10 August 2020


SUBJECTS: COVID-19 and the Aged Care Royal Commission; MPs self isolating before parliament; border closuresl Teddy Sheehan being awarded the Victoria Cross. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: I want to bring in my panel this afternoon Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones and LNP MP Andrew Laming. Welcome to both of you. We will start on COVID. Andrew Laming, the Aged Care Royal Commission has heard that neither the federal health department or the aged care regulator had developed a COVID-19 plan for aged care. Are you shocked by that revelation?
ANDREW LAMING, MEMBER FOR BOWMAN: Surprised, because nearly every sector knew that, within states, they were reliant on what we refer to as business wide or sector-wide COVID plans. There wasn't any COVID planning done at individual facility level really anywhere. It was always a given to the overarching body. So to think that aged care didn't do that is surprising, but anyone who does visit aged care facilities will know that all of the staff and all of the owners and all of the directors were on the ground preparing for COVID and making arrangements, it just wasn't standardised at state or federal level. 
KARVELAS: So that's a pretty significant failure, isn't it? Doesn't the federal government bear responsibility for a failure to plan there?
LAMING: They do bear responsibility if their job is to look at every one of those COVID plans of coordinate and streamline them. But let's be honest here, okay, we've got seven out of eight jurisdictions with, or six out of eight, with no COVID in aged care facilities even in Victoria 95% of aged care facilities have no COVID in them. Let's just remember that staff, owners, directors, nurses have done an incredible job. There's not a country in the world that has kept COVID out of aged care facilities, and there's very little one can do, short of having people in bio-hazard suits to keep this disease out of places like that. So a great job has been done. But if you look at overall coordination, it could have been way better and we've seen it continually, this breakdown in state and commonwealth, cost us at Ruby Princess cost us with travel and the spillover disease from Victoria getting into New South Wales and Queensland. And the upside of it, of course is that national cabinet's worked well, so I guess it's a bit of a trade-off having this federated structure.
KARVELAS: Stephen, how do you see it? Obviously the planning hadn't been done. Who's responsible?
STEPHEN JONES MP, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: This is extraordinary. It's a scandal. It's completely unbelievable that the government, Scott Morrison’s own aged care safety regulator, the agency responsible for regulation of safety and care within the aged care sector around the country, did not have a plan for COVID safety when every shopping centre, every pub and hotel, every club, every business in the country had a plan but the aged care regulator didn’t. This is not a theoretical issue because we know that in all likelihood it has led directly to the failure of the regulator to pick up the big gaps in care and preparedness when, unfortunately, the virus did attack these aged care centres in Victoria. It's extraordinary and this simply cannot be swept under the carpet.
KARVELAS: Look, there's obviously management issues around all of this. Every state is having different success. I think I've asked you before Andrew Laming, but again today, Queensland has had a very successful day. It seems that Queensland is a bit of a success story when it comes to COVID-19. Do you accept that the strategy that's been used in Queensland has actually worked, if your aim is to make sure the virus doesn't stop business running in your state?
LAMING: Well, look Tasmania, PK, they actually had a second wave and contained it in 12 days. Every jurisdiction is a success story except regrettably Victoria, who had a fairly elementary public policy challenge, didn't they? I mean watch a hotel room door and no one can jump out the window. It was that simple and it didn't happen and introduced what we think is a new strain that's caused all of the spillover disease into every other state is out of those hotel quarantine corridors. So all of the jurisdictions have done an incredible job, we've had one major blunder in Victoria and I want to say that, you know, it's easy up in us northern states to be talking about this but Tasmania has done an incredible job who actually got through their second wave in 12 to 14 days and held it to nil ever since. 
KARVELAS: Yeah, but I asked you about Queensland, and Tasmania is under a Coalition government. Isn't it a political comment you’re making?
LAMING: No, no political points here. All jurisdictions have done a great job, all jurisdictions have, Victoria even. Look, let's be honest here, 95% of aged care facilities not requiring the Commonwealth to step in, keeping COVID out when it's actually moving through the community. It's a heroic effort. They've all done their COVID planning. There wasn't centralised control of COVID planning by the federal government is the statement which is yet to be corroborated and checked. But let's be honest, all jurisdiction of done a great job. We are paying the price, let's be honest, this is not a superimposed outbreak, this is a brand new outbreak with potentially a new strain, weeks after Victoria had it under control and that's unforgivable because it's going to double the cost and double the time that we're in lockdown from COVID, from that hotel quarantine bungle. 
KARVELAS: I want to change the topic to Parliament sitting and the quarantining arrangement for Victorian MPs. I want to stay with you Andrew Laming. Do you think you should be allowed to vote, or the structure should be changed to there's an online structure you can vote online and so forth, so that MPs don't have to come in to Canberra?
LAMING: You think that almost everyone under the age of 60 would think online is doable. I’d like to see it trialed. I think it's a little onerous saying 14 day quarantine in ACT for Victorian members. I don't allow them to travel but 14 days is a big price to pay and I think we could have worked harder to find some other options given that we have the pairing arrangements already. Though, opportunity to speak on legislation I think it's heartfelt and I guess those Victorian MPs  want to chance and Senators to speak on the floor and they be clutching at that. But this is a public health emergency and there has to be some arrangements in the short term. I'm all for online and a trial and what better time to see if, as a nation, we can do it.
KARVELAS: Including voting? 
LAMING: Of course with no hesitation voting is the easy part. It's getting involved in the debate and hearing those contributions and making sure that they get an opportunity to sway and move opinion that I think is even harder than the voting itself. 
KARVELAS: Yeah, politicians are going to have to learn how to press the mute button, that's for sure.
JONES: In my experience it's taking the mute button off that's the problem in most of the Zoom conferences I’ve been in. 
KARVELAS: Yeah, some very middle-aged behaviour I've seen there too, Stephen. Stephen, do you think it should move to an online model?
JONES: I look I think in extraordinary circumstances we need to have some flexible arrangements. Absolutely critical the parliament meets, absolutely critical that the big decisions are open to scrutiny by the opposition and the public at large and as much attendance in person as possible. But the flexible arrangements that have been put in place to ensure that you have virtual presence and voting arrangements, I 100% support. I've got to say this though, in the national sympathy budget I don't think there should be a line item for Victorian politicians, or any other politicians, who have to isolate themselves for a couple of weeks. This is a part of our job. We've got to do it. Let's get on with it. And if I could just make one further comment, the reason Queensland is doing so well, I've got to say, is that they weren't listening to the advice of Andrew Laming who has been saying since the very outbreak; open the borders, open the borders, open the borders. One of the reasons the Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia have done so well is they weren't listening to the advice of people like Andrew. 
KARVELAS: Alright, I just want to get your comment, I'll stay with you Stephen if I can, on this recommendation from an expert panel. What we've seen now is this recommendation for Teddy Sheean to be awarded the Victoria Cross. Is that a good decision at this point? 
JONES: Oh look, this is fantastic news for all the community advocates there in Northern Tasmania, my colleagues who have been pushing for this for quite some time. Anthony Albanese gave a speech on this in Parliament a few months ago, as did a number of my other colleagues. I'm a little bit disappointed that it has had to go through all the Hoops that it has gone through. We know that an independent tribunal recommended to the Prime Minister that the VC be awarded. We know the Prime Minister rejected that. We know that they then conducted political polling in Northern Tasmania, which must have told them that it was a hot button issue in those marginal seats and there's as a result of that they commissioned another independent panel to review the original decision. I welcomed the outcome, I just wish that we didn't have to go through all that political process to get there.
KARVELAS: Andrew Laming was just a, you know, decision based on polling? That's what Labor is saying.
LAMING: Hard one to answer PK. I've got two answers. I mean the first one is it just great news that it's happened. There always has to be new evidence for decision like this to be revisited and they clearly found that that was the case. And look in answer also to Stephen because he deserves an answer, I'm all about the science, and so if there's no community origin you open borders after 14 days, that's the science. There's not point conflating me saying that border should be open at a time when everyone knows borders should be closed and lastly Queensland has thousands of people crossing the border everyday, we don't check where they're coming from and that doesn't make you safe, saying a border is closed, if you've got thousands of people flying in every day from Melbourne and you're not checking where they've been, particularly when they've been pinching handbags. 
KARVELAS: Alright. Thank you so much to both of you. Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones and LNP MP Andrew Laming.