Topics: Trans-Tasman travel bubble, international borders, COVID-19, Anzac Day
RAY HADLEY: We’ve got the Home Affairs Minister, recently appointed, Karen Andrews on the line. Minister, good morning.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning. How are you?
RAY HADLEY: Really well, congratulations on your appointment.
KAREN ANDREWS: Thank you.
RAY HADLEY: With Mr Dutton moving across to Defence, and he’ll be with me as he is regularly but the last couple of weeks he’s had to defer to you on every occasion, because I’ve asked him a few questions in relation to that. He said ‘you’ll need to ask Minister Andrews about that’. That’s why we’ve got you on today.
KAREN ANDREWS: Excellent, thank you.
RAY HADLEY: Not even a week has passed since the Trans-Tasman bubble recommenced, in fact, hardly a few days. And we’ve got the border worker at Auckland Airport coming down with a virus. And there’s a misapprehension, Minister, that you’re fully aware of, so am I, other people aren’t. They say, ‘oh, you can get the vaccine and still get the virus. This person was vaccinated twice’. And I said, ‘yes, what you’ve going to understand, it doesn’t stop you getting the virus, it minimises its impact and also, you are apparently less contagious’. Now, will this impact on the bubble at all? Have you had discussions with our counterparts in New Zealand about what happens next?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, we’re obviously monitoring the situation very closely. And look clearly it’s a very unfortunate set of circumstances that have led to this so early in the reopening of the travel arrangements. So, we’ll be very conscious of what the impacts are. But look, the vaccine is an important part of our strategy, but it’s not the only part of our strategy.
RAY HADLEY: Right.
KAREN ANDREWS: So, we need to make sure that Australians, in particular, understand that they still need to go through the health recommendations of washing their hands, sanitising, social distancing, and that is a part of it as we rollout the vaccination strategy. So, in relation to New Zealand, look, clearly, that has been very well appreciated by Australians that that travel bubble has opened. We want to keep it operating, but we are very mindful of the health implications and managing those properly.
RAY HADLEY: And I guess what happens next will be to determine what happens with the poor person who’s got the virus. I note that people who are in the same household haven’t got the virus, and that may lead to the conclusion that once you’re vaccinated, even though you still might get crook or you might be positive, you’re not as contagious as perhaps you were without the vaccination.
KAREN ANDREWS: And look, and that may well be the outcome. I think what we all need to be conscious of is that the entire COVID situation was a new experience for not only us, but right across the globe. We have managed a range of issues and in Australia, we’ve managed those well. But we will be conscious of looking at what the health implications are and making sure that we are managing those as well.
RAY HADLEY: Okay. Now, the other thing we discussed this morning and it appears Greg Hunt has shut this one down, but there could be a possibility of some people using a loophole of flying from Australia to New Zealand and then being able to fly elsewhere around the world, because while we have restrictions on outgoing passengers in Australia, it’s not the case in New Zealand. But if anyone tries it on, they could face a severe penalty, from what I understand.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes, I would encourage people to not take that approach to their travel. New Zealand is not the gateway to the world. They need to be very conscious that if they seek to do that, it will not necessarily be easy for them to return to Australia. They will have to go through the whole COVID testing regime, they will be required to quarantine at their own cost in Australia and quite frankly, there are limited flights and they might have a whole heap of trouble getting back.
RAY HADLEY: I’ve got some good news, Minister, breaking at the moment, RSL Victoria has been given approval to increase the number for Sunday’s Anzac Day parade to 8,000, which is still well short of what they want up from 5,500. There was an overnight review of their COVID-Safe plans, but still, we’re waiting for the AFL and Health Victoria to announce they’ve got 100,000 at the Anzac Day Game at the MCG. And as I raised with Minister Dutton last week, it seems strange that we can have 100,000 at a footy game and only 8000 marching through St Kilda on Anzac Day. But anyway, they’ve increased it by 2,500. Let’s hope by the time we get to tomorrow and Friday; they’ll increase it by another 2,500 to 5,000.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, that’s a positive step. And many Australians want to take the opportunity to participate in Anzac Day marches and Anzac Day events. And you’re right, there’s an absolute conflict between the number of people who are allowed to attend matches, whether it be at the AFL or other sporting events. Anzac Day is significant to so many Australians and we need to do all that we can to maximise the opportunities to support our veterans and their families.
RAY HADLEY: Okay. Something I’ve raised with your predecessor previously, didn’t have much luck, and I don’t know whether we’ll have much luck with you. India is currently experiencing a coronavirus explosion, far more virulent than the previous outbreak. We’re told by medical specialists they’ve had almost 300,000 new cases in the past 24 hours and up to 2,000 people dead. Second most cases in the world behind the USA, and of course, we’re talking about a population of a billion plus. Now, New Zealand has stopped anyone flying from India to New Zealand, even if they’re New Zealand citizens or permanent residents, until they can get this under control. Now, given the figures that are coming through at the moment, they don’t have enough hospital beds, they don’t have enough oxygen, and it’s certainly out of control, and I think I mentioned this morning, even with that billion plus population, they’ve only been able to vaccinate nine per cent of the population at the moment. Is there any thought to perhaps saying the same thing that New Zealand has said, a Labour government, ‘look, we better err on the side of caution here with Indians’? And I’m talking about Australian Indians, Australian residents and Australian citizens of Indian origin returning from those places, given Delhi’s in lockdown again.
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, I don’t know that I’m necessarily going to give you a lot of joy with my response on that either.
RAY HADLEY: I didn’t think so, Minister.
KAREN ANDREWS: But what I will say is that we very closely monitor the situations that are happening across the world. We will take advice, in terms of Home Affairs, from our health professionals. We do know that there- we have layers of measures that we have in place, we have a very layered system to look at how people are returning to Australia. One of the things that people have to do is make sure that they can demonstrate that they have had a negative COVID test result. They are required to quarantine. Those layers have served us well so far. I take your point about mutant strains effectively, which is that- and we’ve seen those in other parts of the world as well. I think in Australia, we have been very well placed to respond to that as and when needed. The states actually did a good job in terms of looking at the UK strain and the potential way that that could have rolled out across our communities as well. But look, I think that we need to rely on health advice. At this stage, there is no significant change in the advice in relation to India.
RAY HADLEY: Well, the thing I- and I appreciate what you’ve said, that what we did with Brazil 12 months ago when it was in strife, and they’re still in strife, they said ‘no, you’re not coming back here, be you an Australian resident or citizen’ 12 months ago. And I just think that the rules are being applied a little differently, either by health or by government in relation to India because of our very close ties to India on a whole range of fronts. I mean, we are allies of India. We rely upon them heavily in relation to import-export trade. And we have many, many Australian-Indians making a wonderful contribution to our country. And I just think that sometimes those things need to be put aside when we’re in a crisis and I think that’s where we are at the moment.
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, I take on board your comments and I will rely on what the health advice is- that is coming through to me in terms of our border reopenings and the work that Border Force has to do.
RAY HADLEY: Okay. Now, just a little bit about yourself, because we’ll be chatting regularly. Now, you’re how long in politics?
KAREN ANDREWS: Eleven years.
RAY HADLEY: Eleven – you started as a very young woman, obviously.
KAREN ANDREWS: Thank you very much for that. I’m not going to argue.
RAY HADLEY: From Queensland?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes. Queensland, born and bred in Queensland. I actually grew up in Townsville.
RAY HADLEY: Oh, did you really?
KAREN ANDREWS: I did. I did. And the school I went to was a boy’s boarding school, day school for girls as well.
RAY HADLEY: We live in far more enlightened times, Minister, in 2021.
KAREN ANDREWS: We do indeed.
RAY HADLEY: Now, it wasn’t obligatory that Dutton, when he said to someone along the lines of ‘I’ve got to be replaced by a Queenslander’, was it?
KAREN ANDREWS: Oh, look, I’m not aware of any discussions about that. But look, both Peter and I are very strong supporters of Queensland, as you would expect.
RAY HADLEY: Okay. And I’d support- I’d also say that you would support the former minister in condemnation of the Deputy Premier of Queensland, Steven Miles. You wouldn’t be offended, would you?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, I think his behaviour has been absolutely appalling. I mean, he takes every single opportunity he can to generate a headline about himself. He needs to take a little bit more notice of what the Queensland people think and act accordingly. We’re not proud of his efforts.
RAY HADLEY: I knew it wouldn’t take long for you to get into him. Thanks very much for your time. Thanks, Minister.
KAREN ANDREWS: Pleasure. Great talking to you.
RAY HADLEY: Thank you. Karen Andrews, the new Home Affairs Minister