Topics: Prioritisation of rapid antigen tests through the border; proposal for a national terrorist offenders register; support to Tonga.
NEIL BREEN: I’m joined by Home Affairs Minister; Member for McPherson on the Gold Coast; Cabinet Minister Karen Andrews. The Minister joins me on the line – good morning to you.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning Neil. How are you?
NEIL BREEN: I’m well, thanks. Now, this is something we didn’t get to talk about last week because of the Djokovic debacle, but the supply chain issues currently gripping the country. You’ve been put in charge of the Commonwealth response. The unions are kicking up now. They see it as opportunities for strikes and everything. It is an election year. How are we going with it?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, a couple of things that I can say in response to that Neil. Firstly, the behaviour of the unions and their threats of strike action are absolutely appalling. How they could even contemplate trying to hold Australians to ransom in the middle of a pandemic is beyond any rational person’s thought processes. So I’ll leave that at that point. But look, I’ve had the opportunity over the last week or so – in particular – to speak to the CEOs of our supermarkets; to speak to the food and grocery sectors; I’ve spoken to the energy sector – and many others – about what the issues are that they are facing. I think we’ve talked previously about the need for people – when they go into the supermarkets – to just buy what they need, rather than to hoard. The supermarkets are doing a great job with their restocking, but clearly people are concerned when they walk into a supermarket and they see empty shelves. Now that remains the case across Australia. So the first step, is for people to buy what they need – rather than to hoard – because we do have adequate supplies. Now, we’ve worked very closely with the supermarkets to do what we can to make sure that they can have the workers back in the workplace as soon as they possibly can. In fact the CEOs at the supermarkets, when they were speaking to me just over a week ago, said they were very happy with the processes that had been put in place to enable workers to be back at work. But let’s be clear about that – this is for workers who are asymptomatic and return a negative test on day one. So even if those people are close contacts, they’re able to go back to work, but they can’t go back in customer facing roles. That has actually relieved a lot of pressure at workplaces. We will continue to work with the sectors directly. We will also work with states and territories as required. But the first and most important step is for everyone to just buy what they need rather than hoard.
NEIL BREEN: Well, I would say the first and most important step is RAT tests. It’s the biggest issue facing Australia, and people can go back to work if they test negative. Where are they going to test negative?
KAREN ANDREWS: So if they’re symptomatic, the first thing that they need to do, if they need to be RAT tested, just go to one of the clinics that have been set up and they will get a free RAT test. So the people who are-
NEIL BREEN: The Queensland government yesterday had a massive crack at the feds and said that those RATs aren’t here.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I would dispute the fact that RATs aren’t there. The RATs actually are placed in a number of settings. Quite frankly, this is a time that we all should be pulling together in the one direction, not squabbling with each other. That’s unhelpful to all Australians. So I would just encourage all of our state folks to make sure they are working in the best interests of their state.
NEIL BREEN: I think the biggest question the public has at the moment… and the Federal Government is not the only ones to blame here, the state governments are too, particularly the state government of Queensland. The state government of Queensland were the ones who put the pressure on the PCR testing system by insisting on those tests to get into Queensland and insisting on them after you got into Queensland. It was only when there was pressure on their system that they said ‘you can have a RAT’. It wasn’t when there was pressure… but the public is asking, why didn’t any level of government see this coming last year and know that we needed millions of RATs?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, I understand where you’re coming from with that question, and what I can tell you is that Federally, we have purchased more than 89 million RATs.
NEIL BREEN: But where are they? Where are they?
KAREN ANDREWS: They are for use in aged care settings. They are coming into the country now.
NEIL BREEN: How can workers get back to work if they’re only in the aged care sector? We all need them.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, there’s the tests that are available through the state testing clinics, so people can be tested there. We’re very much focused on the essential workers.
NEIL BREEN: But that’s been under pressure too. And there’s been such long lines that people are urinating in other people’s yards; it was a disastrous period of time where people had to wait so long to get those tests done. It’s the RATs that can save that drama.
KAREN ANDREWS: Absolutely, I understand exactly what you’re saying, and I’ve seen the queues myself; they were horrendous. For all of those people who were in queues waiting for a PCR test, it was a horrendous time for them. Now, all I can tell you is that we are increasing the supply of RATs that are coming into the country. Border Force is actually doing all that it can to make sure that the clearance of those RATs at the border is prioritised. I actually spoke to the Victorian Minister responsible – over the weekend there were two consignments coming in – to make sure that they were prioritised for clearance. They still needed to be cleared, so let’s be clear about that; but they were prioritised for clearance. So let’s understand the Federal Government is purchasing RATs and making those available; states and territories governments are; the private sector is as well. So there are supplies out there at the moment. We do tell people – if you’re symptomatic, go to one of the state testing clinics where you will get a free RAT test. Don’t try and get one or source one yourself.
NEIL BREEN: Okay, I’ll move on. This national terrorist register is a step closer, which basically means if you’re convicted of a terrorism offence, you’ll go on to this register and be watched forever. My question about that is – I thought that was a given. Like if Neil Breen was convicted of murder, I would presume that I would go onto a murderer register.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I would agree with you many people would think that was the case. Now, in terms of terrorists; firstly, our threat level does remain at probable here in Australia, so anything that we do in relation to terrorism is certainly not scaremongering because the threat is absolutely real. We do – as a Government – have a very strong record with countering terrorism. We will continue to do that. But one of the things that I did raise with the state and territory Ministers is a proposal for us to look at a national register of convicted terrorist offenders. I agree with you that it’s surprising it’s not there; when I found out about it, I started taking immediate action so we could put this together. I’ve had the initial discussions with my state and territory counterparts; we’ll be meeting again shortly – hopefully in the next few weeks – we’re just finalising the details of that now. But there is a common view across Australian governments that we need to establish this register as soon as we possibly can.
NEIL BREEN: On Tonga, I see that the HMAS Adelaide arrived in Brisbane from Sydney. It’s going to make its way to Tonga – they’ve got all sorts of problems. Bit slow, isn’t it? I’d hate Australia to be under attack from China; it’s a bit slow for that boat to get here and get to Tonga. It’s not that far.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, we are doing all that we can. Obviously, the situation in Tonga is pretty dire. Communication was cut off for a period of time, as you would expect in those circumstances. But Tonga and the Pacific Islands are very important to us, so we are doing all that we can to support them. We have been looking at surveillance flights. We’re certainly looking at what we can do to make sure that we’re getting to them the equipment and the supplies they so desperately need at the moment. But I must say we do have a very good Defence Force here in Australia. They are well organised, they are well equipped and they will be supporting Tonga, absolutely.
NEIL BREEN: I hope so, I hope they get there fast. Karen Andrews, Home Affairs Minister, thank you for your time.
KAREN ANDREWS: Pleasure. Take care.