Interview on Channel 7, Weekend Sunrise, with Monique Wright and Matt Doran.

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Discussion of when states will reopen their borders, and the defacing of statues in Ballarat.
14 June 2020

Monique Wright: Federal Trade and Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham joins us live now from Canberra. Good morning to you, Minister.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Monique.

Monique Wright: So, this seems to be a fairly difficult issue for the states. The Chief Health Officer, though, says Australia is well-prepared to deal with any outbreaks, infection rates are incredibly low. But can you understand that those states with very small levels are concerned about opening up to the states with the larger levels of COVID?

Simon Birmingham: Sure, Monique. I can certainly understand that. I'm a South Australian Senator and Adelaide is my home, and South Australia is one of those states that has, effectively, it would seem on the numbers, eliminated COVID-19 from SA, but acknowledges there will still likely be some cases from returning travellers and otherwise. And I think that's what we need to recognise, that the strategy all along has been a suppression strategy, that we wanted to suppress and slow the spread of COVID to make sure that our health systems could cope. Now, every single Australian state has by far and away exceeded that ambition because we've well and truly quashed it almost to the point of elimination in some places, and to very tiny case numbers in other states where, indeed, many of the cases being reported now are those people still coming in from overseas, returning Australians, where their case is identified where they're in mandatory quarantine.

So we should have confidence to be able to get back to normality, normality where we still need to make sure we practice hand hygiene, social distancing. Don't go to work or go out if you've got a cough or a sniffle, get yourself tested instead. These are important things for us to do. But the borders should open and I'm thrilled that SA is definitely doing so on July 20, that it sounds like Queensland is going to do so sometime early in July, and I hope the other states do so as well. Because that's going to help get people back to jobs and save tourism businesses around the country.

Matt Doran: Minister, it is those things like sounds like and hope for places like Queensland that so many small businesses across Australia are desperate to get an actual answer on. When do you think it will happen? The tourism industry in a lot of these parts is absolutely on its knees.

Simon Birmingham: One in 13 Australian jobs is related to or dependent on the tourism industry and that's a huge part of the Australian economy, and so many Australian families and businesses who need people to be able to travel. Now, we're not welcoming international visitors back any time soon because of the threat that would pose to the management of COVID, so we need to make sure that we can get our domestic tourism industry going again. The great thing that Steven Marshall in South Australia has done is to set a firm date and to announce it so that those businesses can plan, the airlines can plan. No, it's not straightforward to say you're going to put planes back in the sky tomorrow. Pilots need retraining, planes need resurfacing and there are a range of different factors here. And that's why I hope that the other states will follow South Australia's lead and set a firm date and give certainty to tourism businesses for them to plan to reopen and to travellers to be able to book.

Matt Doran: Minister, just a really quick question. Any travellers that might make their way to Ballarat would find a bit of an interesting spectacle there. Can I ask for your thoughts on the fact that we've seen the memorials there defaced in such a brazen way?

Simon Birmingham: This is very sad and it's inappropriate vandalism. It shouldn't occur and no doubt it will be investigated. The city of Ballarat does an amazing service to Australia with its avenue of former Prime Ministers, and it celebrates them all regardless of their politics, and it's a key part of our history as a nation, and I think that is something we've got to all recognise. None of us are perfect and none of the figures in history were perfect either. But just because of their imperfections, their failings or failures, that doesn't mean you go about vandalising or tearing down those statues. We should learn from history, not seek to airbrush it or shove it away.

Monique Wright: Yeah, it's a bad look, isn't it? All right, well, Federal Trade and Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham, thanks for being with us, we appreciate it.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you guys, my pleasure.

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