• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Lockdown enhancement, chaos at Sydney Airport.
27 March 2020

Allison Langdon: So the death of a man in Western Australia has taken the national coronavirus death toll to 13, and it follows an additional three deaths in Melbourne and one in Queensland yesterday alone.

Karl Stefanovic: It’s prompted calls from Victoria’s Chief Medical Officer for urgent and tougher lockdown measures, something we’ve been talking about here on the show for a while. Joining us now is Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham, and Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles. Good morning guys, nice to see you this morning.

Richard Marles: Good morning.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning Karl.

Karl Stefanovic: Okay. Simon, to you first of all, the Government has asked us, pleaded with us, made laws surrounding our movements — most of us have complied and done the right thing. Then we have a situation like yesterday at the international airport in Sydney where all those rules are broken and thrown out the window. What an embarrassment.

Simon Birmingham: Well Karl, this is a reminder of how tough the job is at every single level to make sure that we are applying these principles of social distancing. What we saw yesterday at Sydney Airport, a change in terms of the practices, more stringent testing on people as they arrived, but that then requires a change in other practices that flows through. It falls upon every single one of us, at state level, at federal level, and right across the community to keep working to get this right, to maintain that 1.5 to 2 metres distance from one another so that we can slow the spread of this virus.

Allison Langdon: See, I mean, I think the problem with what we saw yesterday, we do have Scott Morrison who is doing a very- it’s a very tough job, and I think he is doing a good job. But he comes out and tells us all that, reminds us about social distancing, do this, do this, and I think the majority of people are doing the right thing. Then we saw what happened to the airport yesterday, it’s been a debacle with our cruise ships, and now at our borders. Richard, I mean, how would you control scenes like that?

Richard Marles: I think we need to have really clear messaging and really clear policies. Firstly, we absolutely need to understand that our border is an asset and it needed to be used from day one — it will continue to be an important asset going forward.

But there has to be a plan from the Government, and what we’re seeing is a kind of step by step, almost death by 1,000 cuts here. We actually need to know what is the plan to make sure that we are doing everything we can to see the stopping of the transmission of this disease. We saw an announcement in relation to hairdressing as an example — that changes literally 24 hours later. There has to be one clear, consistent message, based on the idea of everything we possibly can do right now.

Karl Stefanovic: Look, I don’t mind- I mean, I think you are right in terms of the messaging but there are things like with hairdressing — 67,000 hairdressers around the country, and they’re on rubbish money anyway, that 67,000 could easily be on the dole queue, I get the changes there and I get it’s being fluid. But what I don’t get, Simon, is yesterday’s scenes at the airport. That was a complete and utter breakdown. That was an international embarrassment, what happened at our borders.

Simon Birmingham: It is, Karl. It’s inappropriate, it shows the pressure…

Karl Stefanovic: No, no, it’s not inappropriate. It’s grossly negligent.

Simon Birmingham: When you change one practice which was that they apply additional testing, screening, medical checks at the airport, then you got to make sure the message flows through to change the other practices to ensure you don’t have those types of problems. The message is one that everybody needs to adhere to, to keep that distance from one another …

Karl Stefanovic: So that won’t happen- so this morning when people arrive from overseas, that won’t happen?

Simon Birmingham: Well I trust that firstly Border Force have got the message, but also the health authorities have got the message, but most importantly that those arriving on those planes back into Australia have got the message as well. They are now, of course, overwhelmingly Australians because we have effectively shut off the borders in terms of new arrivals from anywhere around the world and this is purely about Australians returning home. They need to hear the message loud and clear, keep your distance from one another — and all Australians do.

The plan is very clear and that is to slow the spread of this virus so that we save lives. We are doing it in the context of also trying to, as much as we can, save people’s livelihoods as well. And Australia is leading the world in terms of testing regimes with more than 175,000 tests conducted here. That is doing an enormous amount to enable us to keep Australians safer and to slow that spread. We’re going to continue to respond to the health advice on these things.

Allison Langdon: I’m not sure if people are now thinking here that Australia is leading the charge because you just look at New Zealand and going, you know, why on earth are they so far ahead of where we are. They’re at lockdown four, we’re at lockdown two. I mean, clearly New South Wales and Victoria are breaking away. But Simon, when will you take us to that level? When will we see suburbs locked down?

Simon Birmingham: Let’s appreciate, it’s only a few days since we shut down hotels, clubs, pubs, gyms and enforced a range of other measures to stop people from gathering together; put in place the four square metre rule and have told Australians firmly to stay away from one another. Now, we have limited levels of community transmission in many parts of Australia — different situations across different states and territories. But indeed, our testing regime is better than South Korea’s, better than most other countries and that’s one of the key things that is helping to keep us track cases, keep us safe and make sure that we can continue to slow that spread. And that’s what we are going to continue to do. We don’t want to rush to tighter measures but we will absolutely adopt them if necessary.

Karl Stefanovic: Richard, I can hear you groaning in the background. Off you go.

Richard Marles: Yeah. I mean, I think there is a heroic claim there to suggest our testing regime is better than South Korea and it really worries me that Simon talks in-

Simon Birmingham: Per head of population it is.

Richard Marles: Well, in terms of Simon talking about not rushing to deal with issues around social distancing, it seems to me that’s exactly the wrong logic.

Simon Birmingham: That’s not what I said.

Richard Marles: But, that is actually what you said. But the problem here is that there has been this kind of-

Simon Birmingham: No. No. We’re not going to rush to more extreme measures until its needed.

Richard Marles: There is this approach from the Government which seems to be a proportionate response to the increased spread of the disease, which is almost a recipe to make sure that you are following the spread of the disease which occurs at an exponential rate. That is a recipe for being behind the game. And what we’ve seen is this step by step approach which just isn’t right.

Simon Birmingham: Cheap politics mate.

Karl Stefanovic: Okay. Okay. Richard, I get it. I get it. There is another thing I want to raise, because we are running out of time here. Simon, another one of these problem areas, I think, are local elections in Queensland that are going to go ahead over the weekend. There is also a by-election at Currumbin that’s going ahead. This is exactly the kind of gathering of people that we are trying to avoid, and yet the State Government and the Premier in Queensland is going ahead with it. I mean come on, that- surely you need to step in there?

Simon Birmingham: Well Karl, I’m in Adelaide and the Federal Government doesn’t control Queensland elections.

Karl Stefanovic: Yeah. But you know what I mean?

Simon Birmingham: But I’d say to Queenslanders very clearly, show patience with one another, keep your distance. This shows, again, the scale of the problems that come along in terms of its impact on things like elections but the Queensland Government needs to absolutely make sure that if people have to go out and vote on the weekend they get all the messages to stay as safe and as far away from one another as possible.

Allison Langdon: Why do they need to vote on the weekend? Why not delay it? Do it in three months time? Six months?

Simon Birmingham: That’s really a matter for the Queensland Government to answer because they’re the ones who are overseeing these local Government elections there. But the message I give to the Queensland viewers is, if you haven’t postal vote- if you haven’t undertaken a postal vote and you have to go out then keep your distance, keep safe. And the Queensland Government needs to make sure that occurs at every single one of those polling places.

Karl Stefanovic: Well if people don’t vote they are going to get fined as well. How good is that?

Simon Birmingham: I hope that that’s been waived…

Richard Marles: …common sense there.

Karl Stefanovic: Okay. Thank you, you two. Best of luck. It’s a tough time at the moment, we get all that, but please do everything you can to make sure that we are being looked after — we appreciate it. Make sure there’s a consistent message I think is what we are all looking for.