Media event date: 
8 April 2020
Date published: 
9 April 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

PETER GLEESON:

Now the Federal Government has flagged it will send an extra 11 million masks to healthcare workers across the country including regional GPs and health clinics. It comes off the back of reports of a lack of crucial medical supplies from frontline staff. Joining me now is Minister for Regional Health and Communications, Mark Coulton. Mark, thanks for joining us tonight. Take us through exactly what this means for Australians who are watching this show tonight.

MARK COULTON:

Yeah. So are you talking about the personal protection equipment there, Peter?

PETER GLEESON:

Yeah.

MARK COULTON:

It has been a real balancing act. Our senior health officials - Greg Hunt as the Minister - have been night and day sourcing these masks. And it has been- we've had just enough - this extra 11 million coming out, and there’s some more on order, will take some pressure off. But we've still got to make sure that we prioritise the high needs areas - obviously GPs, the respiratory clinics that we're rolling out, aged care in particular. And so we are rationing those out around Australia.

But we are seeing a relief, a bit more coming into the system which will be good. But it has been quite concerning for a lot of the health professionals that they've only been able to get this as a just as needs time and so hopefully with these 11 million being distributed now it will just take a bit more pressure off them.

PETER GLEESON:

Mark, it’s an interesting and crucial time right now as we fight this particular invidious disease and of course we’re heading into Easter, we’ve made significant gains, we are flattening the curve. But there’s still the possibility of a- sort of an unwarranted spike if you like. What do you say to Australians heading into Easter this weekend?

MARK COULTON:

Look please, just stay at home. Look I think we should be very proud of ourselves. I'm obviously a regional MP I should say and we’ve done very well in the regions.

We've got a low number of infections and we've managed to identify those, and isolate them. And so, what makes the regional Australian safe is that we are spread out, we've got a lot of space around us, we've got a lot of distance between towns.

But it also makes us vulnerable and so the last thing we need is to have visitors coming through that might spread the virus into our community. Because a spike in a small community does then present particular problems to manage.

And so the message is: do what you've been doing - stay at home.

I think we are starting to get a little bit used to it. I've been working at home now for three weeks, I've come to Canberra to help pass this legislation but basically I've been doing my job as a Government Minister from the lounge room of my home for three weeks. And so, it's not ideal but it is do-able.

And so just stay home over Easter, try to entertain yourselves within your own family and the more we do that the more chance we've got of keeping the level of infection low enough so that if we do get a spike anywhere we have the capacity to handle that.

At the moment we're doing well but there's no reason to be complacent. We just need to keep doing what we're doing.

PETER GLEESON:

Minister, your Health Minister colleague, Greg Hunt, has warned that anyone who deliberately spreads this virus could face lengthy stints in jail. I mean, I can’t even comprehend that anyone would deliberately go and do this, but we know there are plenty of drongoes out there. So, that is a fairly dire warning, isn’t it?

MARK COULTON:

It certainly is. You know actually in my electorate someone had returned from overseas, told to self-isolate, left home, the police warned them the first time, the second time they fined this particular person a thousand dollars I think and told him that the next time they found him outside his house he'd be going to jail. That’s how serious this is.

You know, people have been inadvertently, I think in the in the first instance, spreading this but now we know better, we know what can spread it. But we're also hearing, I think one of the most disturbing things Peter, is people being abusive to officials…

PETER GLEESON:

It’s disgusting.

MARK COULTON:

… to health professionals, to the police. And it’s so un-Australian it’s hard to comprehend and so I think jail terms for people who do that sort of thing is certainly what the general public would support.

I'm incredibly proud of the Australian people at the moment. And I tell you what, the sense of things out there is that these people are doing the wrong thing, are really going against the grain of what mainstream Australians really want.

PETER GLEESON:

You getting much rain out there?

MARK COULTON:

Yes. It's really good. The last time I was supposed to speak to you we had the heaviest thunderstorm in about four years and played a bit of havoc with my satellite connection. But my electorate is very grateful we're not dealing with this last year in the drought, because at the moment there's great optimism.

There's a lot of activity going on in the cropping sector getting ready for planting what will be probably a record winter crop in Western New South Wales, a lot of activity in the sale yards with people trying to restock.

You know, regional Australia is really managing this.

They are the engine driver at the moment of the country - agriculture, mining - a lot of those things we’re relying on for our export dollars is doing really well and we live in a fairly sparsely populated part of the world where we can self-isolate and still do our work.

So, apart from this virus which people are obviously concerned about, with the great rainfall that we've had across my electorate, there's a really great air of optimism.

I’m not saying that people aren't doing a tough, they're trying to find the money now to plant a crop after three or four crop failures. But certainly in some places there's been a foot of rain; out in that Broadacre area, Coonamble, Walgett, up through Moree that way and there’s a lot of optimism.

PETER GLEESON:

And the other good thing too, Mark, is the ABC have dropped off climate change.

MARK COULTON:

Yes, they certainly have. You know, the irony of this is that if anyone wants to know what it's like to live in a low carbon economy - this is it.

You know, our emissions are dropping, our vehicle use is dropping. If you want to have a test run living in a low carbon economy, well we're getting that now Peter.

PETER GLEESON:

This is it, exactly. Minister Mark Coulton, thanks for joining us tonight on Sky News across Australia.

MARK COULTON:

Thanks Peter, it’s a pleasure. Thank you.