E&OE TRANSCRIPT |SUBJECTS: National Cabinet; COVID-19; Hotel Quarantine; PNG.
KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: The stage is set for a fiery National Cabinet today. The Prime Minister to face off with Premiers over hotel quarantine.
LEILA MCKINNON, HOST: Let’s bring in Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles. Good morning to you both. Great to see you both, thanks for coming on the show.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Great to be here, how good is this?
MCKINNON: It’s amazing isn’t it? We might move up here permanently.
PETER DUTTON, MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Well, a lot of Victorians and New South Welshmen are as it turns out.
MCKINNON: Fiery, we are saying fiery showdown. What do we expect today and how do you think the Prime Minister’s is going to handle this?
DUTTON: I think the Prime Minister will approach it the same way he has, Leila, from the start, that is to be consultative with the Premiers and Chief Ministers to make sure there is a pathway forward. Australia is doing better than probably any other country in the world. We closed our border with China early, with the rest of the world subsequent to that. We had a good health response. Now we have the vaccine rollout and obviously the economic response has been good as well. So, I think you will see the Prime Minister working closely with the Premiers and Chief Ministers and trying to find consensus.
STEFANOVIC: What will he be saying to State Premiers about hotel quarantine given there has been another breach and given he has very little power over the Premiers.
DUTTON: Well Karl, the Premiers have each taken a different approach and I know Richard in the past and others have said well, Scott Morrison should be jumping in doing this. The fact is the WA Premier has a very different approach than the Victorian Labor Premier or the NSW Liberal Premier. And they have the ability to run their State as they want under the Constitution, including in relation to hotel quarantine. There have been different approaches. But again, we will work with them, but National Cabinet decided last year that the States employed the doctors and nurses, not the Commonwealth, the States employ the community police officers and they are the ones doing the security and therefore the quarantine arrangements were most appropriate for the States to undertake. And look, apart from a couple of cases it has worked well and I think we continue to provide support to the States to see them roll out those services.
MCKINNON: Richard another leak in your home State of Victoria. I guess this one is different. In that the viral load is so huge and the virus is changing. But what can be done to prevent more outbreaks like this? Because Victorians have really done it tough.
MARLES: Well, certainly the experience that we all had last year means that what Victorians want is a very cautious response and that’s what we are getting from the Victorian Government. And I was pleased to see there was a really swift response from the Premier as soon as there was the slightest hint of an issue there. And I think that did give Victorians a great degree of confidence and obviously, we really want to see the tennis go ahead. Melbourne is defined by its events, but it is really important we are taking into account the medical advice. But the point here is that the Federal Government has responsibility for quarantine. And, ok, the States are going to run their own show when the Federal Government abdicates its responsibility for being the national government in our federation and that’s what we have seen from day one.
STEFANOVIC: What about the idea, something needs to be done here, we can’t keep going on and on because the leaks will happen more and more and more, I presume, unless we have like Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has been talking about, regional hubs. It looks like Toowoomba wants to have a regional hub. Do you both support that?
MARLES: That’s what came out in the Halton review which was done by the Federal Government about the need to have more quarantine resources and have a good look about not having them in our capitals.
STEFANOVIC: Do you support it?
DUTTON: Well Karl, we’ve said that we are open to the idea and we have gone back to the Queensland Premier with a number of questions. The issue and there are many that need to be dealt with, but the issue around for example flying staff in and out of Cairns to Brisbane, gives up obviously, you know, obvious issues.
STEFANOVIC: Toowoomba works though, close enough to Brisbane.
DUTTON: Toowoomba might and there is a proposal as I say we’ve gone back asking some questions on at the moment. But if air-conditioning was an issue in the Grand Chancellor issue in Brisbane, they looked right into it because it was a possibility, it turned out not to have been the case. If you’ve got a facility like a hotel where you have got 500 rooms, you have got catering, you have got the ability to clean, that has worked very well. Let’s be honest about it. The most important aspect now is the vaccine rollout. Making sure that people take up the vaccine, making sure we get that herd immunity and that gives us the best chance then to deal with the reality of it.
MCKINNON: The way you are talking about it makes it seem like that possibility is right off the table, moving it out of hotels?
DUTTON: If you are going to build a 3,000-bed facility in Toowoomba, it is not going be built tomorrow, obviously. We want the rollout of the vaccine to start in February. We are hoping that by the end of this calendar year we are in a much different position than we are now. The facility may not be built by then, so let’s go through the conversation with Queensland, understand how those risks are being mitigated. But at the moment we have got tens of thousands of people coming back from overseas and the states are largely doing a good job and we are supporting that. So I don’t think we should be hung up on one or two cases even though tragically there was a very bad outcome in Victoria to start with, but the lessons are learnt and we will work closely with them to make sure it does work.
STEFANOVIC: Richard, in relation to the vaccines, you have been chipping and chipping away at them, Albo has, about the rollout of the vaccine, about the shifting parameters of goalposts surrounding the rollout of the vaccine. The issue is though, they’ve played an absolute blinder here. It looks like they have all the vaccines and then some. It is hard to criticise.
DUTTON: Say something nice, come on.
STEFANOVIC: That’s as nice as he gets.
MARLES: Love you brother.
STEFANOVIC: Stop it there.
DUTTON: I want words.
MARLES: I just said I love you brother.
STEFANOVIC: Wow, see what happens on the Gold Coast?
DUTTON: That’s very GC
MARLES: Bright sunny morning. There hasn’t been a vaccine – no-one has been vaccinated yet. So like the proof is going to be in the pudding down the road. We all want to see people vaccinated. We want to see it happen as quickly as possible. There is no doubt the news this week of the purchase of extra Pfizer vaccines is a good development. We have been concerned that the Federal Government has been slow out of the blocks here in terms of putting us in the queue. But at the end of the day we want this rollout to happen and that’s going to be the answer.
STEFANOVIC: A quick one, China. There is a disturbing story in the front page of ‘The Australian’ today, looking to build a new city on Australia’s doorstep. Peter, this is your portfolio or thereabouts. What detail are you hearing and what can we do about it?
DUTTON: Well Karl, there has been a lot of talk about this $200 billion fishing village. We are obviously very keen to discuss with the PNG government what proposal’s on the table. I see a statement out of, as reported out of the Prime Minister’s office in PNG that they hadn’t seen the proposal. So, we’ve got an incredibly close working relationship with Prime Minister Marape and the PNG Government. We will have a look at it. I think there are all sorts of sovereignty issues and there are local issues in terms of landowners and land rights etc. that I think would provide a significant hurdle. So we will look at it closely, but Australia will always act in our best interests and we will seek to support our neighbours.
STEFANOVIC: Richard, you are not letting Tanya Plibersek come underneath you in terms of the leadership? She’s coming up like Australia II up the side in the America’s Cup. You have to keep your eye on her, don’t you?
MARLES: I know all of you are excited about this conversation. Anthony is doing a great job. He is going to be leading us to the election and that’s what I want to see and that’s what Tanya wants to see. Our aim, much in all as we love him, is to take Peter out of a job of being the Home Affairs Minister of this country.
STEFANOVIC: Nice to see you two loving each other. It’s a beautiful thing.
DUTTON: Are you racing into the water later on?
STEFANOVIC: I will be
STEFANOVIC: I’m going to show Australia my le rig.
STEFANOVIC: The summer le rig.
MCKINNON: Thank you both.