SUBJECTS: The Government failing aged care facilities in Victoria; vaccine; Christian Porter.

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: We go to Canberra now, and joining us live is the Deputy Labor Leader Richard Marles. Richard, good to see you. Thanks for your time as always. After all the warnings all the time, all the deaths, how are there still problems within aged care?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Morning, Peter. It beggars belief. I mean, it really does beggar belief. And it speaks to the incompetence of the Morrison Government. One of the things that we learned most clearly last year was that workers moving between different aged care facilities was a source of cross infection. You know, there was a program put in place to prevent that within private aged care; the responsibility of Scott Morrison. We now learn that that program came to an end and that people are now moving between different sites. It is an astounding situation. And Scott Morrison has to take responsibility here. What is completely clear is that when it comes to the management of aged care, this government is incompetent.

STEFANOVIC: The government’s response to that, that rule banning staff from working at several federally run facilities that are being lifted, was because there was no cases around. So it allowed the movement of staff again, between facilities. So is that fair enough in any way?

MARLES: No, because what it demonstrates, again, is that this is a Commonwealth Government, which keeps playing catch up footy. You know, they follow events rather than leading them. And that’s exactly what we’re now seeing happen here. I mean, it is as if the federal government felt that by the end of last year, they had achieved victory over the virus. And every step that they take, you know, when they say there’s no race, in getting Australians vaccinated, there’s absolutely a race, there is precisely a race and it’s a race against the virus. This is a government which is following events rather than leading them. And what we see in relation to the management of aged care, what we see in relation to the complete failure in respect of vaccinating our population, and what we see in its failure to have proper fit for purpose quarantine facilities is an incompetent federal government, which is leaving this country dangerously exposed. And that’s now being brought into sharp relief in Victoria.

STEFANOVIC: So if there are no cases, if there are no hotspots around, you believe that staff in federally run aged care facilities should still not be allowed to go and work in multiple facilities?

MARLES: I think that’s the lesson that we learned last year. And the truth is, there are cases all over the world, and there are people coming to Australia, we are still, you know, exposed in that sense to the virus and have been since day one. And the events that are playing out in Victoria, which result from a failure of hotel quarantine, again a failure of the federal government, bears out the degree to which we are exposed here. And it’s why, you know, we need to be vaccinating the population, but it’s why we need to be making sure that all the protocols which exist in respect of aged care are maintained in place. I mean, I think for all of us who have loved ones in in aged care in Victoria, there is a profound sense of anger this morning, at where this matter has now got to-


MARLES: And it beggars belief.

STEFANOVIC: Sure, I mean, as you know, wages for those working in aged care are very low. So people need to be able to go and earn extra money if they can. So what is the alternative for them, if they can’t go and work anywhere else?

MARLES: Well, the alternative was the incentive scheme that was in place-

STEFANOVIC: But a lot of them believed that it was too hard, the paperwork was too hard, and it was just too complicated for them to do. So what – what’s the option for them?

MARLES: Well, I mean, the incentive scheme in place was the answer. But what’s not an option is to allow a situation where people are working in multiple sites, which raises the possibility for cross infection and raises the possibility of this disease getting back into the aged care facilities. Look, for all of us in Victoria last year, going through the experience that we went through, easily the most dangerous aspect of it, the most terrifying aspect of it, was what was happening in our aged care facilities. All of us who had loved ones in aged care who watched day-by-day, the numbers in those facilities grow, wondering what was going to happen to our loved ones, feel the anger today associated with this government, removing that incentive, and having in place a situation where people are now once again, moving between facilities. And it’s not good enough to be playing catch up footy. Like people’s lives are actually at risk here. And this government needs to act.

STEFANOVIC: You’ve still got an issue with consent, though. There is still a minority- not a majority- but a minority of residents in aged care who are not consenting to the vaccines. So what do you do about that?

MARLES: Well again, what you have is- a government which actually does this properly, I mean-

STEFANOVIC: But this has got to be on the residents, doesn’t it?

MARLES: No, no. Yeah, but there is nothing like the public campaign in this country that we’ve seen in either the UK or the US. The federal government does have a role here in building confidence within our community, in respect to the vaccine process. Now, all you’ve got is a government, which repeatedly as late as this – last weekend, is saying, “oh don’t worry, it’s not a race”. I mean, it’s absolutely a race. And you had a Health Minister, who a week or so ago was saying, if you’ve got a problem- may as well have got up and said – if you’ve got a problem with AstraZeneca, you can wait till the end of the year. I mean, there have been mixed messages time and again. You look to the UK, you look to the US; there are concerted purposeful public campaigns, which make it clear that what people need to do is get vaccinated, which is in fact what people do need to do. But the government has a responsibility in making this occur.

STEFANOVIC: Does the- I mean more broadly, and speaking now, from a business point of view- I mean, you’re a Victorian Richard, your constituents are again, in the fourth lockdown in the past 15 or 16 months? Does the state government have to take any blame in this? There’s rarely used QR codes, contact tracing is not up to scratch. How much blame do they have to take in this?

MARLES: Look, I think last year, there were mistakes made which the – which the state government was upfront with, you know, almost immediately. It had its inquiry about what went wrong. And you know, we went through a very difficult few months last year in an extensive lockdown. And I think a lot of experience was gained in relation to that. I don’t think there’s been any shirking of responsibility from the state government about, you know, where it has failed. But might I also say, I think that what the state government did in taking responsibility last year, you know, saw a success in bringing the outbreak under control, which was almost globally unprecedented. You know, so whatever you say about the Victorian Government, they have been willing to stand up, take responsibility, act and lead. And that has seen, you know, pretty remarkable results in Victoria. What we don’t see is anything like the acceptance of responsibility for its work in respect of the Commonwealth Government. There’s no admission when it gets things wrong, there’s no learnings that we see the government go through; in fact, all you see is back passing. And what we’ve now got is profound incompetence. And that is having a bearing out on businesses in Victoria and what’s playing out in Victoria.

STEFANOVIC: Do you want wage subsidies for businesses, extra wage subsidies for businesses?

MARLES: Well, I think that all needs to be properly looked at, because if we are looking at anything which extends beyond on this week, you know, people are doing it tough. And obviously, we’re in a situation now where, you know, JobKeeper came to an end at the end of March. The Victorian Government itself has certainly stumped up with a package. Again, I find it astounding, that the Commonwealth is wiping its hands here of responsibility in Victoria and what it can do in – in an economic sense.

STEFANOVIC: And just finally, Richard, we’re out of time but I just want to ask you; do you believe that there should be an independent inquiry into Christian Porter?

MARLES: Yeah, I do. I think Christian Porter has walked away from his litigation. The government were touting this as being the means by which there would be some form of independent inquiry. At the end of the day, Christian Porter is not a private citizen, he’s a member of the Australian Cabinet. There are very serious allegations. There is a cloud there, which should be resolved for everyone concerned, not the least of whom is Christian Porter himself. And again, Scott Morrison needs to act.
STEFANOVIC: Richard Marles, appreciate your time. Talk to you soon.

MARLES: Thanks, Pete.


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