Topics: Covid disaster payment; quarantine facilities


Lisa Wilkinson: Finance Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now. Minister, this disaster payment is very welcome news, but there are a lot of criteria to work through, like the federal government being the only ones deemed able to declare a hot spot. Why wouldn’t you just trust the states judgement?


Simon Birmingham: Look, this is about providing a helping hand to those retail workers, hospitality workers, others who might have been stood down and be facing zero hours and zero pay. At present, we put it in place and the hot spot definition is there as a safeguard. But we’ve shown a practical approach in relation to hot spots. And right now, those people in Melbourne who face another week of continued lockdown can know and be confident that they qualify. And this helping hand will be there for them.


Waleed Aly: Safeguard against what exactly? Which lockdowns that have gone more than seven days in Australia do you think have been unnecessary and need a safeguard?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I can’t say that there any. But it’s appropriate that we have a definition in place. And the Commonwealth has long had a definition of a hot spot there and that will help to trigger a payment in future. But we’ve been practical and I can’t imagine that there would be circumstances in future where a state would be imposing this length of lockdown and that it wouldn’t also be a commonwealth hotspot. So I think that’s a technicality. What matters here is that there’s some help coming the way of Victorians going into their second week of lockdown.


Peter Helliar: Victorians can apply online for this next Tuesday, still five days away. We’ve spoken to people like Ed last night on the show who are struggling to put food on the table now, what is the hold up?


Simon Birmingham: There is some IT work, this is obviously the first time this payment has been applied and we’re using systems that we are confident will quickly process the claims and quickly get the cash into the bank accounts of individuals. But it does require those systems to be built over the course of the weekend. And I assure Victorians that we will be making sure we get it done as quick as possible. And most importantly, once they’ve applied, they will get the cash in the bank as quick as possible.


Waleed Aly: The other big announcement that came late today was that your government has agreed to co fund a purpose built quarantine facility that Victoria has been proposing and had on the table since April. Going back, that would have been more than a month now, when you were getting questions about hotel quarantine. Your government was really insistent that the hotel quarantine system was sufficient, saying it was world class, it was 99 percent effective, et cetera. And now you’ve had this development. Is this an admission that a hotel quarantine system actually in the end wasn’t sufficient?


Simon Birmingham: No, it’s not. It’s about creating additional capacity. Victoria put this proposal to us about creating additional capacity for quarantine in Australia. We’ve said from the very day in which Victoria released it that we welcome the fact it was a detailed proposal, that we were engaging with them, working with them through it. And what we’ve provided now is a memorandum of understanding for Victoria to enter into with the Commonwealth Government, where we will work through that. Fund the construction of it as a federal facility. Victoria will operate it, as they indicated in their announcement, and that it will provide additional places on top of hotel quarantine for returning Australians and essential travellers into our country.


Waleed Aly: Okay, so when the states say, as they are saying now, right around the country, hotels were not built for quarantine, we are getting these leaks that are leading to outbreaks because there are people in quarantine and transmission is happening between people who are in quarantine is becoming a source of transmission, not a way of protecting Australians when the states make that criticism. Are you saying to us right now that you still reject that premise?


Simon Birmingham: Waleed, it is still a fact that more than 99 per cent of people have passed through quarantine have done so very safely. It’s also a factor that Covid is a very infectious virus. And no system that allows people into Australia who may have Covid is going to be 100 per cent foolproof-


Waleed Aly: Howard Springs has been has been 100 per cent foolproof so far that’s the point. And ninety per cent is great, but the one per cent really, really matters in a situation like this. Are you disputing the adequacy of the appropriateness of hotel quarantine?


Simon Birmingham: But Waleed, I can’t guarantee and neither can you, that it couldn’t be an outbreak from Howard Springs is you’ve got catering staff, cleaners, security, others in relation to that operation as there are in any other. We want to make sure in every instance that where there’s an outbreak, where there is something that’s a breach, everyone learns the lessons, tightens the restrictions. But Australia is doing this still better than anywhere else, really, in the world, managing to bring people back, but in a very secure situation compared to the outbreaks we’re seeing right around the world. The new Victorian proposal that we will fund that we’re entering into with the Victorian government is about creating extra places for now and for the Covid pandemic period. But it will also then provide a new lasting facility that can be used for potentially other purposes or other crises into the future.


Lisa Wilkinson: Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for your time.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, guys.