Media event date: 
29 November 2021
Date published: 
30 November 2021
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

CHRIS KENNY:   

Now, I want to go back to Canberra and catch up with Dr David Gillespie who's the Regional Health Minister. Thanks for joining us again Minister.

MINISTER GILLESPIE:     

Hi Chris.

CHRIS KENNY:   

First up, your thoughts - you've been dealing with some of the COVID outbreaks in regional Australia. Most importantly, of course, at the moment in the Northern Territory. What are your concerns about the new variant on top of that?

MINISTER GILLESPIE:     

Well, Omicron at the moment is capturing all the attention, but I am trying to keep calm and carry on. It is just a new variant. We knew variants happen. This one's got a lot of variations in the protein, so potentially more infectious. But listening to the South African scientists that described and alerted the world to it, it may be a milder version than Delta, and milder than the original. So, these viruses that do mutate, they do sometimes mutate to a milder illness. And if it is, happy days. But at the moment, we have got the best vaccination rates in the world. We've got the best test, tracing and isolation, so I think we should stick to our plan. People are definitely over being locked up and locked down, and I just think we just need to use appropriate levels of caution until we know a bit more about it. But there's no way Australia will cop going back into big lockdowns.

CHRIS KENNY:   

Yet you've closed off flights from nine countries. You've brought in new quarantine rules. State governments have gone even further. If you're doing this at 90 per cent vaccination rates, what hope have we ever got of putting these onerous controls and rules and border blockades behind us?

MINISTER GILLESPIE:     

Well, it's only temporary until we get a bit more information about the natural history of the virus. As you can appreciate, there's all sorts of agendas running in the states. But I see New South Wales, the bright light around the country, trying to make sure that people realise we have to live with this virus and its variants. The best protection is vaccination. We've got good rates. If you're due for a booster, by all means go get it. And we will-

CHRIS KENNY:   

[Interrupts] My point here is as a federal government, you're saying that, but you're doing something else. Now, I know the political pressure, I know the media hysteria and the pressure of the zero COVID mob lockdown, eliminate the disease, but that's not the way we have to live with it. We've got 90 per cent vaccination in this country, yet we're still turning people away at our border. Surely we've gotten beyond that.

MINISTER GILLESPIE:     

I take your point Chris, but at the moment, there is no commitment by the federal government to create lockdowns. They're just trying to be cautious until we know a bit more about this new variant. And it's not restricting Australian citizens from coming back or permanent residents, it's only non-citizens. It's a fair call. But as long as it's only proportionate, until we know exactly what I think it will end up being, just another variant.

CHRIS KENNY:   

Now, I've been telling viewers for some time now that we'll have a May election with a budget in March or April. That seems confirmed by the sitting calendar released for next year with the budget in late March. So, off to the polls in early or mid-May? It's unusual to have all that mapped out so far ahead of time, isn't it?

MINISTER GILLESPIE:     

Yeah, but you don't need to be Nostradamus, Chris. We do have to have an election by May. So, we knew that there would be some arrangement. And we've had early budgets before to clear the way for an election, and I think that's why the calendar is what it is.

CHRIS KENNY:   

Yeah, there's not too many options. Basically March or May. So, this gives you the option obviously for May which I think is most likely. Thanks for joining us, Minister.

MINISTER GILLESPIE:     

My pleasure Chris.

CHRIS KENNY:   

David Gillespie there, who's the Regional Health Minister.

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