Sky News Interview: First Edition: Domestic Violence, Victorian COVID-19 Outbreaks, JobKeeper and JobSeeker



SUBJECTS: Domestic Violence, Victorian Outbreaks, JobSeeker/JobKeeper 

ANNELISE NIELSEN HOST: Today we have Liberal MP Katie Allen and Labor MP Peter Khalil. Thank you both for your time. I’d like to start with this topic of domestic violence. It’s confirming what many had feared during these lockdowns that it had become worse, more frequent. Katie Allen, are we doing enough to support those women who would be stuck at home with abusers?  

KATIE ALLEN MP: Thank you Annelise. I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear that there is an increase in domestic violence because the factors that can increase domestic violence are really at play. I think so many people right across Australia are incredibly frustrated by what is going on with the COVID pandemic. And people’s situations are very unsure. They are stressed, the population is stressed and so those who are more vulnerable are becoming even more vulnerable. Now, the federal government recognised this back in March and we have already committed an extra 50% to domestic violence. My previous or my predecessor Kelly O’Dwyer, the Minister for Women, had actually made a significant and magnificent contribution to funding for domestic violence. On top of that in March, the federal government has increased that 50% further. So an extra $150 million has already been put into this. And as you heard recently, another $3 million, because we already recognise that mental health, domestic violence, all these sorts of things, it’s a no brainer that we need to invest to make sure we support and protect our women and children in this very uncertain time. I’d also like to add that Minister Payne and Minister Ruston have now called for an inquiry into looking at domestic violence during this period of Covid. And I really welcome that. A parliamentary standing committee will be looking at that going forward. 

HOST: Peter Khalil there has been a lot of discussion around the economic cost of these shutdowns. Not much focus has been put on the mental health cost and domestic violence like we’ve heard, is really prevalent in Australia now. Do you think we should be doing more? Is this something we just need to expect with the lockdowns or should we be doing more to tackle that issue? 

PETER KHALIL MP: I think, Annelise, any additional funding is welcome, of course. Some of those statistics are shocking that one in 10 Australian women in a relationship have experienced domestic violence during the pandemic, and about two thirds of those, as it said, it’s increased during this pandemic period. So any additional funding is welcome. I think, we would support, and I know Kelly did a wonderful job on this before she retired from parliament, when she was the minister responsible, Kelly O’Dwyer, and we supported that, of course, and we also advocated for additional funding for domestic violence and mental health and have been advocating for that throughout the pandemic and before. Because this is a real problem in Australia, the issue of domestic violence. Funding is one aspect of this, culture and attitude and education is another big part of it. Having men understand their responsibility and be able to actually teach young boys, particularly respect for women, that’s where it really starts. And so I think educational programs are just as important, but any additional funding is welcome, we would hope there’d be more particularly because of the severity or the exacerbation of this issue during the pandemic period. 

HOST: Now we’re all keeping a close eye on Victoria to see just how much worse it gets there. Katie Allen, you’re in the midst of it there, and you have that medical background so I know you’re watching it all very closely, but should we be concerned? Is this going to lead to nationwide lockdowns? We’re already seeing the spread of cases to New South Wales and ACT from Victoria? 

ALLEN: Well, Annelise, all I can say is I hope we don’t see this becoming an Australia wide problem. I would say that every bit of resources are being thrown at Victoria, because we understand that getting Victoria’s containment under control is an absolute focus. And it’s a focus obviously for the Victorian state government, but it’s also a focus for the federal government. The thing to remember is that our quarantine services were not delivered in the way that we would hope and expect, and that that’s resulted in a breach. And so we’ve moved from a problem of, containing cases in quarantine and under self isolation. It’s now moved to a community outbreak here in Melbourne. So we’ve got necessary containment measures happening here. There’s a huge amount of tracking and tracing that’s going ahead. And obviously other States don’t want to see what’s happening here in Melbourne spread to other parts of Australia, but I am feeling positive that there’s been a lot of resources, both from the federal and state government being thrown at this. This is necessary. And I really want to thank Australians, particularly Melbournians for doing what we need to do here, which is to make sure that we continue physical distancing and hand hygiene. We are now moving to more people taking that extra step, which is to apply masks when they’re out and they can’t physically distance and Melbournians are doing the right thing to help contain the spread. 

HOST: Peter Khalil we’ve seen what just a double whammy it’s been for so many small business owners in Victoria saying that they’re just exhausted from shutting down, re-opening, shutting down again. Is this the time that the government should be putting a timeline on when that JobKeeper/JobSeeker support will end?  

KAHLIL: I think a couple of points on that Annelise, I think it is madness not to extend JobSeeker and JobKeeper particularly because Australians and Victorians, but Australians across the country need some certainty around what’s going to happen beyond September. And there’s still no plan on that. This idea that you can just snap back, is I just don’t think realistic. I want to say though, that the federal and state governments in Australia, in a relative sense, and sort of agreeing here with Katie, the relative sense, we’ve done a tremendous job, a terrific job in suppressing the virus. Mistakes have happened obviously, with the Ruby Princess or with the quarantine issues here at the hotels here in Victoria, that happens, and people do the wrong thing. We’ve seen people lining up in front of those hotels in Sydney. And I think some photos, I saw it in Brisbane as well, and people have done the wrong thing here in Victoria, that that has happened. But governments have on the whole done a terrific job in addressing this. We’ve adopted a model in this country where we are looking at depressing the virus, and we have saved thousands of lives. You can have the argument about the opening of the economy relative to that. But when you’re talking about thousands, potentially tens of thousands of lives that have been saved, that’s important. JobKeeper is necessary, and JobSeeker, there are 1.6 million Australians unemployed. There are 13 people applying for each job vacancy. The government needs to understand that those people need certainty going forward. The economy needs that money flowing through going forward. I can’t understand why they’re holding back from announcing a more comprehensive plan about the extension of JobKeeper and JobSeeker. 

HOST: I guess the tough thing is no one really has a crystal ball and knows what the world is going to look like after September. I mean, no one thought the second wave was coming and it’s already costing us a billion dollars a week we’re told. Katie Allen, is it unreasonable for Labor to be asking for these details when there’s just a lot we don’t know yet? 

ALLEN: Well, that’s Labor’s job is to ask questions so good on them. But I would say that I’ve been incredibly impressed by the way the Prime Minister has been very, very clear from the start, that this is a situation that isn’t going to go away overnight. We had Labor initially saying, let’s do hard lockdown it’ll be over in two weeks. So, we’ve been very consistent in our position that this is a long-term game. We’re not, we’ve never driven for it to be eradicated. We’ve also never driven, we’ve also been very aware that a vaccine may never come. And so we’ve taken the line about suppress and contain, and that has been our consistent approach to the health problem all the way through. Matched with an incredibly consistent approach within the economic message, which is, this is with us for a long time. We need to be very careful in what we recommend. We don’t want a start stop. We don’t want a sore tooth economy response. Here in Victoria we’ve kind of let the team down with our quarantine issue here, because we were actually heading in the right direction. I think there’s many of us who are very, very disappointed that we’ve let the team down here in Victoria so that we can’t move forward with our economic opening up. We’ve moved to a community transmission situation which was not expected. If we had done quarantining correctly, we may not have been in this position. And hopefully we’ve passed- we put up the white flag with quarantine and passed on our quarantining responsibility to other States who I’m sure are going to do a better job in that area. But what we’ve got to move forward, is to make sure that we’re consistent in our messaging and messaging is always that we don’t want a sore tooth economy going forward. And we also said that we’d review the process and have a look at it. July 23rd will be very important date for Australians as we look to the next part of this pandemic. And I think the consistency of our health and economic message has created as much certainty as we can in a very uncertain situation, not just here in Victoria or across Australia, but really across the globe. And if you look at the way that Australia has dealt with this pandemic, we really have done a very good job, across all levels of government and also getting engagement and support of the Australian community to do some pretty tough things. I think people are really giving us a huge amount of trust and respect for the decisions that are being made. And I think that we should all be very grateful that Australia does want to work together to solve this and that we’re all working on a very evidence based approach. And I’m very proud to be Australian. 

HOST: Peter you’re a Melbourne MP as well. You have a lot of towers in your region that were really impacted quite heavily. Do you agree with Katie Allen? Were you letting the team down in Victoria, team Australia? 

KHALIL: No, I don’t really appreciate Katie saying things like Labor thought this will be all over in two weeks if we went into hard lockdown. That’s just not true, Katie and I don’t appreciate the partisanship that she’s brought into that answer. Because frankly, the fact is, Labor governments at state level and the federal government have worked cooperatively together on a model for this country. Which everyone had agreed to was necessary around suppressing the virus to pressing and flattening the curve by initiating lockdowns. And then also looking at local lockdowns when there were going to be clusters that flared up and everyone, Labor and Liberal governments said that there was a high likelihood of clusters or outbreaks occurring during the winter months. Some of them happened because of mistakes. Some of them happened because frankly that the virus were still there lurking with community transmission, being a factor as well. But every government of every political persuasion, agreed that there was a real risk of this happening and that we would go to that local lockdown model and then another lockdown. So this business about letting the team down kind of contrasts with her own Prime Minister’s statement saying that we’re all Melbournians or all Victorians. I don’t think it’s helpful. In respect to my own state, Annalise, yes, it’s going to be hard for Victorians. I’m a Victorian. Small businesses are suffering, diverse communities, socially, economically disadvantaged communities are suffering and parents as well as we back to school to remote learning. I’m a parent, I’ve got two little kids and we’re going back to that remote learning model. So we all doing our bit, we’re all sacrificing. One thing I do agree with Katie though, is as Australians, we have done a tremendous job in making that effort and making now a second effort, particularly in Victoria. And hopefully it’s only in Victoria, second effort, sometimes in sport, in life, second efforts are more difficult, but they’re just as important. And we’re making that effort. We’re making that sacrifice because we’re actually all working together to suppress and defeat this virus. So in that regard, there is bipartisanship rather than partisanship. 

HOST: Well, all our thoughts are with Victoria right now because it is so tough down there, but we are going to have to leave it there. Now, Peter Khalil and Katie Allen, thank you both for your time.