Minister Ruston interview – Sky News

E&OE

DANICA DE GIORGIO:

Critical industry groups held crisis meetings with the federal government last night over fears Omicron induced staff shortages could cripple the economy. The Prime Minister is seeking a national deal to ease isolation requirements for more workers. Joining me now live is the Acting Minister for Small Business Anne Ruston who was part of the meeting. Minister appreciate your time this morning. What were the outcomes of last night’s talks?

MINISTER RUSTON:

There were a number of things that the industry put to me and to the other members of the group around things that they’d like to see to try and alleviate some of these shortages that are having an impact across the whole of the country. One of the main things they asked for was national consistency and clarity around requirements and rules when it comes to things like isolation, testing and workplace activities. They also obviously wanted to look at ways that we could try and I suppose activate other forms of employment opportunities.

We certainly would be very keen to work with Jobactive and people who are currently unemployed to see if there are ways that we can encourage them to fill these gaps in the workforce. Obviously making sure that we have got our rapid antigen tests being delivered to the places that they need to be and that they’ve got a consistent and accurate idea of where and when they can get supply. And also making sure that our communications were clear, efficient and two ways. So they were probably the key messages that came out of the meeting last night. But certainly it was a very constructive meeting and there were some great ideas that we will be continuing to follow up with today.

DANICA DE GIORGIO:

You mentioned isolation requirements being one of the key concerns that were raised with you last night. How can a national agreement on such requirements for workforces be reached when there are simply no rapid antigen tests available?

MINISTER RUSTON:

Well there are rapid antigen tests available for critical settings. Certainly state and territory testing clinics all have a supply of both PCR and RAT tests. We also have prioritised those supplies that we have into healthcare, aged care and disability care sectors because obviously they are of the greatest need. But anybody who has contracted COVID or anybody who is a close contact will be able to access free rapid antigen tests or PCR tests from those state health clinics. And we have tens of millions of tests in Australia at the moment, there are many more coming in coming days. And what we need to do is to make sure that we are prioritising them so that they’re going to the places that they’re needed.

DANICA DE GIORGIO:

What sort of challenges do you foresee over the next few weeks? What were some of the groups that you spoke to last night? What are their main concerns as we head into the end of January, early Feb?

MINISTER RUSTON:

Well obviously getting access to a workforce. We have a very high number of the workforce are currently furloughed either because they have COVID, they’re caring for someone with COVID or they’re a close contact. And so working through ways to make sure that our essential services are very much the number one priority. But there are other sectors whether it be education, childcare, aviation transport - there are a number of sectors that are really, really important for us to keep moving. And so making sure that the rules that apply to their workforce are easy to be able to understand and are as limited as are required by the health requirements of this particular pandemic. But also making sure that we look at other innovative ways that we can activate or unshackle potential other employment opportunities. Many older Australians I’m sure would be happy to do a few extra hours work to help out at the moment so we’re looking at how we can help them do that. Our temporary visa holders in Australia that are all still here. But also making sure that anybody who is currently on unemployment benefits who are able to work, we’d be really keen for them to undertake some really active investigation about how they can help out with these workforce shortages as well.

DANICA DE GIORGIO:

Yeah. Certainly some big challenges ahead. Minister before I let you go I just want to ask about Novak Djokovic. Alex Hawke is yet to make a decision on whether Novak Djokovic should be deported. Are you worried that this could create further issues between Serbia and Australia? We had somebody on the program earlier saying that certainly that’s the sentiment in Serbia at the moment. Are you worried about how this looks on a world stage?

MINISTER RUSTON:

My understanding is that the Foreign Affairs Minister has been in touch and the Prime Minister have been communicating with Serbia. But obviously it would be inappropriate as the matter’s ongoing for me to make any comment about the substance of the matter that’s obviously before the Immigration Minister. And my understanding it is he’s considering it very thoroughly and will make a decision at an appropriate time.

DANICA DE GIORGIO:

Acting Minister for Small Business Anne Ruston. Appreciate your time this morning. Thank you very much.

MINISTER RUSTON:

My pleasure. Thank you.