Interview with Jim Wilson, 2GB

  • Transcript
Subjects: Vaccination rollout and national plan to open borders.
30 August 2021

Jim Wilson: Now, 13 past four. Dan Tehan is the Federal Minister for Tourism and has said we won't be able to head overseas until the entire country has reached that magic 80 per cent fully vaccinated number. Well, now the national plan is based on modelling by the Doherty Institute, and I'm right behind it. I do think it should be one in, all in. But, if Mark McGowan and Annastacia Palaszczuk are so keen to break away from the plan when it comes to opening up their state borders, well, why should we have to stick to it and delay getting our lives back to normal? Our state's vaccine rollout is absolutely flying. So why should we have to sit back and twiddle our thumbs while Queensland and WA keep their borders shut and go slow on the vaccine rollout? Dan Tehan is the Federal Minister for Tourism and he joins me live on the line. Minister, welcome back to Drive.

Dan Tehan: Great to be with you, Jim.

Jim Wilson: Well, considering Mark McGowan and Annastacia Palaszczuk are set to walk away from the national plan when it comes to opening state borders on the Doherty model, why should New South Wales residents have to stick to the same plan and delay their much-anticipated overseas holidays?

Dan Tehan: Well, Jim, our hope is that all states and territories will stick to the national plan because they signed up to it. That's how we make sure that we learn to live with the virus. That's how we make sure that we can safely open up our country, and every state and territory signed up to the national plan, and we expect that everyone will abide by it. And once we hit that 70 per cent mark, so when 70 per cent of the population in Australia are vaccinated and 70 per cent in a particular state, then that state will have the right to begin to open up and make the decisions that they need to. And then when we hit 80 per cent, so that's 80 per cent across Australia and 80 per cent in a particular state, then those external borders will begin to open so people can travel freely domestically, outbound international travel restrictions will be lifted and we'll start putting in place travel bubbles. We had one with New Zealand, with the Pacific, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, the UK, US. All will be looked at and we're all beginning to do work on.

Jim Wilson: You're a hundred per cent right as far as, you know, this model by the Doherty Institute – one in, all in. However, you're being hopeful that Mark McGowan and Annastacia Palaszczuk come to the table. If they don't you can understand why New South Wales and listeners on this program this afternoon are saying, 'Well, hang on a minister, Minister. If they're not willing to play ball, then we're well within our rights once we get to 70 to 80 per cent to actually travel overseas'.

Dan Tehan: Well, my hope is – and you've got to remember, New South Wales and Victoria are the two most populous states, and the way we've seen vaccination rates in Tasmania, in South Australia, they're starting to pick up in Queensland and Western Australia as well – my hope is that what we'll see is we'll hit that 80 per cent national rate and then every state and territory that also has hit that 80 per cent mark will begin to see the benefits. And what it will actually provide then is an incentive in Queensland, as you mentioned before, their tourism industry, it's so important, that outbound travel and inbound travel can start for the Queensland tourism industry. We'll see other states actually realise that they've got to lift their rates up as well.

So, I think the national plan is a good one. It's based on very good science, the Doherty Institute science. It's got whenever everyone signed up to it. So, I think the most important thing is we hold our nerve, make sure that everyone sticks to the plan and thinks about those tourism businesses, whether they be in South Australia. You had that text message there from someone who works in the aviation industry. We've just had a support package which we've done 50-50 with Western Australia to help some of their tourism businesses. We've done a tourism package of support with Queensland.

Now, I think everyone understands how devastating this pandemic, in particular, has been to the aviation and tourism sector and I think having signed on to the national plan all state and territory leaders will adhere to it, and that's going to be incredibly important for New South Wales and the rest of the country.

Jim Wilson: Well, if they don't, though, would New South Wales at 70 to 80 per cent, will they be free to travel overseas, if Queensland and WA go their own way?

Dan Tehan: Well, at 70 per cent, so when you've got a national average of 70 per cent, New South Wales are at 70 per cent, what's been agreed is that lockdowns will be less likely and there'll be more freedom for those people in New South Wales to travel more freely either whether it be within New South Wales, or Victoria was at that 70 per cent mark, you would start to see travel freely between Victoria and New South Wales. Tasmania might be there. So, it will really depend on the progress that's being made, remembering also that we were able – the commonwealth government was able to provide some additional Pfizer for New South Wales given the circumstances there. So that's why given it's a national plan we think the national average, when you hit 70, you get those additional freedoms, then you hit 80 and you start to look at that outbound travel. That's why the national plan, we think, backed by the Doherty Institute, is the way to go.

Jim Wilson: Okay, but if WA and Queensland go their own way, at 80 per cent New South Wales people can expect to go overseas?

Dan Tehan: Well, if we've got a national average of 80 per cent. And the national average doesn't mean that every state has to be at 80 per cent.

Jim Wilson: Sure.

Dan Tehan: It just means that you've got a national average of 80, and then if New South Wales is 80, then according to the plan, that outbound travel kicks in and also inbound travel begins to kick in. So – and that's what everyone signed up to – and the thing for me, Jim – and, you know, I think you're probably exactly the same – if every state and territory signed up to the plan, then surely they should adhere to it.

Jim Wilson: They should. And obviously case numbers have risen dramatically in New South Wales and also in Victoria since they signed on at national cabinet. But the bottom line is they've signed on. And it's the way forward. Because the bottom line is we have to learn to live with this virus. That's – end story.

Dan Tehan: Couldn't agree more. Could not agree more. That is – we've got to learn to live with the virus. We've got to open up safely. There's a plan there. Get the vaccination rates up.

Jim Wilson: Sure.

Dan Tehan: And suppress and then do that. And I can tell you, I was in Singapore about six or seven weeks ago and met with their new trade minister who's been the health minister for the last, I think, nearly a decade. And he said to me quite clearly when I met with him then, as far as Singapore was concerned with Delta, you suppress, you vaccinate and then you learn to live with it. That is how we now have to move. And that's exactly what we're seeking to do here in Australia. It's what the rest of the world is seeking to do. And we've just got to make sure we stick to the plan that's been put in place.

Jim Wilson: I'm speaking to Dan Tehan, the Federal Minister for Tourism and Trade. Now, your Liberal colleague Jason Falinski, the member for McKellar on the Northern Beaches, was on the program a short time ago. He's gone against your government and is pushing for international travel for New South Wales once our state hits that 80 per cent vaccine threshold. Let's just have a listen to what he told me in the last hour.

Jason Falinski: You know, this national plan that Dan's talking about, well, I don't know how to break it to him but, you know, Annastacia and Mark McGowan have thrown it out the door. They've decided they're going on a different path. I don't understand why you would hold all Australians back to the lowest common denominator, which seems to be the Western Australian and Queensland Premiers at the moment.

Jim Wilson: So, Minister, you've got some colleagues who are very frustrated asking that question.

Dan Tehan: Yeah, no, look, and I can understand why Justin's – sorry, Jason's frustrated. And I think, you know, Jason has to understand that it's a national plan, and we're not saying that every state – Western Australia or, you know, South Australia or Queensland – has to be at 80 per cent; it's 80 per cent for the state and it's 80 per cent nationally. That's what we all signed up to. That's what the commonwealth government signed up to. And I think it's, you know, all very well for us to say that we've signed up to a national plan and then to sort of say, “Oh, well, now we want to change the circumstances.” I think all governments signed. All governments have committed to it. All of us have to say this is what we're doing.

And, in particular, I think when it comes to New South Wales, I can understand why they're doing such an outstanding job in getting jabs in people's arms. It's absolutely leading the country, but what we've got to do is make sure that every other state over the next couple of months has the ability to try and catch New South Wales and then we hit that national 80 per cent and away we go. I can tell you, as Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister, my portfolio is about getting people moving, moving overseas, coming into the country, moving around the country. No-one wants this more than I do. But we've just got to make sure that all of us understand that a national plan was put in place based on the science of the Doherty Institute – and that's what they recommended and that's why we need to stick to the plan.

Jim Wilson: Million-dollar question, Minister: when does Australia hit the 80 per cent vaccination threshold?

Dan Tehan: Yes, very good question. And Lieutenant-General John Frewen, who is in charge of our vaccination rollout, is the best person to go to to ask that question. But I'm pretty sure that he has said that we will hit it by December so - but get him on the show and I'm sure he'd be able to step you through how it's looking. They're doing now – they're able to do modelling to see how everyone's – how we're tracking on all that. And he'd be able to make sure that he can get you right up to speed with that because it's a very important question.

And what we've seen in Australia is the amount of vaccination that is taking place per head of population is now at levels that no other country globally has matched. So, we're doing an outstanding job in getting shots in people's arms, and Australians are just turning up and doing the right thing. So now it's a just a matter of we just keep that going and hopefully we'll have that 80 per cent target reached by Christmas. And, you know, imagine what that will mean for everyone being able to go and see loved ones at Christmas – I tell you, I can't wait.

Jim Wilson: Hallelujah. I mean, we want to travel around our own country let alone possibly overseas as well for those who have got loved ones overseas and those wanting to come home as well. There's so much – there is so much incentive as far as getting that vaccination rate up.

Just before I let you go, the private sector's ready to go. I mean, last week Qantas said they want to start flying to the US and Canada in December. The planes are there. You know, New South Wales is well on track to get to the 70 to 80 per cent by October, early November. You know, we're ready to go, Minister.

Dan Tehan: Yep, ready to go, and Qantas are doing the planning, Virgin are doing the planning and can I tell you, I was in discussions with my Singaporean counterpart last week on Thursday, and we had some very serious discussions around a bubble with Singapore. Because we want to get those bubbles up and going as soon as we hit that 80 per cent mark. And we're putting in place all the processes that will be required so that when we are ready to go we will be able to go. And we'll be able, for instance, when it comes to vaccination certification, there'll be a system which works between both countries. So, everyone's doing the work so that when we hit that magic number and we open up we're ready to move.

Jim Wilson: Minister, thank you for your time, as always.

Dan Tehan: Pleasure, Jim.

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