Release type: Transcript

Date:

Interview with Michael Rowland on ABC Breakfast

Ministers:

Senator the Hon Bridget McKenzie
Minister for Regionalisation, Regional Communications and Regional Education
Minister for Emergency Management and National Recovery and Resilience

ROWLAND: To federal politics - there's a lot of focus on the rules around borders this morning with reports that vaccine passports for international travel could be available from next month. Meantime, overstate border closures continue. There are calls this morning for special treatment for 20,000 school students who attend boarding school in a different state or territory to their home. We're joined now by the Minister for Regionalisation, Regional Communications and Regional Education Bridget McKenzie. Senator McKenzie, good morning to you.

MCKENZIE: Great to be with you Michael.

ROWLAND: What can be done to help these kids in boarding schools separated from their parents?

MCKENZIE: It's a question we have been grappling with since the pandemic started. We need a nationally consistent approach to assist the 23,000 students and their families across the country who are boarding in state-run, Catholic and independent boarding schools with an efficient, effective and COVID-safe way to get home. We know the school holidays aren't far away and sitting on my desk, sitting on other Education Ministers' desks and Health Ministers' desks across the country are hundreds of traumatic cases of students who cannot get home or who are being sent from a COVID-safe boarding house to a farm that's COVID-safe, but having to travel through capital cities like Melbourne or Sydney to get there. Last week Education Ministers from across the country, who have been absolutely fantastic in this, have recommended that the AHPPC consider a nationally-consistent approach so that we can have a practical and common sense solution. Michael, now we have the Delta strain, we're not just seeing those hard borders added at interstate level, local LGAs are being locked down as well which is causing intrastate issues for boarding students and their families. Education Ministers have recommended that our Chief Health Officers look at this question and we're very, very hopeful that before school holidays, we can get a consistent approach for these families.

ROWLAND: Those borders are fairly hard, though. Is it optimistic to think they'll be overcome? You also bring in border communities, families separated on that front too.

MCKENZIE: You're right, Michael. Some of the stories are absolutely horrific. These students are as young as nine. They're expected to quarantine under some of the state health orders alone in capital cities. It just doesn't make sense. We had young people rushed to emergency hospital and then their parents, despite coming from COVID-free regional communities in another state, aren't able to be with that child in their time of need. We think we can get this done. The Queensland Government has a really great framework that this code has been based on, and we hope that Chief Health Officers who are the decision-makers across the country will look at this kindly and set up a system that is COVID-safe travel for these families and students. It can be done, we're doing it with ag workers, we're doing it with transport and freight workers as well.

ROWLAND: Many families are separated at the moment often for long period of times, speaking of family visits, in your view was it good judgement for the Prime Minister to zip up to Sydney for Father's Day?

MCKENZIE: Look, Michael, the Prime Minister had an exemption from the ACT Chief Medical Officer, that's appropriate. We have been throughout the pandemic asking Australians to take the advice of medical officers. He's done that in this case and he's back at work in Canberra now.

ROWLAND: That's the advice, was it good judgement by him is my question?

MCKENZIE: I think Australians are absolutely sick and tired of people, whether it's Albo, whether it's Joel, whether it's state and territory leaders taking pot-shots and playing politics with COVID. State Education Ministers have come together to say, whether they're from the Liberal Party or from the Labor Party, they want to solve this issue for young people who are being adversely affected by border closures and COVID. We‘ve got to get the politics out of this.

ROWLAND: It's not just politics or Labor figures. We were deluged by viewer comments yesterday, many people separated from their families. They are really angry about what the Prime Minister has done. I know we got the -- he got the exemption, you get - every federal politician gets it, nobody has a problem with that. My question for you - was it good judgement for the leader of this country when so many families are separated for him to hop on the jet and see his family on Father's Day?

MCKENZIE: Well, Michael, I have given you answer. He had appropriate...

ROWLAND: But was it good judgement? In your view, was it good judgement?

MCKENZIE: You know, I think that is an appropriate thing for the Prime Minister to do. You know, I have nothing more to add. I'm much more interested than debating whether he should have gone home for Father's Day or not and actually solving the real problems that the pandemic's providing with tens of thousands of young people who are having mental health issues, unable to be supported by their home and their community. I think that's what Australians...

ROWLAND: I want to finish with this stoush over vaccine allocations, as a Victorian Senator, are you concerned that New South Wales appeared to have got more vaccines in the last month than your home state did?

MCKENZIE: I'm really buoyed by the vaccine rates in my home state. I checked out the regional LGA numbers this morning and everywhere from Swan Hill to the Pyrenees down into the Western District, numbers are going through the roof getting our first doses very, very close, if not just over 70% which I think is incredible. Daniel Andrews has done a great job with his AstraZeneca clinics as well.  I think that was one of the issues playing into vaccine hesitancy more generally. So whether you're getting whether you're getting Pfizer or Moderna when it comes online, you know, I think Australians are doing the right thing there. They're getting vaccine vaccinated as soon as possible and you're seeing right now the conversations starting around international travel which is so exciting.

ROWLAND: Do you feel a bit chipped as a Victorian that New South Wales was getting more vaccines? A view expressed by Daniel Andrews who you're just praising there?

MCKENZIE: Well, I think the question is irrespective of who gets more, can Australians get a vaccine into their arms when and where they need to? I can see whether it is our local GPs, whether it is our pharmacies coming on board, the state-run clinics that Premier, Daniel Andrews, has run, or whether it's Gladys Berejiklian's state-run clinics, everyone is rolling up their sleeves and getting the hard work done. Would be more vaccines in Victoria if we got more doses...

ROWLAND: Getting back to what I'm asking - you're not concerned about how it played out?

MCKENZIE: Michael, what I'm concerned about is increasing the number of vaccinations in people's arms. And, you know, I think we got a whole range of areas, as I was saying, within Victoria for that to occur, and I think the Premier, our state officials, and our federal officials are working to make sure we get that vaccination rate up as high as possible.

ROWLAND: Bridget McKenzie, thanks for your time. Let's hope we get a great outcome for the boarders.

MCKENZIE: Thanks.