ABC Brisbane Drive With Steve Austin

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Monday, 5th July 2021

ABC Brisbane Drive With Steve Austin

Discussing the Morrison Government failing Australians during a health pandemic, the Wellcamp quarantine proposal, and more.

SUBJECTS: Vaccine rollout; national quarantine; Morrison Government failing Australians during a health pandemic; Wellcamp quarantine proposal. 

STEVE AUSTIN, HOST: Anthony Albanese, good afternoon. 

ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good afternoon, mate. 

AUSTIN: I believe you're at Toowoomba, around Wellcamp Airport today. I wonder why that is, Anthony Albanese?

ALBANESE: I certainly was there. And then outside Toowoomba Hospital, I had a press conference I did with our candidate there in Groom, Gen Allpass, and also Senator Anthony Chisholm. And we were there. We met with John Wagner at the airport. You have 777 aircraft just parked there at the airport. 777s, of course, are the aircraft that go from Brisbane and Sydney to LA. It just shows that it is an international level airport. They certainly have international freight flights there. And they're quite capable of bringing in the same sort of aircraft that are coming into Darwin and are putting people at Howard Springs. And I've met with John Wagner there today, talking again about why it is, because it confounds me, frankly, that the proposal to have purpose-built quarantine facilities there, and could have been up and running in 12 weeks, you could have 600 people, and in 14 weeks, you could have the full thousand. And that could have been up and running basically 12 weeks after it was put forward last October.

AUSTIN: So there's no reason why international repatriation flights or international flights bringing people from overseas into Australia couldn't be landing at the Wellcamp Airport as far as you're concerned? 

ALBANESE: Absolutely. And I was Aviation Minister for six years, I am fully across the capacity of the airport there. 

AUSTIN: Well, I understand that there are two or three main reasons that we know publicly. First of all, it's not close enough to a major hospital with enough facilities. That has been cited by the Federal Government. It doesn't have air traffic control towers there. And the third reason being is that it will require the Federal Government to hand over $100 million of taxpayer money to someone who has private land. In other words, it will be giving away because it's privately owned land. In other words, we'll be giving $100 million to the Wagner family, essentially, to build the facility.

ALBANESE: Well, of course, there's another reason, which is the Government are opposed to purpose-built quarantine facilities. They've knocked back all of the proposals that have been put forward. They haven't listened. 

AUSTIN: Well, they're not anymore, are they, Anthony Albanese? Because they have announced one for Pinkenba if the state Government agrees.

ALBANESE: Well, what they've done is announced a plan for planning at Pinkenba. But that was reluctant. Only when the pressure became so great that they found their position that they had taken was just untenable. We know that the Government has had two jobs this year. They had to roll out the vaccine effectively and they had to fix national quarantine. We've had 26 breaches from hotel quarantine. And each of them has led to issues, some of which are profound such as the lockdowns that last week saw 12 million Australians locked down, a significant loss for our economy but also just a loss in people being able to go about their way of life. 

AUSTIN: But each of the experts, including the Chief Health Officer of Queensland, has said in the past that hotel quarantine is working appropriately, and it's got a 99 per cent success rate. In other words, the leakages from hotel quarantine are minimal. 

ALBANESE: And every time when there is a leakage, the consequences are severe. The consequences, whether it be in Sydney, the circumstance whereby you had the person driving the foreign aircrew to hotel quarantine that ended up catching COVID and then it spreading throughout the community and lockdowns that spread around the country, or whether it be here in Queensland, the fact that someone who didn't have COVID went into a hotel quarantine on their way to the mine site in the Northern Territory, got COVID at the hotel and then passed it on at the mine site in the Northern Territory, which led to lockdowns there. Every single breach has serious consequences. Because hotel quarantine, as Jane Halton, who provided a report to the Government last year, found the ventilation systems and the hotel aren’t built as quasi-medical facilities. And that's why we need purpose-built facilities. Howard Springs hasn't seen any issues arise from it. Because you have cabin accommodation, you're able to keep people separated, you're not sharing ventilation. And therefore, if there is an issue there, it doesn't have the consequences that it has at a hotel in the middle of a capital city.

AUSTIN: So does this mean that Federal Labor does not support federal taxpayer money being spent on the federal land at Pinkenba, where there is a major hospital or multiple major hospitals nearby, and an air traffic control facility very close?

ALBANESE: No, it doesn't mean that at all. What it means is that, though, in recognition that it will take some time to get up and going, until 2022, it's expected before it could be functioning. And we have an issue right now. We can't afford, given we are the last in the developed world at the effective rollout of the vaccine, we can't afford to continue to have these lockdowns, to continue to have these outbreaks. The Budget, I'm sure if Jim Chalmers was here in his regular spot, he would point out that in the Budget papers provided for lockdowns, every month for the rest of this year in its assumptions. Now, that just shows that we're actually planning to fail because we're failing to plan on these issues.

AUSTIN: A number of my listeners are asking, 'What's Labor's sudden interest in this private land at Wellcamp?' The State Labor Government is very interested in the Wellcamp facility. Now, you seem to be. But it's privately owned land, where the taxpayer would be required to hand over millions of dollars to someone who'd be keeping the land after it's all over because it's their facilities. What am I missing here, Anthony Albanese?

ALBANESE: Well, he's got the land now. It's his land. This is a practical proposal which has been put forward, of which, in terms of, if you want to speak about taxpayer dollars, every single hotel quarantine facility is requiring significant taxpayer dollars for police, for people to check out the safety which is there, the cost is quite extraordinary for federal and state governments at the moment. And if you look at the cost of functioning the facility at Howard Springs, it's far less per resident, if you like, for that 14 days, than the cost of housing people in the CBDs of our capital cities.

AUSTIN: So you don't accept the argument that an impediment to Wellcamp would be the lack of an air traffic control facility, the lack of a major hospital nearby, and the handing over of 100 million plus of taxpayer money to a private developer? You don't think they're reasonable impediments?

ALBANESE: I don't accept the figure in terms of the cost. That is something that could be negotiated through, certainly, John Wagner is certainly saying that he will pay for the construction himself and will make a significant contribution himself and wants to talk to the state and territory governments about that. But regarding the other issues, they're issues that it seems to me have been put up to find reasons to not do something. And we know that not doing something has had consequences. That has had consequences in the form of the spread of COVID and consequences in the form of 12 million Australians being locked down. Consequences in terms of people losing their jobs and their income. If you're a casual employee around Australia in all those cities and areas that were locked down, you lost your income.

AUSTIN: Why is the State Government then, the Labor Government here, not agreeing to the request by the Opposition to pay some sort of compensation for local Queensland small businesses during a snap lockdown, and nothing's being done to help them at a state level?

ALBANESE: Well, this is a result of Federal Government failure. When we look at the failures that have been there in terms of national quarantine - quarantine is the Federal Government's responsibility.

AUSTIN: It's not just a federal responsibility. That's why the state of Queensland said they're going to cut the number of flights.

ALBANESE: Well, it is. They've done that in the absence of Commonwealth leadership. What we've seen from Scott Morrison is handing off responsibility for things that are national responsibilities. Our immigration system, customs system, our quarantine system. They are federal responsibilities.

AUSTIN: But they do it in agreements with the states. That's how the state of Queensland was able to. Let me play you what Steven Miles said.

STEVEN MILES, DEPUTY PREMIER OF QUEENSLAND: We will now move to dramatically cut the number of international travellers permitted to return to Queensland. The nation only has one dedicated quarantine facility at the moment, that being Howard Springs. And it is our view that should be where international travellers return to until there are additional facilities. 

AUSTIN: In other words, the state does have a strong say in how many numbers come in, because they announced they were cutting it.

ALBANESE: Well, they do because the Federal Government have refused to take responsibility for establishing national quarantine facilities. We need to go back to basics here. We've been saying for a year now that you needed a four-point plan to deal with COVID. You needed to fix up the rollout of the vaccine, you needed national quarantine facilities, you needed the appropriate public information campaign, and you needed to manufacture mRNA vaccines here. Now, the Government, last Friday, went back to the same position that they had at the beginning of the year when Scott Morrison addressed the National Press Club in January and said that the rollout of the vaccine was the key to opening up our economy and to be able to go back to our way of life. 

AUSTIN: So do you support the four-point plan they announced on Friday?

ALBANESE: Well, it was a plan with no timeline and no targets. 

AUSTIN: The states agreed to it.

ALBANESE: Well, the Prime Minister announced it. And the states know that the Federal Government has failed to implement a plan. And on Friday, it's pretty hard to disagree with something that is completely a parenthood statement of 'We need to roll out the vaccine'.

AUSTIN: But it was the only agreed thing that came out of National Cabinet. In other words, that was the thing that all the states agreed to.

ALBANESE: Well, that's right. Because the National Cabinet hasn't been functioning terribly well because the Federal Government, I think it was the 45th meeting of the National Cabinet was last Friday, and there they decided, well, the Federal Government put forward a plan, which was they should roll out the vaccine effectively. The problem with the vaccine rollout has been one of supply. The Federal Government didn't do enough deals with enough quantity soon enough. 

AUSTIN: Yes. 

ALBANESE: And that's why we are sitting at around about seven per cent of Australians have been fully vaccinated. We're not in the top 100 of countries. And we were told, of course, Steve, that we were at the front of the queue. The truth is that we're way, way, way at the back.

AUSTIN: This is ABC Radio Brisbane. My guest is the Leader of the ALP in Australia, Anthony Albanese. It's 12 minutes to five. Well, given that, Anthony Albanese, should Scott Morrison replace Greg Hunt, the Health Minister who's responsible over this? Normally, if a minister or a member of Cabinet is not up to the task of delivering policy in an appropriate way, normally they either step aside or they are removed from the position and replaced with someone. So should the Minister resign over the vaccine rollout process?

ALBANESE: Well, no one has resigned in this Government, of course. And Scott Morrison ultimately is responsible. But you've had Angus Taylor, you've had Christian Porter, you've had Greg Hunt over the vaccine rollout. You have scandal after scandal. And last Friday, of course, Bridget McKenzie, the person who was responsible for Sports Rorts, was brought back. And you can't even get the Member for Bowman, Andrew Laming, to resign from the Liberal National Party, someone who was harassing his own constituents. He still remains as a member of the LNP and still remains as the chair of a parliamentary committee. And now, of course, we know that he was replaced, or he'll be replaced as the candidate, by Henry Pike. It's led to a whole lot of senior members of the Liberal National Party in the electorate of Bowman actually resigning their position because they don't think it's tenable for him to be the candidate. This is a Government that needs replacing from the top down. And that's what I'll be doing each and every day. Campaigning to remove Scott Morrison as Prime Minister and all of his ministers. 

AUSTIN: So you don't think Greg Hunt needs to resign?

ALBANESE: I'd be happy for all of them to resign. I just know that under Scott Morrison, that isn't going to happen. Because under Scott Morrison, no one has to resign, and the Westminster System doesn't seem to mean too much. Just like Scott Morrison doesn't allow any debate in the national Parliament, he just gets people shut down. This is a Government that has walked away from Westminster principles and democratic principles. And I know that my friend Kevin Rudd pointed that out in an opinion piece today.

AUSTIN: Anthony Albanese, thanks for your time.

ALBANESE: Thanks very much.

ENDS

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Electorate Office

334a Marrickville Road
MARRICKVILLE NSW 2204

Phone: (02) 9564 3588
Fax: (02) 9564 1734
Email: A.Albanese.MP@aph.gov.au

Parliament House Office

PO Box 6022
CANBERRA ACT 2600

Phone: (02) 6277 4022
Fax: (02) 6277 8562

Phone: (02) 9564 3588
Fax: (02) 9564 1734
Email: A.Albanese.MP@aph.gov.au

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