Interview with Fran Kelly, ABC RN Breakfast

  • Transcript
Subjects: COVID-19, coronavirus.
16 March 2020

Fran Kelly: Well, we're in unchartered waters this morning with mass gatherings to be banned under law, and new social distancing measures recommended in a desperate bid to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. As of midnight last night, all international arrivals, including Australians, must self-isolate for 14 days when they get here, and that's plunged the aviation and tourism industries into even deeper crisis. While the viability of even the biggest sporting codes could be challenged by state laws, prohibiting crowds of more than 500 people.

Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, is a member of the National Security Committee, which is meeting regularly to escalate the coronavirus action plan. Overnight, Marise Payne held a phone hook-up with some of her international counterparts to discuss a global response to this pandemic. Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.

Marise Payne: Good morning, Fran.

Fran Kelly: Before I come to your phone hook up, can I ask you about the rule to, well, effectively shut our doors. How long will this last, what is the advice of the National Security Committee, can you tell us?

Marise Payne: Fran, I think we have to accept that these are matters which will be reviewed regularly, but will take some time. Obviously, the strong advice is to make — is to encourage all arrivals, or in fact, indicate that all arrivals to Australia should undertake precautionary self-isolation for 14 days and that's regardless of whether they are citizens, or residents, or visitors. This is a precautionary measure. It's about minimising the spread of the coronavirus. We know that we can't stop it, but we can slow that spread and that is our task over the next few months.

Fran Kelly: Okay. And it's not encourage, it is the law now, isn't it? You must self-isolate. What of all those people who are in the air when this dictum was brought in and they arrived, where are they all gone and how have we made sure they are?

Marise Payne: Well, we manage that through instructions delivered to them on arrival, and the State health authorities, as you will have seen reported, both New South Wales and Queensland for example, indicating that they have capacity under their Public Health Acts and the indication of those regulations to impose self-isolation requirements. So they are enforceable, they’re enforceable by various legal provisions.

Fran Kelly: We'll be speaking to the Queensland Health Minister shortly to ask how they're doing that. But are you urging all the states to get really tough to exercise these hefty fines, and maybe even jail time to get this message through?

Marise Payne: We are certainly urging the states and territories to impose, and to enforce the requirements of self-isolation and in relation to mass gatherings. That's one of the reasons that the National Cabinet, which was agreed by COAG last week, has come into being. It will meet at least weekly, and as often as required. That is about coordinating Australia's response across all of the governments. Obviously, the Australian Health Principal Protection Committee has been meeting constantly, and I mean constantly, in recent weeks, indeed months — so the Chief Medical Officer and his counterparts in each of the jurisdictions. The National Cabinet itself is looking at, considering and coordinating, all of the coronavirus preparedness and response measures, whether they're in relation to health, or the economy, to society, and public safety impacts and so on.

Fran Kelly: This 14-day self-isolation for everyone coming in, Australians coming home as well, I mean, it's going to be pretty tough for some people for a whole range of reasons — and we'll be speaking more about that in the program. But, you know, given the panic buying we've seen in supermarkets — do you think you can rely on people, on public goodwill, to enforce this isolation, for people to self-isolate? It's sometimes- it's already looking very much every man for themselves.

Marise Payne: It is very difficult and we do have to change our behaviours, Fran, there's no question about that, but only for a period of time. I mean, obviously this will take some time to get through, but it is not forever, and we need Australians to work together to address these challenges, to encourage their family members and their communities to be very sensible and very measured in the approach that they take.

I've also seen, of course, the reports of panic buying, I suppose would be one description, and they're not just happening here — they've happened in other countries as well. And it's not necessary, it's not the case, that stores are going to close or supplies are going to cease. They're not. And so we do need people to be measured, and be considerate of others, particularly, and be sensible in the approaches they're taking. That said, we understand that this is a very confronting environment for Australians and we are working very carefully, in a very considered way, to try and support this process.

Fran Kelly: And should we dob in people if we know that they're not self-isolating? Ss that what we're being — I mean, the PM seemed to imply that yesterday — that if your mate’s back from Bali and is at the desk next to you …

Marise Payne: Well Fran, I think that we should encourage our mates to do the right thing.

Fran Kelly: Shall we dob them in?

Marise Payne: Fran, I think that we should make sure that in workplaces and in our communities, the people around us are doing the right thing, and that is the Australian approach, I guess I would describe it as, and it's one where we all need to be pulling together, actually. It is really, really important to do that. Nobody is above this virus, nobody is immune from this virus, from the young to the old, and to the very many people in the middle. Everybody needs to be taking a responsible and considered approach.

Fran Kelly: This pretty much kills off inbound tourism, for the short term anyway — we don't know how long for. Massive impact on the aviation industry, the Chief Executive of Flight Centre, Graham Turner, says it's going to destroy any airline coming into Australia. It's going to be devastating. Is the government planning any support for Qantas or Virgin from the taxpayer? Would it come to that?

Marise Payne: Yes. We've already, of course, reported and announced a very significant economic response in the last week and that is about protecting the economy, trying to maintain confidence to support investment and importantly to keep people in jobs. But as this progresses, I am sure there will be other matters which need to be considered — maybe the ones that you have raised, maybe the issues raised after the sporting institutions in this country were raised yesterday and in recent days, whether it's the AFL or the NRL and the impact that it has on them. It's a significant period in racing in Australia, the Golden Slipper coming up to the championships in New South Wales. All of these are going to have significant impacts on their organisations and I know that Government will be asked to consider those and will make decisions, if any, in due course.

Fran Kelly: The Government is going to — or the National Cabinet is going to — deal, look at advice about, you know, restaurants, cinemas, indoor public spaces in future days. We know that. We don't know whether they'll end up being proscribed as well. But you've been in a phone hook-up overnight with some of your global counterparts. Other countries are locking things down. If you look at what Spain's just done, what Italy had to do — lockdown basically the whole — the whole joint. Do you think a general lockdown is coming our way?

Marise Payne: Well we'll take advice on that from our public health professionals, again led by the Chief Medical Officer, but there is increasing international evidence that says early introduction of some social distancing measures has the most benefit in delaying transmission. And the examples that you've raised there — public places like restaurants, which have decreased the number of tables so they increase the amount of space between tables; making sure that there is a range of personal social distancing and hygiene measures that people take into account — whether that's being about 1.5 meters apart from each other, where they're able to; refraining from handshakes and other close contact with individuals and most, most importantly hand hygiene. And it is very clear to us that the most important action of practicing good hand hygiene — washing our hands often with soap and water …

Fran Kelly: [Talks over] Sure.

Marise Payne: … using hand sanitizers and all of the things that we I guess tell our kids and our families not to do. Don't sneeze and cough over people, make sure you’re exercising those restraints.

Fran Kelly: You’re listening to RN Breakfast, our guest is Marise Payne, she’s Australia's Foreign Minister. Marise, Minister, you held a phone hook-up with some of your counterparts overseas. I'm guessing you weren't talking about hand washing. Were there any- was there any tangible outcomes from that phone hook-up? Any particular determination to work together?

Marise Payne: Well, I wouldn't actually exclude that this discussion included personal hygiene because of course it does. And we've- we've met- I've met recently with Secretary of State Pompeo in the United States. I've been speaking with my Indian counterpart, my Canadian counterpart. And last night, we did have a- this morning about one o'clock a teleconference between Canada, Brazil, Germany, Italy, South Korea and Australia. And it was about the various responses in countries and the challenges that we are facing. Of course Italy has had very significant challenges in managing the spread there. All of the information which we are sharing is- is being, I guess, reflected across our systems so that if there are extra things we are able to do, we implement those.

We will continue those hook-ups and, I suspect, increase the participation in those. And the other thing that we are focused on is, as we know, the G7 meeting by video conference today. G7 leaders are also looking at initially perhaps a meeting of their finance-economic ministers of the G20 perhaps prior to a video conference meeting again of the leaders of the G20. That's about talking about the international economic impact and the challenges that are faced by economies across the world. And then, in terms of the leaders, making sure that they are able to discuss these very serious issues as well.

Fran Kelly: There's been some confusing advice coming from the Government for a while and people have been unclear about some of the messaging. Even the Chief Medical Officer yesterday morning telling us that handshakes were okay and, just a few hours later, they're not okay, according to the Prime Minister. So no more handshaking. But Peter Dutton was diagnosed with COVID-19 after returning from the US. As you just mentioned, you've been in the United States, I think, until Thursday last week. Have you been tested and should you be self-isolating?

Marise Payne: Well Fran, based on the- the health advice and indeed from the Chief Medical Officer, I don't require to be self-isolated or tested for coronavirus at this point in time. I am observing what is now called social distancing in keeping with the guidelines for all travellers returning from overseas — so no close contact. Indeed, NSC met yesterday by videoconference and certainly members of Parliament, politicians, such as myself, won't be travelling as much, or attending public events because of that social distancing. I'll be observing that carefully and making sure that I'm following all of the hygiene advice as well.

Fran Kelly: Alright. Marise Payne, thank you very much for joining us.

Marise Payne: Thank you very much, Fran.

Fran Kelly: Marise Payne is Australia's Foreign Minister.

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