Interview with David Campbell and Jayne Azzopardi, Today
David Campbell: Yeah, with travel plans for so many thrown in chaos as people face huge queues, as you just saw then, and delays to get tested. For more now we're joined by Tourism Minister Dan Tehan from Hamilton in Victoria. Minister, great to have your insight on this this morning. Travelling is so hard right now, even though the borders are open. You can understand the frustration in the community, can't you?
Dan Tehan: Look, I can understand the frustration. But it's wonderful that the borders are open. It's wonderful that people are able to travel to reunite with family this Christmas. And we're coming out of a pandemic and we're dealing as best we can with the situation. Obviously, state and territory governments, commonwealth government, working as closely as they can to make this Christmas special for so many people.
So, it will require some patience, and I'm sure that all state and territory authorities will be doing everything they can to make it as seamless as possible. But the big picture is we're reuniting for Christmas, and I think that's just wonderful news for everyone.
Jayne Azzopardi: It's certainly not seamless at the moment, though. If you've been watching this morning you've seen those long queues in just about every state capital to get tested. And that's even before people have to wait to get their results. What's your advice? Do people need to think twice about going away over Christmas and New Year's?
Dan Tehan: No, my advice is follow your plans, reunite with your families, with your friends. Everyone's working as hard as they can to obviously deal with the queues and to make sure that it is as seamless as possible. Obviously there's strong demand for people to want to travel and what I would do is say just make sure you can as best you can plan ahead. But, please, reunite with your families, reunite with your friends. Take that holiday. You deserve it.
The vaccination rates in this country are now amongst the highest in the world. And we want people to be able to reap the benefits of that. And I think that's what Australians want to do. I think they want to take this opportunity to be able to join loved ones again for Christmas. It's so special that we can do that. So, my advice is it is tough, there are some long queues and some long waits. Be patient. It's worth it because it's just going to be so special to have us all together again.
David Campbell: I think it's worth it, but I think you're right, I think people want to have a holiday, but they are confused. You know, they thought that we were getting to a certain stage. Omicron's obviously thrown everyone on the back foot. The travel industry is having a hard time as well. We know from Rex Airlines – we spoke to them yesterday – they're getting a lot of cancellations because people are just too anxious or they're not getting, you know, their stuff in time to fly. We can see that hotel bookings are going down in the city in Sydney at the moment. How is this going to have an effect on the tourism industry if people can't travel or are too scared to travel?
Dan Tehan: Well, one of the things and one of the reasons why the PM has obviously convened national cabinet [inaudible] is he wants to be able to send a very clear message and a message of confidence to people that we're watching what's occurring and we want to make sure that everyone understands that the best medical advice that we've had right throughout this pandemic is being provided.
And we want people to continue to book with certainty, to take their holidays with certainty because we've done the hard work. We've done the vaccinating. We've got for over 70s it's now over 99 per cent are double dosed. For over 50s it's over 96 per cent. Obviously we've brought the boosters forward from six to five months. So we're doing everything we can. And what we want to do is provide that certainty to people to take that holiday, to visit loved ones and be together at Christmas.
Jayne Azzopardi: But, minister, people aren't feeling certain about this. People who thought they were fully vaxxed after two doses are now being told, “Well, you're not really fully vaxxed until you have a third dose.” They're having trouble making those appointments. There might be enough booster in the country, but it's not in all the right places that it needs to be so people are having to spend time to phone around. People are waiting up to 7 hours overnight in Adelaide for a queue to get a PCR test, and then they're waiting 48, 72 hours to get the results. They're being told, “Get a rapid test, that might help you before you go to your Christmas meeting,” but they're very expensive and beyond the reach of a lot of Australians. Why isn't the government opening more PCR testing stations, increasing capacity for testing and providing free rapid antigen tests to people who need it? Why aren't you doing that?
Dan Tehan: Well, obviously we're working with state and territory governments to make sure that those testing regimes are in place. I think –
Jayne Azzopardi: But they're not there already. I mean, we knew this was coming.
David Campbell: But the capacity's been reached already, minister. And we've been seeing it all morning.
David Campbell: And it's driving more of a higher anxiety rate for people out there who want Christmas exactly the way you just sold it to us then. They want to sit on a beach. They want to be with their families at Christmas time.
Dan Tehan: Yeah, look, we all do, and we deserve it. And what we've got to do is continue to work with the state and territory governments to get those testing regimes in place so they're moving a lot quicker. And that will be one of the things that will be discussed at national cabinet, is how we can make sure we can deal with the strong surge of people wanting to be able to move to be reunited with loved ones and friends for Christmas. And that will be one of the things that will be discussed at national cabinet, is what we can do to make it seamless as we possibly can, understanding that we're dealing with a new variant and what the uncertainty that that's brought. But we want to be able to as best we can provide that certainty. Because this Christmas is going to be a special one for so many people. We want to make sure as best we can that it will be.
Jayne Azzopardi: Do you think maybe you should have discussed it last week so it could already be in place by this week?
Dan Tehan: Look, obviously there has been discussions which have been taking place. But we want to now make sure that we're providing – bringing all the state and territory leaders together so that we can provide that certainty and we can work out what needs to be done to make this Christmas as seamless as possible for people who do need to move interstate.
We've got to just step back and remember the best thing we've got is state borders open pretty much right across the country apart from Western Australia. So that is wonderful for Christmas. We're nearly whole again as a nation. Now we've got to work through and make sure that we can do that in a safe way but a way that is seamless for people in that they can get to their loved ones, that they can visit those friends and make this Christmas so special. And that's why the calling of this national cabinet today was so important in that regard.
David Campbell: Yeah, well, let's hope some results come from that, because Christmas is coming and people are really starting to feel the pressure. Minister, we appreciate your time this morning. Thank you so much.
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