ABC BRISBANE MORNINGS
FRIDAY, 31 JULY 2020
SUBJECT: Queensland COVID-19 cases; Impact of cases on our local community and business; Unemployment.
REBECCA LEVINGSTON, HOST: Federally, the Shadow Treasurer is Jim Chalmers. His electorate is Rankin, which is pretty close to the area that's fairly directly affected. Jim Chalmers, good morning.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Good morning, Rebecca.
LEVINGSTON: What are you hearing from members of your electorate at the moment?
CHALMERS: There's obviously a lot of concern about the news of the last two days, particularly the news that three of those young women who have COVID-19 were circulating through the community for something like eight days. Clearly that's made people very worried and we've seen that in the long lines at the testing centres. The message from all of the representatives of our area, the northern end of Logan and the southern Brisbane suburbs, is that if people have any symptoms whatsoever then they need to get tested. The best way to work out where to get tested is to go to the Queensland Health website and put your postcode in. That will give you a range of options of where to go to get that test. Once you get the test, stay at home until you get the results.
LEVINGSTON: Should the names and faces of the women have been made public?
CHALMERS: It's done now. I'm a bit concerned about it, but it's done now. Our focus needs to be getting on top of any outbreak. That's why that testing and isolating is so important. I know that there's been a pretty robust discussion about the publication of those names and photos. The argument is that it's a deterrent for people to do the wrong thing but what worries me about that is we don't want there to be a deterrent to people getting tested. If people think they might have it, it's important that they get tested. Hopefully that publication of those young women's names and photos doesn't get in the way of that.
LEVINGSTON: The progress of these cases has revealed a hole in border security. The fact that they could get on a plane in Melbourne, via Sydney, come to Brisbane and not provide accurate information - do you think we need a national approach to airport security, Jim Chalmers?
CHALMERS: This is something that the National Cabinet should be discussing. The fact that these young women found it easy to get back into Brisbane and Logan having been in Melbourne is obviously a big concern to all of us. If there are ways to tighten that up that's important. We also need to recognise though that there are legal repercussions for these young women. They are scheduled to appear in court and they will be held responsible in one way or another. There are existing arrangements and if there's ways that they can be tightened up that's important. But our first priority now needs to be, if we are to avoid a more substantial outbreak, for anyone especially in those areas that the young women visited but also more broadly, if you have any symptoms go and get a test.
LEVINGSTON: You're listening to Jim Chalmers who is the Shadow Treasurer. Jim Chalmers, forgive me, I mean so many pollies these days have a background in law - is yours in law?
CHALMERS: No, I'm not a lawyer.
LEVINGSTON: Okay. I was just going to ask, and maybe this is outside of your scope of expertise, but you talk about this now being the subject of a criminal investigation. If there is a case of COVID-19 that results in someone becoming extremely unwell or indeed passing away, is there any precedent of legal consequences for the person who brought the illness into the area?
CHALMERS: I'm not certain of that Rebecca. I think it's best that I don't put the bush lawyer hat on and have a crack at that. I'd rather get proper advice on that. I'm not sure.
LEVINGSTON: Yeah, okay. All right. Let's stick to your area as Shadow Treasurer. I spoke to the Logan Chamber of Commerce yesterday. It's fair to say that the President was sounding shattered. Just when he felt like things were looking up, that there was some light, now there is real anxiety, real caution. About a dozen businesses at least have to close their doors to clean, but then there's general nervousness. Are you expecting businesses to fold because of what's happening now?
CHALMERS: I think some will. I think some were on the edge as it was. This is clearly not helpful. In the 48 hours or so since the news broke of these particular cases I've spoken to a number of incredibly worried, local small business people whose future was pretty dicey before. What that really shows is that the absolute worst thing that we could have, not just for our local economy but obviously for our community and our society more broadly, is another outbreak. Premier Palaszczuk and the Health Minister Stephen Miles, on the advice of the Chief Health Officer Dr Young, they have been careful, they have been cautious. I personally as a resident of Logan, south of Brisbane, I'm really grateful for that. They get a lot of commentary from the peanut gallery about how they should have opened things up earlier and all the rest of it. This really shows the lesson is that we need to be careful and we need to be cautious because the last thing we need in the southeast corner of Queensland is a Victorian-style outbreak which will send more businesses to the wall, and will delay the recovery. That's what we're trying to avoid.
LEVINGSTON: Is the Victorian experience an argument to return to elimination rather than suppression?
CHALMERS: In many ways that decision’s already been taken. The approach that the states and territories and the Commonwealth Government have agreed is to try and open up carefully, but when there's a hotspot or a breakout, to have the capacity to really dial up the restrictions. In New South Wales that's what they're going through now. They actually have a number of pockets in New South Wales which have a number of cases. They're doing the contact tracing, trying to lock that down, trying to prevent the further spread. Clearly Victoria is our biggest concern because the numbers there have been so big, which makes that contact tracing really hard. I think that approach in the main that the states and territories and Commonwealth have adopted is probably the right one. It now comes down to the execution of that. In my part of the world, in Logan and Brisbane, that contact tracing no doubt is going on now. It relies on the rest of us doing the right thing, and that's to get that test if we have those symptoms.
LEVINGSTON: That back-and-forth, Jim Chalmers, we're hearing from Victorian businesses who are just saying that right when they reopened, they're back to shut down. We know that unemployment is probably going to hit double digits in the next couple of months. We know that 1.4 million people are already relying on food charities to put food on the table. Yesterday there was a report that showed that one in five Australians have less than $1,000 in cash savings. JobKeeper and JobSeeker are due to reduce in September. How worried are you about people's capacity to stay afloat in this country?
CHALMERS: I'm extremely worried. I think people are right on the edge and those stats that you ran through are a good illustration of that. People are right up against it. They're being forced to raid their own superannuation which will have catastrophic impacts on their retirement. They are worried about how they'll pay the rent, pay the mortgage, put school shoes on their kids, or food on the table. These are the catastrophic economic consequences of this pandemic. We do we have a responsibility to each other, really. The biggest thing we can do is to do the right thing on the health front, and to look after each other to the extent that we can so that we can hopefully limit some of those dire consequences for as many people as possible.
LEVINGSTON: Jim Chalmers, we'll stay in touch. Thanks for your time.
CHALMERS: Thanks so much Rebecca.