Opinion pieces, speeches & transcripts

Transcript: ABC News Breakfast Saturday 22 August

August 22, 2020


SUBJECTS: Morrison Government’s failure to prepare Australia’s aged care system
for COVID-19; Border restrictions.

HOST: The Prime Minister emerged from his National Cabinet meeting this week with increased optimism buoyed by lower COVID-19 case numbers across all states and plansto secure potential vaccines for the virus. Scott Morrison named jobs as the number one economic issue while urging the States to spend billions more, $40 billion in fact, on infrastructure programs. The definition of a hot spot is now being sought to address the issues with the borders while additional care funding was announced as the Prime Minister defended his minister responsible for that sector following his appearance at the COVID-19 Senate committee. For this and more we are joined by the Liberal MP Jason Falinski who joins us from Sydney and the Labor MP Andrew Giles in Melbourne. Welcome to you both.



HOST: I would like to play you both something before we get into this discussion. The Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck fronted the Senate committee yesterday. We'll take a quick look:

GALLAGHER: How many residents of aged care facilities funded and regulated by the Australian Government have passed away from COVID-19?

COLBECK: I'll just have to look up my latest report, Chair, that might take me a moment.

GALLAGHER: Could an official help if the Minister's not able to?

OFFICIAL: 258 care recipients have passed away.

GALLAGHER: Minister you were not aware of that number?

COLBECK: I have got the details I just couldn't find it, I didn't have it to hand I'm sorry.

GALLAGHER: Minister, how many residents have COVID-19 today?

COLBECK: Again Senator, I don't have the report, the actual detail in front of me.

GALLAGHER: You don't know how many people have passed away, you are now telling me you don't know how many people have the infection. You are the Minister for Aged Care...

JOURNALIST: Should the Aged Care Minister be sacked for incompetence?

MORRISON: I think It's important to play the issue, not the man. So Jason, I’ll start with you, In your opinion, is Richard Colbeck the right man for the job?

FALINSKI: I think he's doing a good job in very difficult circumstances Kath, and yes, that particular question by Katy, who I have a lot respect for, was particularly unfair. He's a Minister who is dealing with a lot of issues at the moment, as are a lot of dedicated carers at aged care facility level and public servants in the in the Department of Health. He’s very well aware that too many people have passed away in aged care facilities due to COVID-19, he was asked a specific number and he wanted to get the number right so he wasn't misleading the Senate inquiry, which is of course the Parliament.

HOST: Andrew Giles, do you agree with Jason there, that Richard Colbeck is doing his job, or will Labor be calling for his replacement?

GILES: Well I thought what we heard yesterday was quite shocking and I'm disappointed in Jason's response there. The Minister should know what is going on in his portfolio, particularly at a time like this and it wasn't an obscure question he was asked, it was a very fundamental one. 258 Australians have lost their lives in aged care due to COVID and we should have had better answers. What is more concerning to me is the ongoing failure to take responsibility. We saw an admission yesterday from the Prime Minister that there wasn't a plan and that more needed to be done. We still aren't seeing responsibility being taken for lives of the elderly Australians in aged care.

HOST: Andrew, the Prime Minister defended his Minister, saying let's play the issue and not the man. Do you think that's fair particularly in light of what Jason just mentioned saying that the government is doing a lot in this area?

GILES: I'm not interested in blame, and Labor is interested in seeing responsibility taken. What we have seen though in aged care is that the interim findings of the Royal Commission haven't been listened to by the Government. The experience, the tragic experience of Sydney at Newmarch House and Dorothy Henderson Lodge weren't listened to by the Government, they didn't come up with a plan- for example, the wearing of face masks in Victoria in aged care facilities was made mandatory much too late. We are seeing a litany of failures and that is being followed up by a litany of excuses. It's time for the Prime Minister to take responsibility for this.

HOST: Jason, throughout the Royal Commission on aged care and throughout the Senate committee hearings as well, we have seen Government officials often come across as defiant and coming across as defensive , they are saying ‘well this could not have been foreseen’. Surely when so many lives have been lost and as of Thursday, 285 people in residential care have died from the virus, surely when so many lives have been lost, some sort of show of attrition and show of sympathy, or taking on responsibility needs to be displayed?

FALINSKI: Look, I absolutely agree with you. I have to say, and I've been disappointed by the behaviour of the Royal Commission during this period, they were given a lot of information that demonstrated that what they were saying was just frankly untrue. But you are right, what has occurred in aged care has not been great. In fact it's been terrible. For the families involved, I can only imagine the heartache that they are feeling. My own family has a father in aged care and, not my own I stress, and they are going through this at the moment, so we feel empathy for what people are going through. What is going on in aged care is a microcosm of what is going on in society more generally when there's community transmission, and it is very difficult to keep it out of aged care facilities as we saw in New South Wales and now seeing in Victoria. We are learning lessons as we go along, not just in aged care, but across all of Australian society where we are learning that and I think globally we are learning that as well. The Federal Government has put 10 million masks out there, we've provided almost five million gloves, and we’ve done a whole bunch of things to ensure that aged care facilities are able to deal with this. We have committed $850 million to the sector to help them through this period. You are absolutely right though when you say that that all levels of government including the Federal Government need to show that we understand what is going on and not play , as Andrew says, the blame game, but take responsibility and move forward as quickly as we possibly can and react and respond to issues as they emerge. That is what we are trying to do. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we don't. But we are trying to learn every single day and make sure that the people who are in aged care are as protected as much as we possibly can.

HOST: If we can move on to the issue of borders. We have seen the closure of state and territory borders impacting dramatically in some cases across different sectors: farming, business and health. The PM yesterday asked the AHPPC to come back with a definition of a hot spot. Is that going to fix the problem?

FALINSKI: Well, in short, it's going to make the problem less worse, or the problem better, I guess is a better way of putting it. But no, the only way that this will be fixed, as everyone keeps saying, is when a reliable vaccine emerges and that is deployed across large parts of our community. Until then, we will continue to deal with this as best we can. Look I've got to say that I think some of the responses of the States have taken on border control has been disappointing. I understand that it's popular in each of their states, but I'm sure Andrew has had similar experiences too, where I'm having people ring my electorate office who're are trying to get back into the country because they left because they had parents or children in other parts of the world who were sick or needed their attention and now they have got families back in Australia that they can't get back to see because we have such huge restrictions on the number of people coming back into the country. I mean Victoria's had to suspend its program for obvious reasons; New South Wales is taking about 2500 a week. New South Wales almost takes as many in a day as the other states take each week. So it would be good I think if some of the other states, if for no other than for sheer humanity up the number of people that they are allowing back into the country.

HOST: Andrew, we were told that the agriculture and trade codes would be discussed in the next week or so. I wonder though, surely decisions should have been discussed and consensus should have been made already especially with earlier warnings that borders will be shut and reopened throughout this pandemic?

GILES: Yes. There are obviously a lot of issues here Fauziah, and I should say that the issues that Jason referred to are fundamentally going to the national border. We think about how the state borders are operating, I think my first responsibility and our first responsibility is to enable the State Premiers and Chief Ministers to act on the basis of the best health advice that's available to them. When we go to these wider issues, and there are really difficult questions there, is fundamentally goes to how the National Cabinet operates. And again what we need to see is consistent and constructive national leadership to find a way to work through all of these issues, whether they are about the movement of goods or about the movement of people, particularly when there are very, very difficult and challenging and often emotional circumstances at stake.

HOST: Andrew and Jason, we are almost out of time, thank you so much for joining us but just before we go, we have been talking about favourite karaoke songs, sorry to dump this on you, do you have a go-to song when you are at a karaoke place?

FALINSKI: I was going to say my favourite one is Lean on Me, always been a good one. Probably because it doesn't require much tune!

HOST: Andrew, what about you?

GILES: It's been a very long time since I've been at a karaoke bar. Patrons in any of those the bars are grateful for that! But anything by The Beatles I think is something I would have a crack at.

HOST: Alright, gents, thank you so much.