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Interview with Kieran Gilbert on Sky News Sunday Agenda about coronavirus (COVID-19)

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's interview with Kieran Gilbert on Sky News Sunday Agenda about coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Former Minister for Health and Aged Care

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Let’s go live to the Minister this morning. Greg Hunt joins us. Minister, thanks very much for your time. You were quite blunt to the World Health Organization in terms of your difference, the Government’s difference of opinion with the WHO early on in terms of travel restrictions.

Also very open about the Government’s desire for an investigation into the origins of this thing. How was that all received?


Well, we were very clear that as a county, firstly, we made our own decision on the first of February to move to a full travel ban with China.

I indicated that that was in disagreement with the WHO advice at the time. But it’s very important to be upfront and to acknowledge it. Secondly, that we support the EU motion, which includes an independent investigation, regulatory work on wet markets and also the potential for independent inspection powers.

The World Health Organization in Geneva accepts that Australia has some differences with them, and we’ve been very clear about it. Our most important position, perhaps, throughout the entire time of the course of the virus was the closure on the first of February of the borders with China.

It was at odds with their advice, they did disagree, they were critical. We believe that we made not just the right the decision but one of the most important decisions made by an Australian government in decades.


Well, other like-minded nations like the UK, like Canada, they didn’t, and they’re feeling the brunt of that decision now, aren’t they?


Look, I feel for, whether it’s the UK, Canada, the United States, Japan, Italy, countries that are going through the most agonizing of circumstances.

Our job as a Government has been very clear, though, and that is to stand for and protect Australia’s interests, in particular the health and safety of Australians. And one of the extraordinary parts of this has been the absolute clarity with which the Prime Minister, right from the outset, saw the gravity, saw the impact and committed to taking the action.

I have the privilege of working with Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg. That sense of unity in the Cabinet and the National Security Committee, it has helped us be where we are. The ability to work with the states and, all up, the National Cabinet of unity has been a fundamental part of this as well.

All of these things have put Australia in the position we are now, and we are now on the road back. Cautious, gentle steps, but three clear steps.

These things are all coming together to say: we’ve protected the health so far, we’ve got a lot to do to continue to protect the health. Our distancing, our hygiene, our etiquette, we cannot let those go.

But if we maintain those, we can bring people back to work, we can give them the security of work, all of the mental health benefits are seeing a future and, as a country, we’re making enormous strides.


Minister, while the number of new cases is below the number of recovered cases every day we’re on a good trajectory. But I’m wondering: is the notion of eradication of this virus now a lost cause?


Well, we’ve seen overnight 12 new cases in Australia. So, last 24 hours, 12 new cases, and six jurisdictions with zero cases. So, we know that people will be coming back from overseas, which is why we have the mandatory quarantine.

Cases appear in mandatory quarantine. So we can’t pledge that, while there’s an international situation, that there will be zero cases in Australia. But we can fight to find every case, and that’s why the testing regime is so important and the tracing regime.

It’s why the COVIDSafe app will help us to keep people safe, and the more people that can download the app, the more that can have the extra protection that it provides, the better chance we have of working towards the goal of making sure we have as few cases as possible.

But six jurisdictions yesterday, zero cases, 10 in Victoria, two in New South Wales. All of this means that we are achieving things beyond what anybody had dared hope or talk about six, eight weeks ago.

And so, Australia, it’s Australians that have done this. Our health professionals, but also over 25 million Australians who have been extraordinary. But that discipline, and I really want to give this message today, the discipline we’ve shown is the discipline we must maintain.

So as we move back to work, to normality, some things cannot change, which is the safety of distance, the importance of hygiene and the ability to focus on the fact that if we are ill, we shouldn’t be near people and we have to get the advice and encourage people to have the testing.


The strategy, really, if we put it in simple terms, and you’ve made this case, has been in two parts. One, to flatten the curve and smash the curve of infection. The other, to improve the curve of medical supplies in terms of ventilators and so on.

Even in a worst-case scenario, is that capacity there? Are you feeling comfortable this morning that we won’t, under any scenario, stretch that capacity?


That’s my very clear belief, and so the simple answer to your question is yes. We now have the capacity to meet all of the foreseeable scenarios in Australia. We have flattened the curve through all of the containment measures, the borders, the testing, the tracing and the very difficult self-isolation and home stay.

At the same time we’ve increased the capacity. Telehealth, which is now over 8.5 million consultations. I can announce today that we’ve reached the 100 million mark of masks that have come into Australia and we have reached the 7,500 mark of the ventilator capacity that we’ve required.

One of the things that the PM focused on from the earliest time in the discussions with Brendan Murphy, the Chief Medical Officer, and Paul Kelly, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, was that ventilator capacity, that absolute passion that every Australian life mattered, that every Australian life would be given the shot at the best possible treatment.

And so we’ve more than tripled our ventilator capacity at the same time as reducing the cases and flattening that curve. We now have a sustained, continuing flattening of the curve.

But there can be outbreaks, and they’re the things we’re focused on, being ready to jump on an outbreak, wherever it is in Australia. And that work with the states on testing, on tracing, on downloading the app, which remains an immensely important thing that each and every Australian can do to protect themselves and to protect others.

And then the local capacity to jump on a case, these things have put us in the position that we are now that we can begin those steps along the road to recovery, along the road map. And I am heartened that the states and territories have responded very quickly.

Clearly New South Wales and Victoria will make their statements in the next 24 hours and beyond, but they have now indicated a very clear intention to start to follow that road map as well, which is just great for Australians.


Yeah, indeed and the New South Wales Premier today, Daniel Andrews tomorrow. There’s been some criticism of the Premier in your own state, that he’s been too cautious. What do you say to that?


It’s up to each of the Premiers, each of the Chief Ministers, to set the speed for their own states. But it’s perfectly appropriate for people to debate that. That’s a fundamental part of the democratic process.

Our job as a National Cabinet, the Prime Minister’s job, the Chief Medical Officer’s job and my role, has been to help frame that set of baselines, to help outline the structure of the three steps for Australians to return towards normality, to help get 850,000 people back to work, to give people the sense of hope and aspiration and opportunity of seeing the future.

Whether it’s an economic future, and all of the small business owners and employees who’ve been doing it so hard, or of the simple ability to see your own family.

These are the things that we’ve set out. Now it’s up to each state and territory to determine the speed with which they can approach that road map. But we have seen incredibly important signs of cautious, sensible movement over the course of the last two days.


The Chief Medical Officer praised the Victorian health system for its response to the outbreak at the abattoir in Melbourne. Are you encouraged by the way that they’ve responded to that? Has it been effective?


Well, around the country what we’ve seen is public health units, whether it’s outbreaks in New South Wales, Victoria or Tasmania, respond quickly. I’ll leave the details to the particular public health units.

But one of the things that we demanded as a prerequisite to laying out the roadmap to recovery was the ability of public health units to respond. Across the country they’ve stepped up and they’ve really done, around Australia, in every state and territory, an outstanding job.

And our public health officials haven’t necessarily had the focus that they should. They’ve done a great job, alongside our nurses, our doctors and our pharmacists and our allied health workers, and our pathologists.

Our pathologists are very brave. And they have all come together to give us, I think, the best of the Australian nation, the best of the Australian family, and it’s Mother’s Day and we really have seen a single Australian family.

Through all of this, it’s been challenging, but today might be a day for people to reflect, obviously on their own families, but also on the fact that as a country I think we are stronger and better than anybody had ever really credited before. And that’s a moment of pride for Australia.


Yeah, I think many of us are very proud of how the nation’s responded, and with not a lot of complaint. Now, the AFL back June 11 according to the Sunday Herald Sun, with players starting to train. There’s groups of up to 10 this week. Do you welcome that? Is that going to be good for morale, to get the footy back?


Look, I want to see community sport back, AFL back, the NRL back, netball back, and what we’ve done is, again, a pathway. But we were very insistent, and I know that myself, the Prime Minister, the Chief Medical Officer, all wanted to see community sport back as well.

For families, for kids, that’s critical. The AFL, I’m a Victorian and so I have a particular focus on following that, they have worked incredibly well in laying out a pathway, consulting with their players, consulting with the health authorities.

Gil McLachlan said to me: we will not proceed unless we have the clear indication that it’s safe and that there is the support and endorsement of the medical officers. And they have been working very constructively with the states, as have other sports, and so I think we’ll get the footy back pretty soon.

I’ll leave the dates to the particular states that are reviewing the plans, but they are putting forward careful plans and that will give people a measure of joy, and hopefully we’ll get to see a Richmond premiership this year to make it a true recovery.


Just quickly, we’re almost out of time, but on the JobKeeper payment, finally. If that is to be reviewed and ended sooner than initially thought, is that a sign that the country in an economic sense as well as a health sense is ahead of the curve?


Well, we want to make sure that we are ahead of the curve economically. Josh and the PM have said that there’ll be a review, but that was set out right from the beginning. And so we’re following what we said we would do, we’ve got the protections in place and the protections are there for those that need them.

JobKeeper and JobSeeker have been the other great part of Australia’s response. We’ve flattened the curve in terms of health, now we want to help flatten the curve with regards to unemployment and underemployment, of giving people that pathway back.

So those supports are there for as long as they are needed during the course of the legislated period.

But everything is there to make sure that we assist Australians, but the best support of all, mental health, physical health, economic health, is if we can get Australians back to work, and we’ve started that pathway with the Prime Minister’s three step plan, the National Cabinet’s three step plan.

And this is a Mother’s Day that’s not like any other, but it’s a Mother’s Day with real and genuine hope for Australia.


Minister, we wish your wife and your family a very happy Mother’s Day, and hope you get to enjoy some of it with them. Thank you for your time.


Thanks Kieran, you take care.

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