Transcript: ABC Afternoon Live 30/4/20

12.10pm | May 01, 2020



SUBJECTS: Relationship with China; Mike Kelly resignation from Parliament; Eden-Monaro by-election; easing of restrictions.  
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: I want to bring in Trent Zimmerman and Jenny McAllister. Welcome to both of you.


KARVELAS: Let's start on what I was just reflecting on. Was that highly unusual and did Andrew Forrest put the Government in a difficult position there?

ZIMMERMAN: I think it was unusual and unexpected. But I think we’re probably focusing a little bit too much on that event in what was otherwise a very important announcement and a very generous contribution that Andrew Forrest has made with the support of the Federal Government. And I'm just a bit disappointed that it's overshadowed what was a very important development in our fight against coronavirus. 

KARVELAS: What are your reflections though, before I go to Jenny about the sort of warnings for business leaders? Andrew Forrest is one of them who are concerned about these escalating tensions and the push from Australia for this inquiry. They obviously think it's a risk to business and the relationship and they're warning you not to go so hard.
ZIMMERMAN: Well, I'd make a couple of points. Firstly, I think that the Government's support and push for an independent inquiry into the pandemic is entirely reasonable and, frankly, it would be negligent for governments around the world not to be wanted such an inquiry. I think it’s important to stress that this is not an inquiry we want to establish to attribute blame to any country or any party. It's an inquiry that's about learning the lessons from what's happened during the pandemic, to make sure we’re able to prevent them from being repeated. The calls forthe inquiry are perfectly reasonable. To be honest, I've been very disappointed in the response that we’ve had particularly from the Chinese embassy in Australia. I thought the Ambassador’s comments were downright despicable and menacing. We should have a relationship with China which allows us to raise these issues and recognising China will always be an important partner for us. It's the world's second largest economy, the largest consumer market in their own region. No-one is talking about shutting the doors to China. We want to maintain the person to person relationship that we have with China. The relationship needs to be mature enough to be able to raise these issues - occasionally critically and occasionally expressing our differences without affecting the fundamentals of that relationship. 

KARVELAS: Jenny McAllister, I want to bring you in here and I did note the language used by Trent Zimmerman there. He described the ambassador's views as despicable and menacing? Do you share that view? 

MCALLISTER: I think that we’d  hope for  constructive engagement and engagement on  the usual diplomatic terms. And you asked Trent about the business community’s response to this situation this week. I think one of the things that points to is the need to develop a national conversation and a national understanding about what our relationship with China is going to look like in the coming decades.It's obviously changing and the Chinese Government is becoming much more assertive about  their interests in our region. We’re going to need to response to that in a way that really reflects our own interests and our own values. That can't be a response that's just driven by government. It needs to be a response that everyone in the community understands. Bringing business along as part of that journey, explaining the Government's thinking about that, I think is an important task for Government and something that we've been encouraging the Government to take on for some time. 
KARVELAS: Let's talk about this by-election. I don't know if the country's necessarily in a mood for an election but we're going to get one and we understand of course, the reasons Mike Kelly has given for his resignation. Trent Zimmerman, is this now a sure thing? Is the Liberal Party going to win this seat?

ZIMMERMAN: It would be an unusual event, a once in a century event for a government to win a by election off an Opposition but...

KARVELAS: Sure, but if you look at the Prime Ministers the approval ratings? Do you think it’s likely?
ZIMMERMAN: Well, I did want to start by paying tribute to Mike Kelly and I think every member of the parliament understands the reasons for his decision today. He is a member of parliament that's respected and liked on both sides of the aisles. His health condition is a reflection of the extraordinary courage and service we expect of those in uniform. And all of us wish him well in what has obviously been a very difficult time of his own life. 
KARVELAS:  And now to the political part of that question because I agree and it's important to really acknowledge the work that Mike Kelly has done but, are you going to win the seat?
ZIMMERMAN: Look, I think it's a pretty tall order. As I said, it's 100 years since the Government won the seat off an Opposition. And during that 100 years  there have been popular Prime Ministers who have still not won by-elections. The odds are against us its fair to say. 
KARVELAS:  Will it be a difficult one for Labor, Jenny McAllister?
MCALLISTER: Look, a bit like Trent, I wouldn't mind just acknowledging Mike and his service. I've known him for at least 10 years and worked very closely with him at that time. And I think the outpouring of, well  the outpouring in general on social media today from his colleagues really speaks to the fact that he's widely respected right across the parliament for being honourable, thoughtful and totally about the national interest. On the political question that you ask, this is a very difficult seat for Labor. And it's generally known as a bellwether seat. Mike Kelly, because of his personal characteristics, is estimated to own something like a 3% or 4% personal vote in that seat. This will be very difficult for us to come through. But I'm confident we'll mount a really strong campaign. It's a seat that's been ravaged by drought, ravaged by bushfire and a lot of people very unhappy about the Government's response to bushfire in that seat. It will be a chance for local people to put their views forward and have their say about how they think that situation has been handled.
KARVELAS: Just before I let you both go, I want to talk about relaxing restrictions. The Prime Minister has given a really strong indication that we are back on the road from the pandemic. States are already rolling back restrictions. The ACT says it's eliminated all known cases of the virus and the Territory. We know in South Australia they haven't recorded any new cases for eight days. It's incredible, really the effort here. Trent Zimmerman, what pace should we be moving at now to reopen business in Australia?

ZIMMERMAN:  Well, if I look at Facebook there are three million experts on pandemics. I'm not one of them. But I would say that I think we need to continue to be guided by the best health advice, that we have available to us. What is clear, as you've mentioned, is that Australians, all levels of government have made a phenomenal effort. I was looking at the state by state figures. If you look at the number of active cases, you've obviously got the stellar results in the ACT but in virtually every state you're now down to a very small number of active cases. That does mean that I think it's right and proper we start to look at whether we can start very cautiously and very gently easing some of the restrictions that are in place. It does need to be regarded by the health advice and recognising the risk of a second wave. If you take your foot off the pedal too quickly, the consequences could be dire.

KARVELAS:  I'm glad you said you're not a health expert. I think that politicians acknowledging that is something all of our viewers would absolutely welcome. Final word to you, Senator Jenny McAllister. The pace is key here. We don't want a second wave. Are you confident the steps are being taken to ensure that doesn't occur?

MCALLISTER: Look, I'd like to see, like everybody, a return to normal life, but the pace is key and it needs to be contingent on the health advice. I've said a couple of times on your program that I actually think it would be better if a bit more of the advice was on the table. We often hear the result of the premiers and the Prime Minister's deliberations. But we very rarely hear about the reasoning that underlines it. I think it would help at this time, when we're moving not a new phase of the pandemic  and we are beyond the immediate crisis, for the public to be let in a little bit more on the frameworks and the thinking of the National Cabinet and the premiers and the Prime Minister. I think that would help build trust in the response. Because right now there are a lot of people out there quite confused about what the right thing to do is.
KARVELAS: Trent Zimmerman, a 2-sentence answer on that. Do you think it would be useful too? 

ZIMMERMAN: I disagree with Jenny's proposition. The advice that is coming out is made public after the National Cabinet. That is the advice that's going to the National Cabinet. So I think there's a high degree of transparency and I think that's been quite important during this process and I'm sure that will continue. And  today we had the roadmap released by the group of eight which is also being fed into the National Cabinet process. Quite a detailed document again is publicly available.
KARVELAS:  Thank you both for joining us. Very clear Skype lines this afternoon. So I'm filled with joy. Thank you.
MCALLISTER:  Thanks Patricia.