26 March 2020

RAF EPSTEIN, HOST: Chris Bowen, thanks for joining us.


EPSTEIN: What do you make of the effort at Sydney Airport and those queues?

BOWEN: Look, we've been concerned about the airport checking for some time. Anthony Albanese has been raising this both publicly and privately with the Government for several weeks now. Now we understood when there were still you know the normal numbers of people coming into Australia that you wouldn't do temperature testing at that time but now that the numbers have reduced substantially and we are in the midst of an obvious health crisis, temperature checking at the airport makes a lot more sense to us in that environment. Now the New South Wales Government has if you like broken out today and started implementing it. I understand it's an inconvenience for people but on balance you know

EPSTEIN: But the queues, whose fault is the queues at Sydney Airport?

BOWEN: Well I mean the whole thing has been pretty badly managed between the Commonwealth and you know obviously the State has felt they've had to step in at the last minute and you know the first day there's going to be issues with that. But on balance that's a better problem to have than the sort of disaster we've seen with the cruise ships which has been a very very big problem in Sydney. I mean 10 per cent of the cases of Covid-19 in New South Wales, Raf are from one cruise ship. 10 per cent of cases from one cruise ship. I mean and think about this; we know the infection rate is very high. So those those cases infect you know between two and three people and they infect between two and three people and that's the problem. Now we've got a situation in Australia as I regularly point out we were currently doubling the number of cases every three days. That is not a sustainable trajectory for us. That has to be arrested and that means more severe steps need to be put in place, stricter testing, stricter restrictions on movement et cetera. So therefore you know I understand completely why the New South Wales Government stepped in to put in place temperature testing at Sydney Airport.

EPSTEIN: I've spoken a lot Chris Bowen on this show last week and this week about the the network of experts advising our Governments. It has broadened. Who are you getting your advice from? I think it's okay to criticize the Government. Who do you turn to for your health advice? You're not, you know you're not a doctor.

BOWEN: No I'm not. I've been talking to lots of doctors across the spectrum level and it's fair to say that the medical profession doesn't speak with one voice. You know there's a lot of respect for the Chief Medical Officer and his State and Territory colleagues. As you know it's now a matter of record that your chief health officer Dr Brett Sutton who's very well respected has a slightly different view to some of his colleagues. He's more interested in faster stronger action and that's appropriate. There's a-- I've talked to heads of intensive care, I've talked to epidemiologists. Look I talk to range of doctors and you know there's a range of views expressed but on balance there's doctors-- the majority of doctors would say do more do it earlier, go harder.

EPSTEIN: Okay. Chris Bowen, the Shadow Health Minister. If I can get through a few issues. The fever clinics that are going to divert people from emergency departments and GP clinics so we can keep regular healthcare going where people can check if they've got the virus. Someone I know is a GP, an anaesthetist in Colac. They've set up a fever clinic in Colac. It's now been operating for a week but there's no funding. The hospital there is paying for it and the GP's are being paid-- well they're not being paid so they're doing it on their own time. Is there a solution to that?

BOWEN: Yeah. So that's a common issue a common story. So the Federal Government quite a while ago and said that they would set up 100 fever clinics. They haven't, they're set up two. The fever clinics we are seeing are state or privately arranged so

EPSTEIN: There's money there isn't there? Federally the money is there.

BOWEN: Yes there is. there is. I mean they've announced 100 but we've only got two; there's one in Sydney and there's one in Brisbane. There's none in Victoria Federally arranged fever clinics. Anything you've got in Victoria is either set up by a hospital or set up by GPs. Now of course when you've got Covid-19 you don't care whether it's Federally funded, state funded or GP funded but we need those Federally funded clinic up and running.

EPSTEIN: Can I test your health department knowledge. I am told that the CEO of a the Colac hospital has contacted the practice Health Network the practice Health Network has the money that I think is Federally allocated. They haven't returned the calls of the call of Colac Hospital CEO, that's the Western practice Health Network haven't returned the calls of the CEO of Colac hospital. Whose responsibility is that? State Health Minister or Federal Health Minister?

BOWEN: So if you're referring to the primary health care network that's Federal. Obviously I'm not up on who's return whose call. Obviously I'm not across that level of detail but the primary health care networks are basically how the Federal Government interacts with general practice across the country. It's not a bad model. It works better in some places than others but basically when the Federal Government does something like to raise another issue distributes masks to be distributed to GPs they won't-- the Federal Department of Health doesn't call around to every GP practice. They distribute them to the Primary Health Care Network and then the PHN has a relationship with all the GPs and all the different providers in that area and they look after that.

EPSTEIN: Give Greg Hunt a mark out of 10 so far.

BOWEN: Now I'm not going to Raf. I understand your question but this is too serious.


BOWEN: These are people's lives at stake. I will say this. You don't-- I've given credit to the Government for things they have gotten right. But--

EPSTEIN: More testing per capita than most other countries in the world, thats pretty good.

BOWEN: I recognize that but I also say we can do better. You know I say a lot of the stuff that's happened-- there's things I'm critical of like the fever clinics. I don't think that's been good enough. There's been other things where I've said 'Yeah that's good'. There's been other things where I said that's good and surely we could do better. So for example; testing. I completely acknowledge I recognize Australia, the Federal Government has done better than many other countries and I acknowledge that it, it would be churlish not to. It's a good thing for the country. I mean testing in America is a disaster, that can't be our benchmark. I say though we should have had the objective of doing much more without ignoring the constraints. So at the moment Raf, i you come down tonight heaven forbid with the symptoms of Covid-19, unless you've been overseas or been directly linked to somebody with Covid-19, you won't get a test for love nor money.

EPSTEIN: Well they are expanding it. There is a little geographic testing going on.

BOWEN: A little bit, a little bit but I think we should have the objective so that if anybody has the symptoms as certified by GP they get tested. The Government says all or the majority of cases have come from overseas or had contact with who've come from overseas. Well we wouldn't know frankly because we're not testing local transmission but there's people with clear and classic symptoms of Covid-19 who aren't being tested because they haven't been overseas or they haven't had any known direct links and we've got to expand that. The WHO is right. They say that solution, the key to defeating this disease is test test tests so we've got to do more.

EPSTEIN: Chris Bowen is with us, the shadow health Minister. Just two quick ones. Firstly, Barry Jones, Labor elder apparently emailed Phillip Adams the ABC host saying the Opposition have given up on the postponement of Parliament. The email from Barry Jones apparently says nobody questions the postponement of Parliament, least of all the Opposition. It is in fact a coup. Is Barry Jones right?

BOWEN: As it happens I spoke to Barry this morning. He is a man of strong views. He's in self isolation as he puts it to me. He's a man of extremes in his elderly nature. He's got a view of our parliament and as I said I don't reveal private conversations but as I explained to Barry this morning we didn't necessarily agree with parliament being postpone and there has been a standing order put in place for Parliament to be resumed with the agreement of the Opposition and Government if there's a need to change the -- Barry was putting to me all sorts of views about 'Well you could do it virtually and all this stuff'. It's all fair enough. Here's the point; I think Parliament will be, have to be recalled sooner rather than later because the Government's so-called stimulus package isn't working, isn't enough, isn't strong enough. They'll have to do more and we'll have to be called back to vote for it.

EPSTEIN: But to be fair no one's package is enough. I mean it's moving fast.

BOWEN: Yeah but you know we've pointed out things like the wage subsidies in effect 20 per cent and is not linked to keeping staff on and we've got the heartbreaking scenes that we haven't seen in Australia since the Great Depression of people lining up outside Centrelink offices so clearly more is going to be necessary. Clearly now the Parliament should be returned to deal with that. You know when the Government's ready to give us something to vote for and obviously we'll put in place the same measures as we did earlier this week, which were very responsible. Any MP who didn't have to be there wasn't there. We've got lots of MPs for various reasons they're either immunodepressed or related to people who are immunodepressed or what have you. We kept the staff to a minimum, all socially distanced just because you know it's a big building and..

EPSTEIN: Makes sense.

BOWEN: ...we have responsibilities.

EPSTEIN: Really appreciate your time. Thank you.

BOWEN: Good on you Raf, cheers.