14 July 2020

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Chris Bowen is the Shadow Health Minister and his Western Sydney electorate of McMahon borders Werriwa where the Crossroads Hotel is located. Welcome to the program.


KARVELAS: So your Labor colleague Anne Stanley the Member for Werriwa is one of those isolating because she was at the Crossroads. How worrying is this outbreak?

BOWEN: Oh, look this is very concerning. Obviously, Crossroads is a bit of an icon in Western Sydney a well known pub, Ive been there myself on several occasions not in the key period of the last week or so I hasten to add. But, you know, it is a very well known establishment. You know, there's one example, Anne, the Fedral Member, Anoulack the State Member were there having dinner and have been caught up in all this.

They have both done the right thing to be tested and isolated. But it is a very stark reminder of what we've been saying, that this isn't over until it's over. COVID is not defeated anywhere, until it's defeated everywhere. And we still have a long way to go and we need to remain vigilant.

KARVELAS: Okay. Which brings me to the key question. Do you think an eradication strategy would be more effective?

BOWEN: Oh, well, everybody would like to see it eradicated -

KARVELAS: But you have got to try and do it right Chris Bowen? And so should we try and do it?

BOWEN: Well, the key is Patricia, if we did go for eradication it would require a significant tightening of lockdowns in any area where there is a continued presence of the virus so it would actually require a harsher lockdown than the one that we have just come out of and that is being applied elsewhere. So you'd see a very considerable harsher lockdown and I don't think that is where the community is at. So I think the approach has been taken by states and territories across the board is quite a reasonable one. And in effect it has been eradicated in some states and territories but obviously not in New South Wales and Victoria at this point. They're doing their best, both state governments to see it suppressed so that we can move on.

KARVELAS: Venues that reopened in New South Wales were supposed to adhere to a pretty strict set of guidelines this Crossroads patron says things were pretty relaxed.

PATRON: It was pretty easy for me to get into the venue, my friend and I parked on the side closest to the bistro and bar entrance. And we were just able to walk straight in, so there was no one at the door and nowhere to sign or sign in.

KARVELAS: Can venues be trusted to do the right thing?

BOWEN: Well, I guess a few points Patricia obviously I am not aware of all the details at the Crossroads, I've had a couple of conversations with Anne Stanley over the last 48 hours and certainly Anne and Anoulack, the state MP there had signed in and was on the register. I can't vouch for everybody involved, obviously. And I can't vouch for every venue. I do know this venue is not doing the right thing. They need to be dealt with. People, you know, should be under no illusions that this is some surprise. The opening up of restrictions was on the basis that people do the right thing.

Now, whether it's Star or the local corner cafe, everybody has got to do the right thing. And in my observation, as I move around, it's great to see cafes and restaurants reopening, I think that's wonderful. In my observation people are by and large doing the right thing but when somebody is not they do need to take a good long look at themselves. And yes, authorities should act on that and I know there's been action against the Star tonight. I welcome that. Although I must say a $5,000 fine they would find that behind the lounge.

KARVELAS: Yeah. Okay. That was my observation too, right. Like I know a bit about money. And I know that they have a bit more than like you and I do, I figured that out. Yeah. So is that too low?

BOWEN: Well, I think that needs to be looked at. That's obviously a matter for the state. I'm not sure what the maximum fines are, but certainly, I don't think there would be anybody with much sympathy for venues which aren't doing the right thing particularly well resourced ones, put it that way, like the Star who simply $5,000 is not a deterrent. Any action is welcome, but let's not kid ourselves that $5,000 is going to change things in and of itself. So I do think that's something that can be looked at and the relevant authorities can make recommendations to the state governments about whether the fines are high enough, clearly,

KARVELAS: It's got to hurt a lot more than that, doesn't it.

BOWEN: You would think so wouldn't you. Yes, I agree.

KARVELAS: Over the weekend, there were reports of people holding big house parties in violation of social distancing restrictions. Police were - went to a rugby game for instance, what are you noticing?

BOWEN: Well, again, the vast majority of people are doing the right thing. Now, yes, it's wonderful. We can all inappropriate circumstances, if you're not in Victoria, you know, start to interact with each other again. But there are rules and restrictions. And I think most people, the vast majority of people comply with that. But it only takes one or two is the key lesson if we needed reminding to undo the good for the rest of us. So it is, it is incumbent on absolutely everyone it only takes one or two to undo all the work. We've come so far and had such good national results compared to other countries, but it can all come crashing down very quickly. I've been talking about this and I'm not the only one you know, for months if not longer about the danger of a second wave, and we know from history the second wave of influenza in 1919 is what did the damage in Australia the first wave we got through pretty well but we got relaxed, we lifted restrictions, and the second wave was devastating for Australia. So that's the key lesson. The second and the third wave can be very, very damaging, and we have a long way to go. And as I said before, this isn't really over anywhere, until it's over everywhere. It is such a contagious virus that it can be spread so quickly. And we do need to remain vigilant.

KARVELAS: The COVIDSafe app was supposed to help with contact tracing, but it doesn't seem to be - Casey Briggs told us it's not doing that. I mean, the criticism has been muted, should it be a little unmuted now.

BOWEN: Well, well, look, I think people can reach that conclusion, and so far it has had no role and so far therefore it has failed. We've been constructive in the Labor Party, we said we would download the app. And, you know, we didn't stand in the way we were very constructive in it. Ultimately, the Government was responsible for the design and all the features and it's a statement of fact that it hasn't detected anybody yet. Australians have responded very well, more than 6 million people have downloaded it. That's a good response from Australians. And so you can't blame the public. Clearly there have been issues with it. We've pointed out all the issues with interoperability, but the fact that it didn't operate with diabetes apps, for example, which many Australians have on their phones, there were issues about whether the app has to be at the front of phone, etc. We pointed those out consistently. Ultimately, we were constructive and said download the app. But yes, the Government oversold its effectiveness. It's very clear. It was understandable that if you like, the defense the Government had, 'it hasn't found anybody because there isn't much COVID around' was understandable until this recent outbreak, but it should be playing a bigger role. And the fact that hasn't means that the government does have some considerable questions to answer about why they put so much stress on it. Remember, the province is fine, get out from under the doona, download the app, well, it just hasn't worked out that way. It was always distinctly possible that that would be the case, we weren't going to quibble about it, we certainly encouraged Australians to download it, but the issue is not the number of people who've downloaded it more than 6 million is a reasonable number. It's the fact that it's not actually playing a role. So the government does need to own up to that fact. It's just a statement of fact. It would be better if they just acknowledged it.

KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us.

BOWEN: Always a pleasure. Patricia, I'll hope you and your family are doing okay I follow your tweets about homeschooling.

KARVELAS: You poor think, should we offer you counselling for having to do that?

BOWEN: No, in all seriousness, you everybody Victoria, are in our thoughts, and we hope we all get through to the other side sooner rather than later.

KARVELAS: We certainly hope so. Thanks Chris Bowen.