Transcript - Tasmania Talks with Mike O'Loughlin - 8 July '21

SUBJECTS: Tasmanian Labor leadership; Tasman Highway reopening; financial support for workers; East Coast Tasmania; NAIDOC Week; vaccine roll out; Covid-19; national quarantine; Richard Colbeck; Olympics
MIKE O’LOUGHLIN, HOST: Federal Labor Member for Lyons, Brian Mitchell. Good morning to you.
BRIAN MITCHELL: Good morning, Mike.
O’LOUGHLIN: Looking good this morning, Brian?
MITCHELL: Yes, it’s looking very good this morning. Looking nice and warm as I drove up through the Northern Midlands. Bit different to yesterday which was a bit chilly.
O’LOUGHLIN: Yep, little better today. Now, let’s start off with this – interesting – Bec White back as Leader and what that means for Labor.
MITCHELL: Well it’s good news. She’s experienced, she’s hard working and she’s popular in the community. So hopefully – look it’s been no secret it’s been a difficult time for Labor these last few weeks at the state level and Bec’s drawing a line under that. The team is united now behind her leadership and I think she’ll give it a red-hot go.
O’LOUGHLIN: What about the factional Left? I mean, it’s going to be interesting. They’ll have to take some hats off here and maybe sort of join membership in the middle.
MITCHELL: I think what you’ll find is that the party is united behind Bec. Bec is the leader and I think people will respond to that. As I said, she’s very smart, very hard-working, incredibly hard-working and I think she’s the right person to take Labor forward.
O’LOUGHLIN: And indeed Anita Dow’s deputy – well, I would have thought going for leadership that maybe a few more people would put their hand up. But it was pretty well only Rebecca, wasn’t it?
MITCHELL: Well, Rebecca put her hand up, people were keen for a consensus candidate and as I said Rebecca has the party in the parliament behind her. Anita is of course from Braddon and represents that North-West region and she’s done a terrific job as acting leader throughout this episode. I think she’s really shown what she’s capable of and of course she was a very popular Mayor in Burnie. We’ve got a terrific team right across the range and I think we’ll give the Gutwein government a red-hot go.


O’LOUGHLIN: Fair enough. Just to digress, something that’s been getting on a lot of people’s goat but has finally reopened – the Tasman Highway and traffic at Paradise Gorge. It’s interesting, Brian, I got the email this morning for the media release at about 7:50am saying the Tasman Highway reopens to traffic at Paradise Gorge. Barriers removed from this section of the road at 7am this morning as scheduled.


MITCHELL: Look, it’s terrific news. We were warned pretty early on this road could be out of action for as long as 13-14 weeks so to see it reopen after about six weeks is really good news. I know the east coast is breathing a huge sigh of relief. It is a controlled access still, there’s a 40kmph speed limit a lot of work to do but at least traffic can get through now. Mike, I would urge all of your listeners to head to the east coast this weekend. Buy some petrol, enjoy a meal, do some shopping, see the sights, stay a night or two if they can. Every single dollar that goes into east coast tills will be very warmly welcomed. They’ve been doing it tough on the east coast and I’m sure they would love to see other Tasmanians enjoying everything the east coast has got to offer.


O’LOUGHLIN: And what about government support?


MITCHELL: Look, I was critical of the government and I am critical of the government. They didn’t offer enough support. They offered a business package which was welcomed but they didn’t offer any income support for workers who lost work. You know, people lost jobs, they lost shifts, and they had to make do on their own. Employers really did the right things as much as they could and get people on as much as they could but without that money coming in, they had to let some people go and let some shifts go. Workers have really suffered over the past six weeks. Now, six weeks is much better than 12 weeks so hopefully we can get back on track really quickly and, Mike, before we end on this – Wielangta Road. I’m not sure if your listeners here in the north would be aware of Wielangta – it’s an old forestry gravel road that connects Copping to Orford – and it’s steep and winding and has to be sealed. The state government has at last acknowledged it needs to be sealed and its really important they get onto that job now. We can’t let that go unsealed for the next five to 10 years, they need to get onto that.


O’LOUGHLIN: Because you had to go from Campbell Town, cut across Lake Leake (Road) to get across, didn’t you? It was all a bit difficult, but I do know now they’ve got that 40kmph speed limit and traffic management controls in place this morning. But when you think about it, they moved 2000 tonnes of rock that was high risk of falling. Personally, I’m bloody glad they did move that just quietly!


MITCHELL: Those contractors and those workers who did that work – hard hats off to them. They did a terrific job. They moved a lot of rubble, a lot of rocks and when we all saw the pictures of it come down, to see them shift that so quickly, look, they did a terrific job and we’re all very grateful for that. The important thing now is to get business humming along the east coast. Hopefully the weather will pick up and stay nice, but I would encourage people to get out to the east coast as much as possible this weekend and put some money across those tills.


O’LOUGHLIN: Speaking of which, I saw a nice photo of you in the paper on the east coast with the St Helens Community Car Group, handing over the keys and merging with St Helens Neighbourhood House.


MITCHELL: This was a good move. The community care car people have been trying to offload that for a while now with people keen to move on. The neighbourhood house up in St Helens is a terrific organisation, they do incredible work with our community; food drives, lessons, all sorts of things – and to have the community car come under their umbrella is a really good move for the St Helens community. I was really pleased to be there for that announcement. Gus has been a long-time volunteer; I think he’s probably keen to hang up the keys and let someone else to the volunteering for a while.


O’LOUGHLIN: Now, just something I flagged literally this morning. The aboriginal flag is not flying above Launceston Town Hall or Albert Hall, even though it’s NAIDOC Week. The council says they’re going to vote on a flag policy at the next council meeting which is July 15 – mind you NAIDOC Week finishes on July 11 and they didn’t do it at the last meeting. We should be having the flag. Realistically, what is wrong with flying the flag now for NAIDOC Week?


MITCHELL: Look, I don’t understand Launceston City Council’s reluctance on this. It’s a show of respect to our First Nations people and I don’t understand the reluctance. It should have been sorted out by now. I think a lot of people probably thought it had been and for this to still be an issue this far into not just NAIDOC Week but frankly 2021 beggars belief.


O’LOUGHLIN: Indeed, it does. What just happened to being an inclusive community?


MITCHELL: Well that’s right. There’s a lot of very proud First Nations people in our state and the themes of this year’s NAIDOC Week are to heal the nation and come together, so it’s a great shame Launceston City Council didn’t leap at the opportunity to be part of that.


O’LOUGHLIN: Tell me. National vaccine rollout. We’ve had lock in, lock outs and break outs on the mainland. What does that mean for Tassie and your world, Brian?


MITCHELL: We are relatively lucky in Tasmania, Mike, but we’re not immune to what’s going on in the mainland. When Sydney goes into lockdown, Melbourne, Brisbane, the aftereffects are felt here. We’ve got a $1.5b tourism industry that is impacted by those issues. Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, is now going into its third week of lockdown and that is entirely due to the fact we don’t have a functioning national quarantine system and we don’t have good vaccination rates. You know, areas that are wholly and solely the responsibility of the federal government. The federal government has really dropped the ball on vaccination roll outs and national quarantine. We’ve had 26 breakouts from hotel quarantine and it’s the breakouts from hotel quarantine that are responsible for these transmissions across the Greater Sydney Region. If we had a national quarantine system fit for purpose that was designed for quarantine. When we have livestock and animals and pets come into this country, we have a dedicated quarantine system run by the federal government and yet tourists and travellers coming in go into hotels. That was ok for the start of the pandemic but we’re 18 months in and we still don’t have a dedicated national quarantine system - that’s directly responsible for these breakouts. It’s a terrible tragedy for the nation, particularly the people of Sydney and we all feel their pain. It’s not good enough. The government has dropped the ball and they need to get acting on this much more quickly. They had the chance last year to secure Pfizer vaccines and they passed up the chance, said “nup, we don’t want those, we won’t buy those”. I can’t understand for the life of me why they’d be cheapskates on that. Why wouldn’t you, if you were offered the chance to buy Pfizer, buy the Pfizer, continue with the AstraZeneca, but why wouldn’t you have both as insurance? It’s just good business practice and I’m very disappointed with what’s going on.


O’LOUGHLIN: It’s interesting, isn’t it, because Australia’s now decided they’ll donate 2.5 million doses of AstraZeneca to Indonesia as part of a COVID-19 aid package.


MITCHELL: It’s important we are a good regional partner. We did the same with Pacific nations. If they have outbreaks there, that’s bad for Australia and of course there’s a humanitarian aspect there as well. Now we’ve got to remember that 2.5 doses to Indonesia – that’s not even one per cent of their population and they’re grappling with a big outbreak at the moment that’s even killing kids. A lot of children are dying, that’s that new variant coming out. We thought last year kids weren’t as affected by this but it’s proving otherwise. This virus mutates and changes and that why it’s so vital we get our national vaccination rollout underway. We’ve been waiting too long for vaccines; we’ve been waiting too long for the Government to get its act together on this.


O’LOUGHLIN: It certainly does seem that way, doesn’t it? The whole marketing of this procedure has certainly been very backward.


MITCHELL: I think the PM came out last week talking about a new four-phase strategy which was an announcement for a plan! I mean, all those targets have gone. We were told four million by the end of April – that didn’t happen. The government’s missed all its targets and it’s just not doing a good enough job. The other thing, Mike, is we’ve got people in Sydney now, businesses and workers who are going into their third week without work and they’ve got no income support. The NSW government is saying to the federal government “please, can you implement a wage subsidy-type arrangement like you did with JobKeeper” and Frydenberg is saying he won’t do that. So, we’ve got workers and business across Sydney being left to their own devices. They’ve used all their savings, they’ve used all their leave, they’ve even dipped into their super. They’ve got no income coming in. What are they supposed to do? What are they meant to do to survive? What’s happening in Sydney could be happening to any one of us in the country. It could be happening here in Tasmania, it could be happening in Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and the federal government needs to step up and do its job.


O’LOUGHLIN: And I think Tasmania is an absolute jewel that most people are starting to learn too much about and starting to move over here. Perhaps we’d better not tell them too much.


MITCHELL: I think that probably feeding into the property prices, Mike. But there’s nowhere you’d rather be in the world than Australia and there’s nowhere you’d rather be in Australia than Tasmania. Australia’s got a big moat and Tasmania’s got a big moat as well. But that only goes so far, you can’t rest on your laurels. We closed our borders pretty much early last year and it’s like they’ve said, “job done”. The government got very complacent about vaccinations, they certainly got complacent about national quarantine and now we’re seeing the results of that. We’re seeing continual lockdowns because of these breakouts from hotel quarantine.


O’LOUGHLIN: Do you know what, I’m very pleased with the health department and the Check-In Tas because that’s a smart move to have it. You know, people say “do I have to check in” but the thing about it is for me, I’m more than happy to check in all the time because I would forget where I went from one room to the next some days, so if someone said to me ‘where were you at such and such” at least with the check in they can follow me up. The thing about it is that Delta variant is just deadly, and you’re spot on with what happening on the mainland. We are very lucky here in Tassie but let’s not just count our chickens.


MITCHELL: It’s really important. There are people out there who say this is an impingement on their freedoms. When you’re enduring a pandemic – and we are still in the middle of a pandemic – the normal rules have to be set aside. It’ what you do in wartime and what you do in disasters like bushfires and whatever else. The normal freedoms just don’t apply. Now, I would be totally against a government telling me during normal times that I’ve got to check in everywhere I got and have my movements tracked. I’d be the first one against that. But during a pandemic, when we check in everywhere we go, if there’s a breakout they can very quickly find out who needs to be contacted, who needs to be isolated and that’s good for the health of the community so I’m 100 per cent of this new law that says wherever you go in Tasmania, whatever venue you go to, you’ve got to check in using that very easy app. I fully support it, Mike, and I would urge all your listeners to use it. Sure, when the pandemic is over, if any government says they’re going to continue with that, I’ll be the first one at the barricade saying that’s not what you do in a free society, but during a pandemic or disaster situation, during wartime, you set aside those things and act in the best interests of the community.


O’LOUGHLIN: Speaking of which, someone that you’ll be aware of – Sports Minister and Tasmanian Senator, Richard Colbeck – is off to the Tokyo Olympics to represent the government to support Brisbane’s push to host the 2032 Games. Let’s face it – I was finding this laughable. Queensland Premier Annastacia Paluszczuk was booked to fly out to the Tokyo Games but even her own, every in Queensland themselves, more than 30,000 people signed a petition calling on her to cancel her Olympic plans because of the pandemic etc.


MITCHELL: Yeah, it’s a difficulty for Palaszczuk. Her state is going to be the host of the Olympics and apparently there’s an expectation that she shows up. I couldn’t comment on that but the issue with Richard Colbeck is that he’s not just Sports Minister, he’s also Aged Care Minister. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and he’s, you know, there’s incredible concern to aged care residents. You’ve got to think that his first priority is getting on top of the pandemic but also the aged care royal commission. As Aged Care Minister, he should have other priorities than jetting off to Tokyo to swan around at the Olympics. That should not be his first priority.


O’LOUGHLIN: Well it says while in Japan Minister Colbeck will also meet with local representative for health and aged care to discuss and compare Covid-19 preparedness strategies and outbreak management which I think is interesting because Japan is going through an awful stage at the moment.


MITCHELL: Well, you know what, Mike? Get on the phone. Get on the Zoom link and talk to them over video conference. Problem solved. There’s no need for the Aged Care Minister to be abandoning Australia and abandoning aged care residents when we’ve just had a massive aged care royal commission with all these recommendations with an interim report called “Neglect” and he’s off jetting off to Tokyo. It’s not good enough.


O’LOUGHLIN: Brian, good to talk to you as per usual. Really appreciate it. Brian Mitchell in the Northern Midlands there. Your Federal Labor Member for Lyons. Brian, looking forward to having a chat in the near future.


MITCHELL: Lovely, looking forward to it.