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

PATRICIA KARVELAS: 

Now, of course, the big story that everyone's focused on now, and I know there's a lot of anxiety in the community, is in relation to Omicron. And that particular strain. Now, it's early days when it comes to this strain, and so health officials are rightly gathering as much information about the way Australia should deal with this, including whether we should be bringing forward those 6-month booster shots. Now, at the moment, there are many Australians, very high rates of double vaccination. Many, including me, are waiting for that 6-month mark where you can get that extra booster shot to give you that high rate of coverage to deal with COVID-19. Now, the Government will be considering health advice about whether that program should be brought forward. People can bring forward those appointments to try to, I suppose, mitigate against the entry of this particular strain of the virus into our country. These two cases in New South Wales are being investigated and that one in the Northern Territory. It's still early days and we have to be very cautious about the way we talk about this because we must rely on facts rather than being alarmist and making people anxious about something when we just don't yet have all of the facts. But the Government is in a pretty wicked position now because we have dealt, in the two big states, with some massive and long lockdowns. There is fatigue around the country in relation to dealing with COVID-19 and now the conundrum of dealing with yet another variant, and how to manage that with our international borders and our internal borders too, as we near the Christmas period. Regional Health Minister, David Gillespie, joins me now. Welcome.

MINISTER GILLESPIE:     

Good afternoon. Great to be back, PK.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     

Is Australia equipped to handle another COVID-19 variant of concern?

MINISTER GILLESPIE:     

I think we'll take it all in our stride, PK. By all accounts so far we just know it's a new variant with a lot more mutations on it. But the original reporter of it described it as a milder illness with a lot of muscle aches and tiredness that faded after a couple of days. So when these viruses do mutate, and they will continue to mutate because that's what viruses do, sometimes a lot of the potency fades away with mutations. So we are obviously being cautious. We are not panicking. Keep calm and carry on is what I say, PK.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     

Okay. Australia has introduced targeted quarantine requirements for people coming from South Africa and eight surrounding nations. What is the trigger point for this change, and do you think considering broader quarantine for, potentially the world, is on the cards and should be on the cards?

MINISTER GILLESPIE:     

I think it's too early to tell. What we're doing is having a precautionary approach which is measured and appropriate to the news. Until we get more detail- and as you've seen with this whole pandemic, the accumulation of knowledge, the focus of the world's scientists on this illness has just been quite extraordinary. And what used to take years seems to be accumulated in months or even weeks. But, obviously, there is not much appetite in Australia for major shutdowns again. As you know we've accumulated huge national debt supporting industries that have had to go into hibernation. We've seen many small businesses go to the wall. And I don't think Australia would cope with any more major shutdowns. We're all looking forward to living with COVID and its variants and getting on with life.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     

Given the breakdown we saw with National Cabinet at different points in the year, what guarantee is there that there will be a coordinated national approach from states and territories? We're already seeing a different sound from different states and territories, you know, New South Wales versus other parts of the country for instance?

MINISTER GILLESPIE:     

Yeah. Look, it's a good point. The whole concept of National Cabinet has been a bit frustrating because there appears to be agreements made and then individual states go out and do what they want. It begs the whole question of why have it if they're not going to commit to enacting what is decided at the meetings. I think, as I said earlier, most people are over major lockdowns. Eventually, you know, we have to learn to live with this virus. Australia's at the forefront. We've got the best vaccination rates of any country in the world. If anyone is going to get on and live with it, it's Australia. And I think everyone is looking forward to living with it rather than making it dominate our life.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     

Yeah. Look, I think you are absolutely right that people are fatigued by lockdowns, disruptions to their lives, disruptions to the economy, to their business, but then there's dealing with reality and I suppose all choices are difficult in a pandemic. Do you just put your hands up and go, well, we just have to live with it even if you do get the advice that this is actually something that you perhaps need to be very cautious around just because you're tired?

MINISTER GILLESPIE:     

No. Look, I think we have got a great health system. We haven't been overwhelmed. New South Wales has lifted and lived with the virus and even though we've got all these arrivals and an open, pretty much, society with COVID safe practices in hand, we haven't seen a massive spike in numbers. Plus, we've got treatments and we've got ICU beds and we can cope with it. And I think that's a model for the rest of Australia to follow in New South Wales.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     

Just finally, next year's sitting calendar is out. There are just 10 sitting days before April. Why? I mean, isn't the point of the Parliament to legislate, to reform, to actually make policy? 10 days won't do it?

MINISTER GILLESPIE:     

The calendar is made over the whole span of the year. As you know, the Budget has been brought forward, I understand, into March. But that's because we have an election due in May and we want to get that out of the way. And most of the precedent is- January is still non-parliamentary sitting. We have a couple of weeks in February, a break, and then we have a Budget. So, look, I'm not getting too stressed by it. We've adjusted a couple of years to have earlier budgets because of requirements and this is just another one.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     

Alright. We're out of time. Thanks, Minister.

MINISTER GILLESPIE:     

Thank you very much, PK.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:     

Regional Health, Minister David Gillespie, there.