9.19am | April 27, 2021



SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison’s hotel quarantine failures, slow vaccine rollout, need for an injection of urgency and ambition for domestic violence response. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Time now for my panel. Liberal MP Katie Allen and Shadow Assistant Minister for Communities and the Prevention of Family Violence Jenny McAllister, welcome to both of you. Okay, so we’re having another discussion – we’ve had a few – about hotel quarantine, airborne transmission, whether our current model is working. Katie Allen, you’re an epidemiologist, you know quite a bit about these issues, was WA’s lockdown necessary?

KATIE ALLEN: Well, it's always hard to say something was necessary or not, after the event. But you know, it has happened and they’re now lifting lockdown, which is a good thing. So, of course, they were trying to be pre-emptive, and that is the one thing about health is I’m a big believer in preventative measures to be taken. But you could argue that perhaps it wasn’t necessary. But if you say that, then we will never know. So I don't think there's any point for thinking about what we should or shouldn't have done before. But what I would say is, it would be good to have very clear understanding that perhaps we may need to relax what we're doing with regards to what we can accept and tolerate. Because we know that there's always going to be leakage from quarantine. But that is just a fact of health. And why that is, is that we know, even with the best forms of quarantining is that there's a 14 day period when almost all cases will become positive. But after 14 days, there's about a one and 100 chance that a case will become positive. So there'll always be – unless you have a one month quarantine period, there’ll always be leakage from quarantine. So my view, and what we've seen over and over again by Gladys Berejiklian in New South Wales, is that the contact tracing that backs up the hotel quarantining is what has to be absolutely world class and we see that in New South Wales, WA maybe hasn't had that test in the same way. But we know that New South Wales has done it three times where they’ve mopped up leaks out of quarantining and they know how to do it and we look to them as being the state that's doing the best when it comes to contact tracing.

KARVELAS: Jenny McAllister, the AMA’s Western Australia president Andrew Miller said a failure to recognise airborne spread of coronavirus is putting lives at risk and that our current model isn't fit for purpose. But you just heard Katie Allen there saying that, you know, New South Wales can manage it. What's your response? Should we look at a different model?

JENNY MCALLISTER: There's a kind of complacency there from Scott Morrison and his team in relation to quarantine. Quarantine is a Commonwealth issue. And for some time, the Government's been in receipt of advice that says there ought to be national standards in relation to ventilation in hotel quarantine. And that is because of aerosol transmission, and the recognition that we know a little bit more about the virus now than we did at the beginning of this process. What the AMA and others are now saying, and certainly a number of state premiers are saying is that the Commonwealth really needs to think about whether hotels remain the best place to quarantine people. Scott Morrison, again, in receipt of advice, along very similar lines, quite some time ago. This pandemic is going to be with us for a while, and I think the solutions that were sensible, practical solutions at the beginning of the pandemic are starting not to look so good as it goes on for longer. Government has had time to think about this, and it is really time the Commonwealth stepped up to its responsibilities and understood the role it plays in creating a national quarantine system.

KARVELAS: Katie Allen, is the hotel quarantine system that we now have that we previously built just not fit for purpose going forward?

ALLEN: Well, I think what's interesting is that we know that the rest of the world is actually looking to our quarantine system. In fact, we've had the UK asked us about what our quarantine system is. We know it is one of the best, if not the best, in the world. But what I would say is going forward as we roll out the COVID vaccine and as we start to return to more normality, this is a shifting field. So even last week, there's been calls for a discussion about home quarantining, for instance. So the one thing about COVID is it has happened very rapidly. Luckily, the decisions that have been made by the Federal Government have resulted in a pretty amazing outcome for Australia. Yes, there are things that can always be done better. And I hear what Jenny's saying about quarantining and that she'd like to have a different system. But let's remember that it takes a long time to build a whole new system. And yet we have a changing situation around the world as we speak, and we also know that as the COVID vaccine does get rolled out, obviously, it's getting rolled out very fast in the UK in the US, that things are changing very rapidly. So I wouldn't want to be predicting building a whole other system, when already we have had 500,000 people return through hotel quarantining, and yes, it's very difficult for states when they have to shut down. But what I'd encourage the states to do is look to the states that do this well, which is hotspot and zoning, and making sure they're reacting with contact tracing that is very targeted because that targeted approach is what is cost effective, it helps keep the dual health and economic missions that we have about making sure that this country is dealing with COVID in the best, sensible, most practical way. 

KARVELAS: So we know that this COVID case that spread, ultimately, in WA now was somebody got an exemption to go get married in India. And it's been, you know, pretty controversial. Why are exemptions like that being offered is the question being asked. Jenny McAllister, is that a fair enough exemption in your view?

MCALLISTER: I'm not really across the details of what particular exemptions were in place for this individual. But at the end of the day, it is a reasonable thing for the community to want to be reunited with family, for stranded Australians to return home, for businesses to get going - and it's dependent on two things. It's dependent on having a robust quarantine system, but also on completing our vaccinations. And the vaccination system has proceeded very, very badly. We were late to start, we didn't have a diversity of supply, so we were vulnerable to supply chain interruption, and the arrangements for rolling the vaccine out in the community really aren't up to scratch. I understand that the latest full day figures see just 20,000 people vaccinated in a day, and we need many, many more than that if we're to make it through the entire population by the end of the year. These targets have been put off and off and off, but what's needed is a comprehensive, urgent plan to complete the vaccination so that people can start getting lives back to normal.

KARVELAS: Katie Allen, on that sort of pace of that vaccination and the way that we manage exemptions at the same time, it's a pretty difficult virus to manage if you're trying to be COVID zero like we are and we want to be – I don't know many people who contest that. Do you think the exemption should be tightened? Is it acceptable that you can go to India and get married?

ALLEN: Look, Patricia, I have to say I've had many constituents contacting me and they're very keen, for instance, to go overseas to resume study, or as you say, life events: births, deaths, and marriages are particularly important. And it is true that there are many people who wish to go overseas and that wish to have exemptions, and this is the conversations that Australians need to have About that balance, about understanding how do we keep the whole country safe, and we don't overwhelm our wonderful quarantining system, but making sure that we wait for our COVID vaccine to roll out to be – let’s be very clear with the current vaccine issue – that there has been a supply issue. But if we hadn't, as a government, had the forethought last September, when Greg Hunt said let's stand up onshore manufacturing with CSL and AstraZeneca, if we hadn't have had that forethought in September last year, we wouldn't be in a position where we were able to manufacture this vaccine right here in Australia so we can have locally made vaccine. And we also know that Australia in the public health field is very good at learning from overseas, the mistakes that might have been made overseas. So it's important that we can understand after 32 million vaccines having been delivered, we now know what rare but serious events are occurring, Australians can then make the decision about the choices that work for them and for their families. But when it comes back to that question of exemption, it is a balance because people do want to have the ability to travel, but at this point in time, this is a once in a lifetime crisis that the world is facing. We're talking about 3 million deaths around the world. And yes, it's terribly hard when there's been cases – I’ve had cases of people wanting to go up to Queensland – but they've not been able to leave Victoria or travel across this continent for various reasons. Australians have had to put their life events on hold and I do recognise that, but there has to be patience. We've done a great job as a nation sticking together, we've done a great job as a nation making sure that we've got to a good position where people can go to the MCG, have big events, and we've got to balance that individual rights and freedoms with the greater good for the country. So it's not an easy balance but I think mostly we've got it right and it's best for us as a nation to celebrate how we have come together to get some outcomes that are pretty well respected internationally.

KARVELAS: I want to end on a very disturbing story. Queensland police have revealed that Kelly Wilkinson had previously contacted authorities over domestic violence concerns in the weeks before her alleged murder. Jenny McAllister, this is a woman who was telling police she knew her life was in danger. Why are we still failing to protect women, what needs to be done?

MCALLISTER: We need an injection of urgency and ambition. Domestic violence is the number one cause of death and disability for women between the ages of 15 and 44. It is literally a national epidemic. And we need a response that spans across all our systems. We need a justice response, a police response, we need proper funding for services, we need the Family Court to be more responsive to questions of violence, and we need education across the community broadly so that people recognise it when they see it and are in a position to help their friends and family. This is an awful situation for the Gold Coast community and I know that there's a vigil there this afternoon. The community is grieving, Ms Wilkinson’s family is grieving, but vigils can't be all that we do at this point. We need to take real action because this cannot go on. We cannot keep failing these women.

KARVELAS: Katie Allen, I think that's right. It's pretty disturbing to hear that this woman was asking for help and clearly – she's now dead because that help was not provided. What needs to be done at a national level? Are you internally pushing for the Morrison Government to play more of a leadership role here and to make more investments to ensure that this never happens again?

ALLEN: A hundred per cent Patricia, this is an incredibly heartbreaking story and it's not alone, that's the problem. These things are happening right across Australia. They're tragedies that should never happen and there definitely needs to be better investment, ensuring that women can have security and safety not just in the workplace, but at home. And my predecessor, Kelly O’Dwyer, who was the minister for women actually invested, and secured record investment funding for domestic violence, particularly $78 million for emergency housing. Because we do know that women feel sometimes they can't escape, because they don't have that financial security, they have nowhere to turn, they have nowhere to go. So I really welcome that funding, and I am fighting for more funding for domestic violence and for emergency housing. But we also need to look at the system, we need to make sure that there's investment in understanding that disrespect to women – it doesn't always result in violence, but violence always starts with disrespect to women and their children and so I really welcome that we're investing heavily with $380 million invested in domestic violence funding. It's a record amount that Kelly was able to secure, but more needs to be done as a whole of community response, starting right back in education to make sure that an understanding of what consent means, an understanding of what respect means, not walking past disrespectful comments, and as a community I think we need to get behind the record level of funding but there's always more to be done and I'm looking forward to seeing a real step up of investing of funding for women's issues with regards to this next budget that is coming up and I'm certainly fighting for that. So I look forward to hearing what those might be and I welcome hopefully further investment into these incredibly important areas of Australia women.

KARVELAS: Yeah, well it’s absolutely a crisis. Thank you to both of you. It's been a pleasure to have you on the show.




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