Mar 22, 2020







SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; health impacts of the coronavirus; NSW and VIC state government’s response to coronavirus; COAG. 


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks for joining us. This afternoon we’ve had a constructive discussion, my leadership team with the Prime Minister and his ministers. We received briefings from Dr Kennedy, the head of Treasury and Dr Kelly, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer. We debated the process of the Parliament sitting through tomorrow. And there’s broad agreement, there are some issues that remain to be resolved. But Labor has taken an approach to these issues that we will be constructive. That we need economic stimulus to protect your job and your business right now. And that we will be supportive of these measures. It may well be that we have a range of amendments and improvements, some of which we raised in the room, to suggest to the Government of improvements in the way that the economic stimulus that was announced today and the one announced two weeks ago can operate. But we will be constructive and at the end of the day, if our suggestions aren’t taken up by the Parliament, we will not stand in the way of economic stimulus because this is an absolutely critical time for the nation. These economic problems have been there for some time. In terms of last year, a flattening in the economy. The fact we had three interest rate decreases. But there’s no doubt that on top of the bushfires this crisis is having a major impact on the economy. Of course we need to deal with things in the right order, and the right order is to deal with the health emergency. And our first priority is the health of Australians and making sure that we limit the health impact of the coronavirus. Hence we are concerned and raised our concern and will continue to do so, of the fact that we’ve seen a doubling in the rate of infections, reported every three days. That is not a path that we should be on. That is of real concern. And it shows that some of the measures simply aren’t working. We understand that these issues are difficult issues and that there’s no magic solution. We want to be constructive and we raised a number of suggestions constructively and we’ll continue to do so, as we have been since the beginning. I note that the Victorian and New South Wales governments have made some announcements, as well, about actions that they’ll be taking in terms of a further shutting down of activity in those states. And tonight there will be a meeting of what the Prime Minister calls the national cabinet but I think is really the COAG by phone hook-up, and I’d say that it is important, as a principle, that there be as much uniformity as possible. We live in a federal system but it will add to confusion if there are different rules in different states applying to different people. And I’d ask Chris to make some comments as well.


CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thank you very much, Anthony. This is a health crisis which is moving very quickly and is moving too quickly in terms of the spread of this virus across Australia. It’s also moving quickly in terms of Government’s response. We’ve given the Government room to get this right. We’ve made constructive suggestions, we’ve made proposals, publicly and privately to them. We backed every single measure put in place. The fact of the matter is that every single government, every single business, every single person needs to be working together to stop this virus which is currently doubling every three days. We need to be honest with the Australian people. If the virus continues to double every three days the pressure on the health system will become very severe indeed. We just have to be up-front about that. And that’s why we all have to work together. As Anthony said, we’ll support any measures. We have and we’ll continue to support any measures which help stop this virus spreading. We know COVID-19 doesn’t respect international borders, nor does it respect state borders. While we understand states have made different approaches, we call on as much of a coordinated approach as is humanly possible, obviously led by this building, to ensure the rules are consistent. We’re seeing confusion out there and people not understanding how the social distancing rules should work and whether they can go to the beach or not. With things moving so fast we do understand there’s going to be some confusion. The more consistent the message, the more consistent the rules and approach, the more success we’ll have. We cannot continue to see this virus double every three days or we will see more and more pressure on the health system. We just have to be honest about that. That’s why we’ll work, as Anthony said, constructively over the next couple of days here in this building, as we have done since January, when we had the first Australian diagnosis. We will also provide principle statements. We have done so about testing. We’ve done so about respiratory clinics. Things we think can and should be being done faster. We have always recognised the constraints. We’ve recognised it’s not easy. Anthony did that in the meeting we just had with the Prime Minister. We have done it privately and publicly. But more has to happen, has to happen fast, and has to happen in a coordinated fashion.


JOURNALIST: In relation to consistency of approach, Victoria is saying it will close the schools on Tuesday irrespective of what happens tonight at the national cabinet COAG meeting. Should all states follow and close their schools on the same day?


ALBANESE: I’d like to see a consistent approach. Tonight, I don’t want to want to preempt that discussion. One of the concerns that has been out there is the changing messages from day to day. I’ve said pretty consistently that if you think a decision is going to be made next week or the week after, make it today. Because the sooner we act the more effective it will be. Whether it’s health, or whether it be on the economy.


JOURNALIST: Does that mean the best thing would be for the closure of schools to happen sooner rather than later, over the next couple of days, and the shutdown of all non-essential businesses and services?


ALBANESE: No, what it means is exactly what I said. The Victorian Government appear to have made their decision. They would have been making that on the basis of the best advice. I’ve said when it comes to health issues we need to listen to the best health advice. But if we know that something’s going to happen down the track, we know that, the sooner we act the better.


JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).


ALBANESE: There will be a meeting tonight and that will become apparent. I would say though that common sense just tells you that while we are a nation of states and territories, people out there getting mixed messages is not a positive thing. And we need consistency. I’m not a party to tonight’s discussion. That’s a decision that the Prime Minister made and he has every right to do that. Tonight’s COAG I think needs to have a discussion about the need for a consistent approach.


JOURNALIST: In terms of the consistency again, the AFL is about to have a news conference and suspend its season for two months. Will the NRL do the same thing?


ALBANESE: It’s pretty hard to argue either the NRL or AFL could play a game while having social distancing principles. I’ve said that before. I love Rugby League and I love AFL but these are difficult times where health, including player welfare, has to come first. Thanks very much.