Anika Wells MP on Sky News




Thursday 16 April 2020


SUBJECTS: Schools, racism against Chinese Australians, Virgin Australia.

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Let’s go live to our political panel, Labor MP Anika Wells and Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg.  I’ll start with you if I can, Andrew.  Is there an issue here?  We’ve got the federal government saying ‘open up schools,’ some Premiers are saying they’ll do that, Victoria saying their official health advice is not to open them for term 2.

ANDREW BRAGG, SENATOR FOR NSW: G’day Tom.  Look, the advice has always been quite clear in relation to schools – the risk is quite low.  So the advice that we’re working on is that the schools can re-open and that people should send their kids to school if they can.

CONNELL: You say that’s the advice, but we’ve got the Chief Health Officer in Victoria saying his advice is ‘to avoid spreading coronavirus, keep learning and go online for term 2.’  How do you square that with what you’re saying?

BRAGG: Well I’m a member of the federal parliament, and I’m on the federal team, and obviously we follow the chief medical advice of which comes from the Health Department, and that has been clear and consistent along the way.  There is very low risk and children should go to school.  It’s very important, as the PM says, that we don’t lose a year of school here.

CONNELL: Anika, you take this at face value.  This is what Brendan Murphy has been saying - ‘very low risk,’ that’s the advice.  It’s still up to states, and most of them now are going to open up.  So the government’s leaving it up to the states – is that a fair enough approach?

ANIKA WELLS MP, MEMBER FOR LILLEY: I think so, because parents are stressed enough at the moment without the additional stress of mixed messages.  At the moment in Queensland, we will be opening schools next week.  I have 3,200 workers who work at the Prince Charles Hospital.  They need schools open next week so they can man the wings of our hospital where they’re treating COVID-19 patients.  So I think we need to give that flexibility, but I do think both parents and teachers are looking for clear messages, and I think the government could do a bit better in providing a clear message.

CONNELL: What could it do better though?  What it’s been saying consistently and clearly, is it’s advice is that ‘it’s very low risk and that children really can’t contract the disease, the younger they are the harder it is for them to get it, and also they very rarely pass it on to adults so that teachers should be safe.’  That’s their advice.  States can then have their own on top of that.  So are you saying that states should agree with the federal advice, or the federal advice shouldn’t be there at all, or states should just give their…how do you have more clarity?

WELLS: Well I was talking with teachers yesterday, and they were saying that they don’t like the implication that they don’t want to be at school teaching their students.  They’re worried about the safety of their students as well.  What they’re asking for is more clarity.  I think the easiest way for that clarity in this particular situation would be for one position to come down from the national cabinet.  That’s what I’d like to see happen.

CONNELL: That’s as much up to the states as the federal government right, including Victoria’s Labor government?

WELLS: That’s right.

CONNELL: Okay, alright.  Well we’ll see what comes today out of that federal [national] cabinet.  Interesting as well, we’ve got the latest in depth report from the World Health Organisation really shining a light on China.  This six day period during which Xi Jinping would have known would have known via authorities that there was a likely pandemic, didn’t tell the rest of the world and also allowed this Lunar New Year travel.  This is just a shocking blight on the world, Anika.  Are there going to be ramifications for China?  This needs to be called out more in terms of what the Chinese Communist Party has done here?

WELLS: I’ve seen some discussion in the papers this morning about some of Andrew’s colleagues coming out and discussing the fate of the WHO and obviously you’re talking about this reporting, Tom.  But can I just stress to you this is not what’s being discussed in our neighbourhoods and in the places that remain open here in our electorates across the country?  People want to know that immediately that they’re being looked after, that they are safe, and there’s a plan in place for recovery here domestically.  I’m happy to weigh in with you in the months to come, but I really don’t think this should be where our focus is today when we are still in the midst of the pandemic here in our suburbs.

CONNELL: The other element to this Andrew is, this is anger towards some people, but perhaps not wanting to be expressed by Anika, towards the Chinese Communist Party, but not for example towards Chinese Australians.

BRAGG: I think that’s an important point Tom.  People certainly have their grievances to raise with China as a nation state, but that shouldn’t be confused in any way with the very large and successful Chinese Australian community, which has actually been really critical in not having further transmission in Australia.  I think the Chinese Australian community really did help our country get through this very serious pandemic by not transmitting the virus.  I mean this virus has nothing to do with Chinese Australians.

CONNELL: Yep, we’re all in it together on that front, so that’s a good point to make.  Virgin Australia, Anika, Labor’s been saying that perhaps the government should take a stake in it.  Would there be any issue down the track if that stake turned out to be worthless?

WELLS: This is a really tough week for our aviation workers, and I want them to know that I am fighting for them…. (Audio cuts off).

CONNELL: We’ve just lost that audio, we’ll see if we can return to Anika.  I’ll go to Andrew on this question.  I know the government’s been saying ‘we want two airlines.’  Can you say clearly whether the government wants Virgin Australia to stay in the nation, including all the set up it’s got?  People have flights booked, they’re going to get credit for them, and people have frequent flyers.  Does the government care about Virgin itself, or is it happy to see it die if another airline replaces it?

BRAGG: I mean wherever we can limit market intervention, we will.  Clearly it’s important that we have a vibrant airline sector.  A competitive sector has been really important to getting better routes and lower prices for consumers.  We’ve already announced $ 1 billion in support for the aviation sector, and the deputy Prime Minister is talking to Paul Scurrah and Alan Joyce every day on further measures that may be required.  But if these measures are required, we really want them to be limited and targeted, because we’re not in the business of running corporations as the Commonwealth government.

CONNELL: Right, I understand that. Does that mean then, just to go directly to that question again, does the government have any inclination to help the company itself, or does it not care as long as there is any second airline in Australia?

BRAGG: Well I’m not in the Executive, so I can’t divulge what the nature of the discussions are, but my view….

CONNELL: What’s your view?

BRAGG: Well my view is that we’re not in the business of running corporations.  We wouldn’t run Virgin, we wouldn’t run Qantas.  We sold Qantas 30 years ago, alright? But we want there to be a vibrant market there and the whole market in Australia has effectively, beyond the aviation sector, has effectively failed, which is why we’ve had to have this huge temporary intervention.

WELLS: Can I pick Andrew up on two points there, Tom?  Firstly, the Government’s dropping around this $1 billion figure.  That money is largely going to pay the government itself – government fees and charges, places like AirServices Australia.  It’s not going to the airlines and it’s certainly not going to the aviation workers.  Secondly, government has already intervened in private enterprise. Governments have intervened in the private hospital system; government’s intervened in the child care sector, many centres of which are privately owned.  They can intervene, they have intervened, and they should intervene to save our local aviation jobs.

BRAGG: What do you want to do?

CONNELL:  (Inaudible) We are going to have to leave it there, but perhaps pick up on that conversation again in a couple of weeks, and I suspect it will still be going.  Andrew Bragg and Anika Wells, thank you.

WELLS: Thanks for having us back Tom.