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31 August 2021

SUBJECTS: State borders; NRL families in hotel quarantine vacancies; ‘Grey Army’ of support workers; opening up Australia at 80% vaccination.

KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: Welcome back to the show. It was absolutely heart wrenching wasn’t it, just moments ago on the show. We spoke to a cancer patient, Sharon Gordon, who travelled to Victoria from her home in Queensland for her mother's funeral. But now she is trapped on the border, unable to travel 78 kilometres home.
VIDEO PACKAGE: It's not fair. You know, we live there. I live 78 kilometres from where I'm standing now. I could drive there directly without stopping. I live on nine acres. I don't have to see anybody, I don't have to have any contact, I can easily quarantine at home. And I just – they won't let me.
STEFANOVIC: While Sharon suffers that absolute torment, and you can see it gripping her, the Queensland government is letting the families of NRL players in. I'm joined by Labor's Shadow Minister for Government Services, Bill Shorten, who's in Melbourne and Sydney 2GB's Chris Smith, good morning to you guys. Nice to see you this morning, Bill. That was hard to watch. The system continues to fail people, doesn't it?
BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRONG: Yeah, that's heart wrenching. I hear and I've received plenty of tough cases, although that's got to be right up there. 
SHORTEN: I think sooner or later we've got to get a system where some people can quarantine at home. 
SHORTEN: Yeah. So, Anastacia has done a great job in Queensland, keeping Queenslanders safe. But when you see cases like that, you just sort of hope that common sense will prevail. It's heartbreaking.
STEFANOVIC: People are getting more and more desperate, Chris. You must see that as well.
CHRIS SMITH, 2GB: Oh, absolutely. That case represents so many others that we receive text messages on, and letters and emails. And I'll tell you what, you could run radio and television shows back to back with those kinds of examples, because Queenslanders approached COVID in a really heartless way. Queensland government, I mean. Like, they knew that they had these extra families coming through from the NRL clan. So, they said, oh, we're full, our hotels are full. Well, that was a lie. It wasn't full. They were holding rooms for more families from the NRL. At that point, if you have got all of these people who are desperate to get home, don't you just say you say, listen, we've got to change things up here. The NRL is almost finishing the season. Eight teams will go back to New South Wales. For the last week, I'm sorry, families, you go back. You've got to create some space for us. There are ways around this, and they haven't even attempted it.
STEFANOVIC: I think you're 100 percent right. I think in this case saying the quarantine system needs a rest for two weeks and then allowing NRL families in, I'm sorry, you don't get to jump that queue. You don't need to get to do what other people aren’t going to do. And I'm appalled by this one. Anyway, let's talk about the hospital system now. It's, well, it's under the pump, isn't it, at full stretch coping with COVID this morning, being warned by the nation's top health chief to prepare for sustained demand lasting for months. Bill, our intensive care unit is heading towards a full-blown crisis here. Paramedics, as we saw last night across the news services, are exhausted. Would you be seeking more money, more federal money into hospitals, and trusting the state authorities to do the right thing with it while we wait for vaccinations? And if so, how much?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, I think it's got to be said that the Federal Government gets the lion's share of taxes that we all pay in Australia. So, I think it is appropriate that they provide a fairer share of funding to the states to administer our hospital system. So, yeah people don’t want to hear politics, but I have to say on this one, the feds have got the treasure box and they need to spend some on our health - health's the most important issue for Aussies. But one idea which has been occurring to me, because the health workforce is stretched to the limit, is maybe we could create a bit of a grey army. People who've recently retired, who are skilled in this area, maybe we encourage them to come back to help out and maybe some of our uni students in the courses which are relevant to this, from mental health through to nursing, maybe we could say to them, if you can lend us six months of your life, we'll help, you know, maybe write off some of their HECS debt. I think we need to get mobilized the workforce of people who have these skills, but we need to call them back to the ranks to help out here. 
STEFANOVIC: That’s a good idea.
SHORTEN: They say COVID’s like a war, so why not mobilize the Aussies?
STEFANOVIC: Gladys Berejiklian is warning October will get even worse. It's a huge concern, isn't it? Do you like that idea, Chris?
SMITH: I do, and it's something that Melbourne did rather effectively when they were chasing their tail this time last year. They pulled so many people back, because what was happening, as is happening in at least two hospitals in Sydney, you've got outbreaks transmitting from those hospitals. So, all of a sudden, you've got 80 to 90 in the one unit who can't come to work for the next two weeks. And that can be devastating on just one case. So, yeah, bring them all back. Do that. Victoria did it effectively last year. We can do it. Having said all that, I'm hearing a different picture about October. I'm hearing that most of October will be the worst month of the year, but I'm hearing all of that will taper off. If it's any indication, flu seasons taper off towards the end of October as we get into the warmer months. So, fingers crossed.
STEFANOVIC: I did hear the same thing. Look, I heard a lot of commentary yesterday, and its mainly people in New South Wales, where the horse has bolted. But I want you to check out this graphic highlighted by today's Daily Telegraph, showing the reason why some state leaders may be reluctant to open. Check that out, daily numbers in New South Wales, 1290, Victoria at 73. Queensland has one, every other state and territory zero, nothing, zilch. So, Bill, is it any wonder, no matter how much New South Wales officials bang on about it, or the Treasurer, or the PM, convincing people to open up in other states is a stretch?
SHORTEN: That's true. The reality is in Western Australia and Queensland, they've come through it okay at this point. I think Mr Morrison was probably foolish to bag these Queenslanders and W.A people as cave dwellers. I think that's ricocheted around. What we need is a better supply of vaccines. Like, you can't - there's no way you can hide that fact. We're going to vaccinate our way out of this problem and we just need more vaccines more quickly in more people's arms.
STEFANOVIC: Well, Chris is going to say, look, they're going to get it. They're definitely going to get this thing. But who's going to open up when they don't?
SMITH: Well, they've got to, because that was the agreement they had at national cabinet with the people of Australia, 80 per cent vaccinated. Now, the Prime Minister's not talking about opening borders before we're 80 per cent vaccinated. That's not what he's got stuck into the Queensland government or the WA government about. He's got stuck into them because they're reneging already about hitting 80 per cent. It is one thing - we listen to the scientists and the science when it comes to climate change. But all of a sudden, the Doherty, the eminent Doherty Institute, is not to be believed. You’ve got ABC hosts like Quentin Dempster saying to people, oh it can't be 80 per cent. Sorry? What are we questioning the science for? They're telling us that vaccination at that rate will drive cases down and stop deaths, well not stop them but slow them up and slow up ICU admissions. Believe the science in this case, we can make it happen.
STEFANOVIC: I get that. But 1290 cases, there's just no state government authority that’s going to open up to New South Wales while that's happening.
SHORTEN: Well, one of the dilemmas out there, and I just want to give a shout out to parents this morning in New South Wales and Victoria, is the parents dilemma. We want our kids to go back to school, but it's got to be safe to do so. And that's the problem with 1293. 
SHORTEN: Is it safe to send our kids back to school yet? And you can't say it is. And there, that - you know, it's the kids who we've got to think about here, and their mental health. But they're also going backwards in terms of their education. I like that we're backing the science, though, Chris, I would come back to you on a session on climate change, then.
STEFANOVIC: [laughs] Let's not do it today.
SHORTEN: Next time 
STEFANOVIC: It’s Taco Tuesday, let’s keep it light. 
SHORTEN: [laughs] Taco Tuesday.
STEFANOVIC: Good on you guys. Thank you so much.