SUBJECTS: Paid Pandemic Leave, Victorian Parliament, Federal Parliament

ANNELISE NIELSEN, HOST: Joining us live now for more on Victoria's COVID crisis is our Pollie Panel. We've got MPs from Melbourne today, Tim Wilson, Liberal MP and Labor MP Peta Murphy, thank you both for your time. This is a really tough time for Victorians, can't imagine just how scary it is facing this six weeks of lockdown. Tim Wilson, we'll start with you first, paid pandemic leave has been welcomed to help support Victorians going through this. Should it be expanded nationally?

TIM WILSON, MEMBER FOR GOLDSTEIN: Well, the measures have been introduced by the Victorian state government because there's obviously a clear and explicit challenge in Victoria. The measures that have been supported by the Morrison government have been designed to make sure that Victorians can take appropriate measures to protect themselves, their families and the community and stop the spread of the virus. I think all these situations remain open based on the extent of the pandemic and the spread. The precedence has obviously been set, but Victoria is the one with the problem at the moment and that's where the focus of our energy should be, because if we don't contain the problems in Victoria, it can become a national one.

HOST: Peta Murphy, we've seen Queensland already shutting its borders to New South Wales and the ACT in anticipation of what could be a further spread. And the pressure really is going on the states now about this paid pandemic leave issue - should the states step up and be offering that to Australian citizens?

PETA MURPHY, MEMBER FOR DUNKLEY: Industrial relations is a federal responsibility. The state referred the responsibility to the Commonwealth and the Fair Work Act is a federal act. And the federal government needs to step up on paid pandemic leave because we've seen what happened in Victoria and it's great that Scott Morrison is now doing something, but we've seen how late it was. And the other point I'd like to make is that the Labor Party, workers, unions have been talking for many, many years about the crisis of insecure and precarious work and what that means for people in the workplace. And there's been so much pushback from the Liberal government saying that it didn't exist. And we are now seeing in Victoria, one of the consequences of this insecure work and people who have to work in order to survive, who don't have any leave available to them, and then accidentally spreading the virus. So it is absolutely important that this is addressed now and also systemically into the future.

HOST: Tim Wilson, do you accept that, is this squarely in the federal government's purview?

WILSON: Well, if that were the case, then why did the Victorian government introduced its own measures?

MURPHY: Because the federal government didn’t, they had to step in to help.

WILSON: The reality is the Victorian government introduced these measures because there’s a specific challenge around Victoria, and the attempt by the Labor Party to run pseudo industrial relations policy through the basis of this pandemic is frankly disgraceful. The reality is flexible working arrangements work in Australia, in different parts of the community because different people have different challenges and they want different working arrangements.

And so the importance of making sure that Australians can get a job, that it can be a job that works cooperatively between them and their employers is essential to increasing the number of people who are employed. Now, obviously, Ms Murphy has made the decision that she thinks it's better to have fewer Australians working and to reward the benefits for those smaller number of people who are there. But this government and a liberal approach to employment is to maximise the number of Australians who are employed and to make sure as many people are able to stand on their own two feet as possible and to be able to support themselves and their family. So they're in the best position to resist or to manage situations as they occur.

MURPHY: And people can't support themselves and their family when they are stuck in low paid, insecure and precarious work. I've made the decision and the Labor Party has made the decision that

WILSON: That you would rather them out of work.

MURPHY: That's just ridiculous Tim and it's also ridiculous to sit there and suggest that the Labor Party is using the pandemic to push some sort of industrial relations agenda. Let me finish.

WILSON: (Inaudible)

MURPHY: Let me finish what I'm saying.

WILSON: You interrupted me first, Peta Murphy.

MURPHY: So what we need to make clear here is that for many years, Labor has been pointing to the consequences of insecure and precarious work and what we are seeing now is one of those consequences.

And it's the Treasurer and the Prime Minister of this country who have already come out and said that deregulation of the industrial relations system is what is needed to deal with the recession and get out of it. So it's really going far too far to suggest rather, Labor is using the pandemic to do industrial relations reform. We are saying that workers need to be looked after. We want them to have jobs and to stay in jobs.

WILSON: But you do not understand that.

HOST: Don't mind a bit of back and forth, but we do need to keep in mind of interrupting each other too much, because we do need to get through a few topics. We also wanted to talk about the Victorian Labor government, Jenny Mikakos in particular, the health minister really taking every question on notice about the response in Victoria. Peta Murphy, do you think she was avoiding answering really serious questions yesterday?

MURPHY: Look, I obviously don't know what she was doing. As the federal member, I had nothing to do with what happened in parliament yesterday. But I think we are seeing around the country some examples of refusing to answer the questions. We've got Commonwealth officers who are being blocked from attending and giving evidence at the inquiry into the Ruby Princess. What we need, obviously, is our governments to be focused on dealing with the pandemic and the recession. And transparency is an important part of that.

HOST: Tim Wilson, do you think she was deflecting?

WILSON: I don't think she was deflecting. I think there's a deliberate attempt by the Andrews government to run a cover up about the discussion about the measures that were taken up until this point. The reality is at a federal level, we have a Senate committee providing oversight of the government's actions, it's chaired by a Labor Party member. It has members of all parties and they can ask any questions of the government that they see fit.

By comparison in the Victorian state parliament, we have a committee that is dominated by Labor members, has a Labor chair, and has even been restricted from asking questions on notice of witnesses. Now, this is unprecedented and now we've seen it backed up, this attempt to stop discussion and oversight and accountability by the Andrews government, by ministers not even answering questions in parliament and instead taking them on notice. I think it's something really deeply disturbing. Whatever side of politics you are, that at these heightened times there is a serious need for accountability.

That's why the Morrison government is working towards bringing parliament back. And where, the same is not true at the Victorian state level.

HOST: Very interesting to see if you could get up here for Parliament in particular, but just finally,

MURPHY: Hope so.

HOST: Well, I think well, actually, how would you guys feel about that? I know this wasn't a topic we discussed earlier, but the discussion has been that a Victorian MP came out for federal parliament you'd have to isolate for two weeks, hotel quarantine, to abide by the ACT rules. Peta Murphy, would you be happy to quarantine in a hotel for two weeks just so parliament can sit?

MURPHY: I understand that there's lots of discussions going on about what it might look like if and when we go and whether it's 14 days quarantine or some self isolation here before we go or indeed some other way of attending parliament. I personally wish that these two weeks that we're supposed to be in right now hadn't been cancelled. I've spent a lot of time with constituents contacting me about issues they wanted raised.

It's a fundamentally important part of my job and Tim's job to be in the parliament. Notwithstanding that we're backbenchers, we do a lot of important work there and we represent our communities. And I will do what it takes to be able to represent my community in Canberra.

HOST: Tim Wilson, would you be happy to be in a hotel for two weeks? It's not just you guys we're talking about, potentially the health minister and the treasurer are both from Melbourne and would have to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine. It's all good to say you want people here, but the question is how?

WILSON: Well, I'll follow the law and ultimately the law is set in the ACT by the ACT government and I will do whatever is necessary, appropriate to represent the constituents of Goldstein. I see that as part of my responsibility. But we're still waiting for formal guidance from the presiding officers, the speaker and the president of the Senate. And so once we get that we will make a formal decision. But we're all very mindful of the severity of the situation. We're very mindful of the fact that other Australians have had to take serious measures as well to be able to go about aspects of their life, including returning travellers. And our responsibility is to do what we need to do to govern the nation for the Australian people.

HOST: We will have to leave it there. Really great to check in with Melbourne at the moment, Peta Murphy, Labor MP, and Tim Wilson, Liberal MP. Thank you both for your time.

MURPHY: Thank you, and our thoughts are with everyone at the moment who’s going through all of this lockdown.

WILSON: Exactly, stay well.





Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.