By Tanya Plibersek

23 June 2021




SUBJECTS: Border closures; vaccine rollout; Penalties for breaking COVID rules.

SCOTT EMERSON; HOST: We're joined now by the Shadow Minister of Education and Shadow Minister for Women, Tanya Plibersek. You are ensconced in Canberra at the moment, Tanya, far far away from that outbreak in Sydney. 

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: Well, I am, but of course I'm worried about people in my electorate and I'm keeping a very close eye on what's going on in Sydney at the moment.

EMERSON: Now your own brother is stuck on the Northern Territory/West Australian border I'm told?

PLIBERSEK: Poor thing. He was going from Katherine to Kununurra and this morning they were told they'd be fine to get through. They got to the border and the West Australian Government had meanwhile closed the border, so he's sitting there literally on the border. They got offloaded off the bus and they're trying to work out how to get back from the border.

EMERSON: Where is he exactly then?

PLIBERSEK: Well he's on the Northern Territory side of the border – like if he crossed the border he's be going to Kununurra, but behind him is six hours drive to Katherine. He's got a bottle of water, nothing to eat, no car - he's basically hitchhiking. So if you got anyone, if there's anyone going from Kununurra to Katherine and they see a very sad looking Plibersek and his wife Dawn then -

EMERSON: Did you say he was on the bus and they kicked him off the bus?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, yeah, well they did. The rest of the tour are from other parts of Australia I guess, and so they kept on, they were going through to the second half of the holiday which was in Western Australia. And the sad thing obviously is when my brother arrived in Darwin last week, of course, they were COVID tested on arrival and they've been in the Northern Territory for some time now. But because their original address is New South Wales they’ve been locked out.

EMERSON: So what were they expected to do? They get kicked off the bus. What, just left there and find your own means, too bad?

PLIBERSEK: Basically, yeah. I mean -

EMERSON: That is extraordinary.

PLIBERSEK: He is a very resourceful person. 

EMERSON: Well I hope so but -

PLIBERSEK: I hope he'll be okay. But yeah, you know, it's just one example of the turmoil this sort of stuff causes and it's why it's so important we get the vaccine rollout right. That's why it's so important we get quarantine right. We need to get things back to normal. Like you mentioned school holidays. I've got two people in my office who are planning holidays to Queensland in coming weeks, God knows what will happen there. We want things to be back to normal. That's why we need to get quarantine and vaccines right.

EMERSON: We do indeed. The concern I have, and particularly I've been talking about today, is the real penalties for people who break the rules. Now look, I'm sure that your people in your office, they'll do the right thing - if they're not allowed to come to Queensland for their holidays, they won't be allowed to do that. But I mean, do you think that a fine $4,000 for someone who's caught breaching the rules and remaining anonymous, being left in the state, do you think that's enough? 

PLIBERSEK: I think, look, I'm not going to get into what appropriate fines look like, but it is important that people follow the rules. The reason Australia has done well by international standards, we've seen hundreds of deaths and that's terrible, but we haven't seen hundreds of thousands like some countries have, is because we follow the advice of the experts. People should do it voluntarily. They should be prepared to follow the advice of the experts voluntarily. But if they're not then, of course, fines are, I think perhaps necessary and appropriate in some circumstances.

EMERSON: I just reckon they should be more. That's all. I just don’t think -

PLIBERSEK: Oh I thought you were saying the opposite!

EMERSON: No, no, no, no, no. I think they should be more. They should be more, this is just a slap on the wrist. If people think they can get away with this, and they may not get caught because this is a very porous border and we're talking, we're a big country. My concern here is that it's not enough of a deterrent to stop people breaking the rules. 

PLIBERSEK: Yeah. Well I'm not going to set the amounts but absolutely people should follow the rules and they should be penalised if they don't. And we've seen examples, like that couple that came up from Victoria and went that inland route, and looked like they were really deliberately going out of their way to not draw the attention of the authorities and as it happened, both of them ended up having COVID. I mean, things like that are really dangerous and, I might say, really selfish as well. 

EMERSON: Tanya Plibersek, great to talk to you. Will catch you again next week.

PLIBERSEK: Always a treat. See you.