14 July 2020

ANNELISE NIELSEN, HOST:Joining us live now is Shadow Health Minister, Chris Bowen. Chris Bowen thank you for your time, we'll get to the COVIDSafe app in a moment. But firstly, we've had this breaking news. A number of hotspots declared in New South Wales, including Liverpool and Campbelltown. Do you think this is the right move by the Queensland State Government?

CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH:Oh, look, I've consistently supported all public health measures taken by premiers regardless of the state, regardless of the party. This is tough news for the people of Western Sydney where I live and represent, but it's understandable and public health must come first. So yes, I do support and back the judgement of the Queensland Premier. She has to protect the public health of Queenslanders, that's the obligation of all premiers. She wouldn't have made this decision lightly or easily or happily. But it's one that I understand as tough as it is for the people of the communities that I know well in Liverpool and Campbelltown. I think people in Liverpool in Campbelltown do have a real understanding of what's at stake here, and they are supporting appropriate public health measures being taken.

NIELSEN: Do you think it's inevitable with the outbreak in Victoria and their lockdown that we will see those lockdown measures return for New South Wales, and ACT further to what's already been flagged with the state government, do you think will go to the similar level that they have in Victoria?

BOWEN: Look, I think in fairness, that's what everybody's trying to avoid. All, everybody involved regardless of the level of government, regardless of the jurisdiction. That's why the border closures were put in place by New South Wales and the ACT to try and avoid that now. We all have, we all have, an obligation to maintain social distancing, do all the things that we're asked to do to try and avoid that because, as I've made the point repeatedly, the worst thing that could happen is to ease restrictions and then have to reimpose them again, that would be a terrible body blow to the morale of New South Wales and to Australia. And that's why I supported the cautious easing of restrictions and pointed out that there was a long way to go. The second and third waves can be very, very serious indeed. That's why I think was unfortunate that people criticised premiers, like Premier Palaszczuk, for keeping the border closure on for as long as she felt necessary to protect the public health of Queenslanders. And so it has been appropriate to take a cautious approach. And I think everybody wants to see an avoid of a lockdown, or going further and New South Wales and the ACT, of course, if it's necessary, it's necessary, but we have to do everything we can to avoid it.

NIELSEN: Now, you've been quite critical of the COVIDSafe app in the use of contact tracing This was put forward by the Government as a really key part of easing those restrictions. But we've heard from the chief medical officers in Victoria and New South Wales that with these outbreaks, it hasn't really been used in a meaningful way to help with contact tracing.

BOWEN: Yeah, that's just a statement of fact. And I started this not with any, you know, sort of triumphalism because we supported the concept of the app. We downloaded it ourselves as Labor MPs and encouraged Australians to download it. But Scott Morrison told Australians that if you download the app, it was the key to success that, you know, could get out from under the doona. And it was more spin than reality. And we pointed out various technical concerns at various points during the process. Ultimately, the design of the app was the responsibility of the Government. And it's a statement of objective fact that it's not playing a role in the breakouts in Victoria and New South Wales. And I think Australians are entitled to say, well, hang on, we responded, as we were asked to more than six million Australians downloaded the app. So what's gone wrong here? It's not the fault of the Australians who downloaded the app, many of whom have been at the various venues but haven't been contacted through the app. So I think the Government does have to just fess up and be honest with people and say, as we speak at the moment, the app is not playing a role in dealing with the outbreaks that we're seeing in Victoria and New South Wales. It is, in that regard, a two million dollar failure.

NIELSEN: Well, what the chief medical officers have said is that they haven't needed to yet because they've had sufficient contact tracing information from those people.It is being touted as a backup option. Do you think that's fair enough to have that second line of defence when it comes to something as serious as contact tracing?

BOWEN: I don't think that's what Australians were told when we were all asked to download the app, we were told it was the key, it's one of the three things that we were requested to do. Now, I understood, I wasn't critical when we had small numbers of outbreaks, and therefore the app hadn't found anybody that was understandable. But we've got a significant outbreak, particularly in Victoria and for it not to be playing a role, given the investment of public funds in it, given the spin that the Prime Minister in particular put on it. I think Australians are entitled to be able to ask questions to the Government to say, well hang on, if this was so important, how come it is not playing a role in the outbreaks in Victoria, and New South Wales and in Victoria in particular I think that is a legitimate point to make. And, of course, we did point out various technical shortcomings in the app. The Government said that they had to rush to do it. They couldn't wait for the Google Apple app that they had to do their own it was vital that it be in etc. That's just simply not how the reality has played out.

NIELSEN: Is it fair, though, to actually call it a failure when they haven't said that anything's gone wrong with the tracing? They haven't said that there's been mistakes or issues with the setup of the app, they simply haven't required that information that the apps provided yet.

BOWEN: Well, it's simply not playing a role Annelise. And therefore, it's failing in its job failing in the role that the Prime Minister told Australians solemnly that it would play. If there was a second wave, he told us it was the key to getting out from under the doona, to reopening the economy. That's simply not the way it's working. And again, I say that with no sense of joy. I say that as a statement of objective fact, it hasn't played a role in tracing anybody in either state. And I think that is something that Australians are entitled to shake their head out and say, well, that's not what we were told was going to happen. I mean, manual contact tracing is important. But we were told, of course, the app was vital, particularly in places like say, the Crossroads hotel where it's difficult to track who was there at what time the app would record who was in contact with whom it's just not happening.

NIELSEN: If I can ask Dannii Minogue has come back into the country - she seems to have gotten an exemption. She doesn't have to stay in hotel quarantine because she's got a doctor's note. Is that fair on all the other Australians who have to stay two weeks in hotels and stump up the cash for it as well?

BOWEN: Look, I've seen that report, but I don't know any details about it. I mean, exemptions should be very rare. Let me make that point. They should be very rare indeed. I am aware of other exemptions for less high profile Australians that have been issued on medical grounds on doctor certificate grounds, but they are few and far between and they should be, they need to be. I'm not aware of what her doctor's certificate says I'm not aware of the issues that the relevant authorities took into consideration on that. I'll just simply say that exemptions should be very much the exception to the rule and that all Australians should be treated equally regardless of fame or fortune. If she's got a doctor's certificate and a good reason I'm not in a position to judge that. I'm not in a position to judge those particulars because I haven't seen them. I'm not the decision maker, but I think you know if there is a doctor's certificate and it has been taken into account as it has been in the cases of some other Australians who are not high profile. Well, that's one thing. But of course, it is important that these exceptions are very rare.

NIELSEN: And the Palace letters are being released today This will reveal so much insight that we've never had into the dismissal of Gough Whitlam. What are you thinking will come out of it?

BOWEN: Well, I don't know. But it's a good thing that Australians are seeing them because they have the right to know it's been 45 years now. And we haven't had the full facts. And this was of course, the most dramatic moment in Australian political history. And we have a right to know as Australians what role the various institutions including Buckingham Palace played in the decision to remove a democratically elected Prime Minister and Government in a very significant intervention in our democratic processes. I was two years old at the time of the dismissal. And I've obviously like many Australians studied and been fascinated by it over those years. We have a right to know just what role was played by the Palace, in the view of many Australians, in my view the inappropriate decision of a Governor General to remove an elected Prime Minister and Government.

NIELSEN: Do you think it would actually have the potential to stoke any republican sentiments out there or is the world too distracted by Coronavirus?

BOWEN: Well, look I'm a republican. But you know, this was a long time ago, I think it's more right to know, if there was a role by any official in the Palace in the Governor General's decision - if that decision was not entirely taken within our shores by our alleged head of state, the Governor General, I think we very much have a right to know that now. I have my own reasons for supporting the republican cause. I happen to believe we're mature enough country to have our own head of state. But, of course, we all have our own reasons for coming to that view or whatever view you have about a republic versus the monarchy.

NIELSEN: Chris Bowen, Shadow Health Minister, thank you for your time.

BOWEN: Thanks very much. It's been great to chat.