Topics: Temporary pause to further easing of international border restrictions.
LISA MILLAR: Good morning to you Minister. Welcome to News Breakfast.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning.
LISA MILLAR: The big question today is whether that two-week pause on arrivals could end up being extended?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well we took the health advice from our Chief Medical Officer last night; that advice was given to the National Security Committee of Cabinet. We listened very carefully to what Paul Kelly had to say, and the decision was taken was that we would need to pause the decision we had already taken, in relation to international students and skilled workers. The reason we did that is because – based on the health advice – more time was needed to make sure we had all the relevant information in relation to that variant. But the good thing is that here in Australia we have such a high vaccination rate – over 86 per cent of eligible Australians are double vaccinated. So that does put us in very good stead to face Omicron – and any other variant.
LISA MILLAR: Lots of Australians overseas, some of them scrambling to get home earlier because they’re just not sure what’s going to happen. Can you guarantee that people who are heading back to Australia – Australians – aren’t going to end up doing 14 days’ quarantine?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, quarantine is going to continue to be a matter for state and territory governments. There are no changes to some states; other states have already changed their position in relation to international arrivals and quarantine. They are matters for the states. What I can say is from the Federal Government’s point of view, we are very determined to do all we can to reopen our borders, but we will do that in a safe manner. That’s consistent with what we have always said. It’s consistent with the National Plan. So at this stage, it is a 14-day pause on arrivals that were scheduled to come in from the 1st of December – for skilled workers, international students and other subclasses that we had identified through the Home Affairs website.
LISA MILLAR: So many businesses in Australia just hanging, waiting for those skilled workers and the students as well. We’ve got cafes and restaurants desperate for staff. What’s the economic cost of a decision like this?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, we were very mindful as we were listening to the advice from the Chief Medical Officer last night about what the impacts would be on businesses here in Australia. That’s why we’ve taken the decision to pause for 14 days – to give us sufficient time to get further advice on this particular variant. But we are very keen to make sure that our borders are reopened as soon as possible, because we understand how difficult it is to get the skilled labour that is needed by so many businesses here in Australia. Of course we want to welcome back international students as soon as we possibly can – so this is a 14-day pause whilst we gather the information that we need about this particular variant.
LISA MILLAR: We’ve seen state leaders close borders without a lot notice. Should Australians be worried about what their summer holidays are going to look like?
KAREN ANDREWS: I think we’ve all got to be conscious as we continue to live and work in the COVID environment that things may happen from time to time which will mean a particular course of action needs to be taken. Now, we’ve seen an example of that in relation to the Omicron variant where the Federal Government has taken the decision to pause the reopening of our borders for 14 days. The National Plan made it very clear that at times there would be decisions that would need to be taken that might change a number of settings. So-
LISA MILLAR: What about state borders Minister?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, that’s a matter for the state and territory governments to determine. We have been very keen – Federally – to focus on the international borders because that’s our key responsibility. Look, so far the state and territory first ministers have been very conscious of the impacts of the Omicron variant, but they have been taking advice and they have been excellent to deal with. They have made it very clear that they are focused on finding out more about this particular variant and what the impacts are. So it has been a very measured response from everyone here in Australia and that’s very positive.
LISA MILLAR: Does this sudden threat that’s arrived and, you know, the machinations over how to deal with it, go to the point that Labor has been making that Australia is not equipped well enough with dedicated quarantine facilities and we need them in place and operating far earlier than planned?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, not at all. Not at all. We have very high vaccination rates, now over 86 per cent in this country. We’ve very much focused as a government on vaccinations and making sure that Australians are prepared. Purpose-built quarantine facilities are very limited in their capacity. Howard Springs has been very effective at managing international arrivals, particularly those from high-risk countries. We have had around the country hotel quarantine working very effectively, and the good thing about hotel quarantine is that you can manage it up and down as is required. So purpose-built facilities, particularly from the Federal Government’s point of view, have always had a limited life. We have made it clear that any facilities that we will be involved in will need to be multipurpose so they can be repurposed in the future; for example if we needed to accommodate or house people in a future pandemic, or we particularly needed to look at where we were going to house people during a domestic crisis which could include floods or bushfires.
LISA MILLAR: Minister, just briefly, we’re reporting this morning that the Solomon Islands Prime Minister’s opponents are saying Australia’s presence there isn’t helpful and is, in fact, propping up corrupt leadership. Has this not been a good move by Australia to send AFP?
KAREN ANDREWS: It was exactly the right move for Australia to make. Let’s be clear – we made that in response to a request from the Solomon Islands Prime Minister. So we are there supporting the Solomon Islands police force. This is a policing matter rather than-
LISA MILLAR: But you’re in the middle of the political crossfire now.
KAREN ANDREWS: And we’ve made it very clear that we are not there to participate at all in domestic political matters. We are there to work with the Solomon Islands police force to restore law and public order as soon as we possibly can.
LISA MILLAR: Minister, thanks for your time this morning.
KAREN ANDREWS: Thank you.