23 March 2020


SUBJECTS: Ruby Princess debacle; Scott Morrison blaming Gladys Berejiklian; temperature tests at airports; Rex Patrick; Stuart Robert’s MyGov cyber attack claims; Centrelink and stimulus.
KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: I'm joined by the Shadow Minister for Home Affairs, Kristina Keneally. Thanks for your time. Let's start this huge story, the Ruby Princess, where were the problems with that? Because the Government is saying it was a New South Wales health issue. What's your view on where this all fell over?
KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Thank Well the Government said, as clear as a bell, last week that they were going to stop cruise ships from arriving in ports for 30 days. Senator Cash in Senate Question Time repeated that claim. But what has happened? Four cruise ships have arrived, passengers have been allowed to disembark even though they had some over 100 cases of reported illness, people were allowed to get off the ship and go out about across the country. Six cases now in WA connected to the Ruby Princess. 49 confirmed cases of coronavirus coming off that ship. Now, I gotta say the Australian Border Force do a great job. Their responsibility is not to set health policy; their responsibility is to enforce health policy. The question I have- what is the health policy?
GILBERT: So what should have happened in your view then?
KENEALLY: What is the health policy that Border Force should have been implementing?
GILBERT: Well what's your view on how that should've been managed?
KENEALLY: Well Kieran unfortunately it is another example of just mixed messages from the Commonwealth Government and mixed messages when they are trying to interact with state governments. You have to question the extent to which this National Cabinet is working effectively. If you have in this circumstance, the Commonwealth pointing fingers at the state of New South Wales for what is essentially a border responsibility. Now last time I checked under our laws, borders are the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government. And this Government, backed into a corner by a mistake that has allowed some 50, nearly 50 and climbing I suspect, number of coronavirus cases to come off this Ruby Princess.
GILBERT: It is more than 50 now.
KENEALLY: They blamed Gladys Berejiklian and the New South Wales Government. You think about the bushfires- they tried to blame Gladys Berejiklian. Is there not a problem that this Government won't seek to punt home to the Premier of New South Wales? A Liberal Premier, who by the way, I think is doing a really good job, trying to work with empathy and leadership in her community.
GILBERT: But most people recognise that these are extraordinary times and that that the National Cabinet is a good initiative.
KENEALLY: It is a good initiative; it should be working more cohesively.
GILBERT: Is it inevitable that there are going to be some mistakes along the way? As grave as this one is, but there are going to be mistakes along the way when you're dealing with such a huge epidemic.
KENEALLY: Kieran this is a case where the Commonwealth, the Prime Minister himself, stood up in front of the nation and said for the next 30 days there will be no cruise ships. Now somebody made an exemption for these four ships; it would have had to have been the Commonwealth. They are now trying to duck and weave around that and shoot the blame home to Gladys Berejiklian- the Premier of New South Wales- and her state Government. It is their border responsibility and it's their responsibility to ensure that if people are coming off ships or airplanes, they should be temperature tested.
GILBERT: Do you want everyone off a plane tested? Because this is the other point I was going to ask you in a broader sense. Anecdotally, we're seeing people arrive, saying there aren't the tests at airports. Should everyone be temperature tested upon arrival?
KENEALLY: You know, we are being told by the Prime Minister that Singapore is the example we should be following. The kids in Singapore going to school. Well, kids in Singapore are being temperature tested. They have people who are being contact-traced or being temperature tested. People coming off airplanes are being temperature tested. The best medical advice, the precautionary approach around the world, is telling us that testing people as widely as possible is what helps us stop this virus.
GILBERT: The Chief Medical Officer says we are doing ad hoc tests; people with flu symptoms are being tested. Isn't that something you've argued for in terms of, you know, spot testing in hostels and so on like New Zealand's done?
KENEALLY: Well, what we would like to see in terms of some of the spot testing- that's a different issue. It's not just temperature testing in hostels, it's actually ensuring that people are self-isolating. What New Zealand is doing is using their border force equivalent to go out and spot check that people are following directions around self-isolation and also doing temperature testing. This is the problem Kieran- we are simply not doing enough as quickly as possible to ensure we are doing as wide of testing both for the coronavirus itself as well as temperatures.
GILBERT: We've just had confirmation Rex Patrick has tested positive for coronavirus as well. So it's shown how easy this is to spread with him being on the same committee as Senator Bragg and therefore being in isolation.
KENEALLY: The good news that's come out of this, of course, is that Jenny McAllister tested negative, but it does show the fact that this is quite a spreading disease. And I wish Senator Patrick all the best with his diagnosis, in what I hope to be a speedy recovery for him. But Kieran, it goes back to this point. This is a highly contagious disease; it is far more contagious than the flu. We should be asking ourselves, what are the countries around the world that have flattened of the curve of this spread doing? And how can we replicate that here? And if we should be doing something, if we think we're going to need to do it in two weeks, let's bring it forward and do it now.
GILBERT: Now onto the MyGov website. The Minister concerned, Stuart Robert, initially said it was a denial of service. As it turns out in Parliament, it was the same alarm that the system would have in that instance, but it was just from demand.
KENEALLY: It was the demand of service that triggered a denial of service. It was an extraordinary demand...
GILBERT: Shouldn't Labor recognise that this is, this is an extraordinary time and rather than put the boot in just understand these sorts of things are going to happen?
KENEALLY: To be blunt here, Kieran, we are in an extraordinary health and economic crisis and we are being constructive. We are going to pass this stimulus package. We are going to do it because it's necessary; people are losing their jobs now- 88,000 people- in hospitality alone have already lost their jobs. We're going to be as constructive as possible but that doesn't mean the Government gets a blank cheque. And it doesn't mean where there are things that where we want to point out, where we can be doing things that will save people's lives and that's what we're talking about now Kieran. We're not just talking about an economic stimulus package; we're talking about the need to take steps that will save people's lives. It might be your parents, it might be our neighbours, whoever it is, these are people's lives we're talking about and if there are things the Government could be doing now and should be doing now, we're going to ask them to do them.
GILBERT: And in terms of just quickly on the MyGov website, the demand they had for 55,000- it was more than 55,000. So it shows you the sort of dire straits that we're facing right now in terms of employment for many people in this country, let alone those terrible scenes that we're seeing- almost Great Depression-like at the front of Centrelink.
KENEALLY: These are extraordinary images that most people in our country will have never seen in their lifetime. But the thing is, this shouldn't have been unanticipated either. You know, we've known now for weeks what is coming. The Government has been talking for weeks.  They introduced a $17 billion stimulus package last week. It was possible to foresee this and put measures in place. It's unfortunate that hasn't happened today.
GILBERT: Kristina Keneally, I appreciate your time. Thanks.
KENEALLY: Thank you.