numbers. This is back when Gladys Berejiklian was flagging her intention to do so. And at that point, Prime Minister and Cabinet officials told me 'no no it's National Cabinet - it's all National Cabinet.’ 

JAYES: Who's that on? Is that on the premiers or the Prime Minister?

KENEALLY: That is on the Prime Minister. This is on the Prime Minister, Laura. Quarantine, under the Constitution is a federal responsibility. As a Prime Minister that bought himself a trophy to celebrate his own border management, he has vacated this space. When we look back at this health crisis, the thing that we will notice is the absence of the Federal Government. Scott Morrison's the Prime Minister to the stature of the Commonwealth Government during a crisis.

JAYES: You bring up biosecurity, it was interesting because as you know I spoke to the Secretary Mike Pezzullo on this program a couple of weeks ago. It's my understanding that the advice from the Department was in a pandemic, in a pandemic response, that the argument was that the program is to be run by the states. For these reasons. One; the states are controlling the borders and we've seen them shut down those borders unilaterally without much notice. And the second reason is because states run

KENEALLY: The state borders, Laura? Or the international borders? So we're talking about international borders, and suddenly the Department's talking about state borders?

JAYES: The point is that borders shut down, the state borders, and that states run public hospitals. So, if the Government at the federal level was to run hotel quarantine, wouldn't it need some oversight and control over those first two things I mentioned.

KENEALLY: What a joke, Laura. That is a joke of an argument, coming from a Government. Scott Morrison's Government that would rather shove all the political risk on to someone else. I mean Scott Morrison, his whole focus whether it is Ruby Princess, whether it's international borders, whether there's quarantine - all matters that are federal responsibilities. His whole thing is 'can't somebody else do it?' Because Scott Morrison doesn't want the risk. He is too busy looking out for himself to look after ordinary Australians. 

If we had a Prime Minister that was showing national leadership. It's hard to imagine that John Howard would have abandoned borders and quarantine to state governments, but that's what Scott Morrison has done. It has been the lack of national leadership that has put Australians, both those stranded overseas and back here in Australia at greater risk. And if I can say, Laura, the fact that we don't also have a vaccine being rolled out in Australia compounds this problem. 

JAYES: Can I just ask you about hotel quarantine?

KENEALLY: Laura, the Prime Minister promised 4 million Australians would be vaccinated by March. That is not possible. We're not even going to have enough vaccine in the country by mid-March. This is a triumph, again: Scott Morrison announcement over delivering. 

JAYES: What's the comparison between New South Wales and Victoria when it comes to hotel quarantine? New South Wales doesn't seem to have had any of the problems of the magnitude that we've seen in Victoria. Is Daniel Andrews above criticism here? Is something going on?

KENEALLY: Look, I think all our premiers, whether they are Liberal or Labor have taken their decisions and acted in the best interest of their citizens and the fact that we have gotten through this virus...

JAYES: But Victoria keeps on [INAUDIBLE], that's the problem

KENEALLY: Well you know I reflect upon a comment that Patricia Karvelas made on Insiders yesterday, where she made the observation, in some ways it's also about luck. I mean I sat and lived through...

JAYES: So is Daniel Andrews is just very unlucky? Is that it?

KENEALLY: No. The point being that this is a highly unpredictable virus, which is highly contagious and in some cases, there has been a bit of luck  or bad luck in both ways. Let me make this observation as I was about to before you interrupted me that you know I and my husband lives through the red zone Northern Beaches locked down through Christmas. Had no family with us over Christmas and New Year's, lived in that lockdown for about four weeks, and you know that was brought on by Gladys Berejiklian and I don't complain about the fact that she did that. It was the right decision to take and it's a similar decision to what Dan Andrews is taking here. 

Now there's a bit of luck there, that the Northern Beaches outbreak did not become worse, did not spread more widely. But, you know, I'll come back to the fact if we had a COVIDsafe app that worked, if we had a vaccine being rolled out in Australia - the Prime Minister said we'd be at the head of the queue - there now some 70 countries ahead of us. America, since the inauguration of Joe Biden, has vaccinated over 26 million people, that is more than the population of Australia. So, we don't have a vaccine, we don't have a COVIDsafe app that works, and we don't have a Commonwealth Government that is doing its job to manage the international borders.

JAYES: Gladys Berejiklian is taken four times more international travellers than Victoria. Her risk is heightened. Daniel Andrews has had bigger problems. I just don't see how that works out, that can't just be bad luck?

KENEALLY: Well, you know there are a lot of other aspects to the hotel quarantine system and I have publicly congratulated and acknowledged that early on, the NSW Government took a decision to have the police directly involved rather than security guards and I think that has been part of the success in New South Wales. 

I also think though Laura, we need to reflect upon the fact that right across Australia where we have seen outbreaks, whether it be in aged care or hotel quarantine, a lot of it has come down to insecure work. The fact that people are in casual jobs they have to work at more than one venue, that there wasn't pandemic leave. You know, when we look back on this crisis and as we sit here now facing an industrial relations bill, I think you have recognition that casual insecure work has been part of one of the risks that we have had to manage

JAYES: Very quickly because we're running out of time. Peter Dutton use a private jet to fly to Tasmania during the Braddon by-election. Has he actually broken any rules?

KENEALLY: Well first let's talk about this safer communities grants program -  there are no rules. I mean the Prime Minister set up all these grant programs as Treasurer: community development grants, Sports Rorts, this Safer Seats Rorts - safer communities, absolute Ministerial discretion. Absolute Ministerial discretion to give away money, often without oversight, guidelines, applications and at a electorally convenient time. 

What Peter Dutton has done here: $36,000 for 24 hour trip to make a highly political grant, in a by-election, grant announcements standing next to a Liberal Party candidate, grant announcements that his own Department didn't support. And you know, last time I checked back in 2019, you could get a commercial flight from Brisbane to Tasmania. 

But, he chose to spend $36,000 and to put that in context Laura, the aged pension is about $24,000 - $25,000. He spent one and a half times what some people have to live on for a whole year for one 24 hour trip to make a highly political announcement in the middle of a by-election campaign. The Liberal Party continues to treat taxpayer money like it is Liberal Party money, and now more than ever, Australians need a government that’s on their side.