Aug 3, 2020









SUBJECTS: Paid pandemic leave; JobKeeper; aged care; need for an economic recovery plan; Craig Kelly’s comments on hydroxychloroquine; Victorian coronavirus outbreak; Victorian lockdown; COVIDSafe app.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks for joining us. All Australians today are thinking about our Victorian friends. And our hearts and our thoughts are with them during what is a very difficult time. We support the measures that have been announced by Premier Andrews, just as we support the measures that have been recommended by Premier Berejiklian for New South Wales. It is very clear that this is an Australian problem, not a problem of one state. It is an Australian problem that requires an Australian solution.


And today, Labor is calling upon the Prime Minister to announce a three-point plan. The first is paid pandemic leave. It is very clear that the issue of people going to work because they don’t feel like they have an alternative in terms of putting food on the tables of their families is one that must be addressed. No one should be put in a situation of looking after their family or looking after their health. That is why paid pandemic leave is necessary. And it should be announced immediately as a priority of the National Government. We’ve been calling for this for weeks now, and it is time that the Government acted.


Secondly, we need to revisit changes to JobKeeper. It’s very clear that a range of businesses who did okay in June won’t be doing okay in the September quarter. It’s also very clear that a reduction in support will lead to real hardship as well. This is a case particularly for Victoria, but also for other sections of the community. A number of people were left behind when JobKeeper was announced. We want to make sure that more people are not left behind as a result of the changes that have been announced by the Government, and they should revisit that announcement.


And the third issue is that they should accept responsibility for aged care. It is very clear that it is a national responsibility. And the Government needs to announce a national plan for aged care and dealing with these issues. And that needs to be as a matter of urgency as well. Can I say as well, just in conclusion before I ask Chris to make some comments, that the Federal Government can’t shirk its responsibility. It can’t duck its responsibility for aged care, for the Ruby Princess debacle and its role in it, for the issues that are there with the COVIDSafe app and its failure to identify, quickly, in terms of tracing people who may well be affected. And fourthly, looking to the future, it can’t shirk its responsibility for an economic recovery plan. We want to make sure that no one is left behind during this pandemic. But we want to also make sure that no one is held back during the recovery. What that means is a plan for jobs. The Government has announced that there’ll be 240,000 additional unemployed people between now and Christmas. And it’s very clear that what they haven’t announced is a plan to get those people into work. To actually make sure that we learn the lessons of the weakness in terms of the Australian economy, we build resilience, and we support people into work. Without a Government plan for economic recovery, we will have real issues for much longer, the recession will be deeper and longer than it needs to be. Chris?


CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks very much, Anthony. As Anthony said, the most important thing to say today is that our thoughts are with every single Victorian. This is not a Victorian pandemic. It’s not a Victorian wave. This is a global pandemic. And we have to say that we’re in it together and mean that we are in it together. And we are in it with our Victorian cousins, brothers, sisters and friends.


Two matters I want to touch on before Anthony and I hand over to questions. Firstly, the Minister of Health has announced that in Victoria, mental health plans will be extended to 20 consultations. This is welcomed. But I must say doesn’t go far enough. In May, the Labor Party suggested that 20 visits be allowed on the mental health plans across the country during this pandemic. The mental health implications of this pandemic do not stop at the Murray River. And there are people doing it tough right around Australia. And any counsellor, psychologist, psychiatrist will tell you that 10 visits is not enough. So again, we tick the expansion in Victoria, welcome it and congratulate the Government for that. But we say, let’s make sure that it applies to every Australian to have equal rights to a fully developed comprehensive mental health care plan for their needs.


The second matter I want to deal with is that the Member for Hughes, Mr Kelly, has made some utterly outrageous statements on Facebook earlier today. I’m not going to dignify them with repetition. I’m not going to repeat them. Just to say this, in Australia, as in most countries around the world, what drugs are safe and efficacious is determined by an independent body. In our case, the TGA. Not by politicians. By medical experts. For Mr Kelly to launch an attack on the Premier of Victoria today, about hydroxychloroquine, is dangerous. There are enough conspiracy theories already circulating. This is dangerous and outright irresponsible. And it’s incumbent on every politician and every commentator to call it out, so that people have one clear message. Listen to the TGA about what drugs are safe, and not to what you see on Facebook by Mr Kelly or anybody else. So, just to remind you what the TGA last said about hydroxychloroquine, they said, ‘Given the limited evidence for effect against COVID-19, as well as the risk of significant adverse effects, the TGA strongly discourages the use of hydroxychloroquine outside of its current indications at this time other than in a clinical trial setting or in a controlled environment’. So, that’s what the TGA says. That’s where Australia should get their advice. Not from Mr Kelly, who would do well to be silent, to support the medical advice, to support Australia’s doctors and not score ridiculous points with Trumpian rants on Facebook.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much. Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: Doesn’t the Daniel Andrew’s Labor Government also need to be scrutinised for the situation in Victoria?


ALBANESE: Well, of course Daniel Andrews has accepted responsibility for what he is responsible for. He stands up and has media conferences each and every single day. But I make this point; the National Parliament should be meeting tomorrow. And the fact that it isn’t is, I think, a source of regret. We are of the view that when Parliament is due to sit on August 24, it must sit. There is a committee that’s been established, including the Speaker, and the President of the Senate, along with the Managers of Business for both the Government and the Opposition, in the House of Representatives, and the Senate, it’s working through the issues. Any restrictions based upon medical advice should be implemented. But it shouldn’t be beyond the capacity of our National Parliament to meet when it’s due to meet in three weeks’ time because I think that the Australian people who are going to work, providing essential work, in particular, would expect that our politicians aren’t above that and that we’re able to participate in parliamentary processes which needs to debate these and other issues. We raise this today, the three-point plan, because it’s not possible to raise it in Question Time tomorrow which we would in the ordinary events timetable. So, I do think that it is important that the National Parliament requires accountability to be held. But this is a global pandemic, as Chris just said. This is a national issue that requires a national response. It requires the coordination of the National Government with state and territory governments, under the government system that we have.


JOURNALIST: There has been thousands of new cases down there in the past couple of weeks. Do you think the situation down there is officially out of control?


BOWEN: The Premier has been very clear. He’s declared a state of disaster. He’s imposed very harsh restrictions. As Anthony said, he’s taken the decisions that are necessary. It’s very clear that tough action is necessary to get this virus under control in Victoria. It’s not to say that what’s been done so far hasn’t worked. Because the situation would have been much worse without the stage three restrictions, but it hasn’t worked well enough, and hence the stage four restrictions have had to be implemented.


ALBANESE: I make this point, though. That the Federal Government, the Morrison Government, have been supportive of the changes that have been announced by Daniel Andrews yesterday. But you can’t have the national leadership of the Coalition Government saying one thing and their backbench members, whether they be Victorian backbench members or New South Wales members like Craig Kelly making this sort of irresponsible, outrageous comments that they have made on social media and in other forms. Mr Morrison needs to get his backbench in line. Because it is unacceptable, the comments of Craig Kelly, the comments of Tim Wilson similarly, and many others. They are completely unacceptable. And I think that, quite frankly, the actions of the Victorian Liberal Party Opposition stand in stark contrast to what we have done, whether myself as Leader, Chris as our Shadow Health Minister, Tony Burke in industrial relations, Jim Chalmers in Treasury, where we have put forward constructive suggestions. We’ve continued to play a constructive role. We will do that. But Mr Morrison needs to get his own troops in line because some of these comments are quite unacceptable. Craig Kelly, the comments that he said don’t bear repeating as Chris Bowen has said. But frankly, I was shocked by them, that any Member of Parliament would be so irresponsible at a time where Victorians are doing it tough. These restrictions are tough, but they are necessary.


JOURNALIST: Do you think the COVIDSafe app should be looked at, given what’s happened in Victoria and some of the rising cases in New South Wales as well?


BOWEN: Well, it’s not working. It’s found a handful. The first key element to fixing it is to admit there’s a problem. We would all cut the Government some slack to say the app was developed quickly. But they have to say it’s not playing a role. You’ve had Victoria slammed into a very harsh lockdown, partly because contact tracing is so difficult. And there are thousands of people working on contact tracing and they deserve to have the app working to help them. We say this with no sense of triumph. We supported the concept of the app, unlike the National Party we actually encouraged Australians to download it. It’s not the fault of Australians who have downloaded it. It’s simply not playing the role it should. And the first step to fixing that is for the Government to accept it hasn’t worked as well as it should, to listen to the expert advice. I’ve heard it, you’ve heard it, the IT experts who have given advice as to what can change and to take it on board. Right across Australia the app needs to work. It needs to work in Victoria, New South Wales, everywhere. It just has to be called out. It’s not working as well as it should and could.


JOURNALIST: On the paid pandemic leave, do you have any ideas about who should pay for it? The Government is under financial strain and so are state governments and so are businesses.


ALBANESE: Well, a range of businesses have introduced paid pandemic leave to their great credit. What we’ve said is that there’s a role for the Government to step in and provide some support for this to occur, where there are gaps. The key principle is this; no one should be in a circumstance whereby they are going to work because they don’t feel like they have an option. And they are the circumstances which are there. We know that is the case. We’ve known that was the case for some time. And the failure to have paid pandemic leave means that there is a cost to that as well. Because people going into work and therefore spreading infection has a cost to it. And we’re seeing the cost in terms of economic cost with the Victorian shutdown. We’re seeing the cost as well with restrictions on economic activity throughout the country. So, we do need to start at first principles. And the first principle is to make sure that no one is put in a position of choosing between looking after their health and looking after their family. Thank you.