TRANSCRIPT - PRESS CONFERENCE (BOWEN) - SYDNEY - Wednesday, 25 March 2020

25 March 2020

CHRIS BOWEN MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH
MEMBER FOR MCMAHON 
 
SENATOR KRISTINA KENEALLY
DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS
SHADOW MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND CITIZENSHIP
SENATOR FOR NEW SOUTH WALES

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
PRESS CONFERENCE
SYDNEY
WEDNESDAY, 25 MARCH 2020
 
SUBJECTS: The need for clear coronavirus messages; Ruby Princess disaster; Private Health Insurance rebate; coronavirus and school children; stage 3 response; Virgin airlines; stimulus and Centrelink.
 
CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks for coming this morning. In a crisis the Australian people need leadership. Last night, they got a list. They need clarity; last night they got confusion. Scott Morrison had a simple message to present – the more people who stay at home, the fewer people will die.
 
The Government was right to say that people have to comply with rules. Of course they’re right about that. They're wrong to make the rules so confusing. We were told last night that you can go to an exercise group outside with 10 people, but a wedding can only have five. A funeral can have 10. These rules are so confusing for the Australian people. I've been deluged with calls from people saying, ""we do not understand."" The Government must have a clear and simple message to the Australian people. Stay at home unless you have to go out. By all means, go for a walk, exercise, but exercise social distancing when you're going about your daily business. This is vital. We are currently doubling the number of coronavirus victims every three days. If we keen on that trajectory, our whole system will be under enormous pressure soon. The Government must be clear up and strong. You know, the Government commissioned a report from experts which recommended- go now, go hard and go smart. They haven't done those things. They need to do those things. They need to do those things urgently. They also need to get on top of the issue with the cruise ship and Kristina will be dealing with that this morning.

KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Thank you, Chris. Well, Labor has been constructive during this coronavirus, health and economic crisis. We have sought to be constructive and work with the Government. We passed the stimulus package quickly, even though we had reservations about the urgency or the lack of urgency in the stimulus package, and that the help was going to get where it was needed most. We have worked with the Government to support their health messaging even as we have called for more to be done and more to be done more quickly. But when we look back at this coronavirus crisis, we will see that the Ruby Princess cruise ship is a tipping point. Let's understand what this one ship has brought to Australia's shores. We have now 133 passengers and counting from the Ruby Princess cruise ship that have tested positive for coronavirus. The Ruby Princess cruise ship coronavirus cases account for 10 per cent of the cases in New South Wales and, quite tragically, there has already been one death.
 
Now, on the 15th of March, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced to the Australian public and I quote, ""The Australian Government will also ban cruise ships from foreign ports arriving at Australian ports."" Those were the Prime Minister's words. He looked the nation in the eye and said there will be no more cruise ships. Except there was. there was another cruise ship – the Ruby Princess. It disembarked 2700 people just four days after the Prime Minister made that statement. Just four days later, 2700 people disembarked that cruise ship and now we have seen the disastrous results. As I said, 133 passengers and counting already tested positive. And as these people got off these cruise ships, they spread right across the country. They went into taxis and public transport. They took domestic flights, they interacted with friends and neighbours They went to shops. Yes, they were directed to self-isolate but they were allowed to travel freely across the country. It is gobsmacking that we are in this circumstance today. The Prime Minister said he would stop the cruise ships; he did not stop the cruise ships. And we need to ask, we need to demand how this happened and we need to ensure that it does not happen again. The Australian Government needs to get on top of this situation very quickly. We see today the Australian Border Force out speaking to their actions around the cruise ship. I see that the Commander Michael Outram of the Australian Border Force has said that the operation was successful. Well, the operation might have been successful but the patient has died. The reality is people were allowed to get off a cruise ship. The border security measures that the Commonwealth Government put in place failed the Australian people. And it does need to be asked, what is the advice the Australian Border Force is getting from the Commonwealth? The Australian Border Force are not doctors; they implement the health advice they are provided. And just like the Australian people, the Australian Border Force are getting mixed messages when it comes to the steps they should take to protect Australians health and their lives. So the Commonwealth needs to sort this fast.
 
My colleague Chris is exactly right. There is one simple message that needs to be delivered by the Australian Government. And that is this – the more people who stay at home, the fewer people will die. And when it comes to our borders, the Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton and the Prime Minister Scott Morrison need to get control of our borders today. To ensure we do not have another calamitous arrival as we have seen with the Ruby Princess. Now we're happy to take questions in the room and I understand we have at least one member of the media on the phone. We may have others joining us, but we will start with those people in the room.
 
JOURNALIST: Just a question for Mr Bowen – do you think the annual private health insurance premium should go ahead?
 
BOWEN: There are premium increases that have previously been approved. I think that people are doing it tough, obviously, with many people losing their jobs and heartbreaking scenes machines across the country. The absolutely heartbreaking scenes we're seeing outside Centrelink offices across the country. I recognise this is a complicated issue and the Government's got to think about the viability of private health insurance but anything which can take pressure off people at a time when budgets are under enormous pressure should be very much considered.
 
JOURNALIST: Just in regards to the cruise ship, there's obviously two of those cases this morning in the updated figures were linked to children, has Labor’s position changed at all given that children are obviously at risk of contracting this disease?
 
BOWEN: Well, children have always been interested in contracting the disease, all the medical evidence is that they get it more mildly than other people. But they've always been at risk of getting it. That's been all the medical advice to me. And, you know, publicly as well. The concern has always been primarily about schools and children - to go to the nub of your question about the impact of spreading. Parents should be ensured that by and large now all medical advice is that children will get through the virus more successfully than older people. But it's about public health. And here, this is frankly a mess.
 
You have got the Prime Minister, encouraging people to send their children to school. We've got the Premier of New South Wales encouraging people not to send their children to school, Victoria closing schools, we've said consistently that as school closures become increasingly likely, the Government should put in place measures to help health care workers and communicate to parents what the arrangements are. Instead, we have this game of open shut them between the Prime Minister and the Premier of New South Wales, which is sending terrible mixed messages to families and parents who really don't know whether to listen to the Prime Minister or the Premier. I think most of New South Wales are listening to the Premier. And the Prime Minister has got to provide national leadership. The Government has got to stop hiding behind the so called ""National Cabinet” which is a COAG hook up, and actually provide some national coordination because in the absence of that Gladys Berejiklian and Dan Andrews showing the leadership of dealing with schools and giving kids and parents clear messages.
 
JOURNALIST: Just on Dan Andrews has flagged that there's potential for us to go to stage three at some point. Do you think that going to stage three quicker would potentially help clear on some of those mixed messages that you're talking about?
 
BOWEN: Do more, do earlier. That has been our consistent message to the Government. If you think something's going to happen, do it now. We know from all the evidence overseas, if you leave these decisions too late, you'll have to do more anyway. And more people will die. Statement of fact. If in doubt, do more. There is no such thing as an overreaction to this crisis. And let me say this final thing in relation to your question. I see people saying, well, the Government's got to balance the economy against health. No. I completely reject that. The best economic plan for the country is to beat this virus quickly. That's the best stimulus. that's the best thing that will keep people in work, that’s the best thing that will save businesses. Don't let this virus take hold. Beat it. Which means taking action earlier, taking it stronger and taking it more smartly.
 
JOURNALIST: Where Labor sit on the latest Virgin airlines announcement of job losses and is there any potential for nationalisation of that company to prevent a monopoly going forward?
 
BOWEN: Well, we've made it clear that the Government should step in to support airlines. We don't want to see good airlines go under. Because of what is a temporary crisis facing the aviation sector. Australia needs two airlines. Catherine King and Anthony Albanese have been consistent on that through this crisis. It's terrible announcement this morning. I completely understand the pressure on Virgin and it’s terrible announcement for those affected that so many people have had that news over the last 48 hours, whether they work at Qantas, Virgin, or their local cafe or gym. They're getting the same message. And it's a terrible message to receive. And hence, we're disappointed the Government hasn't been more ready to support those people with the actions and support that can be provided and is been provided in a very slow fashion by Centrelink. Full support for the frontline staff at Centrelink doing an amazing job under enormous pressure they should be getting more support from the Government.
 
KENEALLY: Labor during the stimulus legislation that went through on Monday, made the point that the wage subsidy, which is in effect, what the Government are seeking to provide business is about 20 per cent. In the UK, they're providing 80 per cent. The idea that what the government are doing in their economic stimulus package is going to help employers maintain a relationship with their employees is quite simply proving false. We see this happening today with this Virgin announcement. We have seen some 88,000 people in hospitality alone lose their jobs last week, their forecast 200,000 more in coming weeks. The fact that there are queues around the Centrelink offices is an indictment of the social service support system. Yes, it's unprecedented demand, but it was not unexpected demand. It was not unexpected demand. There are people there are parents who had jobs last week who could provide food and pay rent. And now they are wondering how they are going to do that next week. And under the Government's economic stimulus package, many of those families if they are lucky enough to be able to get their application into Centrelink will not see one dollar until the end of April. That is quite simply not good enough.
 
That's why we raised concerns. That's why we moved amendments. That's why we called on the Government to act more urgently. This is an unprecedented health and economic crisis. And today, parents are waking up and what do they hear from their Prime Minister? It's not okay for your child to have a birthday party in the backyard with 10 of their schoolmates, but it's okay for them to go to school with 30 of their school mates, or 300. This is such mixed messaging. No wonder parents are confused. No wonder Australians don't know what rules they're supposed to follow. Chris is absolutely right. It is time for the Government now today to have a clear and simple message to Australians. It is time for them to ensure that Australians have the support they need to have shelter and food. We are talking about basic income support, and people need it now.
 
ENDS