Topics: Queensland lockdown, international arrivals, hotel quarantine, border protection.
SPENCER HOWSON: Minister, good morning.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning. How are you?
SPENCER HOWSON: Well. Thank you very much. And I gather you’re back on the Gold Coast today, where the lockdown is also in full swing?
KAREN ANDREWS: I certainly am and I’m calling in from home. So, I’m absolutely doing the lockdown, along with everyone else in South East Queensland.
SPENCER HOWSON: So you’re not going into the office and regarding yourself as an essential worker like Steven Miles?
KAREN ANDREWS: I’m not going into the office. If we’re going to deal with the lockdown properly, then I think that people need to do what they’re required to do, which is stay at home unless they have to go into the office. And I’m very well set up to work from home, so here I will be, unless it is absolutely essential that I have to go out.
SPENCER HOWSON: The State Government has been quick to blame the Federal Government for the leak that saw a regional Victorian mine worker catch COVID while in hotel quarantine here in Brisbane. It was during a nine hour stopover on the way to the Northern Territory. It’s blown up and it’s spread from that mine around the country now. They say it was all because too many people are coming to Australia from overseas, specifically non-Australians. What do you say to that?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, the Queens- I’ve got a number of things I can say to that, Spencer. Look, firstly, the Queensland Government has a history of being quite quick to try and find someone else to blame. Let’s be clear about what some of the facts were with this mine worker. That mine worker was travelling to work. They had come from Bendigo, which is a low-risk part of Australia. When he came to Queensland he was put into hotel quarantine between, in a room between a couple of international travellers. Now, as a result of that action, that individual caught COVID. So, a result of that has been that when National Cabinet met on Monday, a decision was taken that international and domestic travellers would be separated in hotel quarantine. Now, that’s a good outcome, so that’s a positive. It probably should never have happened in the first instance. If that worker had been put on a floor with other domestic travellers, then he would not, more than likely, have caught COVID. But he was put in between high-risk travellers.
SPENCER HOWSON: Why- and I just want to jump in here and ask, why has it taken- we’re 18 months into the pandemic; surely things like separating domestic travellers and international travellers in hotel quarantine should have been worked out months ago?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, that really is a question for the Queensland State Government as to how they allowed that to happen, because I think most Queenslanders, particularly those who are now impacted by this lockdown, would say, ‘well, shouldn’t you have thought about hotel quarantine?’ But look, the reality is with hotel quarantine that there have been- well, well over 300,000 people have come back to Australia, gone through hotel quarantine. There’s a 99 per cent effectiveness of hotel quarantine. So, it actually does work. If we can just tighten these things down, then we do have a very effective means of getting Australians back home.
SPENCER HOWSON: Now, what- on this point, Steven Miles, he says that only 50 per cent of people coming back from overseas are Australians. Greg Hunt, I see in one of the papers today saying, ‘no, it’s more like 80 per cent’. What’s the right figure?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yeah, look, Steven Miles is not correct with what he is saying. It’s in excess of 80 per cent of travellers who are going into a hotel quarantine, are either Australian citizens or permanent residents, or their immediate family. Now that figure comes from the Australian Border Force. So they actually do know exactly who’s coming into the country, what their status is. So it is well over 80 per cent.
SPENCER HOWSON: So you’re saying it’s- you’re saying 80 per cent, according to Australian Border Force. Steven Miles is saying 50 per cent and this is where he’s getting that figure from.
STEVEN MILES: That’s the figure that I’ve been provided by the Queensland Police Service who manage that hotel quarantine and by the Commonwealth’s own figures, they are letting in tens of thousands of non-Australian citizens each and every month, as well as letting tens of thousands of people go overseas and come back again. And so this is not about stranded Aussies. We want to see all the stranded Aussies home. But if you think about it, the number of people waiting to come into the country has been about 40,000 since Christmas, despite thousands of people coming back, each and every week. So something more is going on here.
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SPENCER HOWSON: Fifty-six per cent according to police, 80 per cent according to Border Force. What are we to believe?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I believe Border Force, but this shouldn’t be a dispute between Border Force and the Queensland Police. I don’t know what question was actually put to the Queensland Police for them to come up with that answer. What I do know is that the question that has been put to Australian Border Force has resulted in the answer, the very clear and strong answer that more than 80 per cent of people going into hotel quarantine are Australian citizens, permanent residents or their immediate family.
SPENCER HOWSON: Should we be pulling down the number of people coming into Australia at the moment?
KAREN ANDREWS: We need to make sure that we are bringing Australians home, as safely as we possibly can. Now, there’s been a lot of talk, particularly through the media about cohorts coming into Australia, whether that be partners, whether that be family members, whether it be skilled workers coming into the country. We are trying to manage that nationally, working with the States to achieve the best possible outcome. I don’t think that we should be looking immediately at how we can lockdown, how we can shut Australia down. I said months ago that we need to look at ways to live and work in the COVID environment in which we currently are. Now, no one would have expected that we would have been dealing with COVID for the best part of 18 months, as we have. So the reality is we need to look at how we can continue to live and work, given the circumstances in which we find ourselves. And the solution cannot be to constantly lockdown, to isolate Australia. We need to look at sensible ways to bring people home, to get the skilled workers that we need into this country.
SPENCER HOWSON: Karen Andrews, on a separate matter – the Australian Border Force has just wrapped up an operation with the Malaysia Coast Guard, Operation Redback XV. What’s that?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes. So this is an operation that we have carried out quite regularly with the Malaysian Coast Guard; they actually lead this operation. And I think one of the things that we need to be mindful of is that whilst COVID is front of mind for us, we still need to make sure that we are keeping our borders safe. We know what the statistics are of what happened between 2008 and 2013, where more than 50,000 people had come to Australia, they came here illegally. And tragically, at least 1200 people died. So what we need to do is continue to work with the Malaysian Coast Guard on these operations to make sure that we are keeping our borders safe. The people smugglers actually do keep monitoring what is happening here in Australia, and they will do all that they can to try and continue their trade. We need to make sure that we remain vigilant.
SPENCER HOWSON: Alright. Karen Andrews, talk to you again next week, same time, same place.
KAREN ANDREWS: Pleasure. Take care.