30 April 2020


SUBJECTS: Senate Covid committee; Stuart Robert's imaginary hackers; people with a disability are paying a coronavirus charge; Peter Dutton's wink and nod to the NRL; Ruby Princess now responsible for 850 cases and over 30 deaths; Mike Kelly.

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: With me now is Kristina Keneally the Shadow Home Affairs Minister. Senator, thanks so much for your time. You're on this Committee that's looking into the COVID-19 response. You must be in large part finding a, you know, a very positive summary of what's gone on because the numbers tell the story, don't they?

KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Kieran, I think the COVID Oversight Committee being conducted by the Senate, chaired by my colleague, Senator Katy Gallagher, is performing a really important public service here. That is, while Parliament's not sitting, it's important we do have parliamentary oversight of what the Government is doing right and where they are not delivering to the best interests of Australians and Australian’s public health and our economic wellbeing. And you're right, there are things that the Government has done right, and where they have, we sought to be constructive and to support them. But, if you look at the hearings that we've conducted so far, what did we find out today? Today the Government revealed that they are projecting that some 1 million people will join the welfare program in this country, as a result of the economic crisis affected by – brought about by – COVID-19. 

We've also heard that perhaps one of the most hapless Ministers in this Government, Stuart Robert, has struck again. Stuart Robert, not content with downloading tens of thousands of dollars' worth of data and charging it to the taxpayer or presiding over the illegal Robodebt scheme. We found out today that his Department never advised him that there had been a designated denial of service attack on the MyGov website. As hundreds of thousands of Australians were out trying to get access to income support, as they were losing their jobs in the midst of this economic crisis, Stuart Robert said that the Government's website had failed because it had come under attack by, I suppose, invisible hackers. As it turns out, he was wrong about that. What we found out today is his Department never advised him of that. And, quite frankly, it's simply not good enough as Australians are facing this unprecedented economic crisis to have a Government Minister who misleads, and then when he's caught out simply shrugs his shoulders and says, “my bad”.

GILBERT: I'm wondering about this other finding the Committee came up with today about those using disability support services. They're paying 10 per cent more for those services. Is the Department going to look at that to try and remedy that situation? Obviously the services are under greater demand right now, in a remote sense, will they look at that cost on those with disabilities?

KENEALLY: Well this is not something the Government needs to remedy, this is actually the Government's design program. It's one of the measures the Government has put in place to ensure that disability support providers can have enough funding in order to retain their workforce. And what one of those measures includes is charging people with a disability 10 per cent more for certain services. But what the Government is not doing is increasing the packages to people with a disability by 10 per cent. So they've got the extra funding to pay that extra charge. So you end up in a circumstance where people with a disability, on their NDIA plan, are actually providing the funding out of their own NDIA plan to service providers and help them keep their employees. Now, I asked the Government today – are you going to increase the plans to people with a disability by 10 per cent so they can cover this cost, this additional charge? And the Government's response, well, if people run out of money they can come back and have their plan reviewed and maybe get an increase. They couldn't tell us how many people are requesting that. I know that when people with a disability go to have their plan reviewed, it often can take some considerable time. It is extraordinary, Kieran, that the when we look at what this Committee has brought forward this week, both in terms of superannuation, early access to that, as well as what we learned today around disability and people with a disability having to take money out of their own plans to pay this extra charge, it does seem like the lion’s share of the money that is going out to help people right now, in the midst of COVID-19, is coming from Australians themselves. From their own savings, from their own disability support packages. Now that will change in time, but one of the questions the Committee continually asked is why has it taken so long for this government support to get out to people who desperately need it now?

GILBERT: My colleague, Andrew Clennell, reported a couple of hours ago that Peter Dutton has given a verbal nod to the NRL to have an exemption for travel, and then quarantining for the New Zealand Warriors to the NRL to get that piece of the puzzle in place, pending final approval by health authorities. Do you support that move?

KENEALLY: Well, this is a decision that's supposed to be taken by the National Cabinet tomorrow and, as I understand, what Andrew Clennell has broken today is that Peter Dutton went out on his own, moved ahead of the National Cabinet and the Prime Minister. And it would be really great if this National Cabinet and this Federal Government could all get on the same page; whether we're talking about schools or whether we're talking about the NRL. I mean, I love sport as much as the next person. I actually used to be in charge of a sporting body in this country. And I think it'd be great for the community and for the country if we can get sport back up and operating safely and under medical conditions, but let me say this, Kieran. 

I've got to say, I'm not particularly surprised that Peter Dutton would make a decision about whether or not a sports team can come in through the borders without consulting the National Cabinet or the Prime Minister. This is a guy after all who presided over the arrival of the Ruby Princess, 2700 passengers disembarking, when Australian Border Force was supposed to have “direct command” of arriving cruise ships. I really think Peter Dutton needs to stop playing the political games and the culture wars that he engages in so frequently and turn his mind to his actual job, because what we are seeing now is the border failure with the Ruby Princess has led to a significant outbreak in Tasmania. That was what was in the Tasmanian report today. If that is the case, and it appears to be the finding of this Tasmanian Government report, this report from Tasmanian Health, that would take the Ruby Princess to over 800 cases of COVID-19 in Australia, over 30 deaths, and it would be responsible for this significant outbreak in Tasmania. And it just makes me ask, Kieran, how many more cases and how many more deaths are going to be linked back to the Ruby Princess?

GILBERT: The Minister has responsibility for the borders. And so, isn't it within his right to say that Peter V'Landys, the NRL Commissioner – the ARL Commissioner – that, yes, you have approval pending a final health tick, which is via the National Cabinet tomorrow. He's not, he's not pre-empting that, he's basically said via the information we've got from Andrew today, Andrew Clennell, is that he is saying “you've got a tick pending a final judgment”. I know you won't have a political crack at him but---

KENEALLY: No actually, you know what, on this one I've got to say I want to know what his health advice is. I mean, we saw Peter Dutton yesterday saying that Australian Border Force don't have medical officers within their ranks, in fact they actually do. But nonetheless, what is the medical advice that Peter Dutton is relying upon in making that decision? And if Andrew's reporting is correct, and I've got no reason to doubt that it is, he's an excellent reporter, why is the Prime Minister so cranky with Peter Dutton over this decision?

GILBERT: Now, you're a politician that's gone from state to federal. Any tips for John Barilaro as he is about to do the same?

KENEALLY: Well, first, can I say, Kieran, that this is really sad news today for the Australian Labor Party, for the Parliament and, I think, for the country, the news that Mike Kelly is resigning for health reasons. I mean, Mike Kelly is a tremendous Australian. He has a level of public service that almost none of us who go into politics can imagine. We don't have many examples in the current Parliament of people coming from the military into politics. You know, Andrew Hastie, Jim Molan and Mike Kelly are a few, but Mike Kelly has faced down danger. He has literally put his life on the line for the country. His life-long service to our country and to our communities is just remarkable and we all owe him a debt of gratitude, quite frankly, and the fact that his current health situation does arise from his time in the military and the service that he's given. I know how hard this decision has been for Mike, and I know that he really wrestled with it. And he wouldn't do this if it wasn't necessary, he is that dedicated to his local community there in Eden-Monaro and we are all going to miss him as a colleague. He will remain a friend, but we will miss him as a colleague, and I think the Parliament will be a poorer place without him. Looking forward, obviously, in the Labor Party, we will have our own processes to begin to nominate and endorse a candidate for the upcoming by-election. As to John Barilaro, I don't think he's looking for advice from me. I suspect he may want to be talking this afternoon to people like Jim Molan and Andrew Constance to test the waters as to whether or not they're going to throw their hat in the ring too.

GILBERT: Kristina Keneally, thanks for your time, appreciate it. And Mike Kelly absolutely has been a very good Member of Parliament and much-loved in that seat of Eden-Monaro, and congratulations to him on a career well-served so far we hope his health issues are dealt with sooner rather than later.