18 August 2020

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST:Shadow Health Minister Chris Bowen joins me now to talk about some of these developments this afternoon. Chris Bowen, welcome.


KARVELAS:Several quarantine breaches have been revealed across the country this afternoon. I want to start off in New South Wales where, of course, you are. Health authorities say a security guard infected with Coronavirus while working at a quarantine hotel in Sydney subsequently worked at a Parramatta Court, Flemington Market and Bankstown Central Shopping Centre. Given what we have seen in Victoria, should measures have been put if place to prevent this? What do you make of what we've learnt today?

BOWEN:Well, I think what this underlines, Patricia, is how difficult quarantine is, how quickly it was implemented and how governments of all persuasions across the country are dealing with very complicated issues. I'm not going to criticise the New South Wales state government just because it happens to be a Liberal government. They've indicated there will be a strong inquiry about what's gone wrong. Obviously it is deeply concerning. Everybody's doing their best in very difficult circumstances. It is a difficult process to forcibly quarantine a large number of people, for a long time like 14 days and get all the appropriate staff in place and have all the necessary arrangements in place. I'm not going to politicise this. The New South Wales government is working under difficult circumstances. The best thing we can all do is support state and territory administrations. I note New South Wales and Victoria, in particular, have taken the lion's share of the burden when it comes to quarantine for obvious reasons. That is where most people fly into - Sydney and Melbourne. Other states have done their bit. But New South Wales and Victoria have taken the lion's share.

KARVELAS:OK. Does it demonstrate, though, that there needs to be a more nationally consistent approach in hotel quarantining? I know there's the Victorian inquiry. What sort of lessons does it look like are emerging in relation to hotel quarantining?

BOWEN:Well, I think these are things that can be legitimately looked at. If states and territories need more support, I'm sure that's a conversation that can be had with the Commonwealth government. But this is pretty fresh news in Sydney. I don't think we should leap to conclusions about what's gone wrong. We should let the state government have opportunity to make the necessary inquiries, further update the people of New South Wales and to give them every support we can. Certainly, on behalf of the Federal Opposition, that's where I'm indicating we would do to the Liberal state government in New South Wales, give them efficient every support they need to get this difficult and complicated job done.

KARVELAS:We have got some significant announcements this afternoon in relation to state borders as well. Tasmania really closing off till December, WA putting off its next phase. It is a country that's increasingly cut off. Are you comfortable with that position? Do you think there should be again a move to a nationally consistent approach? It seems that states have gone alone. There was this road map that's been thrown out and now everyone's doing it their own way?

BOWEN:I think inevitably, Patricia, state premiers and Cabinets are going to make decisions in their own best interests. So they should. That's the way our Federation works. I was disappointed to hear Simon Birmingham a little earlier criticising premiers and saying they have got it wrong. Remember the last time that happened - it was Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg saying - and Simon Birmingham for that matter - saying Annastacia Palaszczuk had it wrong and should be letting Victorians in. She was right. They were wrong. Premiers and state cabinets are going to make the decisions based on the best advice available to them. I know it is difficult. I would love to visit other states and territories. But we're not allowed to at the moment. I understand and respect the reasons that premiers and state cabinets have putting those restrictions on. I think, as Australians, we should support the state premiers. I don't care whether it's Peter Gutwein, the Liberal Premier of Tasmania, or the Labor Premier of Western Australia Mark McGowan. I will give them equal support in making those tough decisions. I'm sure they want to open their borders as soon as possible, I know that they want to get tourists back into their jurisdictions as soon as possible. But I know that they are going to put health first - as they should. They have our support as they do so.

KARVELAS:The NRL has fined the Brisbane Broncos club and 10 players a total of $140,000 for breaking COVID-19 protocols. This isn't the first time there have been NRL breaches. Why isn't the message getting across?

BOWEN:Well, I mean, you know, I think that's a fair question. Obviously all the sporting codes - including AFL - have obligations here to ensure that their players and participants in various forms know their obligations. Clearly there have been breaches here. Clearly it's incumbent on the codes to respond. In fairness, they are. These are significant fines that have been metered out. This is disappointing. I'm sure the management of the codes share that disappointment. Where you have players who are - and coaches - who are endangering frankly the ongoing competition even occurring by their actions, that's disappointing to everybody, including those of us who are fans of the various codes. It's very frustrating for everyone involved, and all we can all do is remind people of their obligations.

KARVELAS:Just finally, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt says he's cautiously optimistic a vaccine will be available next year. Do you share his cautious optimism?

BOWEN:Well, I do. I share the cautious optimism about vaccine development. I am concerned Australia is way behind the game when it comes to getting access to the vaccine. There's been more than 3 billion doses of various vaccines accounted for by advanced supply agreements entered into by countries around the world. The UK now has five of these agreements. They have entered their first one in May. Indonesia has one, Argentina has one, Brazil has one. South Korea has one. Japan has three. The United States has six. India has three. We have zero. I welcome the fact the Minister has indicated we are working towards one - or maybe more than one. That is obviously welcome. But the fact of the matter is - it would be unconscionable to have a vaccine developed and being distributed around the world and our Government not having taken the advanced steps necessary to get supply. As we stand, that is the case. It's simply not acceptable or rational for the Minister to say we are the best placed nation in the world for vaccine distribution when we have no agreements in place. CSL does have some manufacturing capacity. But they can't manufacture every single type of vaccine around the world. We don't know which one will come to the forefront of development. We are taking considerable risks. It is incumbent on the Government to take more steps - urgently - to ensure that we have those advanced supply agreements in place, and also that we're better funding research in Australia. The Federal Government has only put in $5 million to one vaccine - the University of Queensland vaccine. That's putting all our eggs in one basket. Frankly, not very many eggs.

KARVELAS:Thank you very much for joining us Chris Bowen.