ABC NEWS BREAKFAST
MONDAY, 17 MAY 2021
SUBJECTS: Morrison Government mishandling of COVID vaccines for Australians with disability; Disability Royal Commission extension; federal quarantine responsibility; repatriation flights; re-opening Australian borders; Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: The Commonwealth inquiry has heard of the ongoing confusion and frustration across the disability sector over the rollout over the COVID-19 vaccine. Just four per cent of those in residential care have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Bill Shorten is the Shadow Minister for the NDIS and Government Services, and he joins me live from the studio, welcome.
BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: Hi, Patricia.
KARVELAS So, we've got this number that's been revealed today. A thousand residents and fifteen hundred support workers in disability care have been vaccinated. What's your analysis of why that that rate is so low?
SHORTEN: I just think it's hopeless by the Government. I mean, it's amazing that we found out that a thousand Olympians have been vaccinated in a week to go to Tokyo. Yet, it's taken the Federal Government since the beginning of February to vaccinate only a thousand profoundly disabled people. So, the Government's priorities are all wrong. I'm happy for the Olympians to get the jab before anyone sends me hate mail on that. Happy for that
KARVELAS So, you think that’s fair? That's not jumping the queue?
SHORTEN: Well, no, they've got to go overseas. That's fine. What amazes me, though, is that the Government can't organise to inoculate or to give the vaccine to people - we know where they are, they're in group homes, they're not going anywhere generally - but they can't even sort that out in three months.
KARVELAS Well, a couple of things on that. The Minister, Greg Hunt, of course, has addressed this today. He says their strategy was people in aged care first and now they're changing tact. Is it reasonable that they wanted to go aged care first? They are the most vulnerable people because they are older. Is that reasonable?
SHORTEN: Why don't we just say what everyone's thinking? This Government's making it up as it goes along. There are people in group homes who, by virtue of their conditions and impairment, are exceedingly vulnerable. So, this argument somehow that these are the very healthy people with disability, and they can afford to wait, this is the Government engineering the plane while it's in the air. They are making it up. They simply have forgotten about people with disabilities. The anxiety is palpable. I visit facilities and what's happening is that they say to me, Bill, for us, COVID is not over. They can't leave their home. They worry about their care workers getting inoculated. I mean, only fifteen hundred disability workers out of fifty thousand plus have got the jab. This Government, they’re just hopeless at this job.
KARVELAS Ok, again, on the actual risk to people, Greg Hunt says we are at zero community transmission. It's not actually unsafe for people in disability care, right?
SHORTEN: Well, that's alright for Greg Hunt to say. He's not someone who’s veritably locked in their own home, is he? I mean, that just shows you what a what a bunch of robots masquerading as empathetic human beings we've got running the government of Australia. Right now, and I just asked Greg to just think about the people he's talking about rather than his own defence/blame mechanism, these people are people who can't leave their own homes during COVID, which was a very traumatic situation. When they have carers who might be sick, they weren't saying, look, let's just put ourselves in the shoes of the people with disabilities and smarten our act up. If we can do a thousand athletes, why couldn't this Government since February have done ten thousand people with disabilities?
KARVELAS The Australian Olympic Committee has made sure that the athletes - should we make the Australian Olympic Committee in charge of the rollout?
SHORTEN: Maybe we should put the IOC in charge of the Health Department. I mean, all jokes aside, this is a serious issue for people with disability and for disability care workers. And it's tremendously stressful. And Mr Hunt just saying, you're not going to get sick, like what sort of bogus counterfeit empathy is that?
KARVELAS Should it be mandatory for disability care workers to be vaccinated?
SHORTEN: That's a tough issue. There might be some people who have some sort of principled objection. But if you were caring for someone in my family, I'd want it to be mandatory. So, it’d have to be an amazing reason not to get the vaccination. If you were a disability care worker, in my opinion.
KARVELAS So, should it be the rule, then?
SHORTEN: Well I think it should it be the rule with an exception. But that's my personal view.
KARVELAS What exceptions could possibly be acceptable?
SHORTEN: I don't know.
KARVELAS So, it should be the rule, right?
SHORTEN: I'm not that imaginative.
KARVELAS So, it should be the rule.
SHORTEN: It should start as the starting principle. Why not be vaccinated?
KARVELAS Do you support the Disability Royal Commission's request for a 17-month extension to complete its work?
SHORTEN: Oh, absolutely. In fact, Labor and to be fair, the crossbenchers and the Greens, wanted this extension when people with disability came to us. We've been pushing for this, and the Government, because it was our idea, not their idea - frankly, they're just a bunch of stubborn children sometimes, this Government. If it's not their idea, they will put their hands over their ears and stamp their foot and say no. Anyway, finally, after argy bargy, we've got to the right outcome. So, yes, I'm happy with this decision.
KARVELAS Why does it need this extra time?
SHORTEN: Because what we found is that people haven't been able to tell their stories in the time that we've had so far. And even Ron Sackville, the Royal Commissioner, has said on behalf of the Royal Commission, we'd like more time. So, if the Royal Commission said they want more time, if people with disability want more time to tell their stories, I'm fine with that.
KARVELAS I'm just going to be blunt here about Royal Commissions and sort of channel, I reckon, some of the thoughts of viewers, because -
SHORTEN: Okay, so you're sort of the front bar test.
KARVELAS I try to be, that's how I roll. But I do think many people think these Royal Commissions, we have their recommendations. You look at Don Dale and you look at the Royal Commission into indigenous deaths in custody, a lot of a big deal is made of the Royal Commission and then little follow through to its recommendations. Do you think they're losing their weight?
SHORTEN: It's funny you should raise that. I think the prevalence of Royal Commissions goes to two big issues. One issue is these days, policy doesn't seem to get made by governments. In fact, we need Royal Commissions to do all the hard thinking and get to the answers which are put in the too hard basket by the public service. That's not a negative reflection of the public service, to me, it reflects a hollowing out of our public service. It reflects the inability to institute change from within the ranks of government. So, I think Royal Commissions are now becoming part of the armoury of public policy to tell Australian governments to get on and do what we all know needs to be done. But the other point about Royal Commissions is this sense. Do they get followed up on? After the Beaconsfield mine disaster, I commissioned a paper on Royal Commissions into workplace disasters over 100 years. And we saw from a pattern of about 12 of them, from about 1900 to Beaconsfield, that a lot of the recommendations would get filed away and never followed up. So, I think what's really important is almost a section of the government whose job is to make sure that reports don't just gather dust on library shelves and hold them accountable, to hold governments accountable to their recommendations in subsequent parliaments. Just let people know what's happened because history generally always repeats
KARVELAS Just on some other issues. Is it fair that cricketers returning from India can quarantine in hotel quarantine - I think they're in Sydney instead of Howard Springs?
SHORTEN: Well, listen, for any people who've managed to get repatriated from India, I'm not going to start quibbling if you're in Sydney or Howard Springs. What I didn't understand about the budget last week is why wasn't the first sentence that Josh Frydenberg said when he got up, the Federal Government will build more purpose-built quarantine facilities? For me, the issue isn't ultimately, does a cricketer stay in one place or another. You can have your own opinion on that. For me, it's that we've got Australian citizens who can't get home to their own country, not just from India, but other parts of the world, because the Federal Government, for sixteen months hasn't built purpose-built facilities. I mean, even in the 90s, we were building purpose-built facilities. So, in that case, Mr Morrison hasn't even got the late 19th century message, let alone the 21st century message.
Speaker1: It is a shared responsibility as well, with the states.
SHORTEN: Sure, it is.
KARVELAS So why is Labor pushing? Isn't it just a political mechanism that you want to shift the responsibility entirely to the Federal Government?
Speaker2: Listen, Labor can occasionally be political and cunning.
KARVELAS I'm shocked.
SHORTEN: But we didn't in preparation for this interview, insert Section 51 9 of the Constitution in 1891. It's there before us. This is a point I made about history. History repeats. We've had viruses come from overseas before, but this Government seems to walk around with this constantly stunned expression of, wow, we'd never thought of this. It's in the Constitution. So, yes, while states administer public health services, the Federal Government has ducked all its responsibilities on quarantine. They blame the states. Yet there's a role for the Federal Government, in my opinion, to have purpose-built quarantine facilities. And not only do I think it, but that's what the founding drafters of the Constitution thought when they gave it as a power exclusively to the federal government.
KARVELAS Today, it's been revealed that one person from that first repatriation flight has COVID-19 obviously many people were not able to board that flight. And now there's some controversy about the testing. But is the fact that it's so far only one person a sign of success of that system? We obviously wanted to keep it out of the country, does that mean it's working well?
SHORTEN: I'm certainly pleased that it's only one case. So, yeah, that is good. And at no stage in arguing for the repatriation of Aussies to come back to Australia do I think we need to cut any corners on public safety. I do support closing our borders generally. And we shouldn't lift the borders until, you know, COVID has been dealt with in a lot of other places. So, I get that. But I don't think it's beyond the brains of the Australian Government to have a plane pick up people overseas and put them in a safe facility in Australia. So, I'm pleased it's working. But what puzzles me is why has it taken so long?
KARVELAS Just on opening borders, mid next year is the date. Now, we know the Virgin CEO says that mid 2022 is just too long away. Some state leaders, New South Wales, Victoria, want it linked to vaccination rates to reopening. Do you think we should be pressing to try and open that international border earlier?
SHORTEN: I think we should do things when it's safe to do so.
KARVELAS Should we be ensuring that it's safe to do so earlier?
SHORTEN: Well of course, that’s the plan.
KARVELAS So, would you ideally like to see that international border open before July next year?
SHORTEN: If it is safe to do so. And upon that lies whole devil of detail as a whole, you know, the devil's always in the fine print of the detail. Yes, for the sake of our airline industry it’d be good to have planes flying before mid-next year. But one thing we've got to do is that whilst people don't seem to have said it, we have largely gone now on a policy of eliminating COVID in Australia. A lot of people have made a lot of sacrifices to get to this point. I'd rather be safe than sorry, but this is why I get puzzled on measures which can help open us up a little bit, like a quarantine facility. Why has that proven so hard? I can't come up with a rational reason.
KARVELAS I agree with you. It does look like we've pursued an elimination program, even though we don't like to call it that, but it looks like one to me. Do you think that's good? We should pursue illumination, that it's the right strategy?
SHORTEN: Oh, it appears to be working for us. So, you know, I think for all people in positions of responsibility, this has been a very hard time. And some people said initially it could never be eliminated in our country. It has been pretty much eliminated. So, I think having gone this far, you know, I think a lot of people who've lost their jobs or lost their livelihoods, to the universities, to the travel agents, to the live events industry, to people who suffer that mental anxiety being locked away for literally years, as it is with our disabled citizens, I think we owe it to them to keep pursuing the sort of path we've been on. But I understand the frustration of some interests who'd like to see us open up quicker.
KARVELAS Does Israel's right to defend itself extend to targeting independent media organisations in the Gaza Strip?
SHORTEN: Well, that is incredibly complicated. Of course, independent media organizations shouldn't be targeted. But I also found, and I hadn't realized this till today, Hamas has sent 3,000 missiles into Israel. I mean, I don't think the monopoly on the high ground or truth is in any side of this argument.
KARVELAS But if you look at the numbers of deaths, there are a lot more victims on the Palestinian side.
SHORTEN: Yeah, and that is terrible. But, of course, by the same token, in Australia, we just I think we find it hard to wrap our heads around the idea that from within 10 kilometres, a neighbour could be sending a missile into your house, just as it's hard to imagine some of the actions we've seen sending police into Temple Mount. So, I would say that it's all about restraint. It's all about the long-term solution.
KARVELAS Israel didn't show any restraint doing that, did they?
SHORTEN: Well, I don't know. Yeah, I understand your point. But I also say that if another country or another place within a very short distance has put 3,000 missiles into your country, it's just -
KARVELAS It's been condemned by the international community.
SHORTEN: Absolutely. And I think that the lack of -
KARVELAS You seem to be much more sympathetic to Israel.
SHORTEN: No, I'm sympathetic to the civilians on all sides. I'm not more sympathetic to a particular ideology here. I do think that the domestic political lack of leadership in Israel at the moment is not helping, just as the tensions between Gaza and the West Bank Palestinian administrations doesn't help. At the end of the day, peace is the only thing which helps the civilians. And that's what I think political leaders should do. And that's why I don't know why Scott Morrison started to stir up the domestic political plot here, by mischaracterizing Labor's position either. But I guess that's another story.
KARVELAS Bill Shorten, thanks for your time.
KARVELAS And that is Bill Shorten. He's the Shadow Minister for the NDIS and Government Services.