Topics: COVID-19 vaccine rollout, repatriation from India, violent extremism
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Karen Andrews is the Minister for Home Affairs and my guest this evening. Welcome to the program.
KAREN ANDREWS: Hi Patricia.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Do you agree a new and better national advertising campaign is needed to combat vaccine hesitancy?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, we’re clearly going to need to do all that we can to encourage people to get the COVID-19 vaccination. That’s a very important part of the strategy for us to be able to reopen our borders. And also, it’s very important for us to be able to live our lives the way that we need to do. So, yes, we will need to do some work. But part of that is the Prime Minister going out there encouraging people to get a vaccine. I’m doing that, all my colleagues are. The medical profession is out there encouraging people. So there is a lot of work that’s already being done. And I can’t stress the importance of as many people as possible getting vaccinated.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: How much of this vaccine hesitancy is being driven by the fact that one of the vaccine people are being offered has a rare but very serious side effect?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well I understand that people will be concerned about that. The medical advice is that the risk of blood clotting is still very low, but it does remain a risk factor. But many things that we do, do have risks associated with it. And it’s a risk management issue to look at what is the risk in not being vaccinated? And what we do know is that COVID is a very insidious disease. It’s easily transmitted, and people can have long-term side effects and it can lead to death. So, from a risk management point of view, it’s assessing the risk of a blood clot where the risk is deemed to be low and the risk of getting COVID. But I don’t think that’s the only issue, quite frankly, that’s leading to hesitancy. I think that there’s a reasonable amount of complacency in Australia, because if you compare how Australia has dealt with COVID compared to many other nations, and the fact that, here in Australia, we are largely going about our lives as normal now. Many people are saying: well, do I need to go and get the vaccine? The response that I would give is absolutely, because we want to maintain what we’ve done so far. We want to reopen our borders, and that means that we need to get people vaccinated.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: So if there is that level of complacency, what’s the Government’s strategy for dealing with that complacency?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, it’s each and every one of the government members being out there every day doing interviews such as I’m doing now with you talking about it because being on your program is clearly a great place for me to be able to communicate the need for people to go out and get vaccinated. That’s happening very broadly. The state and territory governments are also doing their best to encourage people to get the vaccine. The Australian Medical Association is doing the same. So there is a lot of work there. Does there need to be a specific campaign? Obviously, we will look at the rollout and how it’s proceeding and consider that.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: So, you will consider it. What’s holding you back?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, basically, there’s already a lot of work that is being done now to promote vaccines. I mean, you’re doing it just by interviewing me. I’m out there talking about it. Many people are. So, basically, media is being flooded already with the need to get vaccinated. So, does it need a specific campaign? I think that we’ve got to draw the conclusion that a lot is already being done to encourage people to go out and get the vaccination.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: How can you not be concerned, Minister, that a third of Australians say they don’t want the jab?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well I am concerned about it. So I’m not saying I’m not concerned about that because the complacency that we’re seeing out there at the moment and the concern is a worry because we do want people to have confidence, and I would encourage them to listen to the medical advice.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Why did your colleague Greg Hunt backtrack after saying people worried about AstraZeneca can wait because there will be more vaccines available, mRNA vaccines, at the end of the year?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, there will be more mRNA vaccines coming into the country, and that’s just a statement of fact. So there will be other options. So I think we still need to be looking at the AstraZeneca vaccine and say, well, the medical advice is that it is safe. So for those people who wish to be vaccinated, there is no reason why they can’t go out right now and get vaccinated, and in my view, they should be doing that.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Three Australians have now died from COVID-19 in India. Has the pause in bringing Australians home contributed to those deaths?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, we have we have done all we can to support Australians returning from India. We’ve had one repatriation flight come through or facilitated flight come through since the travel pause was lifted. Of course, we would have liked that to have been full, but the reality is that there were positive COVID tests and those people were not able to get on that flight. But there are further flight schedules. The next one will come into Darwin on the 23rd of May and the next one after that will be the 31st of May.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay. But on those three deaths. Minister, which was at the heart of my question, is the Australian Government partly responsible for those deaths?
KAREN ANDREWS: No, I don’t think that we can say that at all.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But if we’d got these people home, they would have been able to get treatment in Australian hospitals, first class treatment under our first class medical system. No doubt we could have had different outcomes for these people.
KAREN ANDREWS: Potentially, but what we have to all realise is that every time you go overseas, you do take that risk as an individual that something will go wrong. And we are in the middle of a global pandemic. So the Government is doing all that it can to bring people home and to do that as quickly as they possibly can. But it is a global pandemic and we cannot bring everyone home to Australia as quickly as we would like. We’ve got to manage the flights, we’ve got to manage the quarantine facilities, and that’s decisions that have been taken across Government. We are doing what we can. I’m not prepared to undermine confidence of Australians in what we may well be able to do to support our vulnerable people coming back from India. I think we need to focus on what we can do and do that to the best of our ability.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Does Australia plan to increase the number of repatriation flights from India given other states have offered to quarantine returned arrivals?
KAREN ANDREWS: We will do all that we possibly can to keep people- get people back as soon as we can. And at this stage, there are two flights that are planned that will go into Darwin. But we then will look at further flights that will also go into Darwin, but also Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane this month.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Do you welcome the decision from Qantas to change the lab it’s using to screen people boarding repatriation flights?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I have confidence in what Qantas is doing. And if they want to make sure that they’ve got passengers that they can uptake and bring to Australia, if that means they need to look at the testing arrangements that they have in place, then they should go and do that. I understand that there’s been a question over the validity of results. So good on Qantas, quite frankly, for acting to address that concern.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Are those passengers who were blocked from boarding repatriation flights being offered any kind of assistance?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, we are offering as much assistance as we possibly can. So our High Commission in New Delhi is providing consular assistance to those passengers who need it. We’ve already made it clear that we will be endeavouring to prioritise those passengers for the first available flight that we can get them in here to Australia. But there’s also some financial support that is available, and that’s through our Overseas Financial Assistance Program.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Minister, I know the National Security Committee has been looking at trying to tighten the reasons you can go overseas. Where are you at with that?
KAREN ANDREWS: We’re continuing to look at what some of those options may well be. And the restrictions on overseas travel are needed, because once people go overseas, they then look to return. And we don’t want some people particularly going backwards and forwards multiple times, taking up quarantine places.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, so what sort of changes are you looking to implement? Give me an example.
KAREN ANDREWS: So we’re going to look at what we can potentially do for those people that are leaving and seeking to re-enter the country on multiple occasions. We know that there are some issues there. Now, some people do go in and out multiple times for very good reasons. That may be associated with business, but it could also be for medical reasons that people are coming in and out as well. So we need to get some more data and look at what some of those options might be.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay. And will that apply to public figures, including former politicians?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, I’m prepared to look at all that. I’m not that interested in supporting individual special cases. But I’ll certainly look at that and see if there are any pressing needs. But I think that we need to be looking after our vulnerable people first and foremost.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yeah, for sure. Look, Minister, does the arrest of National Socialist Network leader Thomas Sewell signal a broader crackdown on far right extremism?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, what the Director-General of ASIO has said very clearly is that ideologically motivated violent extremism is on the rise. We need to be very aware of it. We need to be looking at action that we can take. And clearly, if there is criminal criminality involved, we will be targeting that.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Minister, just finally, what do you make of your Queensland colleague, Amanda Stoker, saying she’d lost out of the top spot on that senate ticket in Queensland because her rival, James McGrath, drank more beer with pre-selectors?
KAREN ANDREWS: I don’t know what James McGrath did in terms of his pre-selection. And I haven’t heard Amanda make that that comment.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Oh, I’m here to help you. She said it. I don’t know, I read between the lines. Is it a gendered comment? What do you make of it?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, look, all I will say is I think it’s an interesting comment to make. I mean, preselection is all about talking to party members and talking to them about whether or not they’re going to be able to attend to pre-selection and talk to them about your merits.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Sure. But if you drink beer with people- you know, it’s obviously a saying you can drink fine wine, whatever they might like, but it’s a way of schmoozing people, right? Is she’s suggesting that’s what he did?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I don’t know if James did that. So there’s really nothing more I can comment on that, much as you’d like me to, Patricia.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: I would like you to. But I’ll say goodbye to you. Karen Andrews, thanks for coming on the show.
KAREN ANDREWS: No worries. Take care.