Topics: International borders; Gladys Berejiklian; Vaccine rates; Integrity commission; Climate convention
Jules Schiller: I’m joined now by Senator for South Australia, the most senior Liberal in the state, Senator Simon Birmingham. Welcome, Simon.
Simon Birmingham: Hello, Jules. Good to be with you again.
Jules Schiller: Look, it is good news for expats and people who are trying to get back into Australia, but are you worried that international travel will be available, say, for people in New South Wales and Victoria, but not for people in other states?
Simon Birmingham: Well Jules, what we’re doing is delivering on the plan that we’ve built up over a series of weeks and months now, as listeners would know, we got the experts at the Doherty Institute to have a look at the safe path to reopening Australia, the vaccination levels that were necessary to end lockdowns in those states facing them to progressively reopen our nation. And the first big decision that we took as a country was to close the international borders. And that was hugely important to saving lives and livelihoods across Australia. But obviously, there’s a responsibility to now plan safely the reopening of those international borders, and that’s precisely what this announcement seeks to start the process of doing. Looking at how, as states clear that 80 per cent double dose vaccination threshold we put in place regimes that aren’t open slather but do provide for, at least in the first instance, fully vaccinated Australians to re-enter the country with much lighter restrictions on them, such as a seven day home quarantine requirement and using the types of technology that South Australia has been nation leading in developing around those home quarantine systems.
Jules Schiller: How confident are you that states like Western Australia and Queensland will open up when they get to 80 per cent? We, I mean, Qantas aren’t even bothering scheduling extra flights to and from WA to Victoria and New South Wales over Christmas. And Annastacia Palaszczuk has been very reticent as to whether she’s going to open up her state by Christmas. Does that worry you Simon Birmingham?
Simon Birmingham: It’s a bit of a worry now. I don’t want to overstate that. I acknowledge there will be nuances in the way different states approach the reopening arrangements, and that’s part of living in a federation. The states have their constitutional powers and they’ll exercise them as we’ve seen. The federal government, we’ve sought to show leadership by getting that expert scientific modelling and advice in place, laying it out to clearly to the states and territories, giving multiple opportunities for them to speak to the researchers and the Doherty Institute as part of that. We have also sought to show leadership in terms of tracking the pathway out of the extraordinary emergency financial supports we’ve been providing, and we’ve outlined those plans and now we’re outlining how we sensibly see re-opening of international borders occurring. And I think that most Australians want to see a dividend for the huge vaccination levels that we are achieving as a country. And the first dividend is safety of yourself, your family, your loved ones. But the second dividend is how much we can resume our way of life and our engagement in our cities across our country and ultimately with the rest of the world.
Jules Schiller: Are you confident that South Australia will be open up by Christmas?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I hope that’s the case, I think, you know, Steven Marshall has not taken the grandstanding pathway that some other state premiers have. He’s shown a mature and considered approach. He’s always worked with his health officials. That doesn’t mean that he’s done or will do everything that we as a federal government might outline. But as I said, we can live with some nuance. But I think everyone needs to be on the page of getting to the point of reopening in a way that gives people that dividend for vaccination. I mean, as a nation, we’re at 78.5 per cent of the over 16 population having had a first dose. Now that’s an incredible outcome in terms of the numbers, and it keeps growing day in, day out and our oldest Australians, the over 70s who were the first age cohort to be vaccinated, more than 94 per cent of them have had a first dose and that should be an inspiration. And I guess a big message to everyone in South Australia is don’t delay. Delta strain could come a knocking any day as we’ve had a couple of warnings. I had a look last night. There are vacancies to get vaccination bookings available over the next couple of days across a range of different suburbs. And so even if you’ve got a booking for a month’s time, see if you can change it and bring it forward and keep getting these numbers up.
Jules Schiller: I did with my daughter, who’s she’s a teenager, who did it today. She had a vaccination book for a week and I just got a Moderna at the local pharmacy. It is very simple, as you say, Senator Simon Birmingham, a lot simpler than it has been to get vaccinated. Can I just ask you about international students with a home quarantine system. But for people who live in Australia, it’s going to be easier to quarantine at home. And obviously, if you’re in the higher education sector, you’re keen to get international students back into the country. What are the where are the plans for that at the moment? Simon?
Simon Birmingham: Certainly, the Delta strain has caused some disruption to what were some plans about trying to help international students back in, and Steven Marshall had worked up some careful and detailed plans around that. I hope that these sorts of steps we can take with Australians using the technology platforms that allow home quarantine with high degrees of confidence, using the fact that they’re fully vaccinated and we have confidence in that, frees up resources and capability to be able to look at international students and other categories coming into the country and into the state. So it’s a next stage of consideration. Clearly, the first consideration is how we open the system up for fully vaccinated Australians doing that in a safe and cautious way. As I said, it’s not open slather. Initially, it’s having an approach that looks at seven day home quarantine arrangements backed by technology systems. But on top of that, then we need to move through and look at whether the capacity around hotel and other type quarantine can be used more effectively than for those economic dividends, like international students.
Jules Schiller: On another topic, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian has resigned today. Did that come as a shock to you? Simon Birmingham I mean, she said that it was horrible timing, and she questioned ICAC’s timing and kind of announcing this public enquiry. What’s your reaction to her resignation?
Simon Birmingham: Jules, it did come as a surprise and a shock to me. I don’t think many people saw it coming. I don’t want to cast any sort of judgement around the investigations of the New South Wales ICAC. That’s a matter for them. But Gladys is someone who I’ve been proud to call a friend for close to 30 years. We’ve known one another since well before either of us happened to be in the New South Wales or the federal parliament. I still value her friendship. She’s one of the most hardworking, diligent and principled people that I know.
Jules Schiller: Do you think that- Do you think she had to resign before the results of the investigation were known?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I haven’t looked into the details of what the New South Wales ICAC has said today or the circumstances. Gladys, though, is someone who I am certain wouldn’t have wanted any doubt cast over the premiership of New South Wales or her government. And clearly, that’s why she’s decided to step aside to ensure that at this critical point of New South Wales reaching those vaccination targets and reopening and really showing leadership for the rest of the country, there can be no distractions in New South Wales and it’s a big call. She’s taken to step away completely to enable people to not have those distractions and simply focus on the important jobs for the state.
Jules Schiller: Anthony Albanese has come out just then and called for a federal ICAC. Do you agree?
Simon Birmingham: Jules we have a range of systems and protections in place at the federal level. We also have been undertaking the consultation process for a Commonwealth Integrity Commission. We’ve been receiving some feedback around draft legislation and the prime minister well before today had made clear that he intends to see that legislation introduced in the parliament by the end of this year.
Jules Schiller: And last question, do you think Scott Morrison should go to Glasgow?
Simon Birmingham: I’d make the point, I think we’ve only seen in the last 13 years or 14 years three occasions where the Australian prime minister has gone to the annual meetings of parties under the Climate Change Convention, so more the exception than the rule. What matters is the policies that we take to Glasgow, and I’m confident that they will be true to the PM’s ambitions that we strive for net zero and that they are accompanied by clear policies and plans about how we build on our 20 per cent emissions reduction achievements to date.
Jules Schiller: It doesn’t worry you that Boris Johnson and Joe Biden are going and Scott Morrison is equivocating on it?
Simon Birmingham: No, Jules, I mean, Jacinda Ardern isn’t going either to my knowledge. So I mean, I’d expect Boris Johnson to go, it’s in his country that hardly surprising that he’d be there. In the end, we will have very senior ministerial representation, whether it’s the prime minister or other ministers doesn’t really matter a great deal. What matters is we will have done the legwork in advance of taking a very strong position from Australia to that conference as to how we track, of course, I trust and hope towards net zero, how we do so protecting jobs in regional Australia. Just in the last few weeks, we’ve made big further announcements of our investment in hydrogen hubs around the country, in carbon capture and storage activities, in critical minerals that support battery and renewable energy sectors. These are all the types of things we’re doing to make sure the zero plans are credible-
Jules Schiller: And you would you would support net zero by 2050, though, wouldn’t you?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I want to see Australia achieve net zero as soon as possible as part of a global effort to do so. And that’s why it’s important that we don’t just talk about the promises, but the policies and the actions to get us there. As a country are 20 per cent emissions reduction since 2005 have been in excess of many other comparable nations. Each time we’ve made a promise under the Kyoto protocol, we’ve exceeded those promises and we’re on track to do so for 2030 targets and I expect us to show very strong ambitions to achieve net zero, too.
Jules Schiller: Senator Simon Birmingham, thank you as always for being so generous with your time.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Jules. My pleasure.