Sky News Interview: First Edition: Victorian COVID-19 Outbreaks, JobSeeker Increase



SUBJECTS: Victorian Covid-19 Outbreaks, JobSeeker Increase

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Gentlemen, thanks both for your time today. I might just start with you, Peter, because all the talk at the moment is of Victoria with COVID-19. When you look at Victoria only now bringing things into line with New South Wales, for example, around hotel quarantine, around ADF personnel, not amateurs looking after this and also making sure people that refuse a test have to stay for an extra week. I mean, these seem like easily avoidable mistakes, don’t they? 

PETER KHALIL MP: Yeah, good morning. Tom and Trent, look, I understand that the Victorian government’s Premier has changed the legal instrument to ensure that the Victorian government now has the power to ensure people in quarantine stay an additional 10 days, if they refuse testing. I think that’s a very good step going forward to tighten up the quarantine arrangements. This outbreak, or these outbreaks that we’ve had in Victoria came from various different clusters. Some from families getting together and some from workers who then went back and infected some of their family members. Overall, I’ve got to say the Victorian government has done a tremendous job. They’ve, really done well. Like every other state and federal government in Australia they’ve worked really cooperatively together to suppress and flatten the curve. There was always going to be, when you ease restrictions, the potential for spikes to occur. Thankfully it’s not happening in other states, but as the Prime Minister said, it could very well happen in other states as well. The Victorian government is now responding to that, with a big, big testing blitz to make sure that they get thousands of people tested, particularly in those hotspot areas. And that’s working really, really well. The more testing you do the better, and the more ability you have to then trace and do the tracing that’s necessary to kind of contain those clusters and those outbreaks and make sure they don’t spread further. So I really have to give them a big tick. This is a difficult process. It’s a difficult period for all of us. There’s [inaudible] people have done a very, very good job, I think to suppress the virus. 

HOST: I know it’s difficult. And you mentioned about opening up the economy. There are always going to be outbreaks, that’s true. And the family side of things, people not listening to directions seemingly, I mean, you cannot be big brother, long may that be so, but can’t you also say that this seems to be a pretty clear error. Why would Victoria go down this path on hotel quarantine? No, thanks to the ADF help initially and not making people stay long enough if they don’t get tested. I mean, they just seem like really basic mistakes, aren’t they? Maybe it’s easier in hindsight but you can still say that could have been done better. 

KHALIL: Well, you know I’m not privy to the state government cabinet meetings and what they do and how they make their decisions. You’ve just got to say overall, the overall picture is that the state government has done a very, very good job in suppressing and flattening the curve in our state. It’s unfortunate that these outbreaks have occurred and they’re responding to them really well. And the Premier is one of the adults in the room. We’ve seen how well he’s worked with the Prime Minister and the National Cabinet, how he’s made sure that he’s been clear and firm in the advice given to Victorians, but as you said, you cannot control every single individual. And if someone does something stupid, if they’re infected and they breach social distancing rules, then you can’t control that. It’s unfortunate, but it happens. 

HOST: Trent, what do you think? 

TRENT ZIMMERMAN MP: Well, I want to start by saying that, obviously I think that all of our leaders through the National Cabinet process have been working exceptionally well. And I agree that these types of outbreaks are a risk and a risk that we’ve been warning the community about for some time. I think the last week has seen some messy elements, if I can be diplomatic. We have such good cooperation happening through National Cabinet. I’m not sure why the States wouldn’t be talking to each other about things like what effectively works for quarantine. I walked through the foyer of a five star hotel on my way to the Sky studios. Each time I come here and there are New South Wales police officers standing guard at that hotel foyer, it’s pretty basic stuff. But, you learn from these lessons and I’m sure Victoria will, and what’s important is that they get on top of this. 

HOST: What about the Premiers being critical of states that are keeping borders up? It is increasingly hard to say right now to states such as South Australia, WA, Queensland open up to everybody, including Victoria. Do you understand why they wouldn’t particularly, while we’re on the upside of this outbreak? 

ZIMMERMAN: Look, I can understand the hesitation, which is a pretty normal human reaction, but that’s got to be weighed against the health advice that we’re certainly getting federally. In that there is no need for these border restrictions to continue. Certainly continue indefinitely. But I think what Victoria teaches us is that we are going to have to steel ourselves in the months and arguably until we get a vaccine, so potentially a long period of time, for these type of outbreaks. We just simply cannot keep everyone in a lockdown beyond the end of this year, beyond, the next couple of months. It would be unrealistic to expect that society would cope with that. So what is important is that we are well equipped to cope with the type of Victorian outbreaks that we’re seeing. Certainly that’s been the focus of all of our work to beef up the health system and to make sure that we have all of the health needs that we possibly can catered for. But also recognise that there’ll be learnings as we go through this process. 

HOST: I’ll talk to the issue of rebuilding the economy. Of course, more advice coming in for the Federal Government, this time from the Grattan Institute. All of it seems to be, Trent Zimmerman, make sure there’s stimulus there. The economy is really going to need it. This time they’re talking in the order of 90 billion and talking about JobKeeper being extended for sectors that need it. Is this something the Government should listen to? That, advice is different, but also unified in saying stimulus is needed? 

ZIMMERMAN: I think that’s what the government’s already doing. The Prime Minister and the Premier of New South Wales were roadside this morning announcing a billion dollars for more infrastructure projects in my own state and that’s part of a program that we’ve been rolling out. I think as we move forward there’s a couple of things to be said. Firstly, obviously the type of support that we’re providing at the moment through JobKeeper and JobSeeker at the levels that it’s at, are not something that we can lock-in in perpetuity. We just can’t sustain that financially. Secondly, we also do have to recognise that there are going to be some sectors of the economy, tourism being the most obvious example, the arts whilst venues are closed are going to experience hardship beyond that, that others might face. The government’s going to have to be responsive to that. The third element of this, which I think we are starting to wake up to as we saw, the Qantas decisions last week, Is that there will be some businesses that are on the other side of this really do struggle. And that’s what we’re going to have to steel and prepare ourselves for. 

HOST: JobSeeker, you mentioned there, it can’t be at the level it’s at now. Do you think it will end up at a higher level permanently and should it? 

ZIMMERMAN: Well, I’d say two things. Firstly, I think that those calling for us to rush into making decisions about whether it’s JobSeeker or JobKeeper, don’t reflect best practice in governance if I can put it that way. I’m surprised that Labor think that you should announce billions of dollars worth of commitments, before the ink is dry on the review, we’ve just had into JobKeeper, that reflects the fact that the economic situation is still fluid. It’s hard to predict where we’ll be in a months time, let only a year’s time. So I think that we need to sit back and reflect on what the economic conditions are going to be. But I’ve been upfront and publicly- 

HOST: Sorry, it’s hardly a new push. 

ZIMMERMAN: No and I’ve said that I think it’s going to be hard for us to return it to its pre-existing levels, but what level it goes to, I think that’s what we need to reflect on in the months ahead. 

HOST: And that level, Peter Khalil, Labor has been saying increasing it, but not putting a number on it. The numbers being put on there now via these reports, which according to the minister are wrong, at least in terms of any permanent shift, but $150 a fortnight. Is that an amount that’s both affordable, but also would make a real difference to people out there? 

KHALIL: Well, it’s got to be an amount Tom, that actually allows people not to live in poverty. Allows them to put food on the table, to pay their rent, to get some clothes for the kids, to be able to prepare themselves to look for a job as well. And frankly, it is absolutely cruel and unnecessary for the government to play these games with people about Job Seeker. Whether they’re going to keep the increase, or increase the baseline, for JobSeeker at the end of these couple of months. It’s just unacceptable and why are they doing it? And why aren’t they giving us a comprehensive plan for the economic recovery, including releasing the review around JobKeeper and JobSeeker. They’re playing, once again, to politics. Because they’re waiting for Josh Frydenberg to make his statement in three, four weeks time. It’s just unacceptable. And loo,k my criticism and our criticism of the government was that when they introduced the initial JobKeeper and JobSeeker, we said it was far too slow to come out and it was far too narrow – it left a lot of Australians out in the cold. One million casual workers is a good example of that. Now, when they go on about their “snap back”, if they actually too quickly snap back and too largely snap back, that’s going to cause massive repercussions for so many millions of Australians. [Inaudible] 

HOST: [inaudible] that review planned in June, so that timetable was all there. But just on, I just want to finish on this, just on JobSeeker, because Labor has been tiptoeing around this Peter Khalil. And the issue has got to be at the end of the day. I mean, to misquote Beyonce, you got to put a number on it because you’ve just refused so far. 

KHALIL: Sorry, Tom, I really have got to disagree with you on the premise of your question. We have been calling for an increase in what was the Dole, now called JobSeeker for a long time. Even before the last election said we would review it. We look at what number we would put on it. If we won the election, we’d look at the numbers and the budget and everything else. And come up with a number that works. We are not the government. We are in opposition. We’ve said very clearly we should have an increase. They need to sort their own numbers out and come to a number that actually works to look [inaudible]. Now I have no confidence in the government. I have no confidence in a government. Now we have said it has to be a figure that allows people not to live in poverty. We’re happy to support the government when they come out with their calculations, they’re the ones in control of the purse strings Tom. I have no confidence in this Government because they don’t want [inaudible] . 

HOST: You can determine what living in poverty is without the Government telling you what that figure is. If that’s what it’s about. 

KHALIL: There have been many recommendations from ACOSS from other groups about what would be a suitable increase. The government needs to take all of that into consideration in determining their policy, but they’re not even doing that. They’re refusing to, Anne Ruston came out today and said or no we’re not considering an increase in JobSeeker and Trent’s just telling us now it’s unsustainable to keep spending money. Are they serious? They are playing with people’s lives on this. And before Covid-19 they were not good economic managers. They had six deficits and they doubled public debt. 

HOST: So just very quickly, I’ll give you 30 seconds Trent and then I’ll have to wrap up. Go. 

ZIMMERMAN: Tom, Peter has just confirmed that Labor’s policy was to have a considered review considering the budgetary impacts. It sounds like that’s exactly what he’s criticising the current government for going through the process of doing.  
HOST: Trent Zimmerman, Peter Khalil, thanks for your time.  

KHALIL: You’ve been sitting on it for a year, Trent.