TUESDAY, 23 MARCH 2021
SUBJECTS: South-eastern floods; misconduct in Parliament House; coronavirus crisis in Papua New Guinea.
KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: Welcome back to the show. Ten million Aussies are on flood alert this morning, as the emergency zone extended all the way from the Sunshine Coast to the Victorian border. Emergency services are warning we're facing one of the biggest disasters in decades. The damage bill running into the billions. Let's discuss with Shadow Minister for Government Services, Bill Shorten. And from 4BC in Brisbane, Scott Emerson. Morning, guys. Nice to see you to you.
BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: Good Morning.
SCOTT EMERSON, 4BC: Good morning.
STEFANOVIC: First of all, Scott, in relation to this flood emergency, south east Queensland is in the firing line this morning. What's the situation there?
EMERSON: Oh, look, extraordinary rain events overnight again, Karl. And the we're not out of the woods at all for the next day or so. Just even coming to the studios this morning, just bucketing down, you can just barely see 20 metres in front of you in the car. Extraordinary. And obviously, we've seen that the roiling waters down there at Coomera on the Gold Coast. Talking to Tom Tate the mayor down there late yesterday, he's obviously putting on a brave face on that, but acknowledging the real issues out there for his community. It's going to be very hard for them to recover in the next couple of days. They're hoping by the end of the week we'll see this rain event just head off to the coast. But a massive clean up, as you say, 10 million Australians are now being affected by this flood.
STEFANOVIC: There's a shot of that car going down the river. I mean, it brings back very painful memories from the floods in and around Toowoomba 10 years ago. I mean, it's just awful stuff there, our thoughts with everyone around those affected areas. Bill, the Army is being called in to help our state emergency services. This is a good thing. They're obviously stretched to the limit. Do you think there is more, there should be more of a national perspective when we when we approach these things, especially events like this, maybe a national disaster fund?
SHORTEN: Well, my first comments are just my thoughts are with the people who are affected by the floods. And again, all the experts remind us to say that if you see water across the road, a flood is not just in a river. If you can't see that road, don't drive through the floodwater. In terms of the national perspective, maybe it's early days to start saying what should happen. But, how about we talk some flood mitigation? And maybe if we know that the floods are going to happen once in 20 years or periodically, maybe we need to have more levees. Maybe we need to raise the height of some of the dams. Listen, that’s just a bookmark for the future. At the moment, people are worried about getting water across their floorboards and keeping safe.
STEFANOVIC: Well, I'll tell you why. I mean, Warragamba Dam, there was a pitch to raise the height of Warragamba Dam in Sydney by an extra 15 to 20 metres. And that was pooh-poohed by green groups, I believe, and by environmental groups, which is absolutely ridiculous. All of that water just coming down the system and out to sea. What a waste, especially when we know these events do happen. When it happens, let's collect it, surely, Bill?
SHORTEN: Yeah, I've looked at the issue of Warragamba Dam, and raising it, and, you know, I don't know why that's not on the table, but listen, I get it in the moment it's about keeping people safe. I want to give a big shout out to the SES, the Orange Angels. And of course, our defence forces are the best in the world at this stuff. so we should be using them.
STEFANOVIC: OK, well said. Let's move on. And an absolutely terrible story out of Canberra last night on 10 News. A parliamentary staffer has been sacked for carrying a lewd act in the office of an MP and sharing the sickening images online. The PM has issued a statement calling it disgusting and sickening. Bill, it's hard to know where to even start. I mean, this is our national parliament, for goodness sake. It is absolutely vile.
SHORTEN: It is reprehensible. I couldn't believe it when I was seeing it. I thought it is a privilege to work at Parliament House. There are thousands of men and women who work in all sorts of capacities at Parliament House. We think it's a privilege to work here. And then you see this behaviour. I felt disgusted. I'm sure Prime Minister Morrison would have done his block on this. But this is, it's just disgusting. And no wonder people hate politics. But just want to reassure Australians getting up this morning saying what's going on, most people who work in this building at Parliament House in Canberra, where I am this morning, work hard. And they would have felt equally disgusted, just embarrassed and ashamed that people could abuse the privilege.
STEFANOVIC: Most people don't look at this and go, what on earth is going on at Parliament?
SHORTEN: I don’t blame them.
STEFANOVIC: I mean, I know none of this is party specific, but at the moment it looks like one particular party is in for it. And there's abhorrent behaviour at almost every turn, it seems. What is going on? Why can't it be cleaned up?
SHORTEN: Well it should be cleaned up. And maybe, if there's any good comes out of this, it's that people need to report the behaviour. If other people mightn’t be doing this sort of stuff, but they've heard about it, there's got to be zero tolerance. And that conduct starts with all of us, that we all need to just say that it's a privilege to work here. And that's the attitude which we should adopt all the time.
STEFANOVIC: OK, Scott, what do you think needs to happen here?
EMERSON: Oh, look, I don't think this is just unique to this moment in time. I think this has been happening for a long time. What's important now is finally seeing some sort of real exposure to this. The Prime Minister has got to come out and say, look, enough is enough. And look, work with Anthony Albanese, the Opposition Leader, in a bipartisan approach. Come out there and say, look, this, as Bill says, it is a privilege to work in parliament. It's a privilege to be an MP, a privilege to be a staffer out there. This is our federal parliament. We should expect this to be the gold standard of behaviour out there in an employment place. Get Morrison and Albanese to work together, come out today and say, look, enough is enough. We're gonna have to clean this up.
STEFANOVIC: Look, I saw it over the weekend, two powerful accounts in the Sunday Mail in Queensland, of women in parliament who are outlining the abuses that they've suffered. Just terrible stuff. Everything needs to be cleaned up. It's terrible. And it's an example to the rest of society. Let's move on. Amid this huge flood emergency, we can't forget this story either. Another humanitarian crisis which is still unfolding, and that's the desperate impact of the coronavirus in Papua New Guinea. It's just on our doorstep. Bill, you have some exclusive news on that for us.
SHORTEN: I spoke to senior Australians in Papua New Guinea overnight. There are nearly 10 million people that live in Papua New Guinea. The COVID virus has gotten away. There's only six intensive care unit beds in Papua New Guinea. And they’re full. There's about 135 ventilators that I'm aware of. But they require four nurses per machine and there's not enough nurses. We have a humanitarian disaster unfolding. Whilst this is another country that's on our doorstep. And I think that we now need to contemplate an Aceh-like response, that's referring to the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. Just sending a few thousand vaccination kits is not enough. If we don't deal with this disaster right now, we'll be dealing with a much bigger disaster in weeks to come. And we will look back in weeks to come and say we should have done more. Right now, there's a little bit being done, not enough. PNG has been there for us when we needed them. It's now our turn to stump up, because the problem will become our problem if we continue to ignore it.
STEFANOVIC: Perfectly articulated in terms of this humanitarian disaster. Scott, it's right on your doorstep in Queensland. Do Queenslanders believe enough is being done?
EMERSON: Oh, look, I think people aren't necessarily aware how close PNG is to us. You know, you can see PNG from some of the islands in Queensland. It's only seven k’s across the waters to get to PNG from some of the islands. If this, as Bill quite rightly says, if this goes in a disastrous way and look, COVID is rampant up there, without the facilities, without the determination to fix it up there, it'll be a massive problem for Queensland, a massive problem for Australia. We've got to do more. We are vaccinating at the moment in terms of the islanders in Queensland, to make sure it doesn't spread because it's very porous. But we can't do - we have to more and more, because this is going to be out of control.
STEFANOVIC: All right, Bill, how do you how do you make that happen?
SHORTEN: Well, one thing about this AstraZeneca vaccine. Remember last week people were concerned the Europeans were, you know, shutting it down, well, it looks like the AstraZeneca is working. And I said last week I had confidence in the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and that seems to be correct. But what we need to do is have a three word slogan - Made in Australia. What we need to do is be producing the vaccines here. We've got to make sure there's enough for Australians before, you know, people are hitting the email and saying, Bill, I don't care about Papua New Guinea, worry about Australia - but we've got to have a sovereign manufacturing capacity here. That's the first priority. But if we if we are not getting vaccinations, if we're not getting ventilators, if we're not treating it like 2004 Aceh, the problem will get worse. And we will say later on, I wish we had done more earlier.
STEFANOVIC: Very good call, Bill. Let's hope the government is listening this morning. I know we've got a lot of problems in this country right now, battling the floods and the virus. But let's do what we can. Very good call. Thank you for that. And the good people of Papua New Guinea need our help right now as well. Thank you, Scott. Thank you, Bill.