Sky News Afternoon Agenda - 04/02/2022

04 February 2022




SUBJECTS: Political panel with Liberal Senator Eric Abetz; Aged care crisis; Defence Force Personnel in aged care; Aged care workers; Aged care residents’ booster rollout; Shortage of RATs; WA Border.

GABRIELLA POWER, HOST: Time now for our political panel and joining us live is Liberal Senator Eric Abetz and Labor MP Alicia Payne. Great to be with you both. Let's start with the aged care crisis. Alicia, when would you like to see the ADF brought in to help?
ALICIA PAYNE, MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: We need to get this happening right now. I've welcomed today that the Defence Minister has said that that could happen.

This crisis should absolutely have been prevented, it shouldn't have come to this. We have over half of the facilities in Australia with an active outbreak at the moment and tragically, we've seen over 560 residents of aged care die from COVID since late last year. This is a government that just has no regard for these older Australians and their families. And this crisis could have absolutely been prevented if the government had learned from its mistakes earlier in the pandemic. We've always known that this is a vulnerable part of our community. Yet, we still have 60,000 residents waiting for their booster shots. We have a quarter of all shifts at the moment not being filled and that's why we need the ADF to go in and sort this out. But this minister has sat on a COVID committee this week and said that things are going well. It is just not good enough. He's not doing his job, and he should resign. And failing that the Prime Minister should remove him from that position and put someone in who's going to take it seriously.

POWER: Eric, could this crisis have been prevented?
ERIC ABETZ, LIBERAL SENATOR FOR TASMANIA: There's a bit of hyperventilation happening there by my Labor friend. Look, the situation is serious. But let's keep a few things in mind. One, the problem with staffing is because of illness amongst the staff, and that is something that has to be dealt with. And we as a Federal Government have been willing to make the ADF available. And the Labor Party seems to have forgotten that it was Victoria earlier in the piece that refused to allow the ADF to come in to help in aged care facilities in the state of Victoria. So the states and the federal government have to cooperate to ensure that this is able to happen. And so to try to only blame the federal government is sort of taking politics just that little bit too far in circumstances where we are talking about people's health …

POWER: Eric.

ABETZ: ... and lives and look.

POWER: Sorry continue, Eric.

ABETZ: Yes. Yeah. So the government is treating this seriously. Of course it is. And it's always good with hindsight to throw a few rocks, but the Labor Party don't have an actual answer to these issues. What they've been doing in relation to a whole host of areas in recent times, is just offer a bucketload of criticism, with not an ounce of alternative policy.

POWER: But Eric, what's your response to Alicia's point as well, that the Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck, should resign?
ABETZ: Oh, look, that's the standard complaint made by an opposition. It grabs headlines, it's great for the news. But at the end of the day, why on earth should he be resigning? There's no basis for that. And sure, good politics for the Labor Party. But does it help the people in the aged care facilities? Not one iota. This is the sort of politics that I must say, the Australian people do get tiresome of and I don't blame them. This is a serious situation and if the ALP were genuinely ready, as the alternative government, they would be saying, "We are here to offer assistance and help the government", rather than just continually having this barrage of relentless negativity.
POWER: Alicia, should Labor be offering more help?
PAYNE: We have worked constructively with the government in responding to this pandemic since day one, and it is incredibly disappointing to me to see Eric join his colleagues in dismissing this very real crisis in aged care. And I am not hyperventilating, I am talking about the lives of some of the most vulnerable Australians. All the people who are currently isolated in their rooms, not getting showered, not getting fed, because shifts cannot be filled. And as Eric said, yes, it is because of illness of staff and this could have been prevented if the third dose had been rolled out properly to these facilities. There is no reason that the federal government shouldn't have gone in there and ensured that the residents had their boosters and that the staff had their boosters, first and foremost in their response. We saw tragic numbers of deaths earlier in the pandemic and this could have been prevented happening again, if they had prioritized the rollout to these groups and rapid antigen tests for the staff and visitors. People have had such trouble accessing those because it is another thing where the federal government have just failed to step up and left Australians completely on their own as we've opened up. We're trying to live with the virus without the tools that we need to do that and the federal government continues to fail to take responsibility for this, or any part of this.
POWER: Eric, is that a fair point though, that Alicia is making? That it was almost impossible to get your hands on rapid antigen tests.
ABETZ: Look, this is the Labor Party yet again, relentless negativity. What we saw earlier on was the Labor Party complaining about the vaccination rates, we now have some of the highest vaccination rates in the world. We also know that double vaccinated and people with the booster shot as well can get COVID, can test positive and are therefore called out of the workforce. And so to suggest that somehow rapid antigen tests would allow more workers to be in the workplace is just demonstrably false. And the fact that people are vaccinated, it protects them, but unfortunately, you can still get COVID and pass it on. If you've had your double vax, or indeed the booster as well. And so it's not quite ...
PAYNE: 60,000 aged care residents are still waiting for their booster. It also prevents severe illness in an incredibly vulnerable group. Perhaps they should have been prioritized to get those.
ABETZ: And part of the issue is getting the workforce that is able to do it, to administer those vaccines. So it's all well and good to try to blame the government, I know we're getting very close to an election so this sort of commentary is convenient. But it's the sort of commentary that is devoid of genuine analysis. And at the end of the day, have a look at Australia, have a look at the rest of the world. And in comparative terms we have done and are continuing to do exceptionally well. A lot of other countries are looking to Australia and asking, how is it that Australia is doing so well in all the circumstances? And that is what we need to focus on and realize this is a worldwide pandemic. And what we need to do is have a look at the world and how the various countries have responded.
POWER: Okay.
ABETZ: Australia is doing exceptionally well.
PAYNE: Our death rates were below the world average and they are now no longer below the world average.
POWER: Okay, let's move on to another topic now because we're pressed for time. Alicia, I want to ask you, Scott Morrison has backed Mark McGowan's hard border closure. Why has he done this?
PAYNE: Well, it was an extraordinary backflip from the Prime Minister who has attacked Premier McGowan all along for his strong stance on borders. But while it has been very challenging for some families who've been separated from loved ones across the border. What we're seeing in WA is they have prevented the case numbers and the deaths that other states are having and it has meant that they are living largely normal lives. And their economy, as a result, is thriving compared to the rest of the country where we have had businesses not able to open because of staff shortages, and businesses that are open are very quiet because people are not feeling safe to go out and about or can't of access, again, the rapid antigen tests that they need to know if they're in the clear. So I think Premier McGowan has been making decisions with the health of West Australians in mind and the Prime Minister is recognizing that this has been necessary, given the federal government's failures on rapid antigen tests, on the booster rollout, that have meant that Premier McGowan has had to make that decision not to open the border.
POWER: Eric, why did Scott Morrison back Mark McGowan here? How can he have one rule for the rest of the country that we learn to live with Omicron and it's an exception for WA?
ABETZ: The Prime Minister gave his explanation and I can't add to that. The West Australian economy is going exceptionally well at the moment for one reason, iron ore exports and so but for those iron ore exports, Western Australia would not be able to afford the sort of lockdowns. And I must say I personally have very grave reservations about West Australia doing what it's doing. And Mark McGowan is out of step with Labor leaders in the Northern Territory, in the ACT, in Queensland and in Victoria. And so one wonders why that is the case in Western Australia and the only reason he can afford to do it is because he's blessed with high commodity prices, especially in iron ore at the moment.
POWER: Okay, we have to leave it there we are just out of time. Liberal Senator Eric Abetz and Labor MP Alicia Payne thank you so much for your time.