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03 June 2021


SUBJECTS: Federal COVID relief payment announcement; impact of Melbourne lockdown; federal quarantine faclities.

RODERICK CHAMBERS, HOST: The Federal Government has announced a temporary COVID disaster payment, designed to help workers who won't be getting paid in this latest Melbourne lockdown. Is it a little bit too late and a little bit too little, though? There are a lot of details to be filled in, and not the least of which is how people will access this latest scheme and who can qualify. I asked the Shadow Minister for Disability and Government Services, Bill Shorten, in Melbourne, whether he was happy with what Scott Morrison had come up with.

BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: Something is better than nothing, but I'm afraid that this announcement smacks of more marketing than it does of substance. I think not that many people will be able to avail themselves of the five-hundred-dollar payment.

CHAMBERS: Yeah, it's quite a different scheme from JobKeeper. Could its benefit be that it gets to people quicker?

SHORTEN: Well, I think we just need to see more detail on the next 24 hours, you have to have lost more than 20 hours of work to get five hundred dollars. If you've lost less than 20 hours, it’s 325 dollars. But I think there is going to be a liquid assets test of $10,000, you have to have less than $10,000 to avail yourself of the scheme. Now, for a lot of people, whilst they've been upended by COVID, they're not in poverty. So, I'm a bit sceptical if, in fact, the headline number will actually be available. And that's why we're calling on the Government to publish all of the technical requirements as soon as possible so people don't get their hopes up.

CHAMBERS: And who do you think would be best to administer this?

SHORTEN: Probably Centrelink. You know, I think Centrelink, yes.

CHAMBERS: What about the delays in getting onto Centrelink, though, that has always been a bit of a problem?

SHORTEN: Well that’s right, I mean, it's a payment system that either the employer could apply and pass it on to the employee, or the employee can go to Centrelink. That's what I'm saying. Hopefully the lockdown won't go for too long. So, whilst this will be some help, if you really need it, it won't be protracted. But there'll be details such as, say you're in regional Victoria, there's no more lockdown, but your gym can't open, and you work at the gym. So, I just think the Government's got to very quickly, in plain English, specify the requirements and the eligibility criteria.

CHAMBERS: And what are you finding yourself in your electorate of Maribyrnong? Are there particular issues for people there?

SHORTEN: Casuals have been hit hard. People in the hospitality industry have been hit hard. Small retail has been hit very hard if it's not food retail, and also a general sense of anxiety and here we go again, and frustration.

CHAMBERS: Do you think people are sort of better set up in that they know what to expect? Or is it like just a bit of a final straw that's going to break the camel's back?

SHORTEN: I think people are COVID fit, but that doesn't make it any easier to go through. And for some people, it might just be the straw that breaks their back.

CHAMBERS: Is there enough people getting vaccinated fast enough in Melbourne at the moment?

SHORTEN: I think it's now sped up. But - I know people don't like politics and Mr Morrison’s sensitive to criticism, but they promised to have all the vulnerable people done by Easter. It hasn't happened. I think the public health messaging has been confusing. There's confusion about which is the right vaccine to have. Where do you go to get it? Who's eligible? I think the more we can just open up mass vaccination hubs and all those who want a vaccination can get one, the better. And that'll speed things up.

CHAMBERS: And there's been a lot of people talking about the problems with aged care and people are moving around different aged care homes to service them. Should those people be forced to have a vaccine?

SHORTEN: Well, I'd like them all to be eligible. I'd like them all to be offered one first before I force people. But sooner or later, I suspect that that's where we're going to end up, yes. But I wouldn't want to blame the aged care workers for not being vaccinated. At this stage, we have a lot of workers who have got up in their own time to go to the GP just because they are committed to getting it done. The program has been rolled out to slow.

CHAMBERS: There's been a number of health experts that have been a bit wary of what the Victorian Government's been saying about this Kappa variant of the virus, that it's some sort of super virus. Do you think the Victorian health authorities are going to be over the top on this?

SHORTEN: No, I think my eyes are on the prize. The prize is to get everyone vaccinated. I think we should have hotel quarantine facilities run by the Federal Government, purpose built, not just using existing hotel infrastructure. I think there should be proper public health marketing. I think we should make our own vaccines in Australia, the variants and the vaccine I'll leave to other experts. I think there are measures which, regardless of what type of variant of covered it is, we should be better placed to deal with it than we currently are because I just want to avoid these lockdowns.

CHAMBERS: I think there's talk still going on about the Howard Springs-style facility between the Victorian Government and the Federal Government. I'm just a bit concerned that it might be taking too long to get built and get operational.

SHORTEN: The Federal Government has had 17 months or 16 months to build these facilities, and it would have been much better if they'd started 16 months ago. But I'd still rather they start now. These facilities will come into their own in the future anyway. Anyone who thinks that we've seen that this is the only virus that we're going to get in the future is kidding themselves. So, I think it is better, if we know we need them, if we know we're likely to need them, then we should just build them now.

CHAMBERS: It strikes me as if there's a space north west of Melbourne that is suitable for this and I believe that there is, it might be worthwhile to sort of utilize the experience that we've got with some of our big mining companies that can have a lot of demountables in place really, really quickly?

SHORTEN: I know that Lindsay Fox has offered to do work with Linfox. I know that the big family in Toowoomba whose name momentarily escapes me, have offered their facility near the airport up there. I know that the Victorian Government is looking at Mickleham. This is not hard for us. We should just do it.

CHAMBERS: Do you think that most people in Melbourne are going to get through this reasonably well or are we going to see, you know, further problems, mental health problems, other problems, down the track?

SHORTEN: I think the longer it goes, the greater toll it has on people. I think most people will get through it, but we just got to keep an eye out for each other.

CHAMBERS: Bill Shorten there, former ALP leader and MP for Maribyrnong, now Shadow Minister for Government Services and Disability.