Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News
Kieran Gilbert: Joining me now is the Minister for Trade and Tourism, Dan Tehan. Minister, thanks for your time. You've said that you want international borders reopened by Christmas at the latest. How would that work in a scenario where some of the states aren't even opening to each other?
Dan Tehan: Well, Kieran, what we want to see implemented is the national plan; and all states and territories have agreed to the national plan — and that says when we get to 80 per cent national vaccination rate and that state and territory reaches 80 per cent then we would open the international border and, you know, the best thing is we're on track to reach that before Christmas. And it's just going to be so important that Australians can go and visit loved ones and visit each other at Christmas and returning Australians can come back for Christmas and see their families and their loved ones. And that's why the national plan is so important and that's why we want to see it implemented.
Kieran Gilbert: The Deputy Premier in Queensland says it shouldn't be boiled down to a single number in terms of the vaccine threshold and says, in fact, that the Prime Minister is simply the master of distraction by calling on Queensland to reopen when he's had other issues on his own plate. What do you say to the Deputy Premier as he's well and truly hit out at the PM over this issue?
Dan Tehan: Well, I'd say it's incredibly important that we work together – the Commonwealth Government and state and territory governments – to make sure that loved ones can be reunited, and families can be reunited, at Christmas. And that's what we want to do. And it's not based on a single number, it's based on the Doherty Institute and their modelling. And they've modelled all these scenarios, they've looked at these numbers, they've used the best modelling in the globe. You know, Australia is very, very highly regarded when it comes to the modelling and the work it does with regards to health research. The Doherty Institute is world leading in that regard.
This isn't just a number. This is numbers which have been modelled, put together by a world-leading organisation and, you know, what we want to see is cooperation. We want to work with states and territories together to make sure that we can get the outcomes that we're all looking for – for us to be able open up internationally and for us to be able to open up so people can move freely and visit family and friends before Christmas.
Kieran Gilbert: But you can see that, you know, Queensland, for example, WA as well, they're reticent about opening when they don't have Covid now. How do you get them across that threshold? Even if you're upwards of 80 per cent, Annastacia Palaszczuk is indicating that won't necessarily mean she'll rip down the border.
Dan Tehan: By working cooperatively with them, like we have, for instance, with the tourism package we announced on the weekend. Which is, you know, a great sign of how Queensland and the Commonwealth can work together to make sure that we're providing much-needed support for tourism businesses in Queensland who are suffering immensely because of the border that's closed between Queensland and New South Wales and Queensland and Victoria, because there's a large source of tourist, domestic tourists, come from those states to Queensland.
Kieran Gilbert: So you think they'll come around?
Dan Tehan: Look, we want to work with them. We understand that they've got a very different state when it comes to Covid-19 compared to New South Wales and Victoria. So, we want to work with them. We want to work with them cooperatively. The Queensland tourism industry is too important for us not to do that. Making sure that Australians can travel to be with each other over Christmas is too important not to work together, and that's what I'm hoping we can do.
Kieran Gilbert: Well – okay. On that front of working together, explain to me how the quarantining works. Obviously, tourism bubbles, if you do open the bubble travel with other nations, the Pacific, New Zealand, Singapore, they're going to – surely they'll have to be exempt from the quarantining, is that how you see it?
Dan Tehan: Well, we'll work through those issues with the states or with the countries that we're going to put the bubbles in place. Obviously, we put together a bubble with New Zealand and that bubble didn't require any quarantining. Now, the arrangements that we put in place with New Zealand to get that bubble up and going again, with the Pacific Islands, with Singapore, with Japan, South Korea, the US, the UK, we'll look at what the Covid situation is in those countries, potentially using home quarantining. Obviously, it will depend on vaccination certification.
All these things will be things that we will work through and we'll work through with the medical experts. We'll do it with the AHPPC – that's the medical expert body which every state and territory has a representative on. So, we'll do it in a way that we know will keep the community safe but will also open up our country and especially for those returning Australians who want to come home for Christmas.
Kieran Gilbert: I've seen a number of the international airlines express concern about the arrival caps, international arrival caps. They want those removed. What sort of hope do you give them on that? When do you see the arrival cap numbers also being gone as part of Australia's Covid response?
Dan Tehan: Well, as part of the national plan once we hit that 80 per cent national vaccination rate and an individual state or territory reaches that 80 per cent vaccination rates then those caps are lifted. So that's what the national plan sets out. That's why we want to implement the national plan because once we hit that 80 per cent rate those caps are lifted. And that means that particularly for returning Australians they'll be able to return home to see loved ones for Christmas.
Kieran Gilbert: So, despite the disagreements at the moment, a few barbs being extended your way, the federal government's way, you're still hopeful that the border situation can be eased by Christmas? That you can achieve that breakthrough? Because it's not just about those international negotiations. Right now it seems the state-based negotiations are the most concerning, in terms of reopening?
Dan Tehan: Well, I am hopeful, Kieran, because I think in the end what we need to do is all governments in this nation need to come together to make sure that as many families can be together as possible for Christmas. I think what we've endured is – sorry, I think what we've endured as a country over the last 18 to 19 months in terms of keeping people separated from their families has taken a big toll. I think people have understood that they've needed to do it to keep everyone safe, but as we hit those vaccination rates, I think now more and more, they do want to be reunited. They do want to be able to come together, and my hope is that we'll all be able to work together to do that.
We put the jibes away, we put the comments away — which aren't about making sure that the families will be together, they're about keeping them apart — and make sure that we really focus on what we can do collectively to make Christmas a normal – as normal a —Christmas as we possibly can, because I think that would be the best Christmas present that governments could give the Australian people.
Kieran Gilbert: Yeah, let's hope so. We're seeing some easing of restrictions elsewhere. We hope that continues, the vaccination rate, continues to surge. Let's just wrap up, if I can, with the French reaction to the subs and the AUKUS deal. It sounds like it might have derailed the EU Free Trade Agreement. Is that done and dusted? Have we lost that now, the EU trade deal? Are you hopeful of getting that back on track?
Dan Tehan: Well, no, absolutely determined to ensure that we continue to negotiate the Australia-EU Free Trade Agreement. It's incredibly important for both countries, and I look forward to meeting with my counterpart from the European Union, Valdis Dombrovskis, when I'm in France or when I'm in Belgium in the coming weeks because –
Kieran Gilbert: They haven't lost faith in Australia?
Dan Tehan: No, look, I'm sure that the European Union understand how important this is for their engagement in the Indo-Pacific. That's a message I received loud and clear from Germany, from Belgium, from France, when I was there a few months ago — and I'm sure that hasn't changed. Just like here in Australia it hasn't changed that we see European Union engagement in the Indo-Pacific as incredibly important. We welcome the fact that they released an Indo-Pacific strategy. We want to work with them to make sure that they can implement that strategy, and obviously the EU-Australia FTA is a key component of that. So, I look forward to sitting down with Valdis Dombrovskis, working through the current issues, working through our explanation for why we took the decision that we did, one that was very much in our national interest, and making sure that we can keep progressing this free trade agreement, which is so important for Europe and for Australia.
Kieran Gilbert: Minister for Trade and Tourism Dan Tehan, thanks for your time.
Dan Tehan: Thanks.