Opinion pieces, speeches & transcripts

Transcript: ABC News Breakfast Saturday 2 May

May 02, 2020


SUBJECTS: COVID-19 restrictions; COVID-19 and sporting code restrictions; COVID-19 and aged care.

JOURNALIST: We're joined today by Labor MP Andrew Giles and Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman. Welcome to you both. Good morning. Now, we're seeing some restrictions being lifted already this weekend, in some states and territories, but the Prime Minister flagged that there would be a lifting of more restrictions, announced on Friday of next week. He said that Australians were given an "early mark". Trent, I understand that National Cabinet is yet to meet, it's going to meet on Tuesday, and then on Friday to suss out exactly what that will look like. But can you give us any indication as to what we might expect on Friday next week?

TRENT ZIMMERMAN, MEMBER FOR NORTH SYDNEY: Well, I think it's a bit too early to pre-empt where National Cabinet might land on this. But what we have seen is such a phenomenal effort by Australians and by health authorities, which has allowed us to get to a situation which I think, along with our cousins across the Tasman, are really the envy of the world. And what is important between National Cabinet's decisions on Friday, between now and then, is that we get more Australians downloading the COVIDSafe app, because we know that tracing ability is just so important to being able to lift some of the restrictions that are currently in place.

JOURNALIST: Is the lifting of more restrictions dependent on the population downloading that app?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, certainly National Cabinet's made clear that we've got to have that tracing capability. Incredibly, in just a week, 3.5 million Australians have downloaded the app. But we need to see several million more. And there are 15 criteria which the National Cabinet is considering. Australians and health authorities have met 11 of those. One of those four is the tracing capability that we get through the COVIDSafe app.

JOURNALIST: Andrew, you know, as we're talking about lifting these restrictions - well, not quite lifting, but we're kind of relaxing these restrictions more than anything else - a lot of the decisions tend to lie around socialising.

You know, you can have more people in your house, say, in New South Wales.

You can go out to the park, you can go for a hike, you can go for a swim. Do you think it's time we start looking at perhaps opening up small business?

ANDREW GILES, MEMBER FOR SCULLIN: Well, look, I think the important thing here is to make sure that we continue to act on the basis of the best advice. I mean, I agree with Trent that one thing that's been really striking through this has been how Australians have responded. And what my constituents have been telling me - and I think this is what the opinion polling is saying too - is Australians understand the important thing is to keep the community safe. So, all of the changes we should be making, whether it's about reopening certain types of small business, whether it's about other changes to how we interact, everything has got to be informed by evidence. I think that's what Australians expect.

JOURNALIST: I can imagine that there would be a lot of people a bit anxious about the talk of lifting restrictions, given what we've seen in countries like the United States, in the UK, in countries in Europe. I wonder Andrew, do you and your constituents share that anxiety, particularly about talk of a potential second wave?

GILES: Yeah, I think everyone has really taken very seriously the experience of Singapore, which was, of course, lauded as a great exemplar of how to

manage the pandemic and of course, they have been struck by a very significant second wave. I think this is something on the minds of all the chief medical officers and everyone who sits around the National Cabinet table.

What we want to do when we change the restrictions currently in place - and this is something Anthony Albanese said yesterday - is to make these decisions when it's the right time to make them, not because of political convenience. That's something that has to continue to inform the national decision-making around this. And, look, I think we know that in different states and territories there are different circumstances, so there will be different restrictions lifted at different times. But the important thing, I think, is to make sure that we do these things once and not have to wind back. I think that would be really distressing for people who have given so much in sacrificing their lives and ambitions through this period. Let's just make sure we get it right and get through this together.

JOURNALIST: Trent, one of the states that's really relaxing their physical distancing measures is Queensland, and we saw too the Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, there welcoming back, or giving the green light to the NRL to resume there, on May 28. The Prime Minister also has come up with these principles for the resumption of sporting activities as well. Do you think these principles are reasonable enough?

ZIMMERMAN: Yes, because basically what they encompass is, like the rest of the restrictions, a very staged process, which is bounded in medical advice.

So, the principles that were adopted by the National Cabinet talk about allowing outdoor sporting activities with less than 10 people, where there's no contact sport involved, as the first step. If the medical advice justifies it, then that can be expanded. There's obviously a difference between outdoor and indoor activities. So, it is very much a stepped process which we'll continue to monitor obviously the prevalence of coronavirus in each jurisdiction. Ultimate decisions about sporting codes like the NRL or the AFL will be ones that individual states make. But it is a sound framework hopefully for moving forward. And it also reflects what Andrew said, different states and different territories are facing different circumstances. The ACT and the Northern Territory, for example, are effectively COVID-free. Other smaller states, border restrictions, have so few active cases that maybe they can look at going a little bit faster than the big states of New South Wales and Victoria.

JOURNALIST: Trent, do you think it's fair that some sporting codes are asking for certain exemptions and to not follow the same rules that everyone else is being asked to follow?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, I'm not sure which exemptions they're seeking that other sporting codes won't have to follow. Because the national guidelines that were released by the National Cabinet really apply to all sports. And, for example, the PM made clear yesterday that in relations to teams like New Zealand, applications to do that will be considered on exactly the same basis as all other applications for international travel, so I think we are seeing a very consistent approach put in place.

JOURNALIST: Andrew, you mentioned a little earlier about how talking to your constituents, and they are concerned about possibly a second or third wave of this virus, coming back again, is it time that sporting codes should be resuming their activities?

GILES: I think everyone is looking forward to sport, particularly in isolation, I'm glad that you didn't ask me particularly about the NRL situation because that's far from my specialist subject, but I am looking forward to real football getting back on! But that should happen when it is the right to do, and I should also say, you talked about community sport, there is a very keen netballer in my household who wants to get back out on the court. But again, I think the important thing is to balance people's interests and determination to get back to the things that they love doing with keeping the community safe. Getting that right is the challenge that's before everyone who sits around that National Cabinet table, and for the sporting bodies too, to think about how they can make the case to meet those criteria so that we get the right decision made, and make the decision once so we don't have to revisit these things.

JOURNALIST: Trent, on the topic of aged care, the Federal Government announced some more assistance for aged care facilities yesterday, $205 million in extra assistance, to help them to deal with COVID-19. And as a result of that, there have been calls for more accountability from aged care facilities.

Do you think that's a fair request, that there would be more accountability from the actual facilities, given the way we've seen the coronavirus, the impact that it's had in some aged care homes?

ZIMMERMAN: I think the first thing that needs to be said is that this funding boost is specifically to assist aged care facilities cope with the increased requirements in the COVID world. New arrangements are allowing visitors to access aged care facilities. So, the money is quite clearly tied to meeting any additional costs associated with coping with COVID. The second thing I want to say, though, is that overall I think our aged care sector has responded to the challenges of COVID very well. While there have been awful cases, like we're seeing in western Sydney at the moment, we haven't seen the same types of problems in the aged care sector that we have in Europe or the United States.

And I think that reflects that aged care managers, but also the staff of aged care, are responding with all of the proper health measures, first and foremost in their minds. And I particularly want to comment on the fact that we have people in the aged care sector working in those facilities every day that are doing such an outstanding job, often at personal cost. If we look at that facility in western Sydney, there is something like 22 staff that have been infected with COVID-19 because they are so dedicated to their jobs, they're still turning up at work, putting themselves at risk in that way. And we should be proud of their contribution.

JOURNALIST: Andrew, generally, as Trent said there, the aged care sector has been looking after its clients quite well, particularly if you compare to what's happening in the US and Europe as well. But this new funding that's just come in, some people are sort of saying, "Well, it's a knee-jerk reaction.

The optics just does not look good. It looks like the Government is basically running after this pandemic, trying to put out fires." Do you think more could have been done to protect our aged care homes a little bit more before this pandemic actually set in?

GILES: Well, yeah, there's a couple of things to say, I think. Firstly, I would just like to echo Trent's comments. I think we all owe a great debt of gratitude to the workers in aged care, often people who aren't very well-paid, who have been putting themselves at risk to look after very vulnerable people at a very difficult time. I am concerned that they, and everyone in those facilities, can access protective equipment, and that's something we've got to work through.

The extra funding, the $205 million, will make a difference. But what is also important is this code of conduct that is been released and been put out for comment. I think we need to see the comments that come in to make sure that we, again, in this issue, get the balance right. People want to see their elderly relatives, and their elderly relatives want to see family, but this has got to happen in a safe manner. I noted today two staff were confirmed as infected at Newmarch in Sydney and there's also ongoing issues at the Hawthorn Grange facility in Melbourne. So, we've got to make sure that everything is right. And part of that, Fauziah, as you say, is making sure that providers can access all the equipment they need for COVID-19. But also for other conditions. I know there are issues at the moment which go to the availability of the flu vaccine, which is obviously critically important too. I think we've got to remember through this pandemic that other health concerns don't disappear, they're all still there. We've got to be mindful of those issues when we think about the aged care situation here as well.

JOURNALIST: We certainly do. On that note, unfortunately we're going have to bring this discussion to a close. Thank you so much for your time, Andrew Giles and Trent Zimmerman.

GILES: Great to be with you.

ZIMMERMAN: Thank you.