Date published: 
8 September 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

NEIL MITCHELL:

On the line is the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt. Good morning.

GREG HUNT:

Good morning, Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is it fixed yet?

GREG HUNT:

It's improved. It's improving. There's more to go.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Alright. What's wrong with it?

GREG HUNT:

Main thing is to make sure that just as in the cases that you've outlined, that every case, every day of a positive isn't just contacted but then their contacts are reached.

And that's the critical thing to stop the spread because it may be that a person is diagnosed, they have been in contact with three or four other people to whom it might have been spread.

And if we can identify those people, then the next round of infection can be stopped.

And that's what New South Wales has done. They have chased down each of the cases, they've identified publicly where there's been an outbreak on public transport, in a restaurant, in a shopping centre, in a gymnasium.

They've had a really strong public health response around test, trace and isolate.

To give credit where credit's due, Victoria’s testing, as with all states and territories, has been outstanding. It's the tracing that's been the gap.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yeah. But what you're saying is, is the whole point to tracing to operate that way. If Victoria is failing to do that, why is it failing to do that?

What does New South Wales doing differently? Is it just a function of the numbers? They haven't had the numbers that we have.

GREG HUNT:

No. New South Wales has had half a dozen outbreaks that are all the equivalent of the hotel quarantine breaches.

These are overwhelmingly cases that have come from Victoria that have transported across the border, unknown, seeded into the community; whether it's a Thai Rock, whether it's Crossroads or other cases.

And then they’ve chased them down. And that's the difference. They've been able to recognise, get on top early, chase them down, trace them, identify.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But why can't we? What are we lacking that - we want to do that. What are we lacking that we can't do it?

GREG HUNT:

Well there’s a story on the front of The Age today which I actually welcome and that is that.

NEIL MITCHELL:

New computers. Yeah.

GREG HUNT:

That Victoria will now move to an automated system and.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But this was offered in March.

GREG HUNT:

We brought the Chief Scientist of Australia, Professor Alan Finkel, in to work with Victoria. He’s worked very constructively.

The fact that they are adopting this approach now I think is welcome.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is that his recommend- is it Alan Finkel’s recommendation?

GREG HUNT:

Alan's worked very constructively. He did a sort of top to bottom analysis and that they've accepted that that advice.

We worked really hard to get Alan in, to get the ADF in.

I think they've been over 400 traces at different times assisting both in the coordination but also on the streets.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Would it be fair to say Alan Finkel was concerned or surprised by what he found? He's a well-respected man, independent scientist, as you say, Australia's Chief Scientist. Was he concerned or worried about what he found?

GREG HUNT:

Look, Alan's too professional to be sort of expressing emotions. He's just focused on – here’s a problem and here's how I fix it.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay. Were you concerned about what he found?

GREG HUNT:

Well the reason we wanted the ADF in and the reason we wanted the Chief Scientist of Australia in is precisely because we were concerned that there were significant number- there was a significant number of cases that hadn't been contacted and hadn't been tried.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well do you know why they- why the Victorian Government didn't accept the suggestion of this computer tracing system back in March?

GREG HUNT:

Look, I'll leave that for them to answer.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay. You mentioned household quarantine, the one in New South Wales is working.

Now, we’re aware of the dreadful sloppiness that led to the hotel quarantine breakout.

But put that to one side, even allowing for that, if we had- if we had the New South Wales contact tracing system, could we have contained potentially that hotel quarantine?

GREG HUNT:

Yes, that's my belief and the evidence is that New South Wales has had the equivalent of about six hotel quarantine breaches in terms of cases that have come from Victoria.

And you know, each of them is the equivalent of what they call an index or a zero case, the first case which is unknown.

It then spreads silently because it's a silent disease and then you have a small group or a small cluster.

And what they've been able to do is identify and then mop up those clusters. That's the strength of that system.

NEIL MITCHELL:

And we - just get it clear, we could’ve done that with the hotel quarantine outbreak and avoided all this if we'd had better contact tracing?

GREG HUNT:

My belief is that it could largely have been avoided.

And my belief is that if we - and our expectation - all the best advice that we have is that if you have a highly developed contact tracing system, then you can bring us in progressive staged way out of these curfews and lockdowns and the shuttering of businesses more quickly.

And it's not just me. If you look at our leading epidemiologists Professor Peter Collignon from the ANU, a lot hinges on very good contact tracing and so far, Victoria's not been able to do that as well as other states.

I think actually a more nuanced approach like New South Wales is doing with very good contact tracing is more likely to be sustainable over the long term.

You could look at Professor Mary Louise.

NEIL MITCHELL:

McLaws. Yeah, I speak to her regularly.

GREG HUNT:

McLaws. Professor Catherine Bennett from Deakin University, Jodie- Professor Jodie McVernon from the Doherty.

All of these people are saying we can get there and that's the real hope.

We've got a vaccine coming; 84.4 million units announced yesterday.

But contact tracing and testing in isolation are our second line of defence, lockdowns are the last thing that you do because of the mental health consequences, the health consequences, the human consequences and the cost in jobs, livelihoods and peoples’ life’s work.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So if our contact tracing had been better and you've been urging it be better for some time, one, we would have avoided the massive outbreak from hotel quarantine and second, we could have avoided this lockdown.

GREG HUNT:

Look, my belief is that much of it could largely have been avoided. Now, we have to be careful about trying to.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well have we been misled? Well no, of course, I understand that. It’s.

GREG HUNT:

Redo history but right from the outset, we got eight states and territories down from the outbreaks we had.

Victoria actually had a zero-case day in June. And that meant we were in an extraordinarily strong position.

The difference between Victoria and New South Wales is both had outbreaks. New South Wales was able to contain.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well has the Victorian public been misled? Because the Premier continually tells us it’s working very well.

GREG HUNT:

My advice, my honest assessment, is there has been significant improvement but there's more to be done.

But we're reaching out. If more resources are needed, we will help provide them whether it's Services Australia, whether it's the military, whether it's bringing in experts from other states, whether it's taking Victorian experts interstate to look at New South Wales or Queensland.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well they haven't done that. Haven't they done that yet? Haven’t they been to New South Wales and hang on, what are you guys doing right?

GREG HUNT:

Well we're simply making the offer and I'll let Victoria speak to what they've done.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay.

GREG HUNT:

But we're trying to work.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well are they.

GREG HUNT:

Our job is to work constructively to get Victoria to the same stage as seven other- seven of the eight.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I understand. So have they accepted these latest offers of help or not?

GREG HUNT:

Well we have a standing offer of if more is needed, more will be provided.

NEIL MITCHELL:

And when did they last come to you and say we need something?

GREG HUNT:

I think you'll have to check with Victoria but my understanding is that everything which has been requested in terms of contact tracing has been provided and indeed, we've often been doing the offering.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I understand that. But has it been provided recently or this historic?

GREG HUNT:

Well the ADF has been in place now for the best part of two months and so that's been very significant help, led by Professor Commodore- by Commodore Hill.

NEIL MITCHELL:

And has anything else gone in since in those two months or is that just been it?

GREG HUNT:

Well we've progressively added significant numbers of ADF. Services Australia is available now to assist. So that support has been ongoing over the last two months.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Oh dear. It's a mess, isn't it? It’s an awful and avoidable mess.

GREG HUNT:

Well my job, our job, the Prime Minister's job is to say these are the things that we're offering that can help deliver Victorians back to their lives to give them their freedom from restrictions.

Now, we know it has to be progressive, we know it has to be staged, we did support entering into Stage 3 and even Stage 4 reluctantly, we recognised that because the numbers had blown out, that was the last resort and the last line of defence.

But we also believe now and there is a respectful disagreement that the speed limits can be significantly greater with stronger contact tracing and stronger public health outcomes.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay. Look, thank you for your time. Just one other thing on my mind in a different area.

GREG HUNT:

Sure.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I was talking yesterday to some staff at Karana aged- oh no, their family members rather, Karana Aged Care in Kew, part of Baptcare Private Centre. They said that the health- they’ve had no COVID. They’ve done a great job.

They've kept the place safe, they're wearing masks and shields and they’re running out of shields and the Health Department said you can't have any because you haven't got COVID. That seems to me a bit short sighted.

GREG HUNT:

Well I know we've provided over a million and we've been providing them to all facilities in Victoria. If your producers can get me the details, we'll be in contact with them today.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I’d appreciate that. That's what I was hoping. Thank you very much for your time appreciate it.

GREG HUNT:

Thanks, Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you.

Ministers: