Release type: Transcript

Date:

Interview - ABC Radio National Breakfast with Fran Kelly

Ministers:

The Hon Stuart Robert MP
Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business

Topics: COVID-19 International vaccination certificate; Queensland reopening roadmap and borders

E&OE-------------------------------------

FRAN KELLY:

Australians hoping to leave the country will be able to get their international proof of vaccination from today. The Federal Government has created a certificate that can be downloaded and printed, or used in an app, to prove vaccination status upon arriving at an international airport. It's another major step towards allowing all of us to leave the country. Employment and Skills Minister, Stuart Robert, has overseen this process. Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.

MINISTER ROBERT:          

Hey, Fran.

FRAN KELLY:         

Minister, anyone who wants to leave the country will need one of these certificates. Will they need it to leave the country or to get into another country?

MINISTER ROBERT:          

The Prime Minister has said, of course, at 80 per cent of the national plan, vaccinated Australians will be able to leave the country and return, of course, unencumbered. But importantly, the certificate is there to ensure that citizens can show and prove they’ve been double vaccinated overseas, if indeed any overseas jurisdiction requires that. So, the world’s come together to form a standard, of which Australia is the first out of the blocks to have that certificate ready.

FRAN KELLY:         

And so what do you need to get one of these certificates?

MINISTER ROBERT:          

Your passport, is the only thing you'll need. So you can go to myGov or Medicare Express, and the process there is quite simple; 59 per cent of Australians have passports. And we use the same public-private key, or same encryption, as for passport technology to generate your certificate, which links, of course, to your passport.

FRAN KELLY:         

Okay. So you take your proof of vaccination and who do you show that to, your proof of vaccination, in order then to link this new encrypted document to your passport?

MINISTER ROBERT:          

I’ll let the Home Affairs Minister talk through the actual process at Australian airports. The whole point of the certificate is, as you're travelling overseas, there are going to be a number of requirements. Some countries will have no requirement at all. Others will say you must prove your vaccinated to enter the country. So as a courtesy to Australians, it’s a very practical item, the certificate is designed to show you’ve been vaccinated. In the same way, if you travel to Africa, you have to demonstrate you've had yellow fever. Remember those little yellow books, Fran, we had?

FRAN KELLY:         

Yep.

MINISTER ROBERT:          

This is exactly the same thing, except, rather than yellow fever, it deals with COVID but it deals with it very securely, connected with the same strong encryption as your passport does.

FRAN KELLY:         

Okay. And the technology here is Australian technology. It’s this thing called the ‘visible digital seal’, is that what we are calling it?

MINISTER ROBERT:          

It’s actually global tech. So the International Civil Aviation Organization puts together the standard. Over 145 countries use that same standard and that same encryption method. That's how your passport is read overseas in so many jurisdictions. That's how they know who you are. It's exactly the same tech. So if you fly into Berlin or Frankfurt, or wherever, they’ll scan your passport, they’ll know it's Fran Kelly. They’ll then scan, using the same tech, your vaccination certificate. It’ll come up with Fran Kelly, your passport number and your vaccination details. They’ll be able to check that against your passport, happy days.

FRAN KELLY:

Okay. But as I've read, I could be wrong here, these certificates will to be able to be downloaded through your Medicare app but also through COVID travel apps…

MINISTER ROBERT:

Yep.

FRAN KELLY:

So will they be on the apps, these certificates, or will they be on your passport? I'm a little confused here.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, the citizen will download the certificate. Then the citizen can choose to do with the certificate what they will. They can have a paper copy. They can download it onto their phone as a digital copy. They can put it onto a travel app, like IATA’s travel app if they wish to. It's up to the citizen what they do with their certificate, because it's their credential.

FRAN KELLY:

These apps, that you can download them to, are they as secure as an Australian passport, you know, can people be sure that if they're putting them on these apps, that’s secure?

MINISTER ROBERT:          

Well, it doesn't actually matter if the app is secure or not...

FRAN KELLY:

Right.

MINISTER ROBERT:

…because the certificate is secure. The certificate’s got a QR code, if you like, it’s called a visible digital seal, encrypted with the same encryption keys as your passport, and can only be read by a passport level reader. So in the last 20 years, there has been no fraud at all on Australians’ passports, and the vaccination certificate is built to the same standard, same encryption, same set of keys.

FRAN KELLY:

Okay. So you're giving us plenty of assurances here that this new encrypted document or standard or passport, you know, is safe and secure and can't be faked. But what about the vaccination, proof of vaccination certificates required to get one of these? Because we've had plenty of reports of this, but there's another one this morning of a doctor in Lake Macquarie allegedly admitting to police he’s written 500 fake COVID-19 vaccination certificates. So will someone be able to get one of these, you know, you-beaut global QR-code coded documents based on fraudulent vaccination documentation?

MINISTER ROBERT:

All the credentials go back to the immunisation register. So if your vaccinations are registered in the immunisation register, when you go to get your international vaccination certificate, of course, the system recognises you've got a passport and creates a certificate based on your passport credentials and the data in the immunisation register. Now, if a fraudulent doctor has gone and put your details, Fran, in the AIR, and you're not vaccinated, then, yes, you'll get a certificate, because the AIR would be incorrect because a doctor has fraudulently put your details in the AIR. Although, can I say, I don't know why you'd want to be travelling in a COVID world unvaccinated? That would strike me as particularly dumb.

FRAN KELLY:

Well, that- I'm sure that will strike you as dumb, but there's plenty of people we know who do. I mean, they want to live their lives unvaccinated. There's a whole movement around it. Is this a problem? Is this a problem for Australian security and the, sort of, the global regard for our systems?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Oh I think- Fran, I think we had corrupt doctors would absolutely be a problem. I haven't seen any substantial evidence of this, and I'll leave the Health Minister to comment upon it. But the whole point of our immunisation register, and it's a true national asset to provide a record of vaccination, not just for kids camps, but in this case, for the COVID, we're the only substantial country in the world that's got such a national asset, is to be able to use that data to give to citizens so they can have a surety of vaccination and then to demonstrate that surety. And if doctors are doing the wrong thing, well, we'll need to get the police involved in that quick smart.

FRAN KELLY:

Okay. But just to be clear, the only way you get one of the new global, digitised, encrypted passport seals or QR codes, is if you're registered in the immunisation registry, not just by having a piece of paper that says you are, because that could easily be faked, as we've seen?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Correct. If you go to myGov to generate your international COVID vaccination certificate, the system will go and connect your passport details, your identity, and then connect your identity in the immunisation register and produce the highly encrypted certificate based off that data.

FRAN KELLY:

Now, the concern about fakes, of course, works the other way around too. For people coming into Australia, we need to be secure that the systems in other countries, that they're obtaining these seals are foolproof. How are we doing that?

MINISTER ROBERT:

And that's why we've gone down the International Civil Aviation Organization path and we've worked with them. We’re the first mover country, of course, but others are following rapidly, because that's the body that regulates all the passports across the world. So the same set of tech is being used from a passport onto the international certificate. So where we want the world to get to, if needed, whereby people are travelling with an international vaccination certificate, it’s a certificate generated through that same ICAO process, so with that same strength as a passport. Now it'll take a while to get there, because Australia is the first country in the world. This is the first set of certificates according to the standard; the Europeans have got their own and they’re rapidly moving across. So it'll be a while before the world catches up. And of course, there’ll be many countries of the world that never will, because only 145 countries of the world are affiliated with the ICAO standard.

FRAN KELLY:

Now, I'm not sure if this is your bailiwick, Minister, but the other thing outbound travellers will need is a negative COVID test. And in September, the National Association of Testing Authorities raised concerns here on Breakfast that COVID tests done in non-accredited laboratories might not meet those international standards. Are you aware if all the labs have been accredited yet? And can someone present any negative PCR test and have it accepted in another country?

MINISTER ROBERT:

That is absolutely a question for the Health Minister.

FRAN KELLY:

Okay. Alright. On another issue, because one thing you are is a Queenslander. The Queensland Government has announced its roadmap out of lockdown- well, out of, you know, to allow everyone into Queensland. It says it will unite families for Christmas. Fully vaccinated travellers from New South Wales, the ACT and Victoria will be allowed in without any quarantine by the 17th of December. Is that quick enough in your view?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Queensland has finally decided to align with the national plan. So Queensland is to be supported in that respect. So the Premier has outlined what's going to happen at 70 per cent and 80 per cent. The 17th of December is the date at which the Premier believes that the national plan will be reached at 80 per cent.

FRAN KELLY:

[Interrupts] Well, it's when it believes it will reach 80 per cent.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Correct. Now, I'd hope it's a lot quicker.

FRAN KELLY:

[Interrupts] Why is it so slow? Why is Queensland the laggard here?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, there's a range of reasons, and some unhelpful political commentary at the Queensland level, you can start there. Regardless, we need to get people vaccinated. Now, Queensland has done some good work. I took my sons to one of the mass vaccination clinics at the Convention Centre on the Gold Coast – excellent, well run. On the weekend, I popped unto one of the Bunnings vaccinations centres - well-run, well-staffed. So I'd encourage all Queenslanders, especially in areas where there is low vaccination rates, get out there, get vaccinated so Queenslanders can get home. There's still a few thousand Queenslanders, Fran, camped on borders who aren't allowed in.

FRAN KELLY:

Well, more significantly- or no, not more significantly that's the most significant. But you know, the areas where Queensland would want to be welcoming visitors are some of the lowest vaccinated areas – areas around Cairns, for instance.

MINISTER ROBERT:

That's right. Cairns, Logan, Ipswich are three of the lowest areas, into Mackay. So these are areas that people just need to get vaccinated so we can get tourists back, especially in Cairns, where 50 per cent of tourists come from the southern states, and of course, 50 per cent per cent internationally. So the sooner we can all lean in and get vaccinated, the sooner we can get state borders down, and we can get Brisbane International, Gold Coast and Cairns International open.

FRAN KELLY:

Minister, thank you very much for joining us.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Great to talk, Fran.

FRAN KELLY:

Stuart Robert is the federal Employment Minister.