Topics: QLD/NSW border, Queensland Government’s border restrictions, COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
MATT WEBBER: Ms Andrews, good morning. Where are you at on what the solution may look like to make life easier for our friends on the Tweed?
KAREN ANDREWS: I’ve been clear and consistent all the way through, which is that – firstly – we need to be able to live and work in the COVID environment in which we find ourselves. That has obviously changed over the last 12/18 months; we’re now dealing with the Delta variant. But I’ve also had very strong views on the border. Gold Coast/Tweed Heads is a border town, and a hard border closure impacts Gold Coasters and it impacts Tweed Heads’ residents and businesses. We have a situation where people are finding it increasingly difficult to get across the border to work. There’s been varied views of what is an ‘essential worker’. I think that the border bubble has worked very well in the past to allow people to come across the border for work reasons or for a pressing need. It’s important we start to revisit that.
I was particularly disappointed to hear some of the comments coming out from the Queensland Government about how they were effectively starting to ready themselves – if there were cases in the Gold Coast – that they would lock down the Gold Coast immediately. I’m also disappointed to read and to hear the comments of Steven Miles, saying that they’re already starting to look at how they can crab walk away from their commitment to the National Plan of reopening.
I think that we need to be looking at how we’re going to allow people in Gold Coast/Tweed Heads to go about their business in a safe and sensible manner. I have people contacting my office who can’t get across the border to work. We’re hearing stories about Queensland businesses that are looking at recruiting only workers from Queensland because they can’t recruit anyone from New South Wales and have certainty that they’ll be able to get to work. Whilst of course I’m very pro-Queensland, this is a border town and we are Australians; to say that someone who lives in New South Wales can’t come and work in Queensland because they can’t get across our border is just a nonsense.
MATT WEBBER: Well, as I see it and as plenty of people see it at the moment, the Queensland Government would like a line further south; underneath the Tweed or south of the Tweed. Your colleague Peter Dutton, he likes that idea. The MP in New South Wales, Justine Elliot, she likes that idea too. It seems that the only people who don’t really like that idea or won’t consider it is the New
South Wales Government. Sure, a lot on their plate at the moment, but there’s 100,000 people in the Tweed who are left in the middle of this pretty ordinary situation. I mean, what will it take for the New South Wales Government to shift their position on it and take it seriously?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well New South Wales has made its commitment. But I would say is that there’s an alternate to this. Surely the Queensland Government can be looking at what it can do to allow people to come in from a bubble zone? You don’t have to have agreement – in my view – for a border to be moved further south. I mean the Queensland Government I would think, would be able to use its own discretion to allow people to come in from where it chooses, and that includes in the bubble zone. So I think we can get ourselves caught up on ‘where should we move the border to’, when really it should be more pressure back on the Queensland Government; ‘what are you doing to make sure that people can cross’, in that the border bubble that we’ve been so used to? On the Gold Coast and Tweed Heads, to allow them to cross?
MATT WEBBER: I suppose the difference here is that we have a much more significant outbreak in and around Sydney, and now in the regions too, and there are concerns about it spreading further and deeper into the regions as well. Queensland needs to assure itself – given its position that it’s fought very hard to establish; zero cases in terms of community spread – that it protects that position and its people. So surely you can understand that it wants some kind of assurance or some sort of safeguard to maintain what it’s worked so hard to achieve?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look I understand there are different views on this, and there are some people who would be very happy for there to be a hard border closure because they want to remain safe; I understand their point of view. But I’m also concerned about the mental health and the welfare of these people whose businesses are going bust; who cannot get to work; who are facing a really difficult future with no certainty; when I think that there’s probably sensible ways to look at it.
And I think – quite frankly – the Queensland Government has got the question wrong. It’s not ‘can we do various things?’ It’s ‘how do we do it?’ How do we actually keep our economy running in Queensland? How do we get people to work? How do we get people across the border? Rather than ‘no, no, no’, which is what they are doing at the moment. They’re hiding behind ‘we’re looking at zero cases, we’ve done really well, and let’s just stay there’. I mean, that is devastating for the Queensland economy and of course then they would turn around to the feds and say, ‘well, you need to pay’, and that’s just a nonsense.
MATT WEBBER: The idea put forward by Tweed Shire Mayor earlier on, Chris Cherry, saying, ‘pop Ms Palaczszuk and Ms Berejiklian in a Zoom room for a little while and get them to bang out a solution’. Do you think that could be done?
KAREN ANDREWS: Potentially, I mean Gladys Berejiklian is certainly facing the most significant outbreak in her State at this point in time. But like I said before, the Queensland Premier could actually use her own discretion. And if she’s got no discretion, is she actually going to say that she can’t decide who comes into Queensland? I would be staggered. So she could determine off her own bat whether or not she would let people From Tweed Heads. She could do that now; what’s stopping her?
MATT WEBBER: Karen Andrews is the Member for McPherson, Minister for Home Affairs. I wrote a little wish list on the weekend, Minister, and I’m going to share it with you just to establish where things are at and where I would like them to be from a personal perspective, I reckon they’re probably shared sentiments.
More needles in more arms, faster – and we’re getting there. Patients with suppression measures until the Doherty targets of 70 to 80 per cent are met. Welfare infrastructure that adequately and speedily compensates people in the interim. Kids in school where possible – that doesn’t affect us so much here in Queensland, but down south it certainly does. And a guarantee regarding vaccination supply – so we know key target dates. Now I know a few of these things are outside your remit, but you could probably speak pretty broadly about some of them.
On the welfare issue, would it not be cheaper and infinitely more stable to reignite JobKeeper for those who need it until Doherty targets are met?
KAREN ANDREWS: We’ve looked at a whole range of options Federally; it is a case of us working with the States and Territories. Our position has been really clear: that we want to keep our internal, domestic borders open as much as we possibly can, because that supports Australians in jobs. We are looking at the Doherty Report, the 70 to 80 per cent look at what we will do with international borders. We have rolled out significant support – I mean close to $30 billion, and it may well have surpassed that now with the money that we put out to support businesses over the last week or so – $30 billion of taxpayer money has gone into Queensland. We know that the economy is really quite variable at the moment. I think many Gold Coasters would say it’s really tough to try and get a tradie at the moment – so some people are doing quite well – but for others it’s a devastating experience.
My view is that we need to reopen as quickly as we can, because Australians – Queenslanders, New South Wales people – are doing their best now to roll their sleeves up and get that jab. I’d much rather focus on that. We will continue to provide the support that we have. We will – of course – be mindful of any situations that come up in the future; but at this stage, the support that we have put in place and that we’ve negotiated with the States, that’s where we are at the moment.
MATT WEBBER: All being equal, at current vaccination rates we’re looking at about the second half of November, according to many of the reports. The estimates I’ve been looking at before we get to the vaccination level that we need to – that 70, 80 per cent mark more or less. Last week the Prime Minister announced that Australians aged 16 to 39 will be able to get vaccinated after August 30. That obviously will place more of a strain on the stocks that we have – we’re seven days’ shy of that mark. Do we have enough vaccine in fridges in Australia to be able to get the job done?
KAREN ANDREWS: We have good supply of vaccines.
MATT WEBBER: Do we have enough?
KAREN ANDREWS: I believe we do. We are manufacturing AstraZeneca here, and all the advice that I have is that we have more than adequate supplies of AstraZeneca.
MATT WEBBER: But people have got to want that.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes, absolutely. But I’m also mindful – I think it was the Victorian Chief Health Officer that said – ‘the best vaccination you can get, is the one that you can actually get now’. And what we have seen is that people have started to take up – in significant numbers – the AstraZeneca vaccine. There’s been a lot of vaccine hesitancy in Queensland – that has been a significant issue where, for a number of reasons and I won’t go into all of those, but because we have had low rates in Queensland, people didn’t see the need to go out and get vaccinated. And in fact we have the second lowest vaccination of any State or Territory in Australia – it currently sits at around about 46 per cent, and Western Australia has actually got the lowest rate, at 45.5 per cent. So we’ve got a bit of catching up to do to get close to New South Wales and Victoria.
But yes, I do believe that there are vaccines. We’ve got the million that have come in from Poland. We’re continuing to work to see if we can get anything else to top that up. Pfizer has actually been pretty good with their deliveries; they have delivered what they’ve committed to. We’ll have Moderna; we’ll have Novavax coming online as well. So I’m very confident with where we are at the moment, and it really is up to people now to get the vaccine that they are advised to do by their medical professionals once they’ve have had an informed discussion.
MATT WEBBER: But when specifically will we have enough Pfizer in the country? And let’s be frank here, most people seem to desire it. When will we have enough Pfizer in the country to get the job done that needs doing by November?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well we do have reasonable stocks. Now if you’re asking the question as to how many Pfizer shots we would need if everyone chose to do that, I’d prefer not to go down that path because I want people to be sensible about this and to get the vaccination they can access. If they can’t access Pfizer right now, then they can access AstraZeneca. So they can get a vaccine; there is a vaccine available for people who choose to get it. Obviously the younger you are, the more that we would encourage them to look at Pfizer as a first choice – and that’s based on medical advice – but for many people, they have immediate access now to an AstraZeneca shot.
MATT WEBBER: Appreciate your time this morning, Ms Andrews. We’ll leave it there.
KAREN ANDREWS: No worries. Take care.