Sky News Sunday Agenda

E&OE…

KIERAN GILBERT:

Let's bring in my guest, the Minister for Families and Social Services and Women's Safety, Senator Anne Ruston. Minister, thank you very much for joining us. With this roadmap, the four stage plan, so much of it hinges doesn't it on what the magical number will be when it comes to the vaccination rate?

MINISTER RUSTON:

Well certainly, obviously the vaccination is the key to our ability to be able to open our borders up again and get Australia back to whatever the new normal is going to look like. So clearly over the coming months it's really, really important that we get the vaccine rolled out, that we make sure that people have confidence in having the vaccine so we can get our population vaccinated to a level that will allow us to do those things that we've talked about in stage 2, 3 and 4 of the plan to get Australia back to normal.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Well, we're talking about reopening. Do you feel for those Australians who are stuck overseas that can't get home given in the short-term the leaders have agreed to, in fact, slash the number of international arrivals?

MINISTER RUSTON:

Well of course we've been trying to repatriate every Australian who's stuck overseas but there have been obviously a number of challenges that still remain but right now because of the impact of the Delta strain which is obviously much more virulent than anything we've seen before we're focusing on the health aspect. I mean, by focusing on the health aspects at the start of this pandemic we were able to get Australia through that first stage and get our economy back open and we've seen the results economically over the last 12 months. So right now obviously our focus has to be on dealing with this Delta strain, getting everything back under control again so we can focus on the economy. It's served us well in the past and I'm sure the quick and effective action of our health officials will see that we'll come out of this pandemic, or this current lockdown, as quickly as possible and then we can refocus on getting Australians home, getting our economy open and getting our borders open again.

KIERAN GILBERT:

How long do you think we'll have to wait before we get to stage 4 and things are back to normal? Are we talking years?

MINISTER RUSTON:

Well I mean obviously this all has to be predicated on the medical advice and the work that currently the Doherty Institute is doing about making sure that every stage of the pathway back to opening up Australia again is one that takes into account the health and safety of Australians as well as obviously focusing on our economic conditions here but obviously every Australian wants us to be able to get to stage 4 as quickly as possible but we can only do that if we know that the health and safety of Australians is being protected along the way. So we'll have to wait for the medical advice to come in and all the other advice to come in but like you I hope that the borders are open as soon as possible and we can get on with our lives.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Anne Ruston this week Daniel Andrews, or the week just gone, Daniel Andrews said basically it would be unreasonable to have lockdowns on the basis of protecting those unwilling to protect themselves i.e. when we get to a clear majority, 70 or 80 per cent vaccinated, that then we have to start reopening. That's a reasonable proposition, isn't it? That, people, if you're not going to get a vaccine and not willing to take that step that the government, that the nation, that our society has to be done on the basis of people actually taking the vaccination when it's on offer. Do you share a similar view?

MINISTER RUSTON:

Well look, the first thing I'd say is to anybody out there that has vaccine hesitancy, go and see your doctor, have a discussion with them and find out if there's a pathway that's going to suit you to get yourself vaccinated because we want every Australian to be vaccinated, but there will come a point in time where enough Australians are vaccinated that we are able to open up our borders again and our medical and health systems will be able to cope with those people that will inevitably fall sick because we're not going to see COVID-19 go away any time soon, we're just working on a process to be able to live with it. But I think first and foremost, I think we have to make a really concerted effort to convince those people that at the moment are not considering having the vaccine, for them to reconsider that and as I said, the health advice is the strongest argument that we could possibly ask you to consider in getting vaccinated.

KIERAN GILBERT:

The WA Premier Mark McGowan had this to say off the back of the National Cabinet, when talking about having lockdowns as last resort. I want to play this comment and then get your thoughts on it. Let's hear Mark McGowan during the week.

[Excerpt]

MARK MCGOWAN:

Last resort, as Peter said, is subjective. It is subjective. New South Wales' version of last resort is get 80 cases and then you have community spread and a lockdown that might go for weeks and weeks, if not months. Our view of last resort is that you listen to the medical advice, you see if there's any prospect of community spread and you try and kill it quickly and efficiently right then, rather than let it drag on and result in, potentially, catastrophic consequences.

[End of excerpt]

KIERAN GILBERT:

Are you worried that some Premiers even when vaccination rates are high will continue to use lockdowns even with a couple of cases?

MINISTER RUSTON:

Well I mean obviously the decision that was made at National Cabinet on Friday was to avoid having to have lockdowns because there would be sufficient people vaccinated to enable the health systems in our various states and territories to cope with any people who became infected. So I would hope that all states and territories would abide by that because inevitably it's the people of that particular state and territory that become the victims of the lockdowns and of course we understand there are times and occasions when you do require lockdowns but they come at a big economic cost, they come at a big social cost, they come at a mental health cost to the people who are living in the states and territories that are in lockdown. We've only got to look at the trauma that was caused to many Victorians by the amount of last year that they spent in lockdown. So I think we do need to be using lockdowns very, very sparingly and only using them as an absolute last resort, but the pathway that was chartered on Friday I think is a really important and positive move and it can give Australians confidence that there is an outcome, we'll be working towards that outcome and hopefully the territory and state Premiers and Chief Ministers will abide by that and play by the rules of the plan that they agreed to on Friday.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Should the Government in hindsight have acquired more vaccines, given what we've said about it basically underpinning everything in terms of this roadmap? In hindsight would you have bought more options?

MINISTER RUSTON:

Well we did buy a lot of options of vaccine. First and foremost we thought sovereign capability of actually producing our own vaccine was tremendously important and that was why we set up for the production of AstraZeneca in Australia. Unfortunately the health advice has now changed on that particular vaccine and it’s now only highly recommended for those people over the age of 60 but it is still available to people under the age of 60 with the advice and their informed consent and their support of their doctor. But we bought a lot of vaccines but you know this was extraordinarily uncertain times and we now find ourselves relying quite heavily on the Pfizer vaccine but we're starting to see as of tomorrow a significant increase in the number of Pfizer vaccines that will be arriving in Australia and we have a trajectory for every Australian to have had a jab by the end of the year, or every eligible Australian, that is those over the age of 16. So we are now on a pathway to be able to fulfil our vaccine commitments, but yeah look it was uncertain times but I think we…

KIERAN GILBERT:

So you're confident it's turning around? You're confident it is getting back on track?

MINISTER RUSTON:

Well you've only got to look at the last eight days we've managed to get a million jabs in arms. It took us 47 days to get the first million jabs in arms so I think you look at the trajectory now with the increased dosages that are coming into Australia, there's no reason why we can't continue to increase the number of people that are vaccinated every day. I think every day last week we had a new record of the number of people that were vaccinated so Australians can be confident that the vaccine rollout is well underway. 70 per cent of people over 70 have been vaccinated, 50 per cent of people over 50, 30 per cent of the population have had a jab in the arm so I think we just need to focus on the really good things that we're doing and also focus on the fact that we've got an economy that is doing really, really well despite the fact that we've had the most extraordinary sort of shock to our economy since the Second World War.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Is the Federal Government optimistic that the New South Wales lockdown will end on Friday as scheduled?

MINISTER RUSTON:

We're certainly listening to the Premier from New South Wales. She seems quite confident that they're on top of it. My understanding is that the number of cases of community transmission or people who've actually been out in the community is dropping significantly. The people that they're now finding are people that are associated with clusters. I mean we all hope that we'll be open to the state up on Friday in New South Wales but of course the uncertainty of this virus, the virulence of the Delta strain is something we haven't seen before but New South Wales have got a track record of getting these things under control and I see no reason why they won't do it this time.

KIERAN GILBERT:

You've got on another matter a women's summit planned for later this month. The New South Wales Government released an enquiry in the last week or so regarding coercive control. In fact, it was a parliamentary enquiry, multi-party. It found that coercive control should be criminalised amid a pandemic of domestic abuse. Do you agree with that? Should it be criminalised?

MINISTER RUSTON:

Well look I really thank the New South Wales Government. It was an amazing body of work that they've provided and it will be something that will be discussed at the summit that's coming up at the end of July, but we know that coercive control and all the things that make up coercive control are often precursors to more violent behaviour in domestic and family violence and if we are able to use laws and the legal fraternity to enable us to be able to get earlier access to be able to support people when we see these early signs of domestic violence then that can only be a good thing. The other really good thing about this and particularly about the summit, is that about taking a more coordinated approach making sure that the legal system and the specialist family domestic violence sector are all working together so that we can get a better understanding so that we can get early intervention in place because we need to stop the scourge that is domestic violence and the best way we can do it is by prevention and early intervention because we just cannot keep seeing the numbers of women who are hospitalised and sometimes tragically killed at the hands of an intimate partner, it is just unacceptable.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Well we will talk to you in the lead up to the summit on July 29 and July 30 and cover that very important meeting and hopefully some significant outcomes from it. Anne Ruston, I appreciate your time as always. Thanks.

MINISTER RUSTON:

Thanks Kieran.