16 July 2020

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST:Chris Bowen welcome.

CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH:Thanks PK. Good to be with you again.

KARVELAS:Now the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says that the State Government is now planning for every single contingency after the state of course recorded 317 new cases of COVID19. And there's also been two more deaths. How concerned are you by the figures coming out of Victoria every day but specifically on today's figures?

BOWEN:They are they deeply concerning sobering figures. But it's no surprise. We've known that this is a very big challenge now for some time for some weeks in Victoria. And the Premier is right to say that they need to prepare for every contingency. Hope for the best but plan for the worst as the old saying goes. I think that's exactly what he's doing and he deserves the support of all Australians in doing so as do all the Premiers dealing in their own ways with the different issues that they're facing. Premier Berejiklian in New South Wales with the more limited outbreak and the other Premiers keeping their borders appropriately cautiously closed as Victoria in particular deals with this. So all the Premiers dealing with quite different situations across the country. Our approach as the Federal Opposition has been to provide constructive support to all the Premiers and not to engage in partisanship. It's been disappointing to see Premier Palaszczuk come under partisan attack from the federal Government. I think she's been vindicated in her approach a cautious approach to the borders. Imagine if she'd open the borders to Victoria several weeks ago and we now had this crisis in Queensland as well. So good on her for showing the leadership but good on all the Premiers for doing what's necessary in the face of this pandemic.

KARVELAS:You mentioned that you know you're providing support or saying that all Premiers are doing a good job. Let's go to New South Wales that's where of course you're an MP as well so that's helpful in my questioning. Very different approach on7:30with Michael Rowland the other night we heard Gladys Berejiklian essentially say that they're not really interested in a lockdown model and wouldn't rule it out but there's no enthusiasm for it. Do you support the way that New South Wales is trying to squash this?

BOWEN:A different approach for different circumstances. What we're dealing with in western Sydney in particular is different to Victoria and Melbourne. There's a widespread outbreak. It's more at this point and hopefully ongoing more localised in Sydney. I've spoken I think every day and often twice a day to Anne Stanley Member for Werriwa and also to Chris Hayes our member for Fowler about how this is being handled on the ground and of course we've said you know if more testing can be done that's great and the queues are long but we do recognise that people are responding as best they can to a quickly emerging situation. Again the situation in New South Wales is different. It's serious. It's a very significant outbreak but it is quite different to what's happening in Melbourne and you would expect the response from the Premier to be different to the Premier of Victoria

KARVELAS:But should New South Wales if it gets more out of control look to lockdowns. Do you think that is a strategy that should be pursued?

BOWEN:Well of course in extremis if it gets bad enough I'm sure that will be contemplated but similarly while I supported if you like going hard earlier in the pandemic because I made the point that an action you take early means that that action can be in place for a shorter period time it can come off more quickly if you've taken the action soon enough. Having said that we have got an outbreak which is in Sydney so far largely concentrated in one geographic location. I think everybody's working hard to try and get that contained so that we don't need to contemplate going back to a lockdown in Sydney. I mean I've said consistently one of the worst things that could happen is if we open up and then have to lockdown again and that's what the Premier of Victoria had to do. He's had no choice but of course any Premier including the Premier of New South Wales would not do that unless it was absolutely necessary.

KARVELAS:I just want to go to something that I've noticed in the debate which is you know any criticism of what the New South Wales or the Victorian Government is doing is seen as politicizing or driving a wedge. We've got to a point I dont know where you know in July we've been dealing with this pandemic we're seeing outbreaks as you say not a not as big in New South Wales but a significant one in Melbourne. Isn't it right that we ask very difficult questions of Governments? Yes we have to cut him some slack, they haven't done this before but isn't it important to hold them to account on how they're dealing with this?

BOWEN:Sure, sure. And that's your job as a journalist and you know you do that robustly and as you should without fear or favour. It's our job as the Opposition to call it as we see it and the way we call it is that we provide support to any Premier who's taking a cautious approach based on the health advice they're receiving. We've supported Anastacia Palaszczuk when she was being criticised by Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg and others for not opening her borders. I've provided the same support to Steven Marshall and Peter Gutwein and Mark McGowan who've taken similar cautious approaches. I'm not going to pick and choose on partisan grounds which Premiers I say are doing a good job in which Premiers should be doing more. That's what the Liberals have done. But to your point yes, scrutiny is important. That's why when it's based in fact, so that's why for example I pointed out that the app has not found any single contact that hasn't been detected by manual tracing. Australians have a right to say, well hang on, we've responded well. We were asked to download the app. We have but it's not working. That's it that's an appropriate holding of the Government to account. That's my job as the Shadow Minister I hold the Government to account for that but I'm not going to require the impossible. I require them to act responsibly. Where I see shortfalls as I do in the app I'll call it out. But I'm also going to provide support wherever possible to constructive measures that the Governments take.

KARVELAS:Well let me put this one to you the Victorian Government has refused to answer questions about hospital surge capacity or even the number of health care workers and medical institutions that are essentially coping with COVID-19. We know that 77 staff at one health institution have been forced into what is essentially precautionary quarantine. Should they be upfront about this? Should we be given this information?

BOWEN:Well look I'm not aware of all the details but I am aware that the Victorian Government as have the other Governments have taken very substantial steps to prepare the health system for a potential second wave. In one sense that's been time well spent in the preparation for the second wave. It's been a considerable lifting of ICU capacity, of ventilator capacity which means Victoria's much better placed than it was in February or March to deal with a surge. The Victorian Government has taken sensible steps to step back from elective surgery for example, Again, that's welcome. Of course Governments are dealing with a very complicated situation. We'll be taking steps right across the health system and I'm sure Governments will be including the Victorian Government providing as much information as they can and should appropriately, as they do so.

KARVELAS:I just want you to put your former I mean it's not your current portfolio, you're the health spokesman now but your former Shadow Treasurer hat on just for a bit of economics if you can and let's start with what's going to happen next week JobKeeper and JobSeeker, the unveiling it's in a week exactly from today. The Union Movement says essentially they want JobKeeper to be kept as it is if the Government wants to continue these flexible arrangements in workplaces where hours can be changed conditions can be changed. What's your thinking on the hours and the rosters? Should that be extended? That sort of ability to move around and employers being able to change those conditions?

BOWEN:Well, if the Governments got a plan, that should be up front about it now the one thing we know out of the figures today which we already knew is that if JobKeeper didn't exist, the unemployment rate would have a one in front of it not and in a good way because would be over 11 per cent it would be more than 11 percent the unemployment rate. So we know that the essential task of the Government is to provide support to the economy through these very difficult period primarily through JobKeeper. Now we know the Government did want to do JobKeeper. We called for a job subsidy. They lectured us that they wouldn't be going down that road. Australia was different. That Britain had got it wrong. And of course they had to backtrack on that and they don't really have never really wanted to do JobKeeper. So we certainly think that ongoing support is necessary of course, we all want to see a gradual and carefully managed transition but snapping backon the 1st of Octoberis really not an option. The idea that we need JobKeeper at the end of September and we don't need iton the 1st of Octoberis just nonsensical. Now of course if the Government has other things that they want to have a discussion with the Opposition and Union Movement about it, we need to know what their plans are on JobKeeper. They've had the review since the beginning of July. They know what that review says. You don't know what it says. I don't know what it says. So we're at a disadvantage in discussing this. You're putting to me pretty much a hypothetical because we don't know what's in the JobKeeper review. If we had the benefit of that, we could have a more sensible conversation. We don't have the benefit of that because Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg don't trust the Australian people with the information that's contained in the review.

KARVELAS:I just want to get just your view on this finally. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called on MPs and even top bureaucrats to share the pain of COVID-19 and take a temporary 20 per cent pay cut. Would you take a 20 percent pay cut?

BOWEN:Well we're all making a contribution as best we can. You know Tony Abbott is not in the Parliament anymore.

KARVELAS:Sure, hes a former Prime Minister though. He's got an idea there.

BOWEN:He's now a superannuated former Member of Parliament. Look I think we comply with the decisions of the Independent Tribunal. That's the appropriate way of doing it and that's my position and that would be the position of everybody going forward.

KARVELAS:Skilfully avoided. Chris Bowen, thank you.

BOWEN:Thank you.