Topics: COVID-19 spreads to NSW; Review into JobKeeper; Future Submarine Program.
Allison Langdon: Well, the prediction nobody wanted to see come true, has. Victoria’s virus crisis crossing the border with confirmed cases in New South Wales and the top end linked to Melbourne’s outbreak. This, as the Prime Minister, again, attempts to enter the state border wars with the nation’s economic recovery on the line.
For more, we’re joined by Tourism and Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, and Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles. Gentlemen, very good morning to both of you.
Richard Marles: Morning Ally.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning Ally.
Allison Langdon: So, Simon, I mean, borders are tough for the PM to argue right now. Why would anyone open them to Victoria?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Ally, our priority is, first and foremost, on getting these issues in Victoria sorted. It’s incredibly disappointing and concerning that Victoria has found itself in this situation. Every other state and territory has successfully managed COVID so far, and we are giving all the resources we can, as other states and territories are also giving to Victoria, to try to help the Victorian Government get on top of this and make sure that this does not become a serious outbreak that spreads elsewhere.
Allison Langdon: Richard, I’m sorry that it is your state, but this whole thing has been a monumental stuff up, hasn’t it? Everyone’s pointing fingers, but the buck stops with who?
Richard Marles: Well, there’s a judicial inquiry which has been set up, Ally, and there’ll
be answers that come from that. I think one of the points to make here though, is that so long as the virus exists in any form within the country, it can obviously flair up pretty easily – and that’s the lesson that we are seeing play out in Victoria. It is important to understand what mistakes have been made if they have been, and to make sure they’re not replicated.
But I think the other point to make is that we’ve got to be really cautious in terms of how we move forward with the easing of restrictions, and we have to be that from an economic point of view, because we want to make sure that this is process we only go through once. And certainly there’s been a lot of criticism around the country, and indeed, in this segment of Annastacia over the last month, her decisions around the border start looking a lot better in the context of what’s playing out now. We need to be very careful around Australia in terms of how we ease restrictions, because this can easily flair up and that’s what we’re seeing in Victoria.
Allison Langdon: Do we really need a judicial inquiry here, shouldn’t it just be obvious? The buck
stops at the top, doesn’t it? This stops with Daniel Andrews’ government, and there are calls this morning that the Health Minister should go.
Richard Marles: Well, I think in terms of the calls from the Victorian Opposition, like they have been won out around the country in terms of being politicians first and Victorians second. I mean, at a moment where we need national unity – and that’s politics not as usual – they have been breathless in their partisanship over the last couple of months.
The fact of the matter is, Jenny Mikakos is the Victorian Health Minister, and the Victorian government, over the last few months, as governments around Australia have, have been doing a really good job in a very difficult situation. I don’t think there’s anything obvious about the way in which this disease operates. That’s part of how this has played out around the world. And I think making sure that we get these lessons right is important, and a judicial inquiry in this context is exactly the way to go so that we understand exactly what has happened here and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Allison Langdon: Simon, boosting JobSeeker by $200 a fortnight, it will cost the budget $4 billion for six months. We have to increase it, don’t we?
Simon Birmingham: We’ve made decisions about JobSeeker, JobKeeper right through to nearly the end of September. And we’ve been very clear in relation to JobKeeper, there’s a review process under way, we’re looking at all of the different factors there to make sure we get the economics of this circumstance right. These are the most challenging economic times that a government has faced in Australia’s peacetime history. We’re going to work through it carefully, but we’ve also been clear, we’ll have more to say in terms of what the outlook looks like post that September period within the next month. And that’s going to give everybody certainty about how we’re going to continue to apply different settings or what we’re going to do to keep helping the economy through these incredibly challenging times.
Allison Langdon: Well I mean, clearly we can afford it, we’re about to spend $270 billion on Defence.
Simon Birmingham: Well, that’s a very important investment in our long-term national security. These are the different pressures that, as a government, we are weighing and we are trying to get that balance right to ensure that Australia’s sovereignty, security is protected with investment in the type of defence structures that we need for the future.
But equally, looking at the immediate priorities around, first and foremost, COVID-19 and the health issues, but alongside that the economic issues that of course have got so many Australians out of job, out of work at present. And our priority is about, how do we get them back into those jobs and get the economy functioning as quickly, but also as safely as we possibly can. Sadly, these sorts of situations we’re seeing in Victoria – which I’m amazed Richard Marles is describing as a good job – but these sorts of situations are threatening that and that’s why we’re offering support of our defence forces and other agencies of government, as are states and territories, Labor and Liberal, all offering to help the Victorian government to get on top of this.
Allison Langdon: How confident are you that we will get on top of this? We’ve already seen outbreaks in New South Wales in the top end.
Simon Birmingham: Australia has done an incredible job so far, aside from this spike that’s appearing again in Victoria. We’ve demonstrated before that we can shut this down; I am sure we can do it again. The fact that you’ve got state and territory governments, the Federal Government, all of us putting partisanship or parochialism aside to chip in and try to help Victoria to get on top of this, gives us the best possible chance. We just have to hope that we see no more of the chronic failures that we’ve seen around hotel quarantine or the like happen in Victoria again in the future.
Allison Langdon: I mean come on, behind closed doors, the Prime Minister must be furious?
Simon Birmingham: Of course we’re all frustrated, and we’d deeply wish this had never, ever occurred. But our priority’s got to be on helping them to fix the problem. This is a risk and a threat to other states and territories, that’s why we’re working so hard to make sure we get on top of it in Victoria, trying to do so by the
targeting of the hotspots first and foremost. Because that way we can try to, again, get Victorians back into their jobs in the communities where it’s safe to do so, but really try to stamp it out in the communities where it’s clearly running rife.
Allison Langdon: Richard, your former leader, former PM Kevin Rudd, he has said that the government has botched the submarine program, that they didn’t build up their cyber defences fast enough. Do you agree, they’ve been asleep at the wheel?
Richard Marles: Well, I certainly think there’s a whole lot of questions that need to be answered in relation to the submarine program. I mean, this is the single most expensive purchase that Australia has made in any context since Federation. Right now, in terms of its timing, its cost, the level of Australian industry content, every one of those indicators is going in the wrong direction. What we saw announced this week was an important step; we do need to be building and boosting Australia’s defence capability. But what translates the big thoughts into action is the way in which you do the operationalising of this. That is, the Future Submarine Program is front and centre in that. Right now, the government’s got a whole lot of explaining to do about how we’re going to get our future submarines in the water in a timely way. This is a program which has slipped by ten years in the last seven, this is a program which five years ago was costing $50 billion, today it’s costing $90 billion. This was a program where they said 90 per cent of the work would be done in
Australia, and right now they’re sending whole fabrication work to France. At every level, it’s going in the wrong direction and this, more than any other capability, is how we change our strategic circumstances for the better. I do agree with Kevin, I think the Government has a whole lot of explaining to do around the question of future submarines.
Allison Langdon: Alright. Well, we’ve got a by-election tomorrow in Eden-Monaro. Good luck with it gentlemen and thanks for joining us this morning.