Interview on ABC Radio Adelaide, Mornings, with David Bevan and Ali Clarke

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Border closures following the Adelaide outbreak; Impact of COVID-19 outbreak on interstate travel.
18 November 2020

Ali Clarke: …Well look, we wish you both the best. Let’s stay in touch because right now we’re actually going to go to Senator Simon Birmingham who’s with us. Now, you’re the Minister for Finance, Trade and Tourism. Senator Birmingham, you’ve just been listening to Bo and Deb’s story. Surely, you should be able to get a way for them to be escorted out so she can get back down here for treatment?

Simon Birmingham: I would certainly hope so, Ali, and I will certainly be trying to get some details there and see if we can’t navigate something with the Queensland Government to enable them to get back safely. It’s the nature of the way in which some of these decisions have been made and applied and the high degree of uncertainty and disruption that has perhaps been the most distressing element to them. We understand the anxiousness in other states. What I would’ve urged, is that people act in a proportionate way. That they back the contact tracing and isolating steps that are being taken and that is, of course, what we’ve seen in some jurisdictions, where they’re simply putting in their own provisions to make sure they check that people who arrive haven’t been in the hotspot areas, that they go through more extensive testing and checking of South Australian arrivals. But others have reacted by putting in place the border controls and through a range of quite desperate approaches in the other states and that’s created some of these distressing elements. And I understand that and we’ll try to see if we can’t get governments to find pathways to help those who have cases like that.

David Bevan: Now, if this gets away from the South Australian Government, the other states will be vindicated for taking a hardline, even though it causes great distress to the Bo’s and the Deb’s and the Caroline’s of this world. But if they do get on top of it, it will look like an overreaction from those governments. So, where do you sit?

Simon Birmingham: David, I think it is important to follow the evidence and back the systems. We just went through a national audit of contact tracing capabilities, that the Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel led, to make sure that jurisdictions and the systems were ready to stand up for these types of clusters to emerge. We’ve always known it was a likelihood that there would be further incidents across the country. That’s why we kept putting the pressure on, you’ve got to have the testing capability, the tracing capability, the isolating capability. And then urging all of the states to back that as the means of response. Borders have a place; we backed the hard border in relation to Victoria and quarantining Victoria from the rest of the country. And you're right, if it got away from us in SA, then the same would have to apply. There's no getting away from the fact that there is a role for that, but it hasn't yet. The State Government has responded with enormous and sweeping activity in terms of isolating around 4000 or so to date. And we hope that it- that the contact tracing capabilities that have been recently ordered by the Federal Government stand up to the pressure. And certainly we are applying the extra resources through the National Incident Centre to give extra capability around contact tracing at a federal level to help South Australia, just as we're responding to the requests for additional Defence Force personnel to also help.

Ali Clarke: Well, when you say giving additional resources, Premier Steven Marshall, for example, we've heard about the ADF offer from the Prime Minister and he said there was going to be 45 people. I think when you're talking about 4000 people and people are hearing those numbers of those being quarantined, 45 seemed to be quite a small number. So when you say additional resources, exactly what are you doing to help South Australia?

Simon Birmingham: So we already have more than 100 ADF personnel deployed to help in an SA context. Yes, the request from the State Government is for an extra 45. If they add to that, then we will respond further. And we also provide contact tracing support, so that doesn't all have to be done by people sitting in SA, and that's what the National Incident Centre is for, to provide supercharged capability, if you like, to that contact tracing operation in SA. And again, if further support is necessary, then I have no doubt that we will be able to call in support from other jurisdictions to help with that as well. Then there are the payments that are made. We entered into agreements with the states and territories to make sure that there is financial support for people who were told to isolate. So if you are one of those people, please get in touch with Centrelink services, with Services Australia to make sure that that you receive that payment. You do not need to go and sneak out and go to work against instructions, there is financial assistance to make sure that people follow those orders and stay at home.

David Bevan: You're the Tourism Minister; after the events of this week, who anywhere in this country is going to book an interstate holiday?

Simon Birmingham: That is, David, perhaps the most distressing thing from the tourism industry’s perspective. If you were an airline or hotel worker across the country, you would be absolutely gutted by what's happened this week, because you're right, people's confidence in booking interstate travel will have been hit for six. And I think that is why we will now have to see how this unfolds. If the contact tracing and the isolating in South Australia does stand up to the task and everybody gets on top of it quickly, well then we really will need to urge the states and territories to come back to the table again and think about actually using consistent hotspot definitions, actually giving people some appropriate notice when cancellations or disruptions are going to occur, that the inconsistent approaches is perhaps the thing that creates most uncertainty in the minds of potential travelers.

David Bevan: So if it does work out and we'll know that in the next couple of weeks, if it does work out, we've got on top of this, then the Prime Minister needs to grab the other premiers by the scruff of the neck and saying, don't ever do this again?

Simon Birmingham: Well, look, the premiers have their own powers. They are sovereign governments in their own right. And we cannot make them do things that are contrary to the powers that are vested in them. So we do simply look to them for cooperation. But in every single state of this country, there are people who work in the travel industries or own small businesses in the travel industries whose jobs, whose livelihoods, whose savings depend upon people being able to travel across the country. And now our health and safety absolutely is paramount, comes first and that's always been our approach federally, and we get that that has to be the approach of the states too. But we’ve got to strike the right balance.

Ali Clarke: Sorry, Senator Simon Birmingham, for time, we have to leave it there because the nine o'clock news is upon us. In fact, it's here now.

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