27 March 2020

CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks for coming this afternoon. Every day that Australia goes by without clearer and stricter rules in place in relation to tackling the COVID-19 crisis, is a day we're not doing everything we can.

We know that the best plan to get the Australian economy through this crisis as quickly as possible, is also best health plan. To do more, to do it earlier, and to do it as smartly as possible. We know that delaying further restrictions just means that they're likely to be in place for longer and the devastating economy will be deeper as a result.

We can't get to the end of this crisis and look back, and think we should have done more and should have done it earlier. We cant afford to run the risk that we're not doing enough and not doing it soon enough.

We have made it clear we believe that the requirements and the restrictions that have been placed on the Australian people are too confusing, are too ad hoc and need to be clearer and stronger.

Today, the Government's made two announcements. We welcome the compulsory quarantine of arrivals in Australia. We congratulate the commonwealth and state governments working together on doing that. Kristina Keneally indeed called for quarantine to be put in place earlier this morning. We have been very concerned about our borders. We've been concerned about the lack of temperature testing on arrival, and the scenes we've seen prior to the New South Wales Government putting those measures in place.

We have been shocked at the handling of the Ruby Princess which as the CMO today said was a big setback in Australia's efforts to tackle COVID-19. 10 per cent of the cases in New South Wales have been directly linked to the Ruby Princess. We must do better on our borders. This is a good step, and one that we welcome.

Secondly, the Government has made an announcement in relation to a package that they're working on, in relation to the hibernation as the Prime Minister called it, of businesses. We will look at the detail, and we would welcome a briefing in due course, this is very important. From our point of view, it must include better wage subsidies, not necessarily the British model in detail, but clearly the same intent as the Johnson Government in Britain, to help employers keep people in work at the moment. Those heartbreaking scenes we're sitting outside every Centrelink office in Australia will be more avoidable if we had better wage subsidies in place, as Labor has consistently called for.

The final point I mention is residential rent. We were expecting an announcement on residential rent earlier than today. We were hoping for it today, we were hoping for it earlier in the week. Australians who are renters will now go into the weekend, not knowing if they can be evicted or not. We really can't let that continue. We have called for a ban on eviction for people who've been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. We know that this is a state matter, but it's one that the Federal Government can lead on. Other countries have done it. The Federal Government can coordinate it. Tasmania has done it, that's good, but renters on the mainland deserve the same rights while we are going through this crisis.

We're deeply concerned about the impacts of rent on businesses as well and we hope that is also getting the Government's attention. But we are, again calling for urgent federally coordinated action to support tenants who have lost their jobs and made effective by COVID-19, they can't afford to lose their house, over and above all the other losses and stress that they're already encountering.

So we welcome the measures today. We wish more was being done. We think more could be done in a clearer fashion. But we welcome the steps that have been put in place today. Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: The compulsory two week quarantine period, do you think that's going to be enough to stop the debacles like weve seen on the Ruby Princess and also the airport scenes we saw yesterday?

BOWEN: Well, it needs to be, it needs to be. I mean, the scenes we have seen at the airports. I think have left most Australians shaking their head and to think that the Ruby Princess and the other cruise ships were allowed to happen after the Diamond Princess and the other cruise ships around the world, that these were high risk incubation factories for the virus. That people more than 2000 people were just let off in the middle of night and let off to catch taxis and trains and planes and spread the virus. Its just unthinkable to most Australians. And so the steps that are taken today are unnecessary. And you would think they should be enough to stop those sorts of scenes happening again, because we can't afford to see them.

JOURNALIST: Theres obviously various stages to the Government's response to the pandemic would you have supported I guess, a more strict approach from the from the very beginning and going to stage five instead of starting at stage one and increasingly getting..?

BOWEN: Well the point we've made is that we support stricter rules in place, clearer rules in place. You know, we don't get caught up in the language of stages. In Australia, people want to know there's a plan in place. And Australians that I speak to know that more needs to be done. And they want to know when it'll be done, how it will be done, what the trigger points for it happening are. And they want to know that everything possible is being done as soon as possible. Thats the point we are making. So hence as the alternative government, we've said we support stricter measures put in place, sooner rather than later as early as possible. We have said that consistently. We are urging the Government to do more and to do it earlier. In regard to restrictions to stop community transmission. The Government says the vast majority of cases are coming from overseas. The point I've made is, you wouldn't know because people with clear and classic symptoms of COVID-19 arent being tested unless they've been overseas or been in contact with somebody who's been diagnosed with COVID-19. So we need to ensure that community transmission is being controlled. At the moment we don't have a clear line of sight.

JOURNALIST: If the issue of rent is a state and territory problem, what can the government practically do a federal level to fix that?

BOWEN: The COAG process is designed for that. They are having three times a week hook-ups to coordinate measures exactly like that. So yes, tenants, tenancy law is state law. We've always clearly recognised that. But in this unprecedented crisis surely this is a clear example where the Commonwealth can be coordinating because tenants in Sydney deserve to be treated the same as tenants in Brisbane and Darwin and regional centres and everywhere else. We're all Australians in this together.

JOURNALIST: How do you think the rent for tenants might work? Would it be applied to all Australians or just those Australians who obviously lost their jobs?

BOWEN: Well, we've called for a freeze on evictions for people who've been impacted by COVID-19. And we recognise that landlords will continue to be able to have rights more broadly. But when somebody has been impacted by COVID-19, lost a job or had their income severely reduced, they deserve some protection during this period.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it would be appropriate for the Morrison to release the modelling on Coronavirus and the predictions, the impacts?

BOWEN: The more information that can be in the public, the better. The more information that can be released by the Government the better. If we want the Australian people to trust us, we have to trust them with the facts. And I was surprised day before yesterday to hear the Minister for Health deny that there's any modelling to suggest that intensive care will come under great pressure in April. There is such modelling. Theres University of New South Wales modelling, there has been more released over the course of today. There is such modelling. We shouldn't be alarmist but we should be honest with people. And if the trajectory we're on continues, then intensive care will come under great pressure. That's why we make the point we need to do more, to ensure that that doesn't become the case. Okay. Thanks for coming.