Transcript of interview with Patricia Karvelas - ABC TV, 3 May 2021

Patricia Karvelas: Andrew Bragg is a Senator, always handy to have a Senator there. I want to start on this afternoon’s breaking news, the federal government has given a memorandum of understanding,an MoU, to the Victorian government to sign on to this quarantine proposal. My understanding is it’s in Avalon, so it provides another facility. We’ve got that Howard Springs facility. I suppose the key thing is why has it taken so long? I mean Victoria and Melbourne are in their second week of lockdown. Shouldn’t this have happened earlier? 

AB: Well good afternoon PK. Well the quarantine facility in the Northern Territory I think has been quite successful. This is a proposal that has come through from the Victorian government- and it’s been accepted. So that will be constructed and used. I am sure it will be useful for this pandemic. But I think that this has also shown that there is a need for ongoing federal facilities when you have events like the coronavirus. 

PK: There is isn’t there? You’ve just nailed it. We need more federal facilities. 

AB: Yeah, I think it will be useful. I am sure it will be used again. I mean certainly the quarantine station in Manly which was used during the Spanish flu is still there intact. I’m not sure the technology there still works as well as it once did. This concept has been around for quite a long time so I think it’s quite a good one.

PK: Yeah, so you think that in fact, ok so this Avalon proposal is clearly getting the go-ahead. But perhaps the federal government should get involved in doing more of these?

AB: I mean look, we want to look collaboratively; the innovation of National Cabinet has been a good one. It’s meeting tomorrow. Sounds like it’s been a collegiate way of working in the pandemic. I don’t think anyone will shed a tear for the death of COAG. 

 PK: No, no, I mean look. I watched many a torturous COAG press conference I can tell you I haven’t shed any tears. But on this proposal, you think, I just want to nail down on this because it’s really interesting, that we should have more of these. To bring people back and have more long-term planning of pandemics. That the federal government should roll up it’s sleeves and get more of these up and running.  

AB: Well I don’t see why you wouldn’t do that. The Howard Springs facility has been well used. Australia is a big country. We have different jurisdictions within this federation. It would make sense to have more than one of these facilities. 

PK: I suppose the reason why this is interesting because the government until now has been a little reluctant to get into this space. We keep hearing that none of these things are foolproof. And yet you have noticed as I have that Howard Springs hasn’t yet had a leak. It might. But it hasn’t. That’s what's appealing isn’t it? You want to really reduce the leaks because they devastate communities when it happens? 

AB: I think hotel quarantine overall has been fairly successful. It’s been a system that has used what was there. The infrastructure was already in existence. Wherever we can strengthen our infrastructure we should do that. I just think it’s a no-brainer. 

PK: Ok, but I want to move on to today’s announcement that the federal government will provide emergency payments of up to $500 a week to Victorian workers affected by the state’s extended lockdown. But it’s not just Victoria. This will now be built in for lockdowns that last more than seven days. Why seven days? If you’re out of work for four days and you’ve lost income for four, you’re in a lot of pain still. Why should the Commonwealth come in after a week? 

AB: Well there are provisions in place in the scheme that mandate that you have to have less than $10,000 in order to be eligible for this idea. So, for people that have $10,000 they can use their existing resources. But for people that have faced difficult times in shutdown. I think the whole principle of government stepping in here is that people can’t do business because of a Public Health Order. So, I think the concept is quite sound. 

PK: Well they have no choice. They’d love to work. They love to earn their own money. They’re not allowed to. As Sally McManus told me its like a third of the minimum wage. It’s not enough is it? 

AB: Well it’s temporary. Well, hopefully it will only be required to get us through next week in Melbourne. And if there are extended arrangements people can always seek JobSeeker and the usual Centrelink payments that are available. This is all intended to get us through a short and sharp lockdown. 

PK: Do you think this should have happened again? I mean it took a lot of political shenanigans to get us here. But shouldn’t it have just been built into the budget to have a scheme to deal with lockdowns given that the budget warned we’d have more of them?  

AB: Well the budget papers included the idea that there be a need for more lockdowns, so that’s been factored in. And now there is a federal process for having a hotspot and payments will flow once that designation is reached. So, I do think you have to take the macro view here as well. We have performed very well during this pandemic from a health and economic viewpoint. I think the national government has worked collaboratively with the states and we’ve deployed a lot of policies in the last 12 months or so. 

PK: Do you subscribe to the view that this may be an incentive to for states to extend lockdowns?

AB: Yes, I do and I think this needs to be designed carefully so that it is not a political or any other incentive for states to have a shutdown. Because we want states to be open. 

PK: Why would a state Premier want to shut down their own state if it clearly costs business and their own budget money? They don’t do it easily do they? 

AB: Well I have to regret to inform that I think the concept of shutdowns and the like has been quite popular. I mean, certainly closing the borders and state borders has been quite politically popular regrettably. And that has been part of the political experience of this pandemic. It is important we get the incentives right. I think this is a reasonable approach hopefully it's only short and sharp. If there are extended periods people can access the usual Centrelink payments. 

PK: Did you always think the vaccination project should be treated like a race? 

AB: I mean I’m not an expert on vaccinations. I would’ve thought that you want to do it in an orderly fashion. I don’t think the comparisons to other jurisdictions are entirely valid because we haven’t had huge transmission in this nation. As you’d know if we had’ve had the transmission we had in the UK or the US we would have lost 30,000 or 40,000 people. 

PK: Now, you’ve actually had COVID? 

AB: Yes. Thanks for reminding me. 

PK: I’m here to remind you of things you don’t want to be reminded of. That's one of my many roles in life. 

AB: I’m sure

PK: You’ve had COVID. Have you had the vaccination as well? 

AB: I have not, I’m not in the age bracket. 

PK: But you will get the vaccination I’m assuming? 

AB: I certainly will, and I don’t have any antibodies left. 

PK: No? 

AB: No, they lasted about nine months

PK: So, you’re now past the antibody phase of life. 

AB: That is right I’m back to square one. 

PK: Now just to let our viewers know we were hoping to bring you Labor’s response with Amanda Rishworth but unfortunately, she was caught up in a division. So, it just turned into this interview with Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg. We’ve had a good time though, I think. Just finally I’m going to ask you a question which is outside the daily politics, but I know you are very passionate about. That is about indigenous recognition, enshrining it in the constitution. You’re very passionate on this issue. You’ve written this book. You’ve been touring the country trying to tell people this is important. But has there been any fundamental shift yet? 

AB: I think there is a lot more support inside the Liberal Party than people may appreciate. I think that times have moved on quite a lot. It’s probably a bad cliché. But there is a much stronger sense of the Liberal and Conservative rationale for doing this than there was perhaps when the Uluru statement was handed down. I do think that the whole notion of it being called a third chamber and the IPA’s campaign around “race has no place” did a lot of damage. And I do think we are starting to reverse some of that damage. And I think that more of my colleagues are starting to appreciate the Uluru statement which would give indigenous people more agency and more control is a desirable reform. 

PK: And today is Eddie Mabo day so I suppose it’s a good place to end this conversation. Thank you so much for joining us. 

AB: Thanks PK 

PK: And as I say there was a division, so Amanda Rishworth wasn’t able to be on the panel. Usually I like those panels for obvious reasons to be politically balanced with Labor and the Coalition side of politics. But it turned into an interview with Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg who is a New South Wales Senator. And he did actually say something really interesting in that interview that he does think the Commonwealth should be involved in building more of these quarantine facilities.  

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