18 March 2020

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Chris Bowen, welcome.


KARVELAS:There's now an indefinite new ban onindoor groups of 100 people or more.As you know, exemptions for schools, for publictransport, university, prisons,courts, supermarkets, work sites,are those exemptions that you thinkare right for these times? Do yousupport these exemptions?

BOWEN:We supportthe policy, the 100 person limit. Iknow it will cause huge dislocation.I was talking to one weddingprovider in my electorate this morning about someof the dislocation that will becaused. This is the biggest public health crisis facingthe world in 102 years. This sort of dislocation is unfortunately part of howwe have to deal with it to make surethis disease doesn't take hold inour society. The exemptions Iunderstand - obviously publictransport is essential to peoplegetting around. Universities I'msure are already managing thesituation carefully and reducingunnecessary contact and engaging insocial distancing. I would expectand trust that universities, that whilethey're exempt, are neverthelessapplying some common sense inminimising any unnecessarygatherings of large numbers ofpeople, whether it's less than 100or more than 100.

KARVELAS:Are you satisfiedwith the criteria being used for theCoronavirus testing now? Do we needto expand the criteria? There was acouple on 730 who weren't able toget a test and they ended up, itemerged, they had Corona.

BOWEN:I don'twant to quibble on terms of detailsbut I'll make a principled statement.Testing should be widespread. Weshould make sure the only criteriaas to who gets tested is who needstesting, not the availability oftest material. I know more testshave arrived. That's a good thingand we welcome it very much andthank the Government for arrangingthat. The World Health Organisationhas made it very clear that one ofthe keys to successfully dealingwith Coronavirus is, in their words, test,test, test, test. The more tests thebetter. There are complex issuesthat are being worked through butwe say more testing is better because weknow that a number of thetransmissions we have seen in othercountries have been from people whodidn't know they had the disease, didn't realise they were carriers.More testing and testing focused onparticular hot spots has been showninternationally to be part of thereason for those countries who havemore success than others incontaining Coronavirus.

KARVELAS:Based on the numbers that have been reported healthauthorities say they are stillcoming from overseas, peoplecontracting the virus overseas.That local transmissions have been moreminimal in the numbers. Are youconcerned about a rise in the localtransmissions and what that mightmean? Do you think it's time toreview the testing criteria?

BOWEN:Absolutely it's right to say thatcommunity transmission is the bigrisk. It's right to say if we're nottesting many people, there may be communitytransmission we are not detecting.It's right to say the more testingwe're doing the earlier, and as a generalprinciple, the more you do the earlier and the better off we'll get throughthe virus.

KARVELAS:Should they change thecriteria?

BOWEN:The Government is workingon the advice of the AHPPC. Iunderstand that to be the case andI'm making a principled statementthat more testing has got to be apositive thing.

KARVELAS:What other measuresdo you think might be necessary? Ifyou look online many people talkingabout what happens when they arriveat airports. Do you think thereshould be temperature tests atairports and shopping centres, giventhey'll remain open?

BOWEN:I don't knowabout testing people's temperaturesat shopping centres but every stepthat can be put in place should be put in place.Wed like to see the fever clinics up and runningmore quickly. I do want to see - I think you and I have talkedabout - the big expansion in thetelehealth rebate. Every Australianshould be getting the telehealth rebate interms of seeing their doctor.

KARVELAS:Let me pick you up on that because theGovernment announced, Greg Hunt justyesterday, an expansion oftelehealth.

BOWEN:A small expansion.

KARVELAS:What's the limitation you want toaddress?

BOWEN:It doesn't apply toeveryone. They extended it to midwives and a few other expansions. And dont get me wrong, I welcome it. It's good.But I think it needs to be much broader.Basically everything should be covered duringthis crisis by a telehealth rebate.We don't want people going to thedoctors if it can be avoided.Taking the doctor's time and theirtime. It would be much better if thetelehealth rebate was much morebroadly available and importantly Patricia, should be available todoctors who are providing telehealthconsultations from their home. At the moment its not. Theyhave to physically go into thesurgery to do it. Its a bit of a technical glitch. I think if there'sa doctor self-isolating who ispretty well and can work and can providehealth advice over the phone, theyshould be able to do that underMedicare and get the telehealthrebate if they're working from home.It might sound like a detailedtechnical matter, it's a prettyimportant one in dealing with this health crisis.

KARVELAS:One of the sticking points, or thepoints of concern has been inrelation to schools with parentsvoting with their feet andwithdrawing their children, privateschools closing down. Today Premiers, thePrime Minister, they're all singing from thesame song sheet. Gladys Berejiklianwas asked about private schoolswhich have closed and sheessentially said they shouldconsider reopening or they shouldn't beclosing. A similar comment I thinkbeing made by Daniel Andrews. Whatdo you make of that? Should theprivate schools reopen?

BOWEN:I think school closures are amatter for the individual school ifthey're in the private sector. In relation to the Government schools Iaccept what I understand to be theunanimous advice of the state chiefhealth officers to their respectivestate governments, that is not necessary orproductive at this time. I haveexpressed to you the generalprinciple more should be doneearlier but obviously stategovernments will work closely on themedical advice they are receiving as well. I make two keypoints. It would be good to provideparents with information about whattrigger point might lead to schoolsbeing closed. What timing are webeing talked about for schoolsbeing closed more broadly? I have made the point that school closures are growing increasingly likely. I think the moreinformation that's given toAustralians and to families andparents the better for planningpurposes about what might happen andwhen it might happen. Thats the first point. Secondly,there needs to be urgent measuresput in place for healthcare workersif schools do close. The PM has usedhealth workers as a reason not toclose schools. If there is reason toclose schools, I don't want it notto happen because of the impact onhealth workers. What I'd like to seehappen - and we've been saying itconsistently now for days - is plans putin place to assist health workersshould schools have to close. Bythat I mean a system with childcareand other arrangements so they don'thave to stay home. It's a very, veryimportant matter. The Prime Minister has used afigure of 30%. That to me says it'seven more important measures are putin place. I know your next questionis what will it look like? It could look like a range of things. InNorway, schools have closed butinstructions have been given they'reto remain open with a skeletal staffto just cater for healthcareworkers children. Maybe a schoolwith 30 teachers might have one or two teachers and maybe instead of 400 kids theres 20 or 30 kids which is obviously a muchbetter system in relation to therisks of social distancing butenables the healthcare workers notto withdraw from their work which wesimply can't afford because ofschool closures. The point I'mmaking is let's not argue whetherschools should close today, tomorrowor next week, let's agree thereshould be more information out thereso people have the rightinformation to deal with. There is tonnes ofmisinformation on the Internet at the moment.Secondly, let's put real plans in place sothat healthcare workers don't haveto weigh up do they go to work orstay home with my child who is not oldenough to stay at home. Let's avoidthat by planning now.

KARVELAS: The Prime Minister saidhe's comfortable sending hischildren to school. Are youcomfortable sending your children toschool?

BOWEN: Yes. My children are stillgoing to school.

KARVELAS: Should parentsre-engage, the ones who havewithdrawn?

BOWEN: Every parent will make apersonal choice. I am not going to lectureother parents about what personal choices they should make.At this stage my children, my wife and I'schildren, are going to school.

KARVELAS: Idon't want you to lecture anyone. Ifind politicians lecturingunpleasant.

BOWEN: I'm glad we agree onthat. It is a serious point.

KARVELAS:It is a serious point. Parentshave voted with their feet and itlooks like a 6-month time frame.Daniel Andrews says some of the capson meetings, 100 people, might beeven 10 months in the making. If itis the case, do you urge parents tore-engage? It's a long time towithdraw?

BOWEN: I don't think anyparent would be contemplatingkeeping their kid out of school for10 months. They might say during this time they are making adecision and revise it on a dailyor weekly basis. Patricia I know you've gotchildren and I won't tell you whatdecision you should make in relationto your children. I'm sure youwouldn't tell me what decision Ishould make, my wife and I for ours, and I won't do it forany other Australian. Everybody in this situation willmake a choice. We've made ours. Ithink the broader point is the moreinformation that's available topeople, the more informed people canbe, the less likely we're going tosee the panic and the concernin the community which is a very important issue and Ithink it is incumbent on the Government to provide that sort of information including what sort of criteria will they consider? ThePremier and the Prime Minister have said theymight close schools. They havent ruled it out. I think it would be useful for the Prime Minister to outline what sort ofcriteria would be considered andwhat trigger points and timeframemight parents need to know about sothey can figure out how they'll copeas a family if their children'sschools are closed. And steps and arrangements they can put in now. Normally, if itwas a different situation,grandparents might step in. That'snot recommended for obvious reasonsin this case. Let's get our plans inplace now and let's not scramble orhave a Prime Ministerialannouncement that schools areclosing across the country the nextday or two days time. Let's try andgive people a bit more notice. I'mnot expecting the Prime Minister or any leaderto say schools are going to close onthis date. I would suggest a bitmore criteria, trigger points andinformation to be part of the public information.

KARVELAS: Your colleague and theDeputy Leader of your party Richard Marlessuggested getting the Defence Forceinvolved in logistics.

BOWEN: So have I.

KARVELAS: Hedid it just today. What do you wantthem to do?

BOWEN: Richard and I have bothsaid that in our respectiveportfolios, because this is anational emergency and everynational asset should be deployed.What could they do? Heres two examples. We don't havethe fever clinics up and running atthe federal level. There's a wholerange of challenges in getting theclinics up and running. I dont doubt that. I have neverquestioned that. We have been toldwe might not get them until lateMay. Thats way too late. If one of the challenges isinfrastructure, even temporarybuildings for the fever clinics,there is engineering corps in the Army andaccomplished construction experts inthe Army who can get buildings upvery quickly. There are medicos in the Army, ADF, including the Reserves. There'sdoctors and nurses and medics whocan play a role. I'm not suggestingthat solves everything but Im suggesting if thathelps us get one or two or threeclinics up more quickly, that's agood thing to have and we should bedeploying the ADF and we should be doing so now.

KARVELAS: Just onwhat might be needed in terms ofstimulus, the Government is planningto unveil something tomorrow is myunderstanding. The Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews saysthere's a need to look at a survival package for the economy. He says the Federal Government might look at guaranteeing mortgages, guaranteeing incomes. They're pretty radical suggestions. Do you think that's what the Federal Government should be looking at now?

BOWEN: They're radical suggestions for radical times. This is a very big challenge for our society and my health focus, and for the economy. Basically, tick to the stimulus but you're probably going to need more. We think you should do more. The Government has said that themselves now, there will be a second stimulus package. Part of that package should be not just to stimulate but to assist those businesses very directly affected by the slowdown in economic activity to get through this, to survive. And support for workers. Again you and I have talked about it before, let's pay casual workers when they can't go to work during this crisis. It would be good for the economy and the health system because they wouldn't be second guessing whether they can afford the risk of not being paid if they get tested. It will be good in the interests of fairness.

KARVELAS: Level with the Australian public. Is it your view that now a recession is inevitable?

BOWEN: I think the economic impact of this is very significant. There will be a big hit this quarter. I suspect a big hit the next quarter as well. Time will tell. There's a big global impact. Of course as youve heard us say before the Australian economy was weak going into this. Going into this. Let's not pretend everything was rosy.

KARVELAS: But that weakness isn't comparable with what we're seeing now?

BOWEN: I'm not, but I am pointing out that we can't pretend everything was rosy until Coronavirus came along. By the same token, let's not be churlish. Coronavirus will have a big impact on the economy and how the Government responds will determine in part at least how well the economy gets through it.

KARVELAS: Chris Bowen thank you for coming on.

BOWEN: Thanks, Patricia.