ABC BRISBANE DRIVE
MONDAY, 14 SEPTEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Australians returning from overseas; Cairns international quarantine proposal; Aged care.
STEVE AUSTIN, HOST: Hello Jim Chalmers.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: G'day Steve. How're things?
AUSTIN: I'm very well. I've just interviewed Warren Entsch, the Liberal Member for Leichhardt. He says that it needs to be seriously considered to make Cairns a quarantine hub because they've got a massive amount of empty beds, an empty international airport, two major universities, and all the resourcing needed to actually bring Australians or international students back to the country, and rescue the city. What do you think of that?
CHALMERS: I think there's something in it, Steve, to be honest with you. One of the problems we've got right now is this cap on how many people can come home. And one of the reasons we're not even meeting that cap which is causing a lot of angst for a lot of families for understandable reasons is that we are only using four international airports in Australia. Each of those has got an individual cap on it, yet we've got something like 13 airports in Australia that can take international plane arrivals. I think it does make sense to be looking at Cairns, and maybe looking at Townsville and Darwin so that we can at the very least hit that cap, or maybe increase the cap. The principle behind Warren's point is a good one. If we want to get this changed, they should stop pretending this is just a state issue. They should get on the blower to Peter Dutton and run this up the flagpole at the so-called National Cabinet.
AUSTIN: Apparently Peter Dutton's on board. Warren Entsch believes that Peter Dutton is on board. He's already said for Queensland just tell us how many people they'll allow and we will do it.
CHALMERS: Queensland's got a process and this is a good message for the people running hotels in Cairns: if you're running a hotel and you want to take quarantined Australians then there's an expression of interest process that you can go through via the Queensland Government. But fundamentally, what's lacking here is national leadership. Peter Dutton said in the last day or two that if he could increase the cap he'd do so. He's the Home Affairs Minister! He’s got pretty good access to the Prime Minister who runs this so-called National Cabinet. If they want to increase the cap that'd be a good thing; that would make life a lot easier for a lot of Australians families who are going through a troubling time.
AUSTIN: In fairness to Mr Dutton - who doesn't come on my program by the way, I think I've almost never been able to get him for any interview - he has said, I'll increase it. Because of the resources the states have - police, hospitals, what have you - it's up to the state to tell the feds how many they can handle. At the moment, the State Government is telling them 500 passenger arrivals per week in Brisbane. It's the State Government that's setting the limit, so the feds are going, okay well here's what we'll set internationally to then.
CHALMERS: Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton and all of these characters like to pretend that they've got this amazing National Cabinet running. If it's as good as they say it is then they should be able to negotiate that cap up. That would be a good outcome for everyone. It would be a good outcome for Cairns obviously. We all know what strife Cairns has been in as a consequence of the closing of the international border.
CHALMERS: We should be looking at this. I do actually have respect and regard for Warren. I think the idea has some merit but what we're seeing here is a Federal Government that likes to vacate the field. They like to pretend that they don't have any responsibility over anything unless it goes really well, which means that they're there for the photo op. If the idea has got merit, and it probably does, then they should run it up the flagpole at National Cabinet, get an agreement, and maybe everyone could win.
AUSTIN: This is ABC Brisbane. My guest is Jim Chalmers. Jim Chalmers is the ALP Member for Rankin, the federal electorate here south of Brisbane. He's the ALP Shadow Treasury spokesperson. Let's move to an area that is clearly right smack bang in the area of federal responsibility: aged care. The aged care royal commission has heard today that care providers are increasing profit margins whilst services are not up to standard. Apparently that the accounting firm BDO found the current system is not designed to provide the best care for residents. I can't believe I'm saying this. I'm quoting them: "is not designed to provide the best care for residents". Instead, it's structured to increase profits. I'd better give you a chance to comment about this. It was heard at the royal commission today.
CHALMERS: I saw that. It's a stunning conclusion, isn't it? It hurts your heart a bit when you think about the way that a lot of older Australians are being treated and have been treated because the system is more or less busted. There's not enough transparency. There's a lot of money that goes into aged care, public money and private money. We're just not getting the outcomes that older people need and deserve. Something's broken there. That's why we've got the royal commission. If we don't fix this system up then we're going to be letting down a lot of people.
AUSTIN: I'm told that in fairness both sides of politics are concerned about aged care for the same reasons. In other words, both sides of politics acknowledge that it's not an easy problem to solve and that to encourage providers into the system you have to be able to say you're going to make some profit out of this. Essentially aged care centres are doing what in the old days families and relatives would do.
CHALMERS: Where to begin with that? Obviously when you've got private providers in there then they'll have a different set of motivations than public providers. That is really one of the key things that the royal commission is looking at. I do think that both sides of politics recognise that the system's broken. The difference is that we haven't held the reins for more than seven years now. It is disappointing that there hasn't been much progress made in the last seven years to fix it up. It's not a new problem. It's been accelerated and been made more obvious by the COVID-19 crisis but some of these issues have been around for a while now. We don't have enough transparency in how people are being looked after and how the money is spent. Scott Morrison as Treasurer pulled $1.7 billion out of the system. Commitments have been made but the money hasn't actually gone out the door. There's a whole range of issues around funding of aged care which we need to get to the bottom of and the royal commission will help us do that. We need to see a proper response to some of these issues because we're letting people down.
AUSTIN: It's 4:45PM. News at five. My guest is Jim Chalmers, Labor Member for Rankin here in Queensland. Jim Chalmers is a Member of the House of Representatives, the green chamber, or the "lower house" as it is known. How do you feel about being called the "lower house"?
CHALMERS: I call it the "people's house" Steve. None of this higher or lower stuff.
AUSTIN: Are you still in quarantine?
CHALMERS: I am. I've got until Thursday midnight, not that I'm counting down the minutes. I am still in quarantine. It's been quite the experience, but I think as I told you last week, compared to what others are going through, it's nothing.
AUSTIN: I'll leave it there. Thanks for coming on.
CHALMERS: Thank you, Steve.