Subjects: Sydney Train Strikes; Borders Opening; Russia-Ukraine


PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Now Michelle Rowland live for us from Sydney. Michelle, good morning and good to catch up. Well, you didn't catch a train in, how'd you get into the city?


MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: No, I drove in today, and as anyone from Western Sydney knows, you usually leave at least an hour to get into the city. And if you leave after 6:30am, you're probably leaving too late. Which is the usual ‘MO’ if you live in my part of the world.


STEFANOVIC: So how are things out there now that the trains are out of play?


ROWLAND: It has actually been getting heavier over the last few weeks as I think holidays for schools have obviously ended and people are starting to return to the office. I have noticed that there are more commuters at train stations in the morning. So, there is a good deal of people from Western Sydney who are starting to go back into the city. We are a commuter society, and it really does seem to be getting pretty much back to normal in terms of volumes of traffic there.


STEFANOVIC: Yeah, I mean, just one more on this one. I mean, now I know this is a New South Wales Government issue to sort out but I mean, there has been some pretty heavy language this morning, when it comes to the strike action. “Industrial bastardry”, are some of the words that have been used, “disrespect”, that’s the word that the PM used just now. You’ve got these stations in your electorate, heavy commuter electorate, as you just said. I mean, is this the right time to do these sorts of things?


ROWLAND: Well, Scott Morrison might like to pick up the phone to his New South Wales counterparts if they want to talk to him. And as the Transport Union in this case has said, they had workers who had turned out ready to drive trains and ready to work, and to engage in low Industrial action that would not have impacted commuters. But instead, were told that they wouldn't be driving the trains today. So, let's get some facts on the table. The reality is that there has been a long laundry list of issues that have been concerning many people who were employed by Sydney Trains, including privatisation, but also including really important work, health and safety issues. And this has been known for some time, so perhaps you would like to get some facts from the New South Wales Government. I'll end on this point, I remember the head of the RTBU once upon a time telling me that Gladys Berejiklian was a fantastic Transport Minister and was able to have a good working relationship with the unions and ensuring that the trains and public transport were kept running. Unfortunately, Dominic Perrottet doesn't seem to be able to follow in her footsteps.


STEFANOVIC: One of the other big transport-related stories today is international flights back into Sydney Airport and Melbourne Airport, other airports around Australia too. Some 56 planes coming in today, Michelle. I guess the next step is when to allow unvaccinated travelers back in. The UK is allowing it already. Have you got a timeframe on when you would like to see that, or you would be okay with that? Bearing in mind, we've got such high vaccination levels now.


ROWLAND: We would always take the best health advice on this. I note that even today, there will be some travelers surely on those planes who are not vaccinated for whatever reason, including on the grounds of medical exemptions. But we'd always need to take that medical advice. At the end of the day, I think it's very pleasing for the Australian economy that this is starting up again. In terms of local economies as well. I've got travel agents in my area who have done it so tough over the last two years and have basically spent that time processing refunds. They will be glad to see that while this will be a slow climb, at least there is a pathway for them going forward.


STEFANOVIC: Is now the time to start having a conversation about when to allow unvaccinated travelers in without having to quarantine?


ROWLAND: I think it is opportune because if we decide to open our borders, of course, the question is: How open are you? But I think that that is one that should always be based on health advice and should always be done mindfully. I think, remember, last time we were discussing this, it was on the verge of Omicron. We should be aware that variants unfortunately may always emerge. And whilst we have good vaccination rates, we can't let our guard down.


STEFANOVIC: Just one more on Ukraine and the fact that we are helping out in Ukraine's ability to be able to stop cyber warfare coming in from Russia. Do you believe that this is a good move for us to get involved and be that good global citizen?


ROWLAND: Well, Australia has some of the best cyber experts in the world. We do need more depth in terms of our skillset, as the sector will tell you. But we have excellent companies who are well-versed in this area. I think this is opportune because as many analysts are pointing out, whilst it may not be - and we hope it is not - a direct physical invasion by Russia - with the word “imminent” used in this context - attempting to make Ukraine a failed state by impacting on its banking systems, its digitisation and so forth is a very real threat. I think Australia has much to offer in this area, both in terms of our skillset, but also in terms of the many excellent private companies that we have operating in this sphere.


STEFANOVIC: Okay, Michelle Rowland. Appreciate your time as always. Thank you. We'll talk to you soon.