Transcript: ABC Afternoon Live 16/4/20

12.00pm | April 20, 2020



SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; current restrictions measures due to coronavirus; Malcolm Turnbull.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST:  I want to bring in my political panel now, Trent Zimmerman and Jenny McAllister. Welcome to both of you.
TRENT ZIMMERMAN: Good evening.
KARVELAS: The Prime Minister announced national cabinet's intention and said we turned to the road out which is the road we want to be on, I've got to say. The Prime Minister has confirmed there are plans to lift baseline restrictions in the next four weeks. Is that a satisfactory time frame to work towards? I know you've all as politicians have been lobbied by business to ease restrictions. Is that feasible? Do you think after that point if we're low in terms of our numbers we should be reopening things like restaurants and bars?
ZIMMERMAN: Well, I think the governments, state and federal, continue to act squarely on the health advice they're receiving. While the numbers have been very encouraging over the last week, what we also know is to use the chief medical officer's terms, we can't take the foot off the brakes at this stage because what we don't want to see is restrictions eased and increases in infection rates and the restrictions have to be returned to before we've even had a chance to enjoy them. I think the month before we consider, reducing the restrictions, is very sound and sensible.
KARVELAS: Jenny McAllister, is that a good pathway out, the suppression strategy? It's not the New Zealand strategy. A strategy Labor thinks is working?
MCALLISTER: I think first and foremost the principle objective needs to be around health. So we've been very supportive of following the health advice. I do think that laying out the Government's broader thinking about why they are taking the decisions they are taking is really important. That's improved over the last few weeks. I think we are learning more about what underpins the decisions that have been taken by government. But this kind of longer-term description of what the strategy is, what the reasoning is that lies behind it is incredibly important, particularly if you want Australians to continue to make the kind of individual and personal sacrifices that they are already doing. Australians have put a lot of trust in government at this time. That trust ought to be returned by being quite open about the reasoning behind all of this.
KARVELAS: For the first time we got a bit of a sense from the Prime Minister about what might happen in the pathway out, particularly on economics. And Trent Zimmerman, you may have, might have piqued your interest. He sort of suggested what could look like help for business or stimulatory measures or help in terms of policy settings that would help business and growth. What sort of measures would Australia need in your view?
ZIMMERMAN: Well, I think the first stage is obviously what we're doing at the moment and that's to basically allow the economy to tick over as much as it possibly can. That's why the wage subsidy involved in JobKeeper are so important. Basically to use the PM's terms, keeping the businesses in the economy in hibernation so we can more quickly rebound on the other side of this. But the rebound is not going to return us to where we were, as it's likely we'll see the restrictions reduced in a staged way and we may have restrictions on international travel for a lot longer than the other restrictions are in place. We're not going to rebound to where we were is my instinct. Things like infrastructure spending; supporting those businesses are going to be very, very important to making sure that we can see the growth return.
KARVELAS: Is that an approach that you think Labor would support, Jenny McAllister?
MCALLISTER: Look, obviously we welcome... Some thinking about how the Government is looking at the future. There are a couple of things where we have obviously said that we think the Government should do better. The first is that our recovery is totally dependent on our ability to stand up businesses and restore employment once the immediate crisis has passed. That's dependent on employees staying connected to their workplaces and we think it's been a mistake to exclude over one million casuals from the JobKeeper payment. We think that's a mistake and that will deepen the problems in unemployment and we know the unemployment problem is going to intensify in the coming months. I think the second thing is that we're concerned that the Government has been a bit rigid about saying there's support in place for six months and then we'll snap back. (INAUDIBLE) The economy won't be in the same place it was. The Government needs to maintain an open mind and have some flexibility about the kind of support the economy is going to require if we're going to keep the human economic cost of this crisis to a minimum.
KARVELAS: Trent, I want a comment from you on that, this sort of snap back language that's being used. It doesn't really work like that, does it? It's a rather utopian way of positioning it?
ZIMMERMAN: Part of the challenge that we face is because it is such a new situation that we're facing and because we're learning about the path of this virus day by day, it is very hard to predict its course and what type of restrictions are still going to be in place in six months time. And I think you will see the Government take whatever action it needs to in six months to protect jobs, see growth returned. It is hard to plan and when you don't know for examine -- predict when you don't know for example if there will be restrictions in place and international activities. After some of our mineral exports, tourism and international education are our two largest export sectors. They are going to continue to face challenges if those travel restrictions are put in place for example. We are still trying to second guess where the virus will take us.
KARVELAS: I've got to stay with you if you don't mind, Trent Zimmerman, a very open question of you. Malcolm Turnbull's book?
ZIMMERMAN: Has Malcolm written a book? No, I haven't. But I have made sure I know which bookshops are open in my electorate.
KARVELAS: You haven't got a personalised one?
ZIMMERMAN: No. I haven't as yet. It might distract a few Australians from Netflix and iview for a week or so. But I haven't been given a copy. I hope it has an index because that's the first place you go to.
KARVELAS: He's shared at least which chapters you can go to. Things like Barnaby and the Bonk Bandits. He says for instance the Prime Minister was described as a plotter and also that your government really didn't deserve to get elected. It's just that Labor lost the election. What do you make of those revelations?
ZIMMERMAN: I disagree with that analysis.
ZIMMERMAN: Because I think we did deserve to get re-elected and that was the judgement of the Australian people which is the ultimate test of these things. What I understand from what Malcolm has written is that he also saw Scott Morrison as his natural successor and he had a good working relationship with him as Treasurer. But I really think that this is the type of thing that we can't allow to distract us as we focus on what the real for Australia is. We need to be looking at the now and the future.
KARVELAS: I'll ask you another question. You were a prominent yes campaigner and he has revealed in the extracts that it was actually our current Prime Minister that was very much behind the push for a same-sex marriage plebiscite but wanted a constitutional change to ensure that we never got same-sex marriage? What do you make of that?
ZIMMERMAN: Well, I haven't seen those reports. That's been in the press today and I might have missed that. We got marriage equality and that's important. I have a philosophical problem with using plebiscites for any issue. But from my perspective, what happened facilitated the parliament being able to deliver marriage equality and therefore I think the outcome speaks for itself.
KARVELAS: But you'll be getting the bock, that's good to know.
ZIMMERMAN: I will indeed. I hear chapter seven covers you extensively.
KARVELAS: Chapter seven, the famous Karvelas affair. You can imagine what happened there, me and some secret deals which have never happened. Jenny McAllister, a free kick to ask you and I'm always reluctant because what have you got to add anything that comes out here is probably just a bit too exciting  for Labor. But given the timing, do you think anyone cares?
MCALLISTER: Look, I don't know if people will care or not. I'm not sure how many people do read books about politics. A small number of people. My honest reflection about all of that period was that it was… the personality conflicts, the infighting was actually a second order problem. The first order problem was just a complete inability between members of the Government to really agree what they were for and what they were about. That was true on marriage. It was true on climate change. It was true on the direction of the economy. And I fear that it will still be true when we come out the other side of this crisis. That's my honest view about it.
KARVELAS: Just a last one briefly, on the Prime Minister's defence of the World Health Organization, he says there are criticisms of the World Health Organization but particularly Trent Zimmerman, he's pointed this afternoon to some of the good work it's done in our Why is that point being made by the Government?
ZIMMERMAN: Well, because I think Government recognises the World Health Organization plays an absolutely vital role. We do need international coordination during pandemics like this. Its support for both countries like us but more particularly for countries that don't have as well developed health systems can be just crucial. I think once we get through this there's obviously cases you'd expect for us to be looking at whether the World Health Organization has been as effective as it could have been? I think they've made missteps. Two things stand out for me, their delay in declaring this a pandemic and all of the things that flowed from that. Secondly - and I remember this vividly because it had me cause to pause about what we were doing - was their advice international travel bans would be unhelpful. I think that's proved to be very wrong. The fact that Australia ignored that advice and proceeded with travel bans I think has been vital for our own success. There are issues like that that I think we need to pursue and I regret however that the US administration's taken a more dramatic review which at this time I think will be quite damaging to the World Health Organization's efforts to support those countries that really do need help.
KARVELAS: We're out of time. Thank you to both of you for coming on the show.
MCALLISTER:  Thank you.