27 August 2020

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Chris, good to see you. Thanks for joining us, first of all 44 potentially infected staff members of that hospital and in Melbourne that's a worry, isn't it?

CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Good morning Peter, of course, it is very concerning when any health worker at all is infected. And it's a very high proportion of the cases frankly, around the country and in Victoria, who have been health workers and we must have the national objective, and the Government has agreed with this of having no health worker die from COVID-19. It would be just unthinkable that somebody who is putting their service available during this crisis has their health put to such risk. Now, it is appropriate for governments of all levels federal and state to follow the best health advice on PPE. I know the AMA has been putting views about PPE and the Government should take those on board and AHPPC should take those on board but ultimately, governments, hospitals and health services and primary health care networks should follow the advice, the best consensus of advice from the chief health officers and CMO about what PPE is necessary in each healthcare facility.

STEFANOVIC: Well, Anthony Albanese is going to be announcing an eight point plan today to fix aged care. How different will that be to what's already there?

BOWEN: Well, what Anthony's doing today is recognising that aged care is a federal responsibility and it's up to the Prime Minister and the alternative Prime Minister to accept that and not only to accept it - to embrace it with a plan. Now Scott Morrison has had no plan when it comes to aged care and COVID-19. In particular, but aged care more broadly apart from cutting funds, apart from continual cuts budget cuts to aged care. Now, Anthony has a different approach. He's outlining the plan later on today, but it will focus on the key issues, resources for aged care, training for aged care workers and workforce ensuring we have the workforce necessary to provide the best care for those who built our nation, raised us, contributed so much to our country and deserve to have care in their later years which is reflective of the quality of care that a modern rich country like Australia should be providing for our elderly.

STEFANOVIC: Isn't it misleading, though to say, Chris, that the Government has cut funding to aged care when it's actually increased its funding by a billion dollars each year for the last 10 years?

BOWEN: Well, that's their spin but unfortunately, their budget papers don't reflect that. I mean, Scott Morrison was Treasurer, he brought down budgets and MYEFOs which had thing words in them like we're going to provide savings and efficiencies in aged care. Now, savings and efficiencies Peter, is equivalent to a cut. And when you add those up, they do come to a very significant amount. It would just be better if Scott Morrison just fessed up about that and just admitted it and said 'yes, when I was treasurer, we reduced funding to aged care', and then we could you know, then have a discussion about how we fix that. But when, when you won't acknowledge a problem. You can't fix it. Scott Morrison won't acknowledge the aged care cuts so therefore he won't fix them.

STEFANOVIC: But those cuts or efficiencies as they're referred to it, doesn't that stop some aged care providers from gaming the system?

BOWEN: Well, you can always ensure that you've got integrity in the system. I mean, you can always look at making sure that your rules and your regulations are fit for purpose. But that doesn't equal a cut in funding. I mean, I challenge you to walk around some of the aged care facilities in Australia and say they're over funded. I mean, if Scott Morrison wants to make that case he can make that case. That's not my experience. And I've spent plenty of time in aged care facilities from the centre of the Northern Territory to the Western Suburbs in my own electorate in Sydney to you know, anywhere I visit and there are people working their guts out in very difficult circumstances, underfunded circumstances, with you know, people who need the appropriate training to provide that aged care support to people who are in aged care residential facilities. To suggest that the answer is somehow to cut funding, I think just beggars belief on behalf of Scott Morrison.

STEFANOVIC: It is a federal responsibility. But doesn't the State Government in Victoria have to take a share of the blame here too, given that the outbreak was their responsibility?

BOWEN: Well, the Federal Government's own COVID-19 document which the Prime Minister waved around in the Prime Minister's courtyard back in February makes it very clear it says the Federal Government will take responsibility for aged care, the Federal Government will work to ensure safety standards and infection control. There's nothing in there about shared responsibility. Now of course, Dan Andrews has accepted his responsibility in relation to other matters. But when it comes to aged care, there is only one level of government responsible. Constitution does not share responsibility for aged care amongst the Commonwealth and the states. I even heard Greg Hunt claim in Parliament that you know, it was a shared responsibility again. Just be honest, just accept that aged is a federal responsibility. And then you can deal with the issues and the challenges that arise.

STEFANOVIC: Just if you wouldn't mind, Chris, step outside your portfolio. Just to wrap up, I just want to get your thoughts on this news this morning. The Prime Minister is seeking powers to veto China deals, among others. So the bill will be introduced next week. Is that something that Labor will support?

BOWEN: Well, I mean, if the Government would like to show us the bill, we'll work through it. But on the matter, in the substance of the matter, of course, governments have to work together to ensure our national sovereignty. Minister Payne actually welcomed the Victorian MOU on the Belt and Road initiative when it was signed. So did Minister Birmingham so they've changed their tune quite considerably. Fair enough, circumstances change. But if circumstances do change, I think it would be good for the Federal Government to sit down in good faith with the Victorian Government and work the issues through. It is not unusual for states to engagein ensuring that their interests around the world are furthered. I mean, states have representatives around the world. States have had agents in London for decades, and states have representatives I know in various cities in China and Indonesia, pursuing trade deals on behalf of the states. Now, yes, foreign policy must be the responsibility of the Commonwealth, if the Commonwealth has any concern about any agreements, and I heard Minister Payne say there is 135 I think she said such agreements. Then they have a right to ensure that they're consistent, but that's best done working with the state governments. And I do know also, while we're on the topic that the Federal Government does have an arrangement under the Belt and Road initiative that former Minister Ciobo signed, which they still haven't released. So if we want to be, you know, trying to ensure transparency, maybe the Federal Government could get their own house in order first, and release that document so that we could see what's in involved in that.

STEFANOVIC: You would have seen or heard Beijing's Deputy Ambassador his speech yesterday at the National Press Club. He talks about our relationship with China as like a feuding marriage. He says he says China's feelings are hurt and doubts whether the Coronavirus did in fact originate in Wuhan. What did you make of those claims?

BOWEN: Well, look, I think it's important to base comments about these things which can get emotive on the facts. Now all the scientific evidence points to the fact that the virus did
originate in a wet market in Wuhan. There's conspiracy theories that it was in a laboratory. And there's people who deny it is from Wuhan. The weight of the scientific evidence says it was from a wet market. We made the point at the time we supported an international inquiry. We think it would be better if more diplomatic efforts, it would have been better, if more diplomatic efforts were put into ensuring support for that inquiry before we publicly called for it but that's a matter of method not of substance. We supported the concept of an inquiry. We do think an inquiry about how this eventuated and how could better be handled in future if such an epidemic starts again, is an important lesson. I mean, this is - the one thing we know is that there will be more pandemics. And this is not a black swan moment. And we have to ensure that all countries around the world are learning lessons of what went wrong, what we got right, what was got wrong. Because plenty of countries have made mistakes and plenty of countries could have handled it differently. But I do think the first step is to accept the facts. And the weight of scientific evidence tells us what those facts are. The facts are as I've outlined.

STEFANOVIC: Yeah, well, I mean, your colleague Joel Fitzgibbon had said in the past that we didn't need to be out there defending the Chinese or even demonising them. How do you think those comments have aged?

BOWEN: Well, again, our position is that the inquiry was legitimate, but the normal course of events would not be to announce the inquiry on a Sunday morning interview, the normal course of events will be to talk to like minded countries, our allies and friends and indeed even to communicate with China that this is a matter that we would like to pursue rather than doing it through the media and with a megaphone and then working to get that result, that's the position that we've outlined. It's not a matter of substance of substantial difference with the Government on this. But it is a matter of diplomatic form. And we would have taken an approach which would have ensured that that was followed.

STEFANOVIC: Well, still on Joel. I mean, he's been vocal recently. Do you endorse him speaking out on policy issues beyond his portfolio?

BOWEN: Well, I just spoke out on some policy issues beyond my portfolio, because you asked me the questions.

STEFANOVIC: I do recognise that, but he has been more vocal in recent times.

BOWEN: Well, you know, we're a big party. And Anthony's certainly provided the opportunity for us all to have our say about some of the big issues that are facing the party and the country. And I believe that with that sort of discussion that we have, we will take to the people at the next election a very comprehensive plan. Anthony is outlining plans today in relation to the big issue of aged care, which is a key federal responsibility, and that's incumbent on us over the course of the term not only to point out those shortcomings and the failings of the Morrison government it's plenty to talk about there, but also to provide our alternative plans and Anthony's beginning that process today relation to aged care.

STEFANOVIC: All right, Chris Bowen, good to get your thoughts. Thanks so much for joining us this morning. there's plenty on.