Topics: Aged care; international borders; tourism; Gold Coast Airport curfew
MATT WEBBER: An extraordinary start to the political year, and our conversations with our local politicians will continue throughout. There’s already so much to talk about. Karen Andrews, of course, is the Member for McPherson and Minister for Home Affairs and back to talk through what has been and what will come across the course of 2022, and we’re grateful for it. Good morning to you, Minister.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning, Matt. Great to be back with you and your listeners in 2022.
MATT WEBBER: A bit to get through. So before we get into the guts of what it is we want to talk about, I have to ask you: were there any text messages on your phone that you want to tell us about?
KAREN ANDREWS: No. I’m not part of any of the text messaging that is being played out in the media at the moment. I communicate very little by way of message. I’m still of the, “Let’s have a discussion about things” type of person.
MATT WEBBER: Do you believe it wasn’t Peter Dutton, as former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr is suggesting it might have been this morning?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, Peter Dutton came out very quickly and said that the claim was baseless and it was untrue, I believe were the words that he used. So he came out so quickly, you’ve got to say, well, who knows what Bob Carr was doing and what that was all about. But Peter Dutton has certainly been very clear that the story is baseless.
MATT WEBBER: Now, Barnaby Joyce – Nationals Leader, obviously Deputy Prime Minister – and the Prime Minister now get along famously we’re told, despite some historical text messages suggesting that the relationship has been less than savoury in the past. I mean, that may be the case, but how many more grim opinions about the Prime Minister’s character can he withstand? I mean, we’ve had a bit of side eye from the Australian of the Year, anonymous cabinet ministers, Barnaby Joyce himself. We are leading up to an election. How much more of this nonsense can the Prime Minister withstand?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I think you rightly categorised it as nonsense because it is. Now, I’m not dismissing entirely what’s been going on because it’s a distraction, it’s unhelpful, it’s not great.
MATT WEBBER: Undisciplined?
KAREN ANDREWS: Very undisciplined. Very undisciplined. But in the case of the text messages that Barnaby Joyce has been responsible for, he came out and acknowledged that he’d done the wrong thing. And I think that that was what he needed to do. He’s apologised for it. The Prime Minister accepted that. He offered to resign. The Prime Minister said that that wasn’t what he wanted. So, you know, they’ve made it very clear that they’re prepared to work very closely together. And I think they will. So I think that, look, it’s not been great, but they’ve cleared the air between them and they’re now very much focused on the national interest. So you’ll see them be very united from here.
MATT WEBBER: Outwardly looking in, it reeks of disquiet. Has anyone knocked on your door or phoned you within the party to gauge your level of interest in alternative leaders?
KAREN ANDREWS: No. It’s been – it’s been very quiet. I’m just getting on with my job as the Minister for Home Affairs. So I can assure you no-one has approached me about anything to do with my views.
MATT WEBBER: Can I talk to you about aged care briefly, because this is obviously – I know it’s not your area of ministerial responsibility, but you couldn’t help but notice what’s going on in the sector. I’ll read some statistics to you: at the end of December as Australians headed towards summer holidays 105 aged care homes with active Covid-19 outbreaks, 196 cases. A month later, by the end of January there were 1261 homes with active outbreaks, 23,900 active cases, 500 deaths from Covid-19, more deaths in a single month than during the whole of 2021. The number is now almost 600.
How can it be when the whole nation is on tenterhooks about the plight of the aged care sector and questions are rightfully being asked about it and how the federal government handled its responsibilities in relation to it, how is it that we endure the Prime Minister shampooing a few scalps when clearly there are bigger issue to be discussing?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I’m not aware of exactly what the Prime Minister was doing on that particular day. He was out in a small business. He chose to do whatever he needed to do at that point in time. I don’t really think that it’s fair to say he was out doing things in a small business when he should have been focused on aged care, because I can tell you from my experiences with him is that he is always focused on the Omicron issue right now, but he’s been focused on Covid for the last two years.
MATT WEBBER: But room-reading hasn’t been a strong suit, has it? I hark back to the bushfires, which seem like yesterday, even though we’ve endured a pandemic of a couple of years in between. I mean, I know what people were talking about. I know you probably know what people were talking about. Why is it that the Prime Minister didn’t go there?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, it may well have been a schedule visit there that day. But, I think – look, and I know the point that you’re trying to make, Matt, but the Prime Minister has responsibility for a whole range of things here, and that includes small business. It includes apprentices, it includes increasing the number of people we have in employment. It includes dealing with our economy. So, yes, Covid is front of mind, and everyone is concerned about what is happening to our most vulnerable people, and that includes people in aged care facilities. But his job is not just to focus on Covid. That is clearly a high priority, but he’s also focused on many other things, and that is workplaces, it is making sure that he is supporting communities in a whole range of different areas. But the economy is important to us. Jobs are important to us. And people want that to happen. And, to be honest, a lot of people want to see Covid behind us. They want to be focusing on what the future is. And there are some great stories out there in businesses who have done well and have a very bright future. And the Prime Minister is probably out there supporting them, too.
MATT WEBBER: I find that difficult to reconcile. I mean, 170,000 aged care residents eligible for a booster, only 125,000 have had their third jab at this stage. This is a segment of our most vulnerable population. Twenty thousand have still not received a first or a second dose. This is a federal government responsibility. Surely priority one, surely on page 1 of the government bulletin for the time being – I just don’t understand how, given the context, it can’t be the Prime Minister’s priority.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, in terms of aged care and vaccinations and boosters there the booster rate is not where we would want it to be. And I say “we” very generally. It’s not what the community would want as well. But 99 per cent of our facilities have had the opportunity to have a clinic there where people can access the booster shot. Now the fact that it is still sitting around about, you know, 50 per cent across the community in particular is not where we want things to be.
But, in an aged care setting the residents there and their families are the ones that are making decisions about whether or not they will access those booster shots. The important thing is that it has been made available to them. And they have the choice as to whether or not they’re going to take a booster shot or whether they’re not.
Now with our older and vulnerable members of our community there are a range of underlying health issues that people are trying to manage. Now I’m not making excuses – that is just a statement of fact, that it’s up to the individuals whether or not they choose to get a booster. We encourage them. We encourage people to get medical advice and we do encourage vaccination. We have high levels of vaccination. We want people to make sure that they’re getting the booster shot.
And we know that that is the first line of defence. But with the aged care sector we need to be mindful of that community, the views of the families of those people and what they would like their family members to be doing. We will continue to encourage people to have boosters.
MATT WEBBER: Karen Andrews Minister for Home Affairs with me this morning. Talking a lot about aged care, but it is important. Just one last question on that – and it’s more a question of ministerial responsibility I guess – I am curious, and it’s a question I was asking last week out aloud on the program: why is the Aged care portfolio split on a shared responsibility-type basis – Greg Hunt and Richard Colbeck split it – aged care and aged care services. But that’s together with their other fairly extensive responsibilities. We’ve had a royal commission. We now have the announcement of a taskforce. We have this disproportionate number of deaths. I mean, we are talking emergency stations here. Is it time to create a specific portfolio for one person to be specifically responsible for?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, that’s one way to look at it. The alternate view, which is actually the one that I support, is that where you do have a couple of ministers responsible for a particular area, where you’ve got shared responsibility, I think it goes to the significance of that portfolio that you do have more than one minister responsible for it.
MATT WEBBER: How do you marry sport with health care – with aged health care?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, and that’s probably a very fair question as well. Sport has long been now part of the health portfolio. So it’s not unusual in the context that, you know, sport has a lot to do with health. It really does. I mean, we encourage kids to be out there all the time for their health, to be exercising. We do that with adults as well. So there is a strong reason why sports is in the health portfolio.
MATT WEBBER: But in the contemporary context, is that really a marriage that can be sustained?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, I think it is if you look at the health benefits of sport. I mean, where else would you put the sports portfolio than with health when that’s one of the most significant benefits of sport? It is health and it is wellness.
MATT WEBBER: You could give – I don’t know – call me controversial but you could perhaps give a promising female minister a junior ministerial responsibility.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I’m certainly going to be out there advocating for more women to be in Parliament to start with, to be standing for preselection to be in Parliament. And I certainly want more women to be in the Ministry as well. So I’m very happy to support that.
MATT WEBBER: There you go. I’ve given you a talking point at the next cabinet meeting. We’ve got a lot to get through. I’ll move on from aged care. I am aware that it’s not your direct area of responsibility, but it is a significant talking point.
Flight paths, potential changes to the airport curfew. We’ve been reading about this over the last 24 hours or so. Earlier flights, Qantas are seeking to extend freight flights from 5am. That will have significant lifestyle effects for those who exist at the southern end of your electorate, Karen Andrews. What do you say about this issue?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, the curfew has been longstanding at the airport. It’s not changing. It has served us well. There are no plans for the curfew to change. Now, I have actually spoken – well, actually I did message Barnaby Joyce about the issue at the airport.
MATT WEBBER: Careful.
KAREN ANDREWS: Let me confess. So I did, I did do that. So I outlined to him –
MATT WEBBER: How was the language in your text message, Karen Andrews?
KAREN ANDREWS: I’m always very polite. So I outlined what the issues were. I was in there fighting for my own electorate. So, yes, I outlined what the issues were and said I needed his support on this. He said okay to that. I’ve spoken to his office. They’re very aware of what my views are. I got quite a bit of background information as well from them about how the permit was granted in the first place and what it was for. And it was basically Covid-19 supply chain related. So we all know that supply chains have been disrupted.
However, having said that, I’m not supportive at all of there being any changes at all to the curfew. And that has never been proposed by the government. So there are those four flights that are coming in at this point in time. Now Qantas has undertaken that it will review and it will do what it can to look at re-arranging what its flights are.
The permit will come up again for renewable. I will be opposing the renewal of that exemption, and I have made my views particularly clear. So in my view, the curfew is in place for very good reasons. Understand that there’s significant issues with supply chain disruptions, but I am also calling on Qantas to make sure that they reschedule that flight so that they’re not looking for an extension of that exemption. And, in any case, I’m going to be opposing it.
MATT WEBBER: Is this based on feedback you’ve had from your community?
KAREN ANDREWS: It’s basically a longstanding issue at the airport. And I understand people’s concerns about lifestyle. When they live around an airport there are going to be disruptions to their lifestyle with flights come in and out. But the curfew is pretty special and pretty important as well. And that – as I said before, it’s been longstanding that it’s been in place. So I’m sympathetic to their views. And, you know, no-one wants the curfew changed as far as I’m aware. So no-one’s come to me and said they want the curfew changed. I’ve never advocated for it. It’s never been raised with me.
MATT WEBBER: Karen Andrew is Minister for Home Affairs, also local member for McPherson here on the Gold Coast. Just finally, you did appear on Insiders over the weekend in the place of Barnaby Joyce, whose name’s come up a fair bit this morning. Tourism was discussed, particularly reopening of borders to international tourists. It was described as something that would happen imminently. Can you tell us anymore this morning?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I was very clear that we have been focusing on making sure that we open the international borders. So it sits in my area of responsibility as the Minister for Home Affairs. I’ve been working with the Prime Minister. I obviously get the feedback from my own electorate and what’s happening on the Gold Coast. So I understand fully the need to get those international borders open.
So we’ve gone through the process from the federal government’s point of view of a staged reopening. We’re now at the point of looking at international visitors and getting those back into the country. We’re making all of those preparations. It is now just finalising what the timing is going to be for those borders to open, and I can’t wait for that to happen.
MATT WEBBER: Can you give us just a rough guide as to what we might be looking at? Two weeks? A month, six months?
KAREN ANDREWS: I’m prepared to say that it’s imminent.
MATT WEBBER: What does “imminent” mean, Karen Andrews?
KAREN ANDREWS: Imminent means in this case as early as we can make that happen. We still have to get final health advice. And we’ve been very clear throughout the pandemic that we’ll always take the health advice. So those discussions are coming to a conclusion now. As soon as that’s finalised and we get the definitive health advice that it’s safe to reopen and that we’re ready to go we’ll be making that announcements.
MATT WEBBER: Weeks or months?
KAREN ANDREWS: Within a very short period of time.
MATT WEBBER: Karen Andrews, we’ll leave it there. Thank you for your time.
KAREN ANDREWS: It’s a pleasure. Take care.
MATT WEBBER: Minister for Home Affairs, member for McPherson here on the Gold Coast.