Radio interview with Minister Wells and Patricia Karvelas, Radio National ABC on 30 September 2022

Read the transcript of Minister Wells' ABC interview on safety in sport, Brisbane 2032 Olympics, COVID-19 mandatory isolation in aged care, ADF support in aged care

The Hon Anika Wells MP
Minister for Aged Care

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PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Hawthorn. Collingwood. Swimming Australia. Gymnastics Australia. Elite sporting institutions and clubs whose culture has been exposed as harmful to some athletes. From today, the federal government will make it easier to call out bad behaviour and report racism, discrimination, abuse and mistreatment in sport.

Anika Wells is the Minister for Sport and she joins us now. Good morning, Minister.

ANIKA WELLS, MINISTER FOR AGED CARE AND SPORT: Good morning, Patricia. Hope you’re well.

KARVELAS: What exactly are you proposing to deal with the shocking treatment that some athletes have been exposed to?

WELLS: A world leading initiative, Patricia, that we are commencing today, because, as you said, this is an episodic issue in sport. It's widespread, it's prevalent. And as the federal minister for Sport, I want to make sure that we are addressing those problems in a structured way that addresses the whole system.

So today we're introducing three measures to try and stamp out abuses of power in sport. And one of those is world leading, putting in place a safety in sport division at Sport Integrity Australia, that's evidence based, that's culturally informed and that's trauma led that will educate and support everyone in the sporting ecosystem about how power is used and abused in sport.

We're also expanding our 1300 number. It will be a toll-free triage, referral and reporting service so that truth-telling is fostered. And I'm going to do a review of the sporting ecosystem to make sure that we are truly clear on where responsibilities for all these things lie in our, what we're calling our green and gold runway with over 30 major international events in Australia in the run up to the Brisbane 2032 Olympics.

KARVELAS: We've heard about some of the very high-profile cases of racism, allegations about racism, discrimination and mistreatment in sport. What stories have you heard that have shocked you?

WELLS: The gymnastics report makes a harrowing reading and it is the recommendations made by the Australian Human Rights Commission in that report that I'm actioning today. Everything that we're doing is evidence-based, based on unfortunately horrible stories happening throughout Australian sport, like, I'm sorry to say, in the sports that we love, but it's there.

I think what we've heard recently, it's case by case, episode by episode, and it's ongoing and too prevalent. I think particularly the sexual harassment and sexual assault matters that we see in Australian sport have been too prevalent and those are the ones that I think will be really assisted by putting in place this 1300 number where people can call anonymously. That early advice about what their options are and what their support is so that they never get to the state that we see them in when they hit national media like yours PK.

KARVELAS: There is a hotline already, Minister. It was set up two years ago. Why is the current system in your view not working and what was wrong with it?

WELLS: There's nothing wrong with it. We're expanding it because that hotline was set up two years ago with a budget expecting 60 complaints to come in. They got 1300. I'm not kidding when I say this is far more prevalent even than what we see when it hits the national media.

People at all levels of sport are not finding themselves supported enough. And like I said in my op ed this morning, as the Federal Minister for Sport, I can't find anyone who can assure me that our Australian sporting systems ultimately are safe.

KARVELAS: Has this proposal been brought out now because of the allegations made in the last ten days about the treatment of those Hawthorn, those allegations about the treatment of those Hawthorn players?

WELLS: No, the very first briefing I had from Sporting Integrity Australia when I became the Federal Minister for Sport, was about what they do in their resourcing. And when they told me that statistic that they had set up a hotline with budgeting for 60 complaints and had 1300 coming in, I knew that what I wanted to do in sport was to improve integrity and equality. And one of the things I wanted to do was address it systemically and structurally. And this today, these three measures are the start of that process.

KARVELAS: Australia hosts the Olympics in 2032, which you mentioned. Will this development ensure young athletes who may participate will now have gold standard training with no fear of discrimination? Like. how are you actually going to build that in?

WELLS: Well, I think you asked me what bothers me most. I think what I've been thinking about, particularly in the past couple of weeks, is that today's Australian five-year-olds are the people that we're asking to be Brisbane 2032 Olympians. If we are asking Australian kids to go on this journey, the athletes journey, over the next ten years, we need to make sure that their systems and their sporting structures are safe. And at the moment the rate of complaints coming in and the way that you say that the reports that go formal from the HRC, like gymnastics, like swimming, demonstrates that we aren't doing enough.

So, by no means am I saying that I'm stamping out abuse of power in sport today, but I'm saying that I mean business about it. And the Albanese Government is today introducing some world leading initiatives to start that process to make sure that we do clean up Australian sport across the next ten years.

KARVELAS: The soccer World Cup will be held in Qatar soon and France play Australia on the 23rd of November. Will you be heading over to watch any of the games?

WELLS: Discussions are ongoing between my ministerial colleagues because that period where Australia three matches overlap with our parliamentary fortnight. So, we'll obviously need to see pairs and things enable people to go, but there will be ministerial representation and it's important that we do that.

KARVELAS: We were talking actually to Craig Foster earlier in the program about the decision taken by the Danish team and their kit supplier to create what they've called a toned down kit protest at Qatar's human rights record and that includes a ban on homosexuality, which is punishable with a jail sentence. Do you think Australia should be taking a stand here? There are human rights abuses we know about. Should there be an official position taken?

WELLS: I think that participating at such events or even hosting them ourselves and doesn't preclude us from raising our concerns on issues that matter. And we do that regularly. We do that regularly with a wide range of countries on human rights issues and that includes Saudi Arabia.

KARVELAS: Would you encourage the Socceroos to take a stand?

WELLS: I would encourage anyone who has concerns about human rights issues to consider what they in their position can do. This offer is, I imagine, are having those discussions. I, as a sports Minister, don't want to come down on the top of any national sporting organisation about their approach.

The fact that we have people like Craig Foster out there leading the field demonstrates that there is the ability for people to raise these concerns and I think that's part of what Australia does. We participate, but it doesn't preclude us from raising concerns where we have them. And Senator Penny Wong is our Federal Foreign Affairs Minister. Absolutely does that on behalf of the country and on behalf of the Albanese Government in a regular model.

KARVELAS: Just turning to your other portfolios, Aged Care Minister, national cabinet meets later today and on the agenda is this push from the New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet for COVID-19 mandatory isolation periods to be scrapped. He says we need to get rid of these isolation periods and get to a position of normal. He says you should stay at home if you are sick or you know, go to work if you don't.

As Aged Care Minister, are you ready to see the abolition of the five-day mandatory isolation requirement given I people who are older are obviously most vulnerable.

WELLS: They are most vulnerable and our residents in nursing homes are particularly vulnerable. Look, I am not part of national cabinet. I understand they will be discussing that with the chief medical officer there, which gives me comfort because he provides excellent medical advice that I've been drawing upon right through winter.

I'm not going to speculate because how that all plays out is yet to be known. But the rules around who can come into nursing homes, the rules around who can visit, who can work there remain the same, whether or not those decisions get made by state premiers in a broader sense.

KARVELAS: Australian Defence Force pandemic assistance in residential aged care will end on September the 30th. More than 30 aged care residents are dying every week. Is it the right time to be removing the ADF support?

WELLS: Yes, and I'm really grateful that the ADF stayed as long as they did. They never intended to be in there as long as they were when they were brought in in February. They stayed right through till spring.

If you look at the statistics, we've got around instances of outbreaks in residential aged care where we're well through the winter wave now. Its back down to sort of an ongoing endemic level and so whilst that's a constant watching brief for me, we do have the surge work force that is able to step in where necessary and we can release the ADF back to the substantive work that we all want them to be doing on behalf of the country.

KARVELAS: Minister, thanks for your time this morning.

WELLS: It's a pleasure.

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