SUBJECT/S: More than half the country in lockdown; small business doing it tough; better support for small business; keeping sane in lockdown
KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: For more, let’s bring in Defence Minister Peter Dutton from Brisbane, and Deputy Leader of the Opposition Richard Marles. Gentleman, good morning to you, thanks for your time this morning, appreciate it. Pete, to you first of all; it was said earlier on this program, the country is on fire and your government doesn’t have a hose. New South Wales is a basket case right now, isn’t it?
PETER DUTTON, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: You can’t help but feel for everybody in New South Wales at the moment, Karl. As we saw in Victoria, the lockdown has a big psychological impact. If you’re a small business owner then this is a devastating period for you, and that’s true in New South Wales, as it was in Victoria. In Queensland at the moment there’s a shorter lockdown period and we want people to be out of that. But the alternative is to allow the Delta strain to just rip across the country and nobody wants that either. So, there’s no easy choice to make, that’s the reality of the situation that we’re in, Karl.
STEFANOVIC: Clearly Victoria and Queensland have got it right and New South Wales didn’t?
DUTTON: Well, New South Wales has taken a different approach and obviously the lockdown is going on for longer. Nobody wants to see the lockdowns prolonged any more than is necessary. We want to see this virus suppressed. We want to see people getting back into their jobs. Certainly, we want to see kids back at school because it’s a huge burden on families at home. We want to make sure we can get back to life as we knew it. But it’s going to take some months to be able to do that.
STEFANOVIC: Scott Morrison says lockdowns are the way out. Gladys Berejiklian says it is vaccinations. They are failing at both in New South Wales right now, and people are desperate?
DUTTON: There are massive numbers of vaccination coming out of New South Wales, they’ve really rammed it up significantly, there’s no question about that. But as I think has been demonstrated in Queensland and in Victoria over the past few days the short, sharp lockdown geographically- I don’t agree with the whole of Victoria being locked down or the whole of Queensland being locked down. In Queensland they have taken the decision to go for a defined number of Local Government Areas and that has worked effectively. That seems to be the approach as it’s refined over the course of the last 18 months to be a very good one. And, in New South Wales it’s pretty tight in terms of the inability for people to move and that’s very clear. Hopefully people – excuse me, people are out of it as soon as possible.
STEFANOVIC: Okay. Richard, a sixth lockdown for your home State of Victoria. This is completely unsustainable long-term, isn’t it?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, it’s devastating for people and, you know, the mental health impacts for kids being pulled out of school, sport being stopped. I was speaking to a local business recently, a restaurant, they said every time there is a lockdown in the leadup to a weekend they lose $20,000 to $30,000 worth of inventory- not a particularly big restaurant. This is absolutely devastating but I think the fact that underpins all of this is as you said, 60 per cent of Australia is now in lockdown and there is only 16 per cent of Australia who are fully vaccinated, and right there it says it all. The biggest issue is a failure of supply right now and that is because Scott Morrison said it wasn’t a race. That’s why we’re in the situation we’re in right now. We are going to be living in the land of the lockdown until we get properly vaccinated, and that is on the Federal Government.
STEFANOVIC: So what would you do right now to help business, and whatever you say I’ll put to Pete?
MARLES: To help business? I actually think that where JobKeeper was at was really important this time last year. I think one of the real difficulties for Sydney particularly, is they don’t have that support and the predictable nature of it. One of the things that is really articulated to me by small businesses is they don’t know what support is out there. It keeps changing. There is iteration after iteration. There is not the link between the business and their employee, their worker- which was what JobKeeper gave them. So, I think something which is predictable should be in place, to be honest, it should have been in place back in March when JobKeeper came to an end. They should have foreshadowed what would happen in this situation, because they knew it was going to occur, they were predicting this would happen. That’s what we need to see.
STEFANOVIC: I think that’s pretty common, Pete. And I think it’s a reasonable suggestion; maintaining that link between employer and employee seems to be a common criticism. Is there any more help coming?
DUTTON: Karl, if you look at- putting the politics aside, which Richard is looking to score every day on this in terms of different elements, I think people are over that. People want to know the pathway forward and we’re now up to 13 million vaccinations, we are rolling that out, about 1.2 million doses a week, so that is on track. In terms of business support, if you look at what the Commonwealth Government has provided, if you add up all the states and territories the payments that they have provided, you double it, the Commonwealth Government has paid more than that. We are paying it right now, both to households where people have lost hours of work to businesses. We’re providing support, in concert with the New South Wales and the Victorian government. All of that assistance is being provided. As Dan Andrews himself said the other day, the business support that is being provided is essentially JobKeeper and it’s in a form that is more refined and more targeted. And if there’s more assistance that we need to provide, we will. We have done that. Labor criticises in Parliament that you are spending too much and they come on TV saying you haven’t spent enough. So, we have to work with businesses to make sure the jobs are there, that businesses can survive. And, JobKeeper has been the underpinning of the success of the economy. Other economies have collapsed and ours hasn’t. We want to make sure we get through the next few months of this as well.
STEFANOVIC: The door is still open, that’s good news. Richard, Bill Bowtell was on our show a little earlier, saying we can’t vaccinate our way out of this. I mean, in reality even if we did have the vaccinations we would probably be going through this at this point. Looking forward, the lockdowns are still going to be around. I mean, it’s no magic solution with vaccinations, do you concede that?
MARLES: I think the point that Bill was making was in relation to what is playing out in Sydney. There is no doubt that to deal with the outbreak which is going on there, it can’t just be about vaccinations, there’s got to be restriction in movements, so long as we’ve got a situation where there is only 16 per cent of the country which is fully vaccinated. Ultimately, though, vaccination is the way in which we get to the other side of COVID-19. That’s why we need to have a really clear articulated strategy. We need to be using every tool in the toolbox and we’ve got to get there as quickly as possible. There’s nothing on track right now with about our vaccination program as Peter has suggested. You know, 16 per cent puts us at the very bottom of the OECD when the Prime Minister said we were going to be at the front of the queue. We just patently are not.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, with some luck we are getting there slowly. It needs to happen. And look, it is desperate times at the moment. Pete is there in lockdown in Brisbane at the moment. We know we have parents there who are looking after their sick kids in hospital. Also, we need to finish with a laugh today fellas, and we need your advice. The men of Australia need your advice. Boris Johnson has landed himself in all sorts of hot water overseas. He told a trusted advisor, who is now spilling the beans on everything that his girlfriend, now wife, was driving him nuts during lockdown and that he needed to find her a job overseas involving a lot of international travel because, get this, some were suggesting the reason he didn’t take Britain out of lockdown was because they weren’t getting on at home. So, gents advice please to the gentlemen of Australia around the country. To you first of all, Pete. I want you to channel your Greg Evans from ‘Perfect Match’ what is your secret to keeping the home fires burning in lockdown?
MARLES: I can’t wait for this.
DUTTON: Why me first?
STEFANOVIC: Okay, Richard you go first.
DUTTON: No, no, I’ll go first. The best advice I can give is; if you’re asked how do I look in this? Just say, “You look gorgeous, sweetheart.” “Is it too tight, is it too short, too long?” Whatever it is, the only response is “you look fantastic, you look gorgeous sweetheart” there is plenty of time in a relationship for honesty. I have always found that is not the time for honesty. So, survival instinct has to kick in at some point.
STEFANOVIC: I don’t know how Mrs Dutton holds herself back, I mean you are quite charismatic.
DUTTON: She is only two rooms away, I will get the feedback in a second.
MARLES: Well, maybe on the same theme; in terms of what not to do, I recommend total and unwavering obedience. That is certainly the line that I take. I find that champagne helps, that’s a good go to. And in terms of the home fires burning- expensive gifts of perfume.
STEFANOVIC: What about dress-ups or anything like that?
MARLES: That’s really Peter’s department, so I will leave him to answer that question.
STEFANOVIC: The country doesn’t need to think about that!
DUTTON: Please, unmute after this segment. Don’t imagine anything.
STEFANOVIC: We’ll touch base with you next week to see if you are still here Pete, good on you.