ABC AFTERNOON BRIEFING
SUBJECTS: Aged Care Royal Commission, Face Masks, Kamala Harris
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Time now for my afternoon panel, Liberal MP, Dave Sharma and Labor MP Peter Khalil are my guests this afternoon. Thanks to both of you. Look, there’s a lot of confusion around today, and I’m not a big fan of confusion, I like clarity, with a couple of disputed claims. Starting off with the Aged Care Royal Commission, former Chief Medical Officer, Professor, Brendan Murphy, who’s now the department head of the Health Department has disputed claims the federal government did not have a COVID plan for the sector as he fronted the Royal commission into Aged Care. But you know, we have seen that clearly there were deficiencies in that plan. I’m going to start with you, Dave, if I can, clearly, there were meetings. We knew that they were some sort of thinking, but clearly a full Covid plan was not developed, right? Because we’ve seen a pretty awful outbreak and look at the death numbers just today. Doesn’t that demonstrate that there were flaws in what was developed?
DAVE SHARMA MP: Look, I think this whole process has been necessarily an iterative one Patricia, I mean no government anywhere in the world had a Covid plan when this outbreak started, no one had experienced the disease, we hadn’t had a pandemic in over a century. So we’ve been, you know, building the plane while it’s flying, so to speak. We’ve been aware though, since the start and Nick Coatsworth made this point that our aged care sector and elderly citizens more broadly were some of the most vulnerable cohorts. And that’s been true not only in Australia, but in the United Kingdom. Now, certainly we’ve learnt as this process has gone on and I’m sure there’s more we can do and must do to improve the outcome and the health and welfare of residents in the aged care sector. But I think we’ve always had them front and center in our mind from the very beginning of this pandemic.
HOST: I want to bring you in Peter Khalil. Brendan Murphy has told the Royal Commission that in hindsight the mandatory mask rule for aged care workers could have been implemented earlier than when it was implemented, which was July the 13th. But he does say there was a plan, that it’s inaccurate and wrong to say that there wasn’t planning. What’s your take on this?
PETER KHALIL MP: Well, PK, deficiency in planning, not good enough planning, whichever way you want to put it. I mean, it’s pretty clear, what’s come out of the Royal Commission, is that the Morrison government wasn’t prepared for the outbreaks in aged care. It’s not like they weren’t warned. We’ve been saying this is not just a Victorian problem, it’s a national problem and requires a national plan of action. And you saw just in my electorate, St. Basil’s in my electorate of Wills, where the health regulator knew the evidence, that came out a couple of days ago, the health regulator knew of the outbreak, for four days and failed to inform the Department of Health. So, and you know that every second counts when combating this virus, and so there’s been a real, dropping of the ball, a real failure here.
We’ve tried to remain constructive, national unity, work together, state and federal all of that. And even as an opposition, tried not make things too political, but when things are not done well and not done, right, it’s no good to say, “oh, no one had a plan for COVID-19”. Well, I’m sorry; there have been huge deficiencies around aged care. And let me leave you with one stat. You look at the aged care in Victoria, in private aged care facilities there are 1,923 active cases. The federal government has responsibility for those facilities. In the public sector aged care there are six cases
HOST: In the past 24 hours we’ve also had contradictory claims on the Australian Defence Forces involvement, or the offer for the Australian Defence force in Victoria, particularly obviously this issue around hotel quarantine and the bungling of that process. So who’s right, the Victorian government or the Federal Defence Minister, because we’re still hearing different accounts of this aren’t we Dave Sharma? And that makes it, I think, for ordinary people, for voters, for Australians, for Victorians, incredibly hard to sift through. I mean, you know, don’t we need to get some further clarity about exactly what was offered and when?
SHARMA: Well, I think Linda Reynolds, the Defence Minister, provide quite a bit of clarity this morning in her press statement and subsequent remarks where she laid through and walked through the chronology of when ADF assistance was offered to Victoria, when it was turned back and the various communications that happened between defence officials and the Victorian government officials. And I believe you know, one of the Victorian government officials at the state inquiry that’s underway today you know, made a note of the date in particular, when the Victorians decided they were going to use private security.
Now, I don’t think it’s all that helpful to be engaging in a blame game here. I think the most constructive thing we need to do now is to make sure that hotel quarantine and other measures are being properly addressed in Victoria and that the Victorian government has all these systems it needs, including from the defence force, the federal police you know, I’ve got people, defence force stationed in my own electorate have gone into Victoria to help out with contact tracing and other systems. I think it’s got be all shoulders to the wheel now and look, the time for recriminations and the time for fault-finding will come in due course. And it’s important that it does because, you know, responsibility does need to be taken to some of these decisions, but for now I think the highest priority is to be helping Victorians.
HOST: Yeah, well, absolutely should be. But I want to ask you Peter Khalil, cause you’ve been pretty upfront, certainly when the whole sort of tower issue was going on, you broke ranks and were pretty honest about your view. Do you think there needs to be some further questions resolved by the Victorian government in relation to why they didn’t take the offers that Linda Reynolds has outlined at the time?
KHALIL: Well, I think this one PK, and I’m glad to hear Dave being so mature about the need for national unity and not sort of getting into a blame game, I agree with him. I think we need to have every effort being made to just get on top of the numbers in Victoria now and the rest, the accountability stuff, needs to be drawn out through the various inquiries and answering the questions. But on this one, obviously, despite Dave’s rising above the partisan, there’s been an enormous amount of partisan political attacks, a bit of a pile on, on the Victorian Premier from Victorian Liberals and in a federal space as well, some of the backbenchers. And the fact is Daniel Andrews has accepted full responsibility, he said very clearly there have been failures. He’s accepted responsibility as a Premier. The buck stops with him and he has fronted up to the public accounts estimates committee, parliamentary committee, and will do so on the inquiry that he set up with Judge Coates.
And I’m assuming that those answers will be forthcoming in the course of those investigations. So in the end the inquiry was put in place to get those answers. I hope those answers are forthcoming because we do need to have accountability around where the mistakes were made and mistakes have been made Patricia, I mean, they have been made by the Victorian government, they have made by the New South Wales government, they’ve been made by the Federal Government. None of us are blameless during this pandemic as far as making errors. But we do need to have less of the partisan attacks, I think and more of the unity and trying to deal with the problem that’s right in front of us right now.
HOST: Just a couple of quick ones, if we can, I want to find out from you Dave Shama, do you think mandatory masks should be worn in New South Wales? Now I know they’ve been recommended, but are we getting to the stage in New South Wales where they just should be worn by everyone?
SHARMA: Well, I’ve certainly noticed a lot more people are wearing them, you know, as a matter of volunteering, at supermarkets, restaurants, just in the streets. Look, I mean, I’m not the health expert here but the number of cases in New South Wales, whilst it continues to be of concern, seems to be steady. It’s sort of slightly under 20 new cases per day. And I think the Premier and the government is doing a good job in calibrating our response accordingly, they’re recommending people wear masks, but they’re also leaving it up to people to make their own decisions about the level of risk profile they want to take. So I’m comfortable with where things are. I think if the cases started to accelerate significantly, yes we should look at measures like that, but for now, I think I’m comfortable with where the settings are.
KHALIL: Can I just say PK, probably doesn’t apply to Dave or even you certainly, but a lot of people have said, I look a lot better with a mask on, cause we’re all wearing them in Victoria.
HOST: Peter Khalil, well maybe it’s showing, you know, your eyes and you know your other features.
KHALIL: Thank you PK.
HOST: I’m here to help, I want to be as kind as I can to you. Look I just want to end on US politics. And I know, you know, you’re both parliamentarians in the Australian parliament, but it is a really significant announcement today. Dave Sharma, as a former diplomat, I sort of try and bring you in that way on international affairs, Joe Biden has selected Kamela Harris to run as his Vice President. What do you make of today’s announcement, obviously very significant decision for diverse women. Do you think it helps Joe Biden’s chances to have her on the ticket?
SHARMA: Well as someone who’s of West Indian and Indian extraction myself I’m quite excited by Kamela Harris. I think it speaks to the strength of the United States and the system and the diversity. I mean, I know that they do have problems with race relations, as do all countries, as does Australia, but the fact that they can have someone like that running as the Vice President, I think speaks a lot to that. I think she’s a very credible candidate, former Governor of California, contested the democratic primary nomination. This will be a competitive race as most US presidential elections end up being and I think we can look at the opinion polls now and think that might be going one way, but inevitably this race will tighten and it will come down to a couple of percentage points, a few key states, as it always tends to. So I think we’re in a very competitive race.
HOST: I just would like to get your comments too on that Peter Khalil, because it is obviously a bit of a game changer having this woman in this position, running with Biden?
KHALIL: It is significant PK because she’s a Jamaican father, Indian mum. So she’s Asian American as well as African American. And so that’s a significant pick there. Obviously Biden was going to be picking an African American woman because of the base of how important the African American vote is to the Democrats and his campaign. Particularly in some of the swing States as well. And so she is a very, very accomplished politician and she’s a moderate and that’s the other significant thing here that the pick is really about the future of the democratic party in the United States. Is she the next president of the United States? It puts her in a pretty good position with respect to that if they do win given that Biden is 77 years of age. And, you know, there’s questions about whether he’d go into a second term if he was successful in winning this election. So it’s a significant step in US politics. Does it change the political dynamics on the ground? Yes, with the African American vote, it shores that up, certainly. In those swing States in the Midwest, does Kamala Harris have a real play? It’s an open ended question.
HOST: Yeah. That’s an interesting race to watch. Thanks so much to both of you for coming on the show.