Anika Wells MP on ABC Afternoon Briefing


SUBJECTS: Death threats to Dr Jeanette Young; border closures; 25,000 Australians stuck overseas; reduction in Chinese investment in Australia; Juukan Gorge inquiry.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Queensland's Chief Health Officer Dr Jeanette Young has confirmed she has been receiving death threats over her decisions on coronavirus border closures and exemptions. There have been sustained attacks from the Federal Government over restrictions on allowing people into the state on compassionate grounds. The Queensland Branch of the Australian Medical Association yesterday came out in support of Dr Young after she was subjected to bullying and online trolling. Dr Young says she feels supported and safe now that she is under police protection.

[Clip of Dr Jeanette Young]: It has taken an enormous toll on me, but then this has taken an enormous toll on nearly every single person in our community. Every single person in our community in Queensland has had to give up an awful lot.

KARVELAS: Time now for my political panel, Liberal MP Trevor Zimmerman and Labor MP Anika Wells are both my guests. Anika, starting with you, this is obviously a pretty concerning story to have Dr Jeanette Young threatened like this. What does it say about where this debate is going? Obviously, we would expect that these people are at the fringes, and that this is not mainstream Queensland or Australia, but are you concerned by these reports?

ANIKA WELLS, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR LILLEY: Yeah, and disappointed that some male Chief Medical Officers are viewed as a sex symbol, and a female Chief Medical Officer who we’ve had up here for 16 years across four different governments on both sides of the fence, six pandemics, is getting this kind of treatment. I think she is doing a good job, I do think Queenslanders think she’s doing a good job. I don’t know if I just feel 86 weeks pregnant, but it feels like the temperature of this debate has really escalated over the past couple of days, and it’s in no one’s interests for that to happen. I think that the voters who elected us all to these jobs, not knowing this was the year that we would be facing, just want us to get on with paddling our own canoes. For me, that’s advocating for individual cases who are trapped overseas and need to come home or need to stay tethered to their jobs through JobKeeper, for the Premier that’s looking after the health and safety of her state, for the Prime Minister that’s coming up with plans for the nation. I think everybody would be happier if we just stuck to that work rather than critiquing one another.

KARVELAS: Trent Zimmerman, I wanted to bring you in here because the Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has spoken today, she said she would rather lose the election than back down on borders. The reason she gave was that borders were successful in having a free Queensland; that people could go to school or run their businesses, and pointed to Victoria and said that's not going on there, so we don't want to shut things down. What do you make of that reasoning? Because I can tell you as a Victorian living under very strong restrictions, it sounds kind of compelling living in this utopian world where you’re allowed to move around.

TRENT ZIMMERMAN, MEMBER FOR NORTH SYDNEY: Well there are Queenslanders who aren’t running their businesses at the moment because they’re reliant on the free trade of people apart from anything else, particularly those that work in the tourism industry, an industry I know very well from my previous role before parliament. What I’d say that we expect from the states as a community is that they act on reasonable health advice, but most of the discussion over the last couple of weeks has been about how the states respond when there are clearly compassionate needs for people to be able to travel, but also needs related to the economy and one of the achievements of the last week is seeing that Agricultural Code developed to ensure that our crops are being harvested and that people are going to have food on their tables. So it is about having the degree of flexibility we need to make sure the essential things, including compassion, are reflected in the system that we have in place.

KARVELAS: Anika, compassion. Let’s go to compassion. Do you think that for instance this woman who wanted to go to her father’s funeral was treated in a compassionate way? Are you concerned about the way the exemptions are being given out?

WELLS: I think that these things are complex and the developments we saw today where her sister has come out with a completely different perspective on the matter, and criticised the PM, shows just how different perspectives can be on the same situation from the one family. These matters only get to the attention of the Chief Medical Officer because they are complex and they require a series of exemptions or decisions beyond the stated rule. So again, returning to my thing about how we should all work together and do the best at our jobs, I don’t think it’s in our interest to be spending all of our time critiquing individual cases when we don’t necessarily know all of the facts.

KARVELAS: Trent Zimmerman, you’re pretty on the bandwagon of opening the borders and I understand the reasons you provided, so let me give you another scenario. Should New South Wales now be looking at opening its borders to Victoria or to Melburnians, given that the caseload of coronavirus cases has decreased quite a lot?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, I’m not sure that we’re there yet, but what I think is important in all of these decisions is that the state governments rely on health advice, which is also shared with the rest of the community. I think that’s what’s really important that we see happen in relation to Victoria and New South Wales in the fullness of time. But I think also that obviously the rules that are put in place need to pass the commonsense test. My concern about Queensland is basically that you have regions of New South Wales like the north coast where there hasn’t been a coronavirus case for some considerable time, where you have jurisdictions like the ACT where you haven’t had a case for more than 60 days. It just doesn’t make sense that they’re subject to the same type of restrictions as you would find in hotspots.

KARVELAS: I want to talk about quarantine and Australians who are overseas at the moment. We know that there are 25,000 Australian stuck overseas. They’ve requested to return home; 3,500 of them are deemed vulnerable, that's both financially and medically. There is, of course, this debate over whether or not Premiers should boost their quarantine capacity to allow them to return. What do you make of that, I wonder Anika? Do you think that we need to be bringing these Australians home, and that state and federal governments should be chartering flights and getting quarantine expanded to bring them in?

WELLS: I do, and I’m sure Trent’s office, like mine, is being deluged with these requests for assistance at the moment. It’s taking up lots of time and resources to help the 25,000 people trapped. My question is now based on the point that Senator Keneally has been making today, which is that the Federal Government was doing expatriate flights and was doing quarantine on a federal level when this pandemic when they were getting people out of Wuhan and that kind of thing. So, why has that ceased and why can’t it start back up again when we’re now at a state where we really do need to increase those numbers of people coming home?

KARVELAS: Trent, should those Australians be brought home and should the government be doing more, at a state and federal level, to try and get them home?

ZIMMERMAN: Look, I have to say that very few things make me more distressed and angrier than the stories I’m getting through my electorate office from people who have family members or are themselves stuck overseas and desperately trying to get home. Some cases are with pressing health needs and in some cases they’re really struggling financially. We’re helping with that a little bit, we’re making available loans for people who are in desperate financial need, but we just need the borders open a little bit more to get these people home, and I really think that National Cabinet agreed that it would look at lifting the caps a little bit. This process seems to be moving at a glacial speed and we just need the states to look at this a bit quicker. It’s now at a stage where I think Victoria should start making its intentions clear about when it’s going to start letting flights to come in under quarantine arrangements. New South Wales has been doing some heavy lifting but I would like to see New South Wales taking a few more, but we certainly need everyone to be contributing to getting these Australians home, because you sort of think it’s a pretty fundamental right to be allowed to come back home to your own country in a crisis, and yes the hotel quarantine arrangements are there for a very good reason, yes we can’t have everyone land on the same day or the same week, but we need to provide a pathway for what are increasingly desperate people stuck overseas and we need to see that happen this week, not next month.

KARVELAS: Okay, so you think is a sense of urgency. You mentioned Victoria there, and New South Wales. Victoria obviously suspended this because there was a bungle in quarantining which led to the current outbreak. You think Victoria is ready to reopen and let people come in?

ZIMMERMAN: I think maybe not this week, but I think if the figures continue to come down, then that’s something that I think we have to see the Victorian Government to look at, and I don’t think their road map has indicated when they do expect Victoria to start allowing international flights or returning Australians to resume. And we are talking about over 20,000 Australians who do want to come home, and unless we start to see those caps being lifted and unless we do see Victoria coming back online, it’s going to be very hard to provide a clear pathway to those stuck overseas.

KARVELAS: I just want to stay with you Trent on one other issue, and then Anika I have another question for you too. Trent, ANU researchers have found that Chinese investment in Australia has fallen at a much faster rate than in other countries. How concerned are you by this and do you see this as retaliation?

ZIMMERMAN: I don’t know that we’re in a position to be able to say that it’s relation. My view is that we want to maintain a healthy economic relationship with China, but we’re not going to maintain that relationship on any terms, it has to be on the understanding that Australia will stand up for our values, as we always have, but it means that at times we will be very critical of the actions of the Chinese Government. But we also have to recognise that the economic relationship is mutually beneficial and it’s not something that I want to see brought to an end, because the Australian economy to some degree is reliant, particularly in the minerals sector, on that relationship continuing.

KARVELAS: Anika, I’ll give you a right of reply on that issue. Do you think it is an issue around retaliation? Are you concerned about these latest figures?

WELLS: To be honest, it’s not something that my constituents are coming to me about so it’s not something that I’ve spent too much time on this week. In terms of retaliation, I guess I’m not trying to read into malicious intentions when we don’t necessarily have the evidence on that to date.

KARVELAS: I want to talk to both of you just before I let you go about the Juukan Gorge, which we’ve been covering extensively on this program and what’s happened there. Anika, you're a member of this parliamentary inquiry looking into the destruction of Juukan Caves. What do you think needs to happen now? We've seen these three very senior people lose their jobs at Rio (Tinto). What does Rio need to do to restore relationships? Should they be paying reparations, for instance, to traditional owners, and do you think there needs to be broader law reform?

WELLS: Yes, they need to pay reparations, yes there needs to be broader law reform. Ultimately, I worry that even the broader law reform that we are investigating now, and that hopefully we will bring in out of this, won't be enough until the financial gains that the company gains that these companies get out of proceeding are in any way comparable to the penalties that they suffer, otherwise they’re going to continue to ask for forgiveness and not permission. Some of the documents that were disclosed by Rio on Friday ahead of this hearing coming up on Thursday are just so egregiously blatant in how they’re directing all of the entities and the people on this issue towards what was clearly the outcome that they sought, and everybody needed to provide that outcome so that things could keep ticking along. I think there will be more revelations coming out from Thursday just based on the things I’m reading today. So ultimately until we do reparations and until we do some significant law reform, we’re not going to change that mentality of these corporate structures in any way that will make any one happy.

KARVELAS: Trent, I know you’re not on the committee but of course this is a national tragedy in my view, an international tragedy too, but for our country I think it was a great shame. What should happen? What culpability does Rio have in changing fundamentally the way it operates and does business with Aboriginal people in this country?

ZIMMERMAN: Well I’m pleased that heads have rolled at Rio Tinto, and I think they should have sooner in my view. I think that what's important is what we do next to ensure that this doesn’t re-occur. That’s why I’m pleased that Ken Wyatt and Susan Ley have been working with their state counterparts. Clearly there needs to be better protection for these sites, both federally and at the Western Australian level. The federal involvement through it’s indigenous heritage powers tends to be reactive, I think generated when there is a clear and present threat triggered by a complaint, but I think we need to move to a far more proactive measure so we don’t see this repeated.

KARVELAS: Thank you to both of you, I really appreciate your time. Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman and Labor MP Anika Wells.