SUBJECT/S: Victorian lockdown; COVID disaster payment; vaccine rollout

SALLY SARA, HOST: A state-wide five-day shutdown began at midnight last night. The snap lockdown was called after the number of coronavirus cases in the state rose sharply. Late last night the Prime Minister and Premier Daniel Andrews reached a late-night deal on federal financial support. From today, Victorian workers in areas declared a federal government hotspot, are eligible for a $600 COVID disaster payment, if they lose more than 20 hours of work and $375, if they lose between 8 and 20 hours of work.

SCOTT MORRISON (THURSDAY, 15 JULY 2021): I think everyone understands whether it’s Victorians or the country more broadly, it’s our job to sort this stuff out and make sure people get the help they need. But it’s got to be done on a way that you know everyone has skin in the game here. The states have it and we have it and I think that’ll get us to a good outcome.

SARA: That’s Scott Morrison speaking on Sky News late last night. Well, Richard Marles is the Deputy Leader of the Federal Labor Party and the Shadow Minister for National Reconstruction, Employment, Skills and Small Business. Richard Marles, welcome back to Breakfast.


SARA: Good. What do you think about the deal reached late last night between Daniel Andrews and Scott Morrison? What do you reckon?

MARLES:  Well, I think we welcome any support, obviously. But what’s also clear is that the federal government is making this up as they go along. We’re seeing different packages and propositions being put forward on a weekly basis. And the point to understand here is that the budget, the federal budget itself, had been budgeting for a lockdown in a capital city, every month. This was completely foreseeable at the time that JobKeeper came to an end in March. At that point in time, the federal government should have put in place a system, a package if you’d like it, which would have given businesses and workers certainty in terms of what would happen when there was a lockdown, because they were, they were foreseeing exactly this event back then. And yet, it’s only now that they’re putting this in place.

SARA: What are the holes in the deal that’s been made?

MARLES: Well, I think that there is support for workers and that’s good. I think there remains questions around rental assistance for small business, so I don’t think we have the full suite of support that existed last year when there was an ongoing level of support during the COVID-19 crisis. So, there remain issues, I think, which needs to be filled, but the real point here is, they are making it up as I go along and that’s creating an enormous amount of uncertainty. Just the other point to understand, the removal of the $10,000 threshold in terms of liquid assets is welcome. It’s also an admission that the last lockdown Victorians were short-changed, and I think this brings another point here, which is that this government, Scott Morrison is fundamentally anti-Victorian in the way in which he is governing.

SARA: Richard Marles –

MARLES: Nothing happens in Victoria unless something happens in New South Wales first.

SARA: The federal government would argue, and it has, the Treasurer has argued that per capita Victorians have received more assistance than other states.

MARLES: Well, because we went through a lockdown last year, that’s obvious. But last year, you look at the attitude that Scott Morrison, Josh Frydenberg, and their government showed towards the Victorian Government and Victoria in its extended lockdown, versus the position that it’s had now and what is absolutely brought to light is that their behaviour last year was a disgrace, and that they were governing in a way which was very anti-Victorian. And I think that’s how everyone in this state feels today.

SARA: Let’s have a look at the lockdown itself. Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews said yesterday that he called the lockdown because he’s not prepared to wait and risk a longer shutdown. Do you think he’s made the right call?

MARLES: Well, governments obviously need to act on the medical advice that they’re given in relation to this. But ultimately, that has to be right. When you’re thinking about the spread of a disease of this kind, it is actually an exponential function and that means that it doesn’t operate in a proportion that way, and therefore it demands a disproportionate response at the start. That’s your opportunity to squash it, when the graph is flat, if you like, it because if you wait, the curve starts to take off. And I think that is the experience that we’ve seen in Victoria. But not just Victoria,  the experience that we’ve seen in other states around Australia, really over the last probably 8-10 months, where acting hard and acting fast early on, is the way in which you’re able to get on top of this. And there’s you know; I think there is some luck involved when you’re talking about small numbers. There is a randomness of small numbers. I think of all of us to Victoria at the moment probably have our hearts in our mouths, you know as we wait for the figures that are going to be announced each morning in relation to the new COVID cases. But having said that, we’ve been here, and I think there is a sense of confidence that we can get on top of this again.

SARA: Do you think that regional Victoria should be at the same level of lockdown as Metropolitan Melbourne when the risk has been much lower from experience?

MARLES: Again, the government needs to take its advice on all of that. The Premier has made it clear that potentially for parts of regional Victoria, the lockdown may not extend as long as Metropolitan Melbourne, depending on what the numbers are. But I can understand why there is a conservative approach, if you’d like from the start, try and get on top of this. And that’s really what we’ve seen in in the past lockdowns, that regional Victoria has come out of them sooner than the Metropolitan Melbourne based on what numbers exist. I mean, I definitely get the sense that regional Victorians have had over past lockdowns about whether or not they should be thrown in with Melbourne in circumstances where the cases are in Melbourne. But there have also been cases in regional Victoria in this latest outbreak but also in previous outbreaks as well. So, I can understand why the government has moved in the way that it has, but it has also flag regional Victoria may well come out of this earlier.

SARA: As we’re looking between now and the end of the year, as we’ve really experienced first-hand the infectiousness of this delta outbreak and how quickly it can move, are you also expecting there may be further lockdowns in other states? Is this going to be our reality for a while?

MARLES: Well, this is our reality, and it’s what Scott Morrison has budgeted for. And the fundamental condition which underpins this reality is that right now, in this country, about ten per cent of the population are fully vaccinated, which is hopeless. I mean, Scott Morrison promised last year that we would be at the front of the queue and in fact, we’re languishing right at the bottom of the ladder. We’re at the end of the queue. And we’re at the end of the queue because Scott Morrison said that vaccinating Australia was not a race. Well, for the millions of Australians who are locked down today, they know it absolutely is a race. It’s a race against the virus, and it’s a race to get back to some form of normality and that race is only won when Australia is fully vaccinated and that is a job for the federal government. And that is a job which they have utterly and totally failed to do.

SARA: Richard Marles, thank you for joining us again on Breakfast.

MARLES: Thank you.


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