01 September 2020

TOM CONNELL, HOST: I'm joined live by the Shadow Health Minister Chris Bowen. Thanks very much for your time. We're talking about a system that would set a certain number of cases, community transmission would obviously be crucial. And then from that point we'd have some certainty around borders. No more of an arbitrary approach would that be a positive thing for Australia?

CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW HEALTH MINISTER: Well Tom let's just call this what it is. This is Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg using a fight about internal borders to distract from their own failings. I mean Josh Frydenberg has gone all Trumpian. I'm surprised you didn't tweet in capital letters about Victoria liberate Victoria yesterday. Ultimately borders are a responsibility internal borders are the responsibility of states. If the National so-called National Cabinet can actually play a constructive role, and Scott Morrison would stop bickering with his Premiers actually work on a solution well, well and good. But every time Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg and the Federal Government have interfered in state border matters they've got it wrong. When they call on Annastacia Palaszczuk to open her borders to Victoria, she was right and they were wrong. When they backed Clive Palmer in his court case against Mark McGowan. Mark McGowan was right and Scott Morrison was wrong. The Labor Party will back state Premiers. Well back Annastacia Palaszczuk. Well back Mark McGowan. Guess what? We'll back Steven Marshall and Peter Gutwein as well who have border closures in place. They are protecting their state's health based on the best health advice available to them. Again, if the National Cabinet can play a constructive role, fine. But megaphone distractions by Josh Frydenberg trying to shift blame for the bad economic news coming this week before we've even seen it. I mean it's one thing to blame people when the news is out but to get out in front of it and blame state Premiers for bad economic news is just such a transparent tactic. And Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg should look for less fights and more fixes and they should be concentrating on fixing what is their constitutional responsibility which is the aged care scandal.

CONNELL: You mentioned the health advice and that's why you back the Premiers. What health advice can there be for WA for example to have the border up to South Australia?

BOWEN: Well that's the matter for the state Chief Health Officers to advise their Premiers on and ultimately Premiers will make their own judgments and we will back their judgements. As I said, I'll back Steven Marshall judgment on border closures. Ill back Mark McGowan's this is a moment for federal politicians to provide support to their state counterparts, not engage in Trumpian rants about opening up too quickly. I mean Premiers are taking a cautious approach and I understand why. And we've seen what can happen when people move too quickly. And yes we all want to see the borders reopened

CONNELL: - But is it also important I get your point on too quickly and the point's been made on the Federal Government before Annastacia Palaszczuk, that doesn't mean it's always right to take the most cautious approach

BOWEN: No, but theres a track record here, Tom

CONNELL: One case in South Australia

BOWEN: Theres a track record.


BOWEN: Theres a track record. And Scott Morrison has gotten it wrong and the state premiers have been right.

CONNELL: But it doesn't mean It doesn't mean they're always he's always going to be wrong and they're always right in the future

BOWEN: No but when he lectures

CONNELL: South Australia has one case

BOWEN: But when he lectures state Premiers about opening up borders. I think his track he opens up his track record for reflection and as I said I think it be better


BOWEN: If everybody concentrated on anything and

CONNELL: Youve pointed out the track record

BOWEN: But everybody should concentrate on anything

CONNELL: But still is not the case now with the facts today

BOWEN: And that anything before the Federal Government is aged care. They should be concentrating on aged care

CONNELL: The facts today

BOWEN: We have a scandal in aged care

CONNELL: Well get to that in a moment Let me ask you about the facts today.

BOWEN: Sure.

CONNELL: There's one active case in South Australia. One. Zero community transmission. Does WA really need to have its borders up to South Australia?

BOWEN: Well as I said, Mark McGowan's holding very regular press conferences. He's accountable to his state and he has taken the tough decisions and he's accountable to his state for following the advice of the state's Chief Health Officer and the decisions he makes and he has defended his state's interest in the Federal Court against the combined power of Clive Palmer and his money and the Federal Government in court. He shouldn't have had to do that. He shouldn't have been put through that. The people of Western Australia should not have been put through that. That was a massive misjudgement by Scott Morrison and the Federal Government. They withdrew when it was too late from the case. The damage had been done by the Federal Government intervening. I mean we were all in this together until it suited Scott Morrison not to be and it suits him not to be

CONNELL: But do you agree

BOWEN: When hes got political problems of his own

CONNELL: We need to weigh up these things?

BOWEN: And he likes to pick on Premiers. Of course.

CONNELL: There are also things to weigh up in the economy and getting Australia going again.

BOWEN: Of course.

CONNELL: Should that be called a factor in the decision of

BOWEN: - But ultimately. Of course, Tom. But ultimately the best economic solution is the best health solution. I mean we can't have the situation Victoria's had to go back into lockdown which is something everybody regrets having to do but we can't have that situation apply across the board and it would be terrible for other states to go backwards. Now they are taking a cautious approach. You might accuse them of being too cautious. Fair enough thats your right but they are ultimately accountable to their States.

CONNELL: Doesnt it sound too cautious though? When you're saying there's one case in South Australia. No community transmission and you cant possibly let in people from that State. Surely thats too cautious?

BOWEN: I dont know how much demand there is to more from South Australia to Western Australia at the moment but you know, those Premiers are having conversations. Queensland's borders aren't shut to everyone for example. Different States have different--

CONNELL: Shut to the ACT which hasn't had an active case for seven weeks, Queensland.

BOWEN: Well and they're concerned about the porous border between the ACT and New South Wales. I mean here I am, I'm a New South Welshman. I'm talking to you from Canberra. So they're taking a cautious approach. I understand that. Tom the Liberal Party once upon a time was the party of States rights. The Liberal Party actually used to believe in State sovereignty. That's when the Liberal Party believed in something that was a while ago now and it's certainly not while Scott Morrison is its leader.

CONNELL: All right. Let me ask you about Tim Wilson. He's urging a rethink on even the lockdowns in Victoria at the moment. He says yes we need to protect ourselves from the virus. He mentions masks, social distancing, capacity limits and so on. But he says we need to avoid harsh lockdowns because of the cost to society. Is that something to weigh up as well?

BOWEN: Well I'm not sure if he's bothered to talk to Brett Sutton or the Chief Health Officer of Victoria or get any medical advice. That's a matter for him. He can wax lyrical all he likes. Ultimately Premier Andrews is accountable to his State and I'll take more advice from Brett Sutton and Premier Andrews than I will from a Liberal Federal backbencher who is just trying to get a headline.
CONNELL: I mean there are things to weigh up. He mentions cancer diagnoses could well be down, we've got you know the scan system well down or the early detection system well down in terms of many people getting checked, jobs lost, mental health. There are a lot of impacts on the other side of this equation.

BOWEN: Of course and let's just talk through some of those, of course. I mean that's why it's important that telehealth was introduced. Telehealth is not the answer to everything but it was important that was introduced. We called for that. We welcomed it when it was introduced. I'd like to see it expanded and continued, it's due to run out. It's going to be continued. In relation to mental health. I welcome the fact the Federal Government has extended the Medicare rebates for mental health consultations from 10 to 20. That's good that they've only done it for Victoria and we know that the mental health implications of the pandemic don't stop at the Murray River. They extended across State and Territory borders. People are doing it tough for all sorts of reasons, that should be extended to 20 across the country and while it's not particularly COVID related on mental health the Federal Government should release the Productivity Commission's inquiry report into mental health and they should respond to it in the October Budget. They haven't released it and they've said they won't be responding in the October Budget. I think that's a terrible missed opportunity for a national urgent priority

CONNELL: You mentioned aged care before, an announcement yesterday, another.. well more than half a billion dollars to at least address the situation in the short term. Do you welcome that?

BOWEN: Of course but it only just puts back some of the money that Scott Morrison has ripped out in various portfolios most particularly when he was Treasurer and again Tom this is just.. this is a gut wrenching heartbreaking tragedy that the nation is going through in relation to aged care. A very high proportion of our deaths are from aged care facilities. Scott Morrison has shown a misjudgement with due respect to appoint a Minister who is not up to the job for the important area of aged care. He didn't know the pandemic was coming but he did know aged care was a vital area and he appointed a Minister hopelessly out of his depth. And ultimately the Federal Government is accountable. I've seen Greg Hunt trying to deny accountability for aged care. Ultimately the Federal Government is accountable and it would be better if they concentrated on the things they are accountable for instead of trying to pick fights with Premiers about other matters they're not constitutionally responsible for. If they actually concentrated on their day job and a very big part of their day job at the moment is fixing aged care.

CONNELL: The situation that was revealed that there were no random checks of quality during part of the COVID crisis because of the risk of COVID infection. This appears not to have been a Government decision but essentially an existing guideline. It seems a strange one though.

BOWEN: It's gobsmacking Tom. It's gobsmacking. I mean random inspections and inspections without notice are more important. Of course the protection the health of the inspectors must be protected but the answer cannot be to abandon inspections and ultimately the Federal Government is responsible. Its a Federal Government responsibility to ensure quality assurance in aged care facilities, they regulate them. Ultimately it's a Federal Government responsibility and it's a gob smacking failure that they just stopped in the middle of the pandemic.

CONNELL: All right. Chris Bowen, weve run out of time. Thanks for your time today.

BOWEN: Thanks. Thanks for your time Tom.