Topics: New South Wales COVID outbreak; border closures; International flight crews.
Sylvia Jeffreys: Let’s now unpack our top story further and the troubling outbreak in Sydney’s Northern Beaches this morning. The fall out of which is jeopardising everything from state borders to the proposed New Zealand travel bubble. Joining me now is Minister for Trade and Tourism Simon Birmingham and acting Leader of the Opposition Richard Marles. Good morning to you both.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning.
Sylvia Jeffreys: Simon, to you first. How worried should we be about this outbreak?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I think we should have confidence first and foremost in New South Wales authorities. Yes, of course it’s a concern and everybody should follow the health advice that is being put out by those New South Wales authorities. But you know, the New South Wales Government has done an incredible job right throughout 2020, when there have been outbreaks and clusters that have occurred, they’ve managed to stamp them out and to do so very, very quickly, without them spreading widely across the state. And so they’ve demonstrated they’ve got world class testing, contact tracing systems and an ability to get on top of these sorts of things. And so yes, you know, there’s a point of concern there. And people should absolutely get out and get tested if they have any doubts or reason to do so, follow the advice of their health authorities. But also have confidence that New South Wales has demonstrated it can get on top of these things and we should back their systems to do so again.
Sylvia Jeffreys: As Tourism Minister, what are your thoughts on the border closures and the travel hotspots that have been imposed in the last 24 hours?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I think some of these actions are a little bit premature and I’d urge all states and territories to recognise, as I said, the success that’s been put in place by New South Wales, the fact they’ve demonstrated time and time and time again through 2020 that they contain these things, they get on top of them and they have stopped the spread themselves, without really the need for these types of measures during the course of the year. And it obviously does heighten a lot of uncertainty and there are so many Australian jobs dependent on our tourism and travel industry and they just can’t afford to take another hit if this turns out to be an unnecessary hit from some states and territories.
Sylvia Jeffreys: Richard, Western Australia has already slammed its border shut to the whole of New South Wales. Should Queensland follow suit? At least with Greater Sydney?
Richard Marles: Well, I think both states need to be thinking about the medical advice that they’re getting in terms of making the decisions that they are making. It doesn’t seem, as I read it, that the hard borders are being put in place at the moment. I think Simon is right that we should have confidence in the New South Wales case tracing system. They’ve done a really fantastic job during the course of the year and whilst this is obviously a source of enormous anxiety and concern, you know, these sort of events during the year have been able to be managed by New South Wales. I mean, as I’ve been saying all year, I’d like to see some more leadership from the Federal Government in relation to the whole question of Australia’s internal borders. But at this point, it seems to me that people are acting in a sensible way.
Sylvia Jeffreys: Simon, it’s likely this started with an international flight crew member. We clearly have a chink in our armour here with international flight crews not having to quarantine in hotels. Is it time for that to change?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I expect that that will be reviewed as with every one of these cases. There’s been further reviews and further tightening where you can be around international arrivals.
Sylvia Jeffreys: But do we have time to review? Look at what’s happened in the last 24 hours.
Simon Birmingham: Well our health officials act pretty quickly on these things when they look at it. So after the South Australian cluster, which again, was got on top of very, very quickly, through isolating, contact tracing, all of the right processes and practices, the same thing’s occurring right now in New South Wales. But after that SA cluster, again, a result of returning Australians from overseas and the challenges of those international arrivals bringing COVID into the country, they upped the testing regime, changed some of the practices in relation to other staff, and that was all done on the basis of health officials analysing what had happened. And I expect they’ll do the same and they’ll do the same pretty quickly in this regard too.
Sylvia Jeffreys: Richard, how worried are you about international flight crews not quarantining in hotels?
Richard Marles: Well, I mean, we need to have international crews coming here to bring Australians home. There’d need to be the proper arrangements in place for them and I think it’s important that that is a situation which is continually reviewed. What’s also important, though, is that we have really good case
tracing and we do. New South Wales, as Simon has said, has shown that through the course of the year and I think around the country, that level of expertise is now being equal by the other states and we should have confidence in that.
Sylvia Jeffreys: Okay. Richard Marles and Simon Birmingham, we appreciate your time. There’s a lot up in the air today and we’re glad that you could join us this morning. Thank you.