Interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC Afternoon Briefing

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Media Bargaining Code and Facebook, Vaccines, Travel bubbles, Support for the tourism sector, Brittany Higgins.
18 February 2021

Patricia Karvelas: For more on all of this I was joined by the Minister for Tourism, Trade and Investment Minister Tehan a little earlier. Minister, welcome.

Dan Tehan: Pleasure to be with you, Patricia.

Karvelas: What does it say about the state of the discussions with Facebook that the Government had no notice of this action?

Tehan: Well, we’ve always wanted to have constructive discussions with Facebook, and that’s what we have been having, and I think the actions by Facebook overnight haven’t done their cause any good at all to be honest, and I think the best thing that can happen now is we get back to those constructive negotiations. That’s what’s happened with Google, and we’ve got a very fair and reasonable outcome when it comes to Google and the news providers here in Australia. And, there’s no reason why we can’t get the same with Facebook and that’s what we want. And, we’ll continue to have a constructive dialogue with Facebook, and our hope is we’ll get a similar resolution to that that we got with Google.

Karvelas: Google ultimately decided to cooperate, as you mentioned. Why do you think Facebook’s resisting?

Tehan: I’m not quite sure, and all I would say to Facebook is that the Federal Government does want to resolve this, and resolve it in a way that is fair for Facebook, but fair for the news providers here in Australia — and Google have been able to do that. They’ve worked with the Government and with our news providers here, and we’ve got an outcome that works in everyone’s good — and that’s what we want to achieve with Facebook. And, I’d say to Facebook, please, sit down in good faith and continue the discussions with the Government and with the news providers here in Australia, and we can get an outcome that works for all parties and that’s what we want to see.

Karvelas: So, what happens if you lose Facebook as a platform to communicate important messages around things like the vaccine rollout, which is so important to an industry like the one that you represent, tourism, getting back on track?

Tehan: Well, we want to make sure that we don’t lose Facebook, and that’s why we’re continuing to have constructive negotiations with them. But, the Government has made it very clear that we will put in place the mandatory code so the best thing is for Facebook to continue good faith discussions with the Government, like Google did, and then we can resolve this issue. And, that’s what we want to see, and I say once again to Facebook, please, do the right thing by communities in Australia because your actions overnight, I think, has shocked many Australian communities and many Australian community organisations. Sit down with the Government, sit down with the news providers here in Australia, and let’s work this through so that we get an outcome that works for all parties.

Karvelas: What particular concerns do you have for regional media? I mean, you represent a regional seat. Regional media has moved online in many cases. It will have devastating effects, will it not, for regional media?

Tehan: It will, and I was talking today with one of my local news providers and their Facebook page has now gone blank, and I don’t think that’s in the interests of local communities in country areas because often, often these, Facebook acts as a community bulletin. It brings people together, enables people —in often spread out, due to work arrangements, whether they be working on farms or contractors servicing those farms – it enables people to stay connected, and it’s become a very important tool for our local communities. And, that’s why I think the, and the feedback that we’ve received from those local communities – is one of shock that Facebook would take this action, and I think they’re surprised that Facebook can’t sit down in a responsible way, like Google did, and sort this out with the Government.

Karvelas: Are we too dependent on Facebook, in the way some critics say Australia became too dependent on China?

Tehan: Well, I think one of the things that has probably shocked many Australians is how they were dependent on Facebook for the news that they were receiving and, I think, that that’s become very apparent for them overnight, or apparent to them overnight. So, look, we want to work constructively with them. It’s a tool that’s used by many people in Australia as a way of staying connected, of keeping informed but what we want to make sure is that any news provision that’s delivered on that medium by Facebook, that those media organisations get a fair compensation for the provision of that news. And, that’s why we’ve made it clear that we want to, we’ll put in place a mandated code, but our preference would be, like we saw with Google, is that we can work through this issue with Facebook to resolve it in a way that’s satisfactory to them and to the news providers in this country.

Karvelas: Is what Facebook is doing a threat to democracy?

Tehan: Look, I think we’ve got to be careful with how much or how, the strength of the language that we use. I think, potentially, what we saw overnight was them trying to use a negotiating tactic, which I think backfired on them and so, I think, that’s what, that’s how I would describe it, as a pretty clumsy negotiating effort that I think has not worked. So, I think, hopefully they’ve learnt the lesson from that and learnt that constructive dialogue is the best way to proceed and sitting down in good faith is the best way to achieve outcomes and that’s what we want to see. We have to remember, countries across the world are watching these discussions and are watching these negotiations. So, I think it’s really important for Facebook that they behave in a manner that people will see that they’re acting with respect, they’re following due process, and taking all necessary steps to resolve this the right way.

Karvelas: Minister, how confident are you that the additional shipments of the Pfizer vaccine will arrive in Australia on schedule?

Tehan: Look, we’re very confident that we’ll be able to roll the vaccine out as we planned. I met with the EU Ambassador two weeks ago and went through with him the processes the European Union have put in place, especially around export notification. He assured me that this would not disrupt the shipments, and as we’ve seen from the first shipments, he was true to his word. So, my hope is, as long as all the logistics work, and that includes the shipments, that we will be able to roll this vaccine out as planned. We’ve also got safeguards around domestic production, which will help and assist that – CSL with AstraZeneca. So we are very confident the rollout of this vaccine will occur as planned, and it’s great to see the announcement today that that rollout will start. It will start with the frontline health workers, those on our borders, and also in our aged care facilities, because I think it’s incredibly important for giving confidence to the Australian community that we can get the vaccine rollout occurring, occurring with people knowing that we’ve followed the absolute due process with regards to getting the approvals from the TGA, and that’s going to make another step difference in how we’re able to conduct our lives in this COVID-19 pandemic.

Karvelas: When are you expecting that the Novavax vaccine will be available in Australia?

Tehan: Well, that’s a question that, ultimately, you’ll best address to the Minister for Health. He’s got all those details around specific arrivals. But, what I can say to all listeners this afternoon is that our vaccine rollout is on track. Negotiations with states and territories have been very productive. Negotiations with GPs, who will also administer the vaccine, have been very constructive, and everything is on track to see this vaccine rollout occur at pace and, as the Chief Medical Officer has said, this will be the most significant and largest vaccine rollout that we’ve probably seen in Australian history. So, the fact that we’re in this position to be able to conduct the rollout on time, and in a way that we’ve planned for, I think is very, very positive.

Karvelas: Minister, do the latest issues around hotel quarantine suggest that travel bubbles with countries like Vietnam or Singapore might not be safe until we have more people vaccinated, and what is that vaccination rate that we need?

Tehan: Well, we’re still very hopeful that we can get a travel bubble up and operating with New Zealand by the end of March or the end of April. I think it would be an incredibly positive step. I think, as we roll the vaccine out, there is no reason why we can’t commence those travel bubbles with countries that have been able to deal with the pandemic in a way that we have, and I think New Zealand stands with Australia as a country that’s been able to deal with COVID-19 in a way that basically means that, at the moment, there is no community transmission. So, that’s my hope, and then we can look to other countries. I don’t think it necessarily needs to be a certain percentage of the community that has to be vaccinated before that starts. So, my hope is that we could get New Zealand up and running. I think it’s going to be incredibly important, especially for our tourism sector, that we can, and then we look to other countries, like Vietnam, like Japan, and we’ll continue to monitor the vaccine rollout in those countries. Obviously, how it’s going here, and whether we still have that literally zero spread amongst the community, and therefore we can move to implement these bubbles. But, it will be something the Government will be keen to watch and monitor and implement as soon as we can, because we know that getting that international travel up and running again is so important for our economy and the way we come out of this COVID-19 pandemic.

Karvelas: Can you give us a sense of the specific support you’re considering for the tourism sector when JobKeeper ends, which is actually just next month?

Tehan: Well, we’re considering that at the moment, and I’m still consulting with the sector as to the current impact that border closures having, state-wide lockdowns having on them –  trying to get a sense of the type of assistance that they’re looking for. Obviously, the Government has been very clear that JobKeeper will end at the end of March, but we’ve also been clear that we want to work with the sector to make sure that we’re still providing support and, you know, one of the things that my trip to Queensland last week really hit home to me was that the uncertainty that’s being caused by state-wide lockdowns, by snap border closures, is really killing confidence in people’s willingness or want to travel. It’s having a chilling effect on the tourism industry. That’s 666,000 jobs, so that’s something that we really would like to see as now used as a last resort, and with the vaccine rollout, my hope is that’s the message that states and territories will receive and hear. So …

Karvelas: … That’s an interesting point you make, because Daniel Andrews, the Victorian Premier, was asked whether he would rule out future lockdowns after Victoria today came out of that five-day lockdown. He said he wouldn’t rule that out. Should he be? Is that what you’re saying, because are you worried that Victorians, for instance, are reluctant about booking a holiday to Queensland in a month or two or three because they don’t know what might be happening?

Tehan: Look, there’s no doubt that they’re reluctant to book travel, and that’s the message that’s come through loud and clear and that jeopardises 666,000 jobs. What we’d like to see is all state and territory leaders come out and say that they would use that as a last resort. That they’ll use their testing, their contact tracing, as the first resort, and basically exhaust that first before going to border closures and snap lockdowns — and, if we could get a message like that out, that would give confidence to people who want to travel, and there are lots of Australians who do. There is still strong …

Karvelas: … So, just to be clear, you think now lockdowns should basically be taken out of the toolkit, unless there’s a significant outbreak?

Tehan: I think they should be a last resort, and that’s the message that I’m getting loud and clear from the tourism industry and those businesses that employ 666,000 Australians – that it should be used as a last resort – and what we should be doing is doing everything we can to use our contact tracing and testing in the first instance, and if we do that we’ll be able to generate the jobs and the employment and the income that we need to make sure that we strongly rebound out of this COVID-19 recession, and I think that’s incredibly important. We’ve got to make sure we get the balance right between protecting lives and protecting livelihoods and getting the risk appetite correct in that regard is going to be absolutely important, and with the vaccine rollout starting, I think what we need to see is that the focus on livelihoods remains paramount, along with the focus on protecting lives.

Karvelas: Minister, just finally on this horrendous story into this alleged rape. Brittany Higgins, the woman who alleges she was raped in the, in a Minister’s office, says if Scott Morrison’s office is briefing against her, it must stop. Do you agree with Brittany Higgins?

Tehan: Well, this is obviously a police matter, and I think everyone should respect the fact that it’s a police matter. Let the police deal with it and, I think, the other important message out of this is that we’ve got to make sure in the Federal Parliament that we’ve got clear processes in place to deal with sexual assault, and that, I think, is the important lesson that’s come out of this week. And, we’re going to have three inquiries that are being undertaken. There’s going to be a bipartisan approach to making sure that we do have protocols in place …

Karvelas: … Sure, but there shouldn’t be any briefing against this woman?

Tehan: Look, this is a police matter, and I think the best thing that everyone can do is respect that this is a police matter. And, you know, people should, I think, respect the parties and respect the process that occurs when these type of events take place. And, as far as I’m concerned, police matter, that’s where it should end, and we should let the police do their job and, in the meantime, let’s make sure that this Parliament has the right protocols and processes in place so that we're all very clear about how these issues should be dealt with.

Karvelas: One of your colleagues-ish, Pru Goward, former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, but she was a Liberal New South Wales Minister, says that the culture of Parliament House, where you work, is about, you know, 10 years behind. That it’s a culture that really corporate Australia has now shunned. Do you agree with her?

Tehan: Look, I’ve got no doubt that given the events that have occurred over this week, that we still need to be doing a lot more to ensure that the culture in this place is one where everyone wants to come to work and everyone wants to feel safe at work. And, I think it’s beholden on all of us, me included, to make sure that further processes are put in place to ensure that that happens.

Karvelas: Thanks so much for your time.

Tehan: Thanks, Patricia.

Karvelas: That was Trade and Tourism Minister Dan Tehan.

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