Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack was accused of distorting reality during Monday night’s episode of Q+A, linking Black Lives Matter protests to Victoria’s coronavirus dilemma as the Government was criticised for failing Australians stranded overseas.
- Mr McCormack said Black Lives Matter protests ‘can’t have helped’ Victoria’s latest COVID-19 outbreak
- Shadow Home Affairs Minister Kristina Keneally said the Government was not doing enough to help stranded Australians
- Australian Medical Association President Omar Khorshid said caps on Australians stuck overseas was “arbitrary” policy
Shadow Home Affairs Minister Kristina Keneally said the Federal Government had done more for seafood exports than the 25,000 Australians the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) says were trying to return home.
DFAT estimates that around 3,500 of those Australians are in vulnerable situations.
Nationals leader Mr McCormack said the Government was limited in terms of the number of people it could fly home and get into quarantine, but that didn’t placate the former NSW premier.
“Is there any more Australian value than look after your mates?” Ms Keneally asked.
“There is a lot more that could be done — yes, there is a weekly cap of 4,000 [people, but] it is not at capacity, and it hasn’t been at capacity.
“There are only four cities where international flights are currently allowed to arrive — why aren’t we using Darwin or Gold Coast or Canberra where we could have international airports?”
Mr McCormack deflected, saying the problem of returning Australians home “has been exacerbated by states closing their borders”.
Ms Keneally was having none of that.
“This Government was very quick to put in place a plan to ship seafood out of the country,” she said.
“If you are a lobster or a crayfish, you get a chartered flight out of Australia.
“We spent $350 million and 1,800 chartered flights taking our seafood out of Australia — that is great for seafood trade, but what have we done for stranded Australians?
“How many chartered flights? None.”
Host Hamish Macdonald asked if the Government was considering more rescue flights — like the ones out of Wuhan in the early stages of the pandemic. Mr McCormack said “all options” were on the table.
Fellow panellist, Australian Medical Association President Omar Khorshid, said more could be done for Australians stranded overseas, labelling Government policy “arbitrary”.
“The Government could do something right now, if it really wanted to,” Dr Khorshid said.
“The 4,000 caps … that is an arbitrary number, the size of the hotel quarantine, that’s arbitrary.
“I think a little bit of compassion is what it is needed here to look after the lives of Australians, and that also means protecting us here in Australia from the virus.”
But Dr Khorshid also praised the Government on border restrictions and hotel quarantine.
“Don’t take what I said as not being supportive of hotel quarantine. It is the one most successful measure that protected the country from the virus,” he said.
“We need the border restrictions, we need the hotel quarantine but the Government can look after Australians at the same time.”
Mr McCormack said the caps on numbers were dictated by states.
“We have allowed the premiers to actually give us the number that they felt comfortable, that they could manage and maintain, whilst making sure that the integrity of the quarantine system was what it needs to be so that we don’t get more community transmission,” he said.
Deputy PM accused of ‘Trumpism’
Australia’s biggest coronavirus caseload is in Victoria but the state came under fire on Monday, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison calling for the Andrews Government to fast-track their coronavirus roadmap.
Other premiers have also resisted federal pressure to open borders, particularly Western Australia’s Mark McGowan and Queensland’s Annastacia Palaszczuk.
After Dr Khorshid discussed the benefits of borders remaining closed, it was put to Mr McCormack if other states could trust Victoria’s contact tracing, given the large outbreak there.
“Let’s wait and see,” he said.
“We have had that outbreak because of the security guards, who did the wrong thing.
“We had that outbreak because of a family who gathered in too large a number. We had the outbreak in Victoria because of a [Black Lives Matter] protest rally.”
Macdonald immediately challenged him, asking: “What’s the evidence of the protest rally leading to the outbreak?”
Mr McCormack replied: “There were three confirmed cases from one of those protest rallies.”
But MacDonald said the Deputy PM was drawing a link not substantiated in fact, and, after evidence of this was presented, was asked if he accepted what he said was wrong.
“No, I don’t. I don’t think people should be protesting actually at the moment … that can’t have helped,” Mr McCormack said.
AMA President Dr Khorshid said he was not aware of any evidence linking the BLM protest to Victoria’s outbreak, and then Ms Keneally got stuck in.
“I’m gobsmacked about what I heard from the Deputy Prime Minister,” she said.
“Trying to assert that this second wave in Victoria is linked directly to the Black Lives Matter protest… I mean, that is an alternative fact, Trumpism, make up your own reality.”
Ms Keneally then launched an attack on the Federal Government’s COVID-Safe app.
“You know what would help the contact tracing in Victoria? If we had an app that worked,” she said.
“This COVIDSafe app was supposed to be our ticket from freedom, our way out. It hasn’t yet found one unique contact that wasn’t found by manual tracking and tracing.
“The New South Wales Opal Card has done a better job at tracking coronavirus than this COVID app.
“And what I’m frustrated by here is that we have a Commonwealth Government that is responsible for the app, responsible for aged care and mental health and yet all I’ve heard is, ‘we’re working on it’.
“There is no clear strategy or plan here in place.”