The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
6 January 2022
INTERVIEW WITH EDWINA BARTHOLOMEW AND MATT SHIRVINGTON
Topics: Novak Djokovic; COVID-19 Testing; COVID-19 Vaccines for Kids.
For more on our breaking news, tennis star Novak Djokovic’s visa to enter Australia has been cancelled after being detained at Melbourne Airport for eight hours.
Health Minister Greg Hunt joins us now. Good morning to you, Minister.
Well, do you have any further information? Do you know what the process is from here for Novak?
So the advice that I have literally just received before joining you is that the visa for Novak Djokovic has been cancelled.
Obviously, that follows a review of the exemption, which was provided through the Victorian Government process, they were looking at the integrity and the evidence behind it.
The advice I have and if I can just quote it for you is: the ABF can confirm that Mr Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia, and visa has been subsequently cancelled.
So it’s a matter for him whether he wishes to appeal that but if a visa is cancelled, somebody will have to leave the country.
Yeah. We’re hearing that he might him try and challenge that in the Victorian court so we’re not quite sure how that will play out.
But there is now the diplomatic fallout. The Serbian President says he’s personally spoken to Djokovic while he was being detained by Australian Border Force personnel.
We’re also hearing from Serbian media this morning that our Australian Ambassador is being called into the government there to explain what’s happened here.
Do you have any more information on what happened politically behind the scenes?
Look, I don’t. I apologise. I’ve been working on the coronavirus response where we’ve had record boosting vaccinations in the last 24-hours.
But I do know that right throughout, as a Commonwealth, as a National Government, as an Australian Government, the Prime Minister has been clear that Australians have had to do it tough and Australians in many states and territories has to show their vaccination record in some cases to enter premises and cafes and other things and it’s not unreasonable to have exactly the same requirements of all who enter this country. So fair and equitable for all, and the requirements were not able to be met.
There was an exemption that had been provided through the Victorian Government process. Clearly, that did not pass the standards of proof that were required by the Australian Border Force. Yes, it’s tough but it is fair and equitable and it’s one rule for all under this Australian Government.
Minister, let’s get to the changes in National Cabinet because Australians continue to do it tough.
Epidemiologists say that this decision not to order enough tests and what we’re currently going through with the backlog of PCR testing and those extraordinary queues that people have been waiting in over summer is the most appalling public health decision since the start of this pandemic.
What’s your response to that?
Well, I respectfully reject it.
What we have seen is over 230,000 tests a day, 56 million tests all up that have been conducted. All of them are done for health purposes for free.
So, what we see is the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, for example, identified Australia as one of the most accurate testing nations in the world, that’s what has helped keep us safe.
Now, we have Omicron and we saw world cases spike to over 2.5 million a day up from more than half a million, approximately half a million only six weeks ago. And so, a massive global increase around the world.
There’s a short-term challenge around the rapid antigen supply. The Australian Government has been supplying the aged care right through, we were in the market in August. We’ve stepped in to help the states, we’ve purchased 70 million, they have 130 million which will take to over 200 million.
And I am introducing price gouging regulations under the Biosecurity Act which will commence at 1:00AM on 8 January 2022 and that includes fines of up to $66,000 or imprisonment of up to five years for demonstrated price gouging in relation to the rapid antigen tests.
So strong, clear action and we continue to ensure that these tests are available free through the public health system as they have always been, contrary to some inaccurate reports.
But they’re not available, Minister. People can’t get them. People are having to line up right across the country to even find a rapid antigen test at their local pharmacy. People can’t get them and they’re not free.
Well, two things here, in the healthcare setting they are free and that has always been the case and will continue to be the case.
And yes, with many people stepping forward, Australians have been amazing in coming forward to be tested and for close contacts and for symptomatic cases that remains the case.
Then for concessional cardholders outside of that healthcare setting we are also providing 66 million tests for free, and then for what may be known as casual use or social use where people are being precautionary, then that’s a matter for them to be able to purchase.
There is a short-term supply challenge globally, supply has actually gone up significantly but demand around the world has spiked. And so, that’s where we are providing that additional support with those 66 million tests for concessional cardholders and 70 million that the Commonwealth has purchased for aged care to support the states.
Minister, in the UK, they are free for a majority of people. Schools are using them to send kids back to school to make sure that the virus isn’t spread throughout schools. Rapid tests, obviously, in the next three weeks could become even more vital as kids head back to school.
We’ll get to that in a moment. But I wanted to talk about vaccination for school kids because realistically the lead up to a return to school is barely three weeks away. The rollout of vaccines for kids between five and 12 years of age is just about to start.
Is it going to be enough time to get enough kids to be vaccinated?
Well, we’ve followed the safety protocols and it’s important we have done that, I think every parent would want to make sure that is the case.
That commences in just a matter of days on 10 January and we have enough vaccines for every child in Australia.
We have an almost 80 per cent rate for 12 to 15-year-olds. We’d like that to go higher. But we want to encourage every parent to bring their child forward, to book through your GP or pharmacist or state clinic, over the course of the coming weeks.
So, we’re running the booster program. At the same time, we’re running the children’s program. That commences next Monday on 10 January.
The supplies are going out, literally as we speak and I am very confident there will be a very high take up but I’d encourage all of the parents to know that the strongest safety protocols have been followed, but it will help protect your child and it will help protect your family.
Well, hopefully, we can get those rapid antigen tests into school as well just to keep all of those kids and also those teachers safe for free.
Minister, thank you for your time this morning. We’ll have to leave it there.
Thanks everybody. We’ll get through this and I want to thank everybody for all of their actions to keep themselves and each other safe.
Yeah. Well said. Thank you, Minister, for spending time a bit of time with us.