Interview with ABC News Breakfast
Iskhandar Razak: One of the other big stories we're following- so many big stories this morning. One of the other big stories we're following this morning is the reaction to yesterday's announcement of a two-way trans-Tasman travel bubble that will start from April 19. The Minister for Trade and Tourism, Dan Tehan, joins us now from Parliament House in Canberra.
Dan Tehan, good morning to you. We'll talk about that trans-Tasman in a little bit. But first we have to ask you about the vaccine rollout, the denial from the EU that it blocked 3 million doses to Australia which Scott Morrison said happened. Can you shed some light? What's actually happened here?
Dan Tehan: Well, I take this as very good news that what we're getting is a clear message from the EU that they're going to allow all shipments that are destined for Australia, in particular the ones that we have targeted, that 1 million for Papua New Guinea, that they will go ahead. So, what they seem to be giving is the green light for AstraZeneca to be able to put in their request, to be able to export to Australia and, in particular, that 1 million doses for PNG. So I look forward to that approval coming sooner rather than later, in particular, so that we can provide that much-needed — those much-needed vaccines for PNG.
Razak: But Dan Tehan, when the Prime Minister says the EU blocked 3 million doses to Australia, doses that we really were relying on to hit our targets, and the EU says there's no such thing, there was no block, what does that say? What does that mean? How did we get to this position?
Tehan: Well, they put in place export controls, and as you will remember, AstraZeneca put in to send vaccines to Australia and those vaccines were blocked. Now, what we're getting is a clear message from the EU — and that's a very welcomed one — that there won't be any more blockages, so that means in the first instance those 1 million vaccines that we want to get straightaway to PNG, they'll be able to come and hopefully AstraZeneca will be able to honour now all the other commitments that they've got with Australia to provide us with vaccines. So, you know, on face value, if what the EU are saying is they won't use their export controls anymore, this is terrific news and it means we'll be able to get more vaccines for PNG where they're much needed and hopefully here to Australia.
Razak: So, what I'm hearing from you, Minister, is there was no block, that Scott Morrison has the wrong information, 3 million doses were never blocked by the EU?
Tehan: No, that's not what you're hearing from me. What you're hearing from me is that there was an application put in to provide vaccines to Australia and that application was blocked. Now, what the EU seem to be saying now is that they will not block any future shipments so we should take that as wonderful news. That means there's 1 million vaccines hopefully on their way for PNG sooner rather than later, and also all the other contracts that we have with AstraZeneca will now be able to be honoured and AstraZeneca will be able to send those to Australia.
Razak: So, will these now just be escalated, got here as soon as possible, ASAP - 3 million doses by next week?
Tehan: Well, let's hope that AstraZeneca can put their applications in. The EU is saying that they will be approved and away we go and let's hope, in the first instance, those much-needed 1 million vaccines will be able to be provided to PNG where the situation on the ground, obviously, is very fraught and we want to make sure that we can get those vaccines to PNG as soon as we possibly can.
Razak: Well, let's talk about New Zealand. Trans-Tasman bubble is on the way. It's happening. What happens, though, if there's an outbreak in New Zealand? What happens in Australia if there's an outbreak of COVID-19 somewhere in New Zealand?
Tehan: Well, let's look at the positive news first. This is a great shot of confidence for the Australian tourism industry and for the New Zealand tourism industry. 1.4 million New Zealanders visit Australia each year, they spend $1.6 billion and we'll be launching later this week a $3 million advertising campaign in New Zealand to get those 1.4 million New Zealanders back and more, remembering they haven't got anywhere else where they can visit overseas. We'll be asking them to spend even more than $1.6 billion because that will mean jobs for our local tourism industry here in Australia. So a $3 million advertising campaign in New Zealand to start later this week to get more than 1.4 million New Zealanders here spending more than $1.6 billion.
Razak: Yes, that's wonderful, but again, what happens if there's a COVID-19 outbreak in New Zealand? How- what are the plans for Australia with the bubble? Does it suddenly burst?
Tehan: Well, obviously, we'll take the expert medical advice. The AHPPC, the medical expert panel, is working very closely with their counterparts in New Zealand and they'll advise the Australian Government and, obviously, state chief medical officers will advise state and territory governments on how we would proceed with that. But my hope is that what we're seeing now is a level of confidence return to the Australian tourism industry. We're also asking states and territories to use border closures as a last resort and to use that contact-tracing and that testing as the first response. If we can continue to do that we're going to continue to see confidence return to our tourism industry, confidence in people's willing and want to travel, and that's the best thing we can do to all those 660,000 jobs that are dependent on tourism here in Australia.
Razak: So, we could still see border closures happen in a state-by-state level or a city level? That's a reality. What's the reality for future bubbles? What other locations are being discussed and workshopped by the Federal Government right now? Singapore keeps on coming up.
Tehan: Well, we obviously will take the medical advice on that, but we would like to be able to build on this into the future. So we will continue to prioritise the vaccine rollout here in Australia. We'll monitor the situation as it's occurring overseas in other countries. Obviously Singapore would be a very good next step to build on what we have already achieved with New Zealand, but we'll take our time, we'll work that through, and we'll make sure that we have got the expert medical advice backing our assessment that that is the way that we should proceed. Then we could look at other countries such as Japan, such as Vietnam, which has also done a very good job at dealing with COVID-19, South Korea — there are many options, so we'll continue to work through those.
But today, we need to celebrate the fact that we've got our Kiwi cousins coming back, and we want to build on those 1.4 million Kiwis who come to Australia each year. We want more of them here. We want them spending more dollars here, more than $1.6 billion and supporting the jobs in the Australian tourism industry.
Razak: Dan Tehan, thank you so much for your time.
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555