25 March 2020


SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison’s unclear coronavirus messages; stage 3 restrictions; Ruby Princess; National COVID-19 Coordination Commission; Australian Border Force protocols.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: I'm joined now by the Shadow Minister for Home Affairs Kristina Keneally. Senator Keneally, welcome.

KARVELAS: Labor Leader Anthony Albanese has accused the Prime Minister of hectoring and blaming those not following social distancing rules. The rules are pretty clear and people aren't following them. Isn't it time to get tough?
KENEALLY: Patricia it's time it's time to get clear and simple rules. The Government is absolutely right to set rules, but the Government didn't present clear and simple rules; they presented a laundry list last night. I recently tweeted a little vignette about a woman named Sally she’s a schoolteacher in New South Wales, she wants to go to bootcamp Friday morning before work, she wants to get her hair cut Saturday, visit her parents for lunch and, oh, on Sunday she's getting married in a church. Now Patricia, tell me, what are the simple rules that apply to Sally's week? There aren't any. The Government needs to send a clear and simple message – the more people stay home, the fewer people who will die.
KARVELAS: The Prime Minister says he's made these decisions on the basis of health advice and of course the Chief Medical Officer standing by him and also clearly the Government at a national level, with all the state and territory leaders making these decisions. So there's a criticism of the Prime Minister, but are you also criticising the state and territory leaders? Is Dan Andrews also responsible for this confusion?
KENEALLY: I take my hat off to the Premiers of New South Wales and Victoria who have been seeking to enact stronger measures sooner and clearer measures sooner. It is the Premier of New South Wales and the Premier of Victoria who have been up front about the need for schools to either close or parents to be able to keep their children home from school. Now if parents are waking up in the morning and they’re getting conflicting messages from the Premier and the Prime Minister about whether or not their child should go to school this day, quite frankly, the National Cabinet is not functioning as it should. I think parents in New South Wales and Victoria are listening to their Premiers. And why wouldn't they? They're providing clear leadership. They’re the people who run the school system and the hospitals. They're the people who are gonna be on the front-line when those systems start to get overwhelmed.
KARVELAS: But Labor is being very critical today. In fact, I think it's a dramatic escalation of the critique of the way the Government is handling this. The Government released a shopping list you describe, that as I say, the state and territory leaders have signed up to. This is also Dan Andrews' laundry list so why are they not equally responsible?
KENEALLY: Well Dan Andrews is making clear we will are going to have to move to stage 3 restrictions sooner rather than later. Gladys Berejiklian and Dan Andrews have both been making clear the need for schools to either be shut or for parents to be able to keep their children home from school. You know, Patricia, in a time of national crisis, when Australia is facing the most significant threat to Australians' lives and their jobs, it is incumbent on the National Government, the Prime Minister, to show national leadership.
KARVELAS: And isn't that what the Prime Minister has been trying to do? You obviously can criticise different elements, but there's been consistent press conferences after all of these decisions have been made. He was even backed up today by the Victorian Premier, Dan Andrews, who said when he was asked a question said he thought the Prime Minister was doing a good job and that he was clear, for instance, on shopping centres continuing.
KENEALLY: Well, shopping centreless, Patricia, can be open, but not the food courts, but you can get food, but only if you take it away and not if you stand around in groups of five or more. Certainly if you're going to a wedding, it can be five, but a funeral, it can be ten. Boot camp you can have ten outside, but you can't have the same ten in your backyard having a barbecue. Parents are being told that they shouldn't have the family birthday party for their child in their backyard, but it's perfectly okay to send their child to school, with hundreds or thousands of other children. This is the confusion that Australians are facing. Now, Patricia, you know what I know about the Australian community? Is that when you give them clear guidelines, say, with water restrictions, or bushfires, they are able and willing to follow those rules and restrictions. And I am sure if the Australian people had clear rules and restrictions, laid out, that made clear what the objective was and what the rules are, they would follow them. Right now people are simply confused.
KARVELAS: You're saying people are confused but there is a set of rules. The Government announced those rules. Where are the grey areas? They might be complicated but I suppose life is complicated at the moment.
KENEALLY: Life should be much simpler at the moment, Patricia because we are facing one simple challenge – to have as many people stay home as possible because the more people who stay home,
the fewer people who will die. You say the Prime Minister has been issuing clear statements.
KARVELAS: No, I didn't say clear, I said he's been, you know, that's – that’s a particularly opinionated word. What I was saying is he's been consistently addressing the media and the Australian people with these new rules, that everyone signed up to at the National Cabinet. Whether they're clear, that is up to people to decide.
KENEALLY: Well, let's take a consistent message he issued from 14 March (sic: 15 March), that there would be no cruise ships, that no more foreign flagged cruise ships would be able to dock in Australia. He looked the Australian people in the eye and said that is what the rule is. Well four days later we had a cruise ship  arrive, the Ruby Princess, and when we look back on the history of this coronavirus crisis, we will the Ruby Princess is going to have been a tipping point. 2700 people were able to disembark without thorough medical testing. Now we have 133 cases and counting of coronavirus – they make up 10 per cent of the cases in New South Wales. They have spread across and account for cases of coronavirus in WA and in Tasmania. Quite frankly, the border security measures the Prime Minister said were there, quite simply were not.
KARVELAS: Today the Prime Minister announced a National COVID-19 Coordination Commission. It will coordinate advice on actions to anticipate and mitigate the economic and social effects of the outbreak. Do you do you welcome it, is it a good idea?
KENEALLY: Well 20 days ago we welcomed the announcement of the National Coordination Mechanism, which was supposed to do precisely this. Only 20 days ago, the Government stood up a body that was announced to do exactly what this body has been announced to do. Now, the National Coordination Mechanism sat within the Department of Home Affairs and Peter Dutton was supposed to have been responsible for it. Today we have a Commission that has a range of people from across business and other parts of the community; I don't have a quarrel with them having a commission. I just don't understand, quite frankly, what this body is going to do, different to the one that was announced 20 days ago. Again, whether or not we have this body or that body, is not really the question. The question is – what are these coordination mechanisms doing to solve the real problems, such as a lack of food delivery services from grocery stores to people who are self-isolating or who are elderly, what are the coordination mechanisms doing to get people who are stranded, Australians stranded, overseas, home safely? Where was this National Coordination Mechanism as we see a break-out of blame shifting between New South Wales and the Commonwealth over the Ruby Princess.
KARVELAS: Let's go to that. The Border Force Commissioner, Michael Outram, says that New South Wales Health was not notified by the Ruby Princess there were sick people on board but allowed them to disembark. Why are you blaming the Federal Government for that mistake?
KENEALLY: Let me be clear – I am not blaming Australian Border Force. They are not doctors. They don't make the health advice. They only implement it at our borders. The Commonwealth under our
constitution is responsible for borders and who can come into the country. Now, some of these people were Australian citizens and they should be able to return home. But as we did with the Australian citizens returning home from Wuhan, they were placed in quarantine. That was because there was a particular risk coming back from Wuhan. We knew just earlier last week, when this cruise ship arrived, that cruise ships posed a particularly high risk. The Chief Medical Officer and the coordinating committee, the health committee that reports to the National Security Committee of Cabinet should have flagged these ships were a risk. Again, Patricia, the Prime Minister made clear there would be no cruise ships. How did this cruise ship get through?
KARVELAS: You're a former New South Wales Premier. Aren't health checks on passengers arriving at state ports the responsibility of state health agencies? Aren't they the ones who drop the ball here?
KENEALLY: The thing that a New South Wales government can't do is direct Border Force. That is, they are a Commonwealth agency. When the head of the Commonwealth Government, the elected head, the Prime Minister, stands up and tells the nation there will be no cruise ships and then one arrives, and the 2700 people are allowed to spread out across the Australian community, that is legitimately a question for the Commonwealth government.
KARVELAS: But isn't it the responsibility of New South Wales Health? That's the question.
KENEALLY: Well, this shows a breakdown then in the National Cabinet Process and the National Coordination Mechanism process. But Patricia I can tell you now, a New South Wales Premier cannot direct Australian Border Force; they are a federal agency. They control the borders and they are receiving advice from the Commonwealth Government and it is the head of the Commonwealth Government, the Prime Minister, who stood up and said there would be no cruise ships arriving.
KARVELAS: You’ve criticised the Commonwealth here, the Prime Minister, for allowing cruise ships in after the ban was announced but an exemption was made for four already on their way, including of course the Ruby Princess. Should it have been refused permission to dock?
KENEALLY: It should have been allowed to dock, and the passengers should have been assessed thoroughly before they were allowed to leave. That is the problem we have here, Patricia. There was not a proper assessment of passengers. When Australian citizens came back from Wuhan, we quarantined them in Christmas Island. When, now we have a cruise ship off interest coast of WA, it’s been announced those passengers will be quarantined in Rottnest Island. Similar measures could have been taken, they were not. We are now seeing the calamitous consequences of that.
KARVELAS: Do you think New South Wales Health dropped the ball?
KENEALLY: I think there's been a failure of communication between the New South Wales Health...
KARVELAS: But do you think it was New South Wales Health responsibility?
KENEALLY: No I actually think it was the Commonwealth's responsibility. They are the lead Government in this crisis. We are dealing with an international, global pandemic that is presenting the kind of threat to our health and our economy that Australians have never lived through before. The Australian Border Force is a Commonwealth agency. The Chief Medical Officer has been standing up regularly, almost daily, in front of the Australian people, and providing advice. The Prime Minister has been standing up and making clear – well, maybe not making so clear, making the rules – it is up to the Commonwealth to explain why this exemption was given and why these people were allowed to move so freely around the country.
KARVELAS: Well New South Wales Health determined they were low risk – well look at the evidence, that was clearly wrong but that's the advice, that is why Border Force clearly let them off. Did they give the wrong advice?
KENEALLY: As I said, we have had a complete break-down, it would appear, in the communication between New South Wales Health and the Commonwealth health officers and the Australian Border Force. I don't blame Australian Border Force, I am being very clear about that.
KARVELAS: But you blame the Commonwealth. So who is it, then?
KENALLY: I think the Chief Medical Officer and the Commonwealth Government in their responsibilities - how can they send a Prime Minister out, Patricia, how can they send a Prime Minister out to tell the Australian people that there will be no more cruise ships and act as if they are in charge of what happens on cruise ships? Because that is what the Prime Minister implied, it's what he made clear. He's the Prime Minister, he is going to stop these cruise ships. Well, not all of the cruise ships were stopped and we now have the calamitous effects of that.
KARVELAS: There are new protocols now announced by Border Force today. Are you confident they will work?
KENEALLY: Well, I'm pleased that there are new protocols. No, I don't yet have an opinion as to whether or not they will work because frankly, Patricia, we haven't seen these protocols working in the past. I do think our Australian Border Force is professional. I think they are here doing the best that they can in incredibly difficult circumstances. But whether it's at our ports or our airports – our sea ports or airports – we have quite simply not had enough testing and enough clear advice in terms of the passengers who are returning.
KARVELAS: Kristina Keneally thank you for coming on the show.
KENEALLY: Thank you.