Media event date: 
14 May 2020
Date published: 
15 May 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

JULES BAILEY:

Pretty good. How are you?

MARK COULTON:

Yeah very good, thanks. I'm in Canberra. Parliament's sitting this week. Drove down on the weekend. Obviously, we're still practising social distancing here. Not everyone goes into the chamber every day. A certain number from each party go in so that the balance is the same for votes but everyone’s spread out. There is legislation that needed to be dealt with, and probably, the first piece of legislation was around the COVIDSafe app.

JULES BAILEY:

Yep.

MARK COULTON:

It was passed by the House of Representatives. It’s now over in the Senate. They started debating it last night, probably we’ll finish up today. So that's important because as we've heard from state governments, there are going to be some relaxing of movement and pubs will be able to take people in restaurants and coffee shops and the like. It is important that as we relax our movement, the opportunity for the spread of infection then increases. This app will help us trace that infection and notify people in a very timely manner so that if we do see an increase in infection, we can get onto it straight away. The concerns that people had around their privacy, I believe, have been answered. I signed up to it on the first day.

We are starting to see some movement now and hoping to get more people back to work and regional Australia — our part of the world, Jules — has done very well. We've had a very low level of infection and we've managed to get on top of that very quickly. Sadly, we have had a couple of deaths in our part of the world but largely, we managed it very well. The aim now is to get life back to as normal as possible but that still involves keeping your distance from people, constant hand sanitisation and the like. I think it is important that we try and get up and running as best we can because people are starting to feel now the pressure of being at home all the time, either working or caring for kids or schooling kids. It's put an enormous amount of pressure both financial and emotional on families.

JULES BAILEY:

We certainly do. Now, I actually have the app on my phone. I've downloaded the app so I'm ready to go. I know a lot of people here Gunnedah have done the same thing. So, we're all ready to help kick the curve to go lower.

MARK COULTON:

I think people do understand that. I'm immensely proud of how Australians have responded to this. We've seen a little bit of irresponsible behaviour but largely, people have understood the severity and the potential danger. When you look at what's happened in other parts of the world, I think we've done incredibly well. But it's important that we haven't- to note that we haven't beaten this. It's still there. It's still just as dangerous. It's still just as infectious. The reason a lot of Australians haven't been infected with COVID-19 is because of the actions that they’ve taken. The Australian people have done this. The Government has obviously helped with information and guidelines but it's been the active decision of individual Australians to do, in some cases, incredibly difficult things that have damaged their businesses and their jobs but they've done it and we've managed to, I think, save a lot of lives. The challenge is to get our country up and working without letting the virus get away again.

JULES BAILEY:

I also think that we're actually showing that we're not going to take anything for granted anymore.

MARK COULTON:

I think you're right. I think there has been a re-jig. Our immediate family are not with us anymore; they’re adults and we've got grandkids. Not having that constant ability to visit does put a lot of stress on families. In some cases, it's the reverse. Sometimes, families get on better when they have a bit of space between them and if they're locked up and people are trying to work at home and educate kids, that can create a great deal of stress as well. People have stepped up well and we're up to the next phase now, which is starting to get back to work as quickly as possible because the sooner we can do that, the quicker we can get back to normality.

JULES BAILEY:

Absolutely. Now, speaking of restrictions being lifted, we have a three-phase plan, don't we?

MARK COULTON:

Yes, we do. The first step is underway, starting to slowly, to cautiously, re-open venues and businesses. When that is successful without causing increased infection, we can go further. The impact of reducing numbers allowed to attend weddings and funerals has been very difficult for regional communities to deal with.

JULES BAILEY:

Yeah.

MARK COULTON:

…we have a culture in country towns of the entire community wanting to pay respect when someone passes away and…

JULES BAILEY:

Yeah.

MARK COULTON:

…I know in my little town it doesn't matter who you are, the town turns out in large numbers to pay tribute to that person's life. I personally have known people who have passed away in the last month and normally would have expected very large funerals and it's been very difficult for the families because, in many cases, not even the entire family can attend.

It has been very difficult and that's certainly one of the things people would like to get back to normal as quickly as possible.

JULES BAILEY:

Yeah, I have to agree there. During this COVID-19, my daughter’s grandfather got pretty ill and he's still with us and he's made a recovery but it was touch and go there for a while and it looked like I couldn’t even get through the Queensland border because of the border closure. If anything, was to happen, I couldn’t go because, like, once you get into Queensland, you’ve got to self-isolate for 14 days before you can do anything. So, I can understand how hard it is for families. So, this time I think getting back to some normality, especially when it comes to funerals and families and stuff like that.

MARK COULTON:

There is something else that I really should reinforce, is that in the early days a lot of people were worried about going to seek medical advice and treatment with their doctor. We have seen people dropping off from doing that. It's perfectly safe to go and see your doctor. If you've got a chronic condition that you have regular contact with your doctor, it's important to keep that up. I was speaking to the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Murphy, earlier this week, and he said there are concerns that people are dying of other things like heart attack and stroke and the like, because they haven't been seeking help when they've had early symptoms. Also, the halt on non-urgent procedures posed a problem — those restrictions now are being released so that people that might have procedures that will diagnose early stages of cancer, bowel cancer, breast cancer, those sort of things, they need to be done because it would be a real tragedy if, you know, a condition actually worsens because people didn't seek timely interventions.

Now we have other procedures in place, it is perfectly safe and advisable to go back to your doctor. If you're a little bit concerned, we do have telehealth, and you can ring in and have a consultation over the phone with your doctor; they will advise you whether it's possible or advisable to go in. The other thing is if things are a bit stressed at home and you feel like things are getting really on top of you - maybe you've lost your job, maybe the stress of having all the kids at home all the time has made you feel that you're very stressed, you can seek advice now through lots of agencies. You know, there's Lifeline, there’s the Black Dog Institute, there's Headspace, Beyond Blue, a whole range of those organisations that are very easy to find. But also in the first instance, if you do have a regular family doctor, that would be the first call you should make. There is help out there if you feel that this is just becoming very, very difficult to handle, and I think that's important, that we make sure we look after our health away from COVID-19 at this particular time.

JULES BAILEY:

Yep. Well, it's good to know that we can start to see normality— a little bit of normalness coming back over the next few weeks.

MARK COULTON:

Yes, it is. I think we are starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. But how we come out of this will depend on how people also behave and follow the regulations that are put in place.

JULES BAILEY:

Now, we know that you’re in Canberra today, we know that [indistinct] sitting for Parliament. What is the- there’s been a lot of talk of course with trade and China and all of that stuff. Any insight?

MARK COULTON:

I don’t have a lot of good news to report. I know when I was the assistant trade minister, we were dealing with the barley issue with China. That’s been going now for 18 months or so.

JULES BAILEY:

That’s not a new matter then.

MARK COULTON:

[Talks over] No, but I guess— but I guess that the real issue is that the drought hit that problem because we were using all their barley locally. And actually, on the eastern states we were importing barley from Western Australia. But I can assure - and I know there's a lot of nervousness now and there'll be people sitting on tractors now listening to us, Jules, wondering what to plant, and all I can reassure them is that we’re working around the clock with our very, very, very senior officials in China to come to a solution on this.

JULES BAILEY:

Now, just before you go, I do have something that I wanted to ask you. The Gunnedah Rural Health Centre. I know we touched base on this a couple of times before. Talk in the community [indistinct], some of us are like: how do we go about getting the rural health centre incorporated into the State Government's $53 million upgrade. I'm just going to ask you the question. Do you think that would be a possibility for the rural health centre [indistinct] way to go?

MARK COULTON:

That is a very strong possibility, and I think that within the next couple of weeks there will be an announcement on the Gunnedah Rural Health Centre. There is obviously discussions now that are around contracts to that space. But I can't give any more information than that. But I can assure the people of Gunnedah that there will be a future for the Gunnedah Rural Health Centre, one that I feel very confident about. I spoke on Monday with the Department of Health that are managing this case, and that progress is going quite well. But I can't give any more information, only that I am very confident that when this deal is done, that the people of Gunnedah will be pleased about what the outcome is.

JULES BAILEY:

Okay. Well, I just thought I’d let you know that I’ve got a few listeners that have come to me, so we’ll see how it goes.

MARK COULTON:

Well, we’ll just see what happens.

JULES BAILEY:

Alright, have a great day.

MARK COULTON:

Okay, thanks, good to chat.