Main Image

29 November 2021


SUBJECTS: COVID Omicron outbreak; Australian borders; Morrison Government’s failure on quarantine planning; 2022 election.
MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Let's go back to federal politics now, and the Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, is calling for calm amid the Omicron COVID outbreak, speaking just moments ago. Mr Joyce says significant restrictions, in his view, cannot be imposed every time a new variant of the virus emerges
BARNABY JOYCE (VIDEO PACKAGE): We can’t just shut down every time there's a new variant because it's going to be new variants and they're going to continue on. And, you know, the economy won't work, and society won't accept it if we just keep shutting the show down. So, I think there will be a sort of a tempered sober approach to the assessment of what we do next. The nation has to work as a nation. Trade has to go on. Businesses have to survive. You know, you also - other factors become more prominent, and the economics of how this works is also in play. Otherwise, you know, the ramifications in business and the ramifications in our economy, which we must also protect become dire. We can't let that happen. So, we've got to - there's got to be a balance.
ROWLAND: For his take on this developing situation, let's bring in Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten at Parliament House in Canberra. Mr Shorten, good morning to you.
ROWLAND: So, Barnaby Joyce there calling for a tempered and sober approach. The Government. the Federal Government today has effectively closed its international border to those nine southern African nations in question. Are they doing enough, in your view?
SHORTEN: Well, closing those borders makes sense. I in part agree with what Barnaby Joyce is saying, that we just can't have a stop start regime. But what really frustrates me is that this Government's constantly surprised, like every day's Groundhog Day with them. What I'm referring to is that if we're going to bring travellers in and I really support Australians being able to come home, we need to have an effective quarantine system. We need a short, sharp, effective response to Omicron. We don't really know all that we should about it yet. Hopefully, whilst it's more contagious, it's doesn't make you as sick and we are highly vaccinated, but I'm not sure that 72 hours quarantine is enough. But this Omicron variant shows yet again what the Government hasn't done. See, I've got concerns with the ethics of hotel quarantine. You put people in there, you know, I read somewhere that one in 100 people who was negative or didn't have COVID when they go into hotel quarantine, gets COVID whilst in hotel quarantine. We need purpose-built facilities. So, I'd say to Barnaby, if we want calm, we're going to need to work out how we quarantine people at home in the interim. Perhaps it has got to be longer than 72 hours. The cycle of the virus is longer than that. Short, sharp response until we know what Omicron’s doing. But we also desperately need purpose-built quarantine facilities. Howard Springs is not enough. So, if Barnaby wants business as usual, then I think the Government's got a duty not to be asleep at the wheel.
ROWLAND: Okay, and so on that basis, the international border should stay open while we deal with this new variant?
SHORTEN: Well, I've been thinking about that. I do think that we shouldn't do nothing whilst we're working out Omicron. We need to do something. I think that quarantine is the best solution that we have available, but hotel quarantine is a flawed model. I think the cycle of when people are quarantined will need to be longer. The Australians coming home for Christmas need to be given clarity. A lot of plans are being made on the run as the Government change its rules. So, if we want calm from Mr Joyce, then he's got, his government have a responsibility, to make sure we can either have some home quarantine purpose-built quarantine longer than 72 hours if we don't want to get ourselves into deeper water.
ROWLAND: Your leader, Anthony Albanese, was saying, along with Australians, it's important that foreign students be allowed back into the country progressively over the next few weeks and months, as part of the recovery plan. In your view, should that, I guess, approach change more generally given the uncertainties over Omicron?
SHORTEN: I think that short, sharp, effective response, I'm not - I support what he has said there about we need to have students, but I do believe fundamentally that we need to look at extending the quarantine period. And for goodness sakes, the Government need to build quarantine purpose-built facilities. Relying on the hotel system means that what's the what's the ethical obligations of putting a person into quarantine at a hotel and then they catch COVID at the hotel? That's a disaster.
ROWLAND: Ok, you're talking about 72 hours perhaps not being enough. The Victorian government is reportedly considering putting all people who arrive back into Australia, both residents and those visiting, through 14 hours, 14 days rather, of quarantine from effectively now. Is that something that you reckon is the right approach?
SHORTEN: We've got to follow the technical advice. I don't think 72 hours is enough. And if we don't want to have more severe restrictions, then quarantine is our front line of defence. So, I think that if we don't want to have worse and I certainly don't, I do want us to, you know, carry on and continue and be calm, then we're going to need to have more robust quarantine. It is our only line of defence from overseas along with our vaccinations. So, I think the Government just can't afford to ignore the problem of quarantining returning people to Australia.
ROWLAND: Ok. Just to pretty much out of time, we're heading into the last week of Parliament this year. Do you reckon it'll be the last week before the federal election?
SHORTEN: You know, I don't advise people to go to the bookies, but if I was being asked to go to the bookies, I'd say Mr Morrison will bring down an election budget full of pork and promises which he mightn't have any intention to fulfil at the end of March and maybe four weeks of Parliament in February and March. And then he'll go in May. But the reality is that this is a Government who stopped governing. Everything Mr Morrison says now, when you see his lips move, other than wondering if what he's saying is true, every time you see his lips move, you should realise it's all about the election. He's no longer governing for Australia. He's just trying to hang on to power.
ROWLAND: Okay, when are we going to start seeing some serious Labor economic policies?
SHORTEN: Well, Labor's put forward a range of policies already, Michael.
ROWLAND: Not the big ones, like when are we going to see the 2030 target announced? Why not do it this week? Parliament's back. You've got the courage of your convictions on whatever target you'll set. Bring it open for debate this week while parliament's sitting.
SHORTEN: I think Labor's got the courage of its convictions. Labor will, I think in the very near future, announce its climate policies. But I'll leave that timing to the collective, when we put that policy forward. But you know, let's face it, we took a big raft of policies to the last election, and the Morrison Government abused that by trying to run scare campaigns and whatnot. So, I think Labor's smart. Mr Morrison's got nothing to talk about himself. He only ever wants to talk about us, and we should all talk about our own policies.
ROWLAND: Labor could be talking about their own policies though; you change that by putting more of your policies out there for public scrutiny and public debate.
SHORTEN: Well, here's a policy he could do this week, a national Anti-Corruption Commission. I proposed that first on January the 30th of 2018 for Labor. Mr Morrison promised it when he rolled Mr Turnbull in 2018. It's been over 1000 days. Why does this guy always - he's like one of those sort of confidence tricksters in the old-fashioned riverboat gambling movies, he’s always making you look somewhere else. He wants to look at Labor so you can't see what he's doing himself. And in this case, he's not doing anything on an anti-corruption federally.
ROWLAND: Okay, and we'll leave it there. Bill Shorten, thanks for your time.
SHORTEN: Thank you. Cheers, Michael.