Interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC RN Drive
Patricia Karvelas: The Government has announced a trial of a QR code based vaccine certificate system. But as they try to shift focus to opening up, not all industry groups are sold on how it will work. And some of the country's largest airports fear international airlines won't return to the country. Trade Minister Dan Tehan joins us this evening, welcome.
Dan Tehan: Patricia. Good to be with you.
Patricia Karvelas: Minister, on Sunday, you revealed that QR codes are at the heart of the Government's plan to kickstart global travel. They'll be linked to passports and prove vaccination status. How will that work?
Dan Tehan: So, what it will mean is, if you've been vaccinated, you'll be able to upload that information from your MyGov account to a QR code which will be linked to your passport. So, where you're required to prove that you are vaccinated when you're travelling overseas to get entry into countries, that QR code will be able to demonstrate that you are vaccinated.
Patricia Karvelas: How secure will they be? What security protections are in place?
Dan Tehan: Well, the security protections, they will be very secure, and we're working on making it as secure as the data that's within your passport itself.
Patricia Karvelas: Airports have sounded a warning to the Government that without a clear plan forward airlines will stop flights to the country. Are you worried about that?
Dan Tehan: Obviously, we're doing all the planning that we possibly can as we head towards that 80 per cent double vaccination rate, because that's when the national plan says that we will begin to open the country up. Now, obviously, we've got to do that as safely as we possibly can, but we are doing all the planning that we possibly can to prepare for that. And that's why we've sent the QR codes internationally this week to make sure that the QR code will be recognised and will be interoperable with countries that we expect Australians to be wanting to travel to.
Patricia Karvelas: I know that the new digital pass will be designed so that it can pass on information to state and territory public health authorities for them to track people entering their jurisdictions. Talk to me about that.
Dan Tehan: So, just so I’m absolutely clear what we're talking about, Patricia, so are you referring to the QR code, which state and territories have now for existing premises?
Patricia Karvelas: This new information does it then link back to the state authorities?
Dan Tehan: So, at this stage, all those details are being worked through. But what we're looking to do is to make it highly protected. It would operate similarly to how a passport would work and therefore data would only be shared ,if at all, if there was the demonstrated need for it, as it would occur with passport details. So, it would be in extremely limited cases.
Patricia Karvelas: The Fairfax Media is reporting that personal information collected by the new digital border pass for international travel will be passed on to the states and territories for contact tracing. You saying that's not going to happen?
Dan Tehan: Okay, so no, that's different. That's what was announced today, which is the Digital Passenger Declaration, which is the card that you fill out when you enter— come into Australia. And what we're doing is that that card is now becoming an electronic card so the arrangements to do with that, you would need to talk to the Minister for Employment, Workforce Skills, Small and Family businesses, or the Minister for Home Affairs to get the exact details across that. But that is basically the old passenger card will now, will become a form which will be used electronically rather than paper based, which has been up until now.
Patricia Karvelas: So, in terms of consultations with the sector for international movement of flights, again, the sector say airlines need long lead times to re-establish flights and there's been insufficient information to allow services to restart, has the Government kind of dropped the ball here? And this might lead to delays?
Dan Tehan: No, we've been working with the airlines to make sure that they understand the preparatory work that is going on and, obviously, we will continue to do that as we ramp up to that 80 per cent double vaccination rate. But some of these things, of course, are not easy to be planning for in absolute terms throughout a pandemic, because, obviously, we have to be conscious of the circumstances here in Australia, but also in other countries that we're looking to work with. But I can tell you that there's been detailed work done with some Pacific Islands; there's been detailed work done with Singapore, and we're beginning to ramp up work with other countries as we look to see how we will safely open up once we hit that 80 per cent double vaccination rate.
Patricia Karvelas: The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has back flipped on vaccine passports after pressure from his party that they were an unacceptable burden on business and an infringement on human rights. What do you say to that?
Dan Tehan: So, the UK, obviously, we've got to be very careful what we're talking about here because this is the use of vaccine certificates in the UK for entering nightclubs or events or other such things. And what they've done is they're saying that they're no longer going to mandate that certain businesses would have to require proof of vaccination. Now, obviously, here in Australia, it is businesses themselves who legally will decide what circumstances they want to put in place here in Australia, outside where public health orders have been used by state and territory governments to mandate vaccination and therefore proof of vaccination.
Patricia Karvelas: Okay, but obviously New South Wales is already going down that path. Next week, we might hear from Victoria. They may perhaps follow the same path. Is the Federal Government working with the states on creating, what? You turn up to the door, if I want to go to a nightclub, I can promise you I don't but if I did, what do I show them?
Dan Tehan: You and me both Patricia.
Patricia Karvelas: No. I'd like to go to bed. What do I show them?
Dan Tehan: Yeah, yeah, 30 years ago it might have been a different story, but not now, yes.
Patricia Karvelas: No, no. Is that something you’ll be doing? Or the states?
Dan Tehan: This is something that the state and territory governments are looking at at the moment. Now, when it comes to Victoria and New South Wales, they're going to use their own QR code systems that they've got currently in place to then use proof of vaccination as part of that, so that's how the system will be set up. It will be done by the state or territory using their existing QR code when it comes to New South Wales and Victoria.
Patricia Karvelas: And in terms of the kind of vaccines we have, is there going to be any issue for people if they've had, for instance, the AstraZeneca jab, some countries obviously reluctant. What are you doing about working through some of those issues?
Dan Tehan: Yeah, so that, ultimately, they will be decisions which are made by the TGA. They will provide that advice to the Government on the status of vaccine. So, obviously, the ones that administered here AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna already TGA approved so there'll be no issues there. And then other international vaccines, obviously, will get TGA approval as the three that have been used here have and they will then be added to that list. But, ultimately, those decisions will be left up to the TGA.
Patricia Karvelas: Okay. And there's also the question of rapid covid tests. It's likely we'll need them to travel internationally. What is being set up to make sure Australia's tests are dealt with and recognised internationally?
Dan Tehan: Well, they'll be all part of the discussions that we’ll be having, especially as we seek to set up travel bubbles once we hit that 80 per cent double vaccination rate and looking at those requirements. So, some countries, for instance, already require that you get a test three days before you arrive; there are some tests afterwards; there are some proposals which are being put that you could even have a test three days before you travel and have a rapid antigen test at the airport itself, where they'd go to turn the result around in an hour while you're waiting to get on the plane, and then you obviously would travel where you need to travel. So, there's various ideas and thought being put into this and they'll be part of the discussions that we’ll continue to have as we seek to set up travel bubbles as we, once we hit that 80 per cent double vax rate.
Patricia Karvelas: On another note, Minister, are you planning on going to India to help push forward the free trade deal negotiations which have just been kicked started again?
Dan Tehan: Look, one of the things that we're doing extremely well is prosecuting the case for the need for us to enhance our economic partnership with India. I've had detailed discussions with my counterpart Minister Goyal over the last six weeks and we're both committed to putting more resources into negotiating a free trade agreement with India. Now, obviously, as we were able to achieve with the United Kingdom, when I am able to travel and then sit down face to face you can make rapid progress. So, it is something that is under consideration.
Patricia Karvelas: Thank you so much for joining us.
Dan Tehan: Pleasure.