Transcript: ABC Afternoon Live 10/3/20

11.00am | March 12, 2020


PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: I want to bring in my political panel, Shadow Cabinet Secretary Jenny McAllister and Liberal MP Katie Allen. Good afternoon.
KATIE ALLEN MP: Thank you.
KARVELAS: In terms of how serious this is, Katie, I mentioned what Peter Costello has been saying. Should we be bracing for a potential second package? I know the first one's not even finalise, but is that how serious this is?
ALLEN: I don't think we really know. If you look at the epidemics country by country, there's a lot of variation in that. I think we're at the edge of the epidemic and we don't know which direction it's going in. I think thinking about it in two steps is not a bad way to look at it. Phase 1 will be incredibly important, because it will be timed with what will hopefully be flat and not high, but just don't know at this point in time.
KARVELAS: Jenny McAllister, this idea of a sort of 2-pronged approach or stimulus that keeps coming - that's really what that is. Is that ultimately what the government might need to be looking at to ensure that the economy is kept moving?
MCALLISTER: Well, the key thing for the government is to implement a package that is of sufficient size and sufficiently quickly to restore confidence in the economy. We actually go into this
situation in a relatively weak position - consumer confidence and consumer consumption levels have been dragging for 12 months. What is urgently needed is a package that will actually restore confidence, keep people in work, keep businesses afloat, and avoid a recession. And that really is the test for the government. We're yet to see what they're going to present. The concern is that they will delay, be a little complacent about the problem, as they have been about the economy, and as they were about the bushfire crisis.
KARVELAS: When it comes to what might be announced - Katie Allen, obviously cabinet's meeting right now, but Sky News is reporting the package could see millions more for aged care, GPs and doctors. Of course, you're a former doctor. Is had that somewhere where money should be spent, particularly aged care?
ALLEN: I think, at this point in time, the health of the nation - and also keeping people in jobs, but also looking after businesses and their ability to produce the goods and services that we need here in Australia - are incredibly important focuses. And the government is completely aware of this and has been meeting and responding very rapidly to this rapidly changing situation.
KARVELAS: Jenny McAllister, if money is spent with doctors in aged care, is that something Labor would welcome?
MCALLISTER: We'll of course be as constructive as we can be for the government in the way that they set to meet this challenge. Just today, we've outlined a whole range of areas where we do think the government could make some changes, and in particular we're concerned that GPs get some clarity about their role and the resources that will be available to them. And more broadly, that the public gets the information that it needs to respond to the crisis. Let's see what's in
the package, but our overall disposition is, of course, to be constructive.
KARVELAS: In terms of the health dimension, Katie Allen, if I could just get you on that - there was criticism that we haven't rolled out a huge campaign with advertisements on basic hygiene practices and so forth. Yesterday, the AMA president came on Afternoon Briefing and revealed the government had obviously told him that this was on the table. Do we need that kind of campaign?
ALLEN: I think the first thing to say is that this is something that has completely saturated all the news channels and - turn on any television at any point in time, and there'll be someone talking about the facts of coronavirus, directing people to the government websites, which are the best form of information that is being updated very regularly. As we all know, there are national helplines that are being responsive to people's needs. Furthermore, your point about investing in GP services - Greg Hunt, the Minister for Health, has been meeting with all of the various sort of levels right across the healthcare system, and he actually looking at rolling out what I think is a very pragmatic response, particularly for front-line doctors, which is more telehealth use of Medicare items. That would be, I think, very welcomed by the sector. And it's a very good way to look at dealing with this emerging problem as it happens.
KARVELAS: Do we need a public health campaign, Jenny McAllister? Would that be a good way forward to sort of tell people about the basics here? It seems like some of this stuff might be obvious but, clearly, if you hear the sort of reports people are coming back with from bathrooms of Australia, perhaps people don't necessarily know...?
MCALLISTER: Yeah. Look, when Australians have the right information, we are really good at looking after our own health and looking after the health of our friends and our family. I think the feedback is that people don't have the information they need at the moment. It's all very well to tell people to go and find a government website - what's really needed is a process that reaches out to people, gives them the information that they need, that's accurate, that's timely, and lets them actually take the steps that they need to take control of their own health and support their friends and family. I don't think that we've had that to date. And it's one of the things that Chris Bowen and Anthony Albanese have been calling for.
KARVELAS: Katie Allen, should the government be paying for 14 days of sick leave if casuals are forced to self-isolate, or even if they're really sick as well?
ALLEN: I think the first thing to say is that it's a time for the nation to work together
and to make sure that businesses provide the sick leave that's required. There are different businesses that require - will have increased activity. And there are some that will have decreased activity. We don't really have a full concept of how that's all going to play out at this point in time. But there's no doubt that those who are in the casual workforce, and those businesses employing casual people in the workforce, will have a specific set of needs that we need to make sure we are attending to. It's worth noting the casual workforce has a different construct of their sick leave with regards to how they're paid. That being said, this is a very area, because a lot of casual workforce are being employed in areas, particularly, like tourism. So that's something we need to have a look at.
KARVELAS: Yeah. And do you think the welfare system should be used, perhaps, to step in there? Putting them on Newstart or a sickness allowance? Is that an option that is a good idea?
ALLEN: I think we want to focus on keeping people in jobs and keeping businesses in business. And then also, particularly, looking after the healthcare of the entire country. That's our particular focus at this point in time. But we are going to be providing those updates later this week.
KARVELAS: Jenny McAllister, are you worried that casual workers will continue to work if they think they're sick or avoid getting tested for coronavirus?
MCALLISTER: We've got 3.3 million workers on casual arrangements in Australia. Some of them could be forgiven for feeling as though they're going to have to make a choice between the health of themselves and their co-workers and putting food on the table. I do think the government needs to deal with this. People shouldn't have to make that choice. And I saw Christian Porter's remarks just now where he implied that people on casual wages somehow ought to self-fund these 14 days that they may need to spend away from work. I don't know when Christian Porter last did a casual job, or even met someone on a low wage working in a casual role - I think that is extraordinarily out of touch.
KARVELAS: I want to just talk about this case – Katie Allen, I want to ask you - I keep asking you to put your former doctor hat on - well, you're always a doctor, but you're currently a politician - but in relation to Melbourne GP Chris Higgins, should there be an apology to him? Do you think he was treated badly by the Victorian Health Minister?
ALLEN: Look, I think the first thing to say is this doctor - I don't want to name him, because I don't think we should keep bringing his reputation into line - I think it's very important that our front-line workers are acknowledged for the amazing work that they're doing. This particular doctor is a particularly well-respected and well-loved doctor locally. He did the right thing. He followed the guidelines. I think politicians - whether you're medically trained or not medically trained - we should be recognising and supporting those who've made the right decisions based on our own guidelines. And so, to say something that's out of keeping with that, I think, is unfortunate. But what I would say is that, on the other hand, there is a lot of services that are being provided and I welcome the fact that federal and state health ministers are working well together right across this nation, because this is a moment where we should all come together. I'd just like to give a call-out to those people who are putting their lives on the line in order to help keep Australia safe.
KARVELAS: Jenny McAllister, did the Victorian Health Minister make the wrong decision by talking about this doctor the way that she did?
MCALLISTER: Look, I think this speaks to the broader issue about the information that health professionals need. 
KARVELAS: But I asked you a specific question.
MCALLISTER: Well, as I said, our disposition is to be constructive. And so that's for state health ministers and the federal Health Minister. The broader question is if medical health professionals have the information they need to protect their own health and the health of their patients when they do their jobs? These are a group of people at the front line of our response. Today, we've suggested that we really do need to step up both the quantity of information that's going to doctors and also the clarity particularly around arrangements for testing. This is an area where we can do better and we've made some constructive suggestions in this regard.
KARVELAS: Katie Allen, the Victorian government is calling for retired doctors and nurses and paramedics to put their hand up and go back in to their former work. Do you think that's a good idea?
ALLEN: Well, I think at this point in time it's worth thinking about how to prepare for a future that, at the moment, we don't know which direction this epidemic is going in. And we are, as a government, preparing for a severe flu epidemic or something that could be more than that. And at this point in time, we don't know which one we are going to get. If you look across at Italy, they've just closed down 60 million people. You look at other countries in that region and they haven't had the same problem. And you could suggest that we have had the first sort of leading edge of the epidemic being closer to China. We've had 35,000 people come back from China - Australian-Chinese coming home - and we've had a much lower rate per capita of people being infect would coronavirus and also the mortality rate's been lower here. So it means that we are doing a good job in containing the epidemic at this point in time. If you look at Italy, there's 150 per million. Here, it's 2 or 3 per million. So we have -- And we've had the epidemic for longer. These epidemics have a bell-shaped curve. We may not have reached our peak yet. We'll have to see where we're going. Going forward, it's very important that we do have an open mind about what we may need to do if it does go down the track that none of us want to see. So we're not there yet, and hopefully we never
get there, but thinking about it in an open-minded way, I think, is a useful thing. But I don't know if we are at that point yet.
KARVELAS: Briefly from both of you, starting with you, Katie Allen, national careers ambassador Scotty Cam has defended his $347,000 contract. But it's taxpayers' money. He was very unhappy being asked questions about that money today. Is it taxpayers' righto too know? 
ALLEN: It is our right to know. His point was that TAFEs have been closed over the Christmas break. I look forward to him being extremely active in the coming months.
KARVELAS: Jenny McAllister?
MCALLISTER: Well, he may regret the exact terms on which he answered those questions, but the
bigger issue really is declining support for vocational education over seven years of the government. I'm less concerned about Scotty Cam. I'm more concerned about the hundreds of thousands of traineeships and apprenticeships that are no longer there over the life of the government.
KARVELAS: Well, it's been a good and interesting, robust conversation. Thanks to both of you.
MCALLISTER: Thank you very much, PK.
ALLEN: Thank you.