Topics: Black Lives Matter protests in Australia, maintaining mass gathering restrictions.
Well over the weekend as you all saw right around the country, thousands took part in rallies branded Black Lives Matter, despite health advice from some of the country’s leading medical experts to stay home.
Well now the inevitable announcement we were all waiting for weren’t we? It’s arrived today from Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, confirming a newly positive case of a virus came from a man who chose to attend Melbourne’s demonstration on Saturday.
The Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, joins me now live from Canberra. Were you surprised by this news today, Minister, or was this the sort of result you feared?
This was the result we feared and in fact it’s exactly what the Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy and I warned about on Friday.
We held a joint press conference which had the advice of the medical expert panel, all the chief health officers of Australia, saying that there was every possibility that somewhere in Australia, one of these demonstrations, if not more, would have somebody who was infected who could infect other people.
And now, what we’ve seen is a very disappointing and very concerning outcome and we will do everything we can to work with the states on the contract tracing, to work with Victoria in particular, but they have said already it will be incredibly hard.
And so what we see is that mass gatherings have gone ahead despite the health advice and that means that Australians are at risk of a significant infection outbreak.
I listened to the press conference today from the Victorian Chief Health Officer and he talked about contact tracing and how hard the team would work but how on earth are you going to be able to work out at any given time who this man might have been against?
I mean marches move and no one provided their names, address, driver’s license, contact numbers, none of that stuff at the start.
I mean it’s a needle in a haystack stuff.
Well the correct answer is, you can’t adequately contact trace a march with tens of thousands of people if there’s an individual and that was why we warned against it.
That was why we warned against it.
That was why we said what Australians did on Anzac Day, how they were able to provide a strong and silent vigil outside of their place of residence, that was a model that there was a better way, a viable way, a respectful way which could honour the cause, no matter what anybody’s particular views are one way or another, but could honour this cause or other causes.
And instead the marches, the protest went ahead, or the mass gathering. And that’s the way to think of this.
Everything we’ve done, all the difficult things which have helped contribute to our success have been about people making sacrifices to keep their distance, to save lives and protect lives.
And this sadly was a massive health risk which has now crystallised.
Look I’m not surprised that the activist decided to go ahead anyway. You’ve got shadow ministers, Labor shadow ministers, Graham Perrett, others in the Parliament who decided to throw caution to the wind, to walk away from the advice of the experts and attend.
What sort of signal does that send?
Well the message for all of us is that we have to be community leaders to show that we are serious about the health advice.
And they will all have to reflect and explain why they did what they did in ignoring the medical expert advice.
But that advice could not have been clearer.
And this is what has been the difference between Australia and so many other countries that we know and respect; Italy, Spain, France, Canada, the United States, all of which have had human agony and tragedy on a grand scale and economic damage far beyond the extraordinary difficulty we’ve already faced in Australia.
And that’s because we put together the border controls, the testing, the tracing and the physical distancing that had protected Australians.
And to deconstruct one of those pillars against the medical advice, I think is deeply negligent.
Look, I know you’ve got your ear to the ground of the community but you, I’m sure, can appreciate how angry people are that there appears to be one rule for them and no rules for others, particularly as I said those who have gone through the hardship of very small groupings for things like funerals.
Well that’s exactly right. And the Australian public has been amazing. They have sacrificed, they have isolated, they’ve done difficult things.
That’s had a huge impact on their businesses, on their work, on the loneliness and isolation, missing out on you know, vital family moments.
And so they are, I think, overwhelmingly frustrated or angry in many cases and that’s been expressed to me.
The most common phrases are double standards, one rule for them and one rule for the rest of Australia and the other one that really struck me is, there is no immunity cloak despite a good cause.
And so this is the point, that the virus knows no causes, boundaries, races, colours, creeds. It is a virus that can kill.
It has taken over 420,000 lives officially and we believe probably much, much more than that for the unreported cases and the unrecorded cases.
And the numbers are accelerating globally at a faster pace than ever before. And so outside of our borders there is a world of extreme difficulty and pain.
The protections we’ve got have saved lives and protected lives in Australia. And that’s the thing we have to honour.
And given we know we’ve got this one case in Melbourne. There could well be more around the country.
Two issues: what will happen tomorrow in the National Cabinet? Is this going to put back any chance we had to start to really lift these restrictions and what would you be saying to anyone who is thinking tonight well bugger it, I’m still going to go to a rally on the weekend anyway?
So to anybody who’s thinking of going to mass gatherings, please don’t.
And you can honour and respect your cause by making your stand online, by donating, by the private vigil.
The Anzac Day example I think was something that made Australians proud. But this will put other people at risk and we just don’t know.
And sadly we have now seen that one person, and they could infect many others, I hope they haven’t, but the potential is absolutely there.
So to honour the rest of Australia’s sacrifice, please honour that by providing the vigil outside your door.
There’s a better way. And in terms of the National Cabinet, we are working very constructively around medically advised, medically supervised means of increasing our activity, of decreasing the restrictions but in a safe way and following that plan.
And I’m hopeful that there will be significant advances tomorrow.
There have been very good preliminary talks between the Prime Minister and some of the premiers but I won’t pre-empt it.
But we’ve set out a stage plan and hopefully we’ll have a very clear stage three for mid-July coming out of it with the potential for other items to be brought forward, which gives people back their lives.
But we can only do this if there isn’t a mass breakout because of a mass gathering.
I understand Minister. I think on behalf of a lot of my viewers tonight, many Australians around the country too, thank you for your enormous efforts in the last few months.
I know it’s been particularly tough for you but you’re the man of the moment and you’ve certainly got the intellect to match. Thank you Greg Hunt.