SKY News AM Agenda 14/01/22

14 January 2022

SUBJECTS: National Cabinet and new arrangements for returning to work; Rapid Antigen Test shortage; Scott Morrison’s failure to do his job; Kids Returning to School; Novak Djokovic Decision; Hillsong event. 




SUBJECTS: National Cabinet and new arrangements for returning to work; Rapid Antigen Test shortage; Scott Morrison’s failure to do his job; Kids Returning to School; Novak Djokovic Decision; Hillsong event. 

GABRIELLA POWER, HOST: Returning now to yesterday's National Cabinet meeting where state and territory leaders agreed to relax isolation requirements for thousands of workers in critical industries. It's an attempt to solve Australia's growing supply chain crisis but a shortage of rapid tests has left some sectors critical. Joining us live now from Maryborough in Queensland, in the LNP held seat of Wide Bay, is Shadow Treasurer, Jim Chalmers. Jim Chalmers, thank you for joining us. Do the isolation changes go far enough?

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: The changes that were announced after National Cabinet yesterday are entirely contingent on Scott Morrison fixing the mess that he's made of these rapid antigen tests. Australians are prepared to do their jobs, they just need Scott Morrison to do his job and clean up this absolute debacle. What we're seeing now, whether it's people having all of this uncertainty about returning to work, whether it's difficulties amongst our drivers and other key industries, whether it's shortages on the grocery shelves, Hunger Games in our pharmacies, all of these challenges, go back in one way or another to the Prime Minister's failure to do his job on rapid tests. He's been warned for months that these tests will be needed. He's had the time to make an advertisement about rapid antigen tests, but he only got around to ordering them in big numbers this week. I think that goes to the core of the problem.

POWER: Okay, but what about the isolation changes? Is that not a step in the right direction?

CHALMERS: Obviously, when it's safe for people to return to work, we need them to do that. But if the government was serious about these changes that were announced, they would actually work with the union movement, they would engage with workers, to make sure that this is done in the safest, most responsible way. But the new arrangements which were announced say that you need a negative rapid antigen test, but people can't find or can't afford those tests. That's what's causing all of these problems, all of this chaos, not just in our workforces, but also in our grocery stores, our supermarkets and our chemists.

POWER: Okay, but you do support the changes?

CHALMERS: We only want workers to be able to go back to work when it's safe to do that. We only know that once they've got a negative test but they can't find or afford those tests. So let's fix that problem first. That's the primary problem, the primary challenge, we have in our economy right now. The economic recovery is hostage in lots of ways to the Prime Minister's incompetence on this question.

POWER: Absolutely. It's very difficult to get your hands on a rapid antigen tests but the people are experiencing work or staff shortages crisis right now. So something needs to be done immediately?

CHALMERS: Well Scott Morrison should engage with the unions and he should engage with the workers and see what's safe and responsible to do here. But there's no version of what he wants to do here that doesn't hinge on getting more rapid tests out there. That's why Labor's got a policy for free rapid tests via Medicare. A cabinet minister was out there this morning saying the worst thing you can do is provide those tests for free. I would have thought the worst thing you could do is ignore warnings for months, and then make the workforce contingent on tests that people can't find or afford. So he should fix that problem first. He's got a habit of going missing when the country really needs him. We're seeing that again on rapid antigen tests. 

POWER: On the issue of schools, when would you like to see children go back?

CHALMERS: We need it to be consistent with the health advice. Different states are getting different advice in that regard. My kids go to school in Queensland so we've got a two week delay before my two oldest kids go back. Obviously, that's not ideal for everyone. That's a source of considerable anxiety and stress among parents, but you have to do what's the right thing by the health of our community. We've shown in the last couple of years, if you get the health outcomes right, you get the other outcomes right. So let's do what's right and responsible, consistent with the health advice. Even if that means some additional stress and some additional anxiety for parents in Queensland and right around Australia.

POWER: So you're fine with the delay?

CHALMERS: I'm happy to cop it sweet. In an ideal world, kids would be going back on the original schedule, but you've got to do what's right by the health outcomes. It's clear that the peak will be in or around that time. So I'm happy to support the decision of the state government, as a lot of parents are. It's an inconvenience, but a necessary one to make sure that we're doing what we can to try and limit the spread of this thing. The numbers are way up there. We don't want to unnecessarily endanger people, for the sake of a week or two here or there.

POWER: States have brought back some restrictions, whether it be mask wearing, a ban on singing and dancing or in Victoria a cut back to the number of people that can attend venues. It hasn't really done a lot to slow the spread of Omicron would you like to see further restrictions imposed?

CHALMERS: As always, we've been pretty constructive about following the health advice. If the health advice says that we can make a difference with some of these restrictions, then I think Australians are typically happy to cop it sweet. Even when they're difficult they're sometimes necessary. There was a period, particularly in New South Wales, where those restrictions were lifted - I think a lot of people would conclude prematurely - and that's contributed to some of the spreading of the disease. But let's see what the experts say and let's comply. I think that the Australian people have shown a willingness to do the right thing by each other. Over the course of the last couple of years, there have been inconveniences, but they've been necessary. People are prepared to follow the advice so long as there's a good, solid, evidentiary health basis for it.

POWER: Can I get your reaction to the footage we saw overnight of a Hillsong event where people were dancing and singing without masks?

CHALMERS: I thought it was disappointing. We should do what we can to make sure that people can exercise and practice their faith as freely as possible, but it's got to be subject to the rules - and the rules are pretty clear in this regard. So I think a lot of people see that and would prefer that that event didn't go ahead. That's not to disrespect any one faith or another. We want people to practice their faith, but we want them to do it safely. So I can understand why there has been some criticism of that event from other parts of the community that would like to hold events like that, but have been complying with the rules. It's important that everybody does.

POWER: And finally, should Novak Djokovic be able to stay or should he be deported?

CHALMERS: We've said all along, since the beginning, that if he didn't comply with the visa arrangements he shouldn't be given one in the first place. Now, it's pretty clear what needs to be done: the Minister needs to make a decision. When Scott Morrison thought that there was a political opportunity in this for him he was all over the Novak Djokovic saga, but now that it's doing us so much damage in terms of our international reputation, he's pretending it's got nothing to do with him. They should make a decision and get back to what really matters, which is getting groceries back on the shelves, getting rapid antigen tests out into the community freely so that we can look out for each other and look after each other and try and get the economy back on track.

POWER: Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers, thank you so much for your time.