Interview with Chris Kenny, The Kenny Report

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Return of international tourists, border re-opening, aged-cared sector.
07 February 2022

Chris Kenny: Dan Tehan is the Tourism Minister, and he joins me from Canberra. Thanks for joining us, Dan.

Dan Tehan: Pleasure, Chris, wonderful to be with you and wonderful news for Australia's tourism industry today. I know there will be tourism businesses right across the country who are thrilled by this news and the certainty that it will bring them and the 600,000 people who work in the tourism industry as well.

Chris Kenny: They will. I'll get to that topic in just a moment. I want to ask you first up, though, about the aged‑care sector. Is this a damning move to have to send in the ADF to help out in that sector? Does that show that there's not enough staff in the sector as it is?

Dan Tehan: Well, what these ADF personnel will do is provide a surge workforce where it's needed. Obviously, we already work with aged‑care facilities to help and support them, for instance, when there is a coronavirus outbreak in aged‑care facilities. What this enables us is to do provide some more assistance on top of that. Obviously, as Omicron spreads then we need to be able to provide this type of support. This will be in addition to the support that's already been provided, and we'll provide that very targeted surge workforce that's needed in some instances where we see Omicron in these aged‑care facilities.

Chris Kenny: Isn't part of the problem here, though, the rules that are too strict on isolation? Too many people who are deemed close contacts and having to isolate for seven years – seven days, sorry – shouldn't we be relaxing those rules so the workforce can be more stable?

Dan Tehan: Well, this is something that we continue to take medical advice on, and it's something we're fully aware of is if we could get to the situation where we didn't have to have that seven‑day close contact rule, it would help with the workforce. So, this is something we continue to look at. It is something we continue to get advice on. But like everything, it's a balancing act, and we've got to make sure that we get on top of the Omicron spread, make sure that we don't see surges in that which would then place more pressure on our aged‑care facilities. So, it's a balancing act, but I can tell you, it's a question that the Government keeps asking our medical experts, because if we are in a position where it is safe to do so and we can look at that seven‑day isolation rule then, obviously, for our workforce capability we would seriously look at that.

Chris Kenny: I've got to ask you about the deaths around the country and the need for perspective here. Now, I've got to start out by saying that all deaths are sad, of course. The passing of anyone is very sad, but, of course, more than 400 Australians die every day, and there are a lot of people trying to create alarm about the number of people who are dying in aged‑care centres around the country. The Prime Minister pointed out a very important statistic today when it comes to keeping perspective, and that is over 1,000 people die every week in our aged‑care sector under normal circumstances.

Sorry, Dan, did you get that? The Prime Minister pointed out that 1,000 people a week die in aged‑care centres in normal circumstances. Do we need to have more perspective about what is going on here?

Dan Tehan: Well, look, two things here, Chris, and I'd agree with you to start with that any death and any death in an aged‑care facility is, obviously, tragic and very sad. I lost a very dear friend who died in an aged‑care facility last year, but he was at the end of his life and he'd lost his dear wife three months before then. It was incredibly sad when he passed away but he got very good care in that aged‑care facility, and he's now with his loved one, so we have to understand that.

We do have to understand that in the normal course of events 1,000 people a week do die in aged‑care facilities and they get very good palliative care, and that's one of the very important roles that our aged‑care facilities play. We've got to make sure that they have the resources, that they have the ability to be able to continue to provide that, and that's what we want to do. And we do have to remember that that's what happens when you do get old and you often end up in an aged‑care facility for the last part of your life. You're right, there has to be some perspective, but we've also got to be making sure that there's that quality of care there; there's that quality of palliative care there as well, and that's what the Government is seeking to do as we deal with Omicron.

Chris Kenny: Yeah excellent, now, let's move on to your day job of tourism. Opening up the borders, February 21st – that's great news. Is there any limits on that in terms of numbers or do we get tourists from any part of the world can come to Australia from that date, so long as they're double jabbed?

Dan Tehan: If you're double jabbed you can come from anywhere, and already Tourism Australia are out, basically, making sure that the message that the opening is occurring, in those countries, is taking place. So, we're already on the game. United States, the UK  obviously, they're open to us, so they're key markets that we're looking at already.

This will help business travel as well. There's a lot of business travel that hasn't been taking place and we'll see that occur and, obviously, friends and family and relatives will see that travel pick up as well. So, very welcome news for the tourism sector. It comes on the back of what we've already done with regards to working holiday maker visa holders, our backpackers, and over the last few months we've seen over 28,000 applications from backpackers to come to Australia on top of what we've done with international students, and we've seen 7,000 international students arrive in the last week. So, we're starting to see a rebound for our tourism industry and this will just add to that. So, it's incredibly welcome news.

Chris Kenny: In the words of a great Australian, “Where the bloody hell are ya?”, hey? In the tourism sector what about cruises? Can we restart the cruise industry?

Dan Tehan: Look, we're keen to work with any state or territory to resume the cruise industry. We need to work with States and Territories around ports and the requirements we put in place there, and I've been talking with my State and Territory counterparts and we want to make sure that we can resume cruises. So, my hope would be that over the coming weeks and months we would be able to resume cruising as well. Cruising is occurring in about 78, 79 countries globally so it's already there. The cruises are already operating internationally, so it would be very good if we could get cruising operating here again as soon as we possibly can, and I look forward to further discussions with my State and Territory counterparts on that.

Chris Kenny: All right. Just before you go, I want to show you an ad that the Western Australian Government is now running in the eastern states. Have a look at this.

[excerpt plays]

Chris Kenny: They've got a nerve, haven't they? They got their borders shut, they're keeping even Sandgropers out of the state, yet they're trying to recruit people to go and live there. It highlights a problem for tourism. How are you going to go attracting people into this country when they know they can't go to the whole country, they can't go to Ningaloo Reef or Margaret River? When are you going to get that state border open?

Dan Tehan: Well, it's an important point you raise because when people travel to Australia they, more often than not, will want to travel to at least two or three states, and that's why it's important that we are opened as a whole, our whole nation is open. So, we'll continue to work with the Western Australian State Government to provide the assistance that they need to get that border open but, in the meantime, obviously, this will be very, very welcome news for all the other states and territories that are open – the fact that international tourists can now come from anywhere around the world, as long as they're double jabbed, here to Australia. We'll see a big uptake, I think, in business travel. We'll see continued arrivals when it comes to backpackers and international students. They help with the workforce, which is badly needed at the moment, because the economy, as we all know, is so strong and we're heading to that less than four per cent unemployment rate. So, obviously, we want to lead by example. We want to see Australia fully opened up. We're doing our bit, and we will just continue to encourage every state and territory to do theirs.

Chris Kenny: Great stuff. Let's get cracking. Thanks for joining us, Minister, I appreciate it.

Dan Tehan: Always a pleasure, Chris.


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