Today Show 07/01/22

07 January 2022

SUBJECTS: Novak Djokovic chest-beating a distraction from shortages of tests, groceries and boosters; Hunger Games in chemists and supermarkets because of Morrison Government’s failures with rapid antigen tests; Australian working families paying the price for failure of leadership; Scott Morrison doesn’t hold a hose and doesn’t give a RATs.




SUBJECTS: Novak Djokovic chest-beating a distraction from shortages of tests, groceries and boosters; Hunger Games in chemists and supermarkets because of Morrison Government’s failures with rapid antigen tests; Australian working families paying the price for failure of leadership; Scott Morrison doesn’t hold a hose and doesn’t give a RATs.

CHARLES CROUCHER, HOST: Good morning to you both. Simon, we’ll begin with you by virtue of your seat at the cabinet table and the National Security Committee. Greg Hunt wrote to Tennis Australia in September explaining medical exemptions. Is this an honest mistake from Tennis Australia or does the blame lie somewhere else?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM, FINANCE MINISTER: Look, there’s clearly been a mistake in terms of what Novak Djokovic or his team understood in terms of the entry requirements, or indeed people have acted in misleading ways. They are matters that frankly aren't particularly relevant to the facts of the case, which are that the Government has always been clear around what is necessary in terms of the entry requirements into Australia. We made that clear to Tennis Australia. It's been publicly clear for a long time, you’ve got to be double vaccinated if you are not an Australian citizen, to enter Australia if we’ve reopened the borders. These border controls have been incredibly important right throughout COVID in terms of protecting Australia. Yes, we have taken the steps of reopening, but being double vaccination has clearly always been a requirement and the medical exemption requirements have been clearly explained to those tennis authorities. And of course it is up to our Border Force officials to uphold those entry requirements.

CROUCHER: Minister Andrews tells us this morning there are other players that are only now being investigated. It seems convenient that the world number one player, the highest profile player, is the one that’s holed up in the Carlton hotel now?

BIRMINGHAM: The Australian Border Force operates on a range of different levels in terms of the way in which they undertake checks at the border, and intelligence and information about individuals arriving is part of that. It is not unusual for the Border Force to detain people, to question people, and indeed to turn people around and say “you are not meeting those entry requirements into Australia." That's what's happening in this case. It has a little way now to play through the courts, but this is simply an example of our Border Force ensuring the rules are upheld as they do for anybody based on the intelligence, the information, suspicions, or anything else they have to hand.

CROUCHER: Alright Jim, let's bring you in. It is shaping as a diplomatic incident now. The Serbian President’s come out swinging, our Ambassador’s being contacted, Djokovic's own mother has said it is not human. Has the Government lost control of this situation?

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Charles, it is obviously a very messy situation now but you can't have one set of rules for everybody else and another set of rules for celebrities, whether they are the world's best tennis player or not. I think the main thing here Charles, is we’re getting all this chest beating now from the federal government in a really desperate attempt to try and distract from the absolute debacle that we are seeing on rapid testing from the Morrison Government. That's why we are getting the chest beating about Novak Djokovic. There are more people worried about whether or not they can get a rapid test, whether or not they can get groceries, whether they can get a booster shot, than are worried about whether Novak plays in the Australian Open or not.

CROUCHER: Do you think this is specifically targeted, Novak Djokovic for that purpose?

CHALMERS: I'm not saying that, Charles. The point I'm making is the Morrison Government gave the visa, then they tried to say it was all Victoria, now they are trying to blame Tennis Australia, and when there was a public outcry obviously Scott Morrison went out there taking credit for the fact that Novak Djokovic is holed up in a hotel. We want to see the rules fairly applied, we don't want to see a messy situation. If he doesn't comply with the arrangements then he shouldn't be here, that's pretty clear. But I think Australians are on to this Prime Minister, they know he is chest-beating about this now in the desperate hope that people don't focus on the absolute mess that he has made of rapid testing, and what that means then for shortages in our supermarkets, what it means for long queues for hours to get different kinds of tests. These are the Prime Minister's responsibilities. He may as well be back in Hawaii for all the good that he is doing us. He doesn't hold a hose, he doesn't give a RATs, and once again ordinary Australians are paying the price for his failure to lead and take responsibility for things like rapid testing, which is leading to this grocery shortage in our shops.

CROUCHER: Alright Simon, let's pivot to the pandemic because restrictions are returning in Victoria and New South Wales isn’t far away. This was all meant to be behind us, wasn't it?

BIRMINGHAM: Charles, the Omicron variant has been a game changer right around the world and globally we have seen the upside of Omicron is that people are 70% less likely to face severe illness. So, over the longer-term, that means that Omicron is easier to live with and that Australians will be able to live with COVID due to the fact that Omicron presents less seriously in terms of illness. However, it also has far higher rates of transmissibility. So that has thrown challenges right around the globe, where there are different restrictions, different measures, different pressure points in terms of testing facilities, globally - not just a challenge here in Australia. We have responded in terms of adjusting the rules and the settings to take account of the fact that Omicron results in less severe illness but is more transmissible. We are providing more RAT tests, 10 million more to the States from the Commonwealth. Between the States and the Commonwealth, close to 200 million more are expected in the country over the coming weeks. We’ve taken steps to make them more available to concession holders but what we’ve not done is the type of cheap politics of Labor. You’ve heard a lot of that from Jim Chalmers before and his attacks on the Prime Minister. You can see it in their policies as well, suggesting that every supermarket, every pharmacy, should apparently just give away RAT kits. That’s not going is going to help with supply shortages, that’s just going to exacerbate pressures. What we’re making sure is that testing remains free for every Australian who needs it, who has indeed suspicions they might have COVID-19, or has symptoms, or who may be a close contact. Testing is free, PCR testing, RAT kits that have been provided to the States and by the States, and of course now we are taking steps to provide them to concession card holders, to make a limited number freely available, but to do it in a far more responsible way than what Labor is proposing so that we don't create those types of additional supply pressures on supply chains across the country.

CROUCHER: Jim, we’re short on time, but the Minister has a point there doesn’t he? There are places like America, like the UK, where RAT tests are free but they are still seeing a big growth in cases. This is a case of Omicron being beyond any testing capabilities?

CHALMERS: I don't know what planet Simon’s living on. We have this issue now where even after the Prime Minister's announcement during the week most Australians are still finding it just as hard to get a RAT test at the end of the week as they were at the beginning. We’ve got Hunger Games in our chemists, we’ve got Hunger Games in our supermarkets, once again Australians are paying the price for the fact that the Prime Minister hasn't done his job. He talks about supply issues, the supply issues are the Prime Minister’s responsibility. We’ve known since at least September last year, the doctors were writing to the Government, the truckies were writing to the Government, people were warning the Government that this would be the case.

BIRMINGHAM: You don't fix it Jim, by inviting everyone to stockpile.

CHALMERS: You can draw a straight line between the shortages on RAT kits and the shortages in our supermarkets because people haven't been able to manage their workforces, they can't access these tests, and when they can, they are too expensive. The Finance Minister should understand of all people that a test that costs a few bucks wholesale in big numbers is a far better investment from the Commonwealth than this economic carnage that we are seeing at the moment in our workforces and in local economies, and versus a $100 PCR test which is being provided for free. It’s common sense, it’s simple economics, it’s cost effective and responsible, to provide these tests for free so that people can do the right thing by their co-workers and their loved ones.

CROUCHER: Gentlemen, I’m going to have to leave it there. I get the feeling we will speak about both these issues a lot in the coming days and weeks. Appreciate your time this morning.