Release type: Transcript

Date:

Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News Australia, Afternoon Agenda

Ministers:

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

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

KIERAN GILBERT:

Let's bring in the Minister for Employment, Workforce, Small and Family Business, Stuart. Robert, thanks for your time. Let's talk about this notion of mandatory vaccines, first of all, for those LGAs, local government areas in Sydney in the construction space. We spoke about it at the weekend but it seems to me that this is going to be a broader issue that is going to be a reality in hospitality right across the board.

MINISTER ROBERT:

It's up to the states. And that’s not a cop out. It's a function that occupational health and safety is a function of the states. Robert Gottliebsen did a great article in The Australian just going through this. So state public health orders are the ones that determine this. And of course, you've seen SPC as a business. So we'll wait and see what the states do. They're the ones responsible for their state workplace health and safety laws. Remember, in Victoria for workplace health and safety, there are substantial jail penalties for employers who don't keep employees safe. So this is a difficult area.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Well, Craig Laundy, a former Liberal member, there was a bipartisan show of support for mandatory vaccination and these vaccine type passports. He held a news conference with Chris Minns, the Labor leader in New South Wales earlier saying that this is going to be the reality, that he as an employer, has a duty of care, not just for those that work for him, but those who might eat or drink at his venues.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well the Prime Minister has made it clear the vaccine won't be mandatory. However, state public health orders can make decisions like that, for example, in having vaccinations for those working in quarantine. Many states have actually made a flu vaccination mandatory for aged care. So a state public health order is a powerful beast. I have to wait and see what they do and of course, employers reserve their rights because they have to respond to those state laws. And of course, if they do that well, the Commonwealth will have to look at what we do in terms of our COVID certificate that we provide to Australians that comes out of the immunisation register.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Because the COVID certificate would be the thing that people would use to get into a pub or a restaurant under circumstances like that. Do you see a scenario like we're seeing in France at the moment where to get into a venue, a theatre, a pub or whatever, you have to have proof you've been jabbed or that you’ve- that you’re COVID-free?

MINISTER ROBERT:

[Talks over] Well that's a question for the states. That’s a question for premiers. But we've got a great thing called the Australian Immunisation Register, the AIR. It is a wonderful national asset. It gives a record for all your vaccinations. Pre COVID, 5.5 million Australians used it in the year prior, including myself, for kids to go in school to show they've been vaccinated. That's what we're using currently as a record of vaccination. And a certificate is available. Now at present, that certificate is just so that you've got a personal record.  That's what it's there for. If there's any move to go further than that, well, that's a conversation that we'll have to have with the states.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Is there a way to ensure the security of the certificate as well? There was a suggestion by one member of parliament that it wasn't as secure as it might need to be…

MINISTER ROBERT:

[Talks over] We’ve been progressively…

KIERAN GILBERT:

…in scenarios where people will need it to take a flight or whatever else.

MINISTER ROBERT:

We've been progressively adding greater security levels to it and that progression will continue. So we started with the basic immunisation register. We added watermarks. We've now added a standalone certificate for COVID. There are many, many more things we can do. And- but at present-

KIERAN GILBERT:

[Interrupts] Could it become a QR code of sorts as well?

MINISTER ROBERT:

The certificate at present is for you. It's just for you to say I've been vaccinated. If there is a wider requirement and they’re discussions for states and territories, then we'll continue to roll out whatever security requirements are needed to meet what requirements are needed. But right now, these aren't federal decisions. The vaccine is not mandatory. The Prime Minister has made that clear. State and territory leaders who are responsible for their workplace health and safety and their public orders, they're the ones that have to take any next steps,

KIERAN GILBERT:

But also employers, too, isn't it? Are you saying it's just the state responsibility, but employers…

MINISTER ROBERT:

[Interrupts] It's both because- you’ve seen SPC.

KIERAN GILBERT:

…on their own, of their own volition? Like Qantas as well.

MINISTER ROBERT:

That's right. You've seen SPC come out. You've seen others looking at it. You've seen the likes of Robert Gottliebsen write an excellent article. It's just about the challenge of state workplace health and safety laws. And so companies are working that through on what they're going to do. The next steps are to see where that lands.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Internally within the Liberal Party, have you got some sensitivities on that? We saw Tanya Davies in the New South Wales parliament and some of her colleagues, Anthony Roberts as well, express their reservations. Do some of your colleagues have reservations about this sort of notion?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, federally, of course, we’re not the decision maker. The state does the public health orders. So there won’t be a decision by the Federal Parliament or the Prime Minister to make anything mandatory. That’s a decision for states and territories. So we’re providing a service in terms of a vaccination certificate, and we may or may not respond depending upon what the requirements are. So it’s not really a debate at the Federal Liberal Party. These are issues and debates at a state level.

KIERAN GILBERT:

[Talks over] Do you have a problem with it yourself personally?

MINISTER ROBERT:

In terms of a vaccination certificate?

KIERAN GILBERT:

Yeah.

MINISTER ROBERT:

I used to travel to Africa every single year when I was one of the international directors for Watoto, the world's largest orphan care program or non-institutional, and I had to have a yellow certificate book that showed my yellow fever and I had to carry it with me everywhere, i.e. my yellow fever passport whenever I travelled back and forth. This is a common way of travelling now.

KIERAN GILBERT:

So you've got no problem with that?

MINISTER ROBERT:

No, because I've had to do it so often when travelling to Africa.

KIERAN GILBERT:

The need to combat misinformation is obviously very important right now. Was George Christensen's intervention yesterday… it must have been frustrating to watch that?

MINISTER ROBERT:

I thought the Parliament handled it well. There was a debate about it and it was carried on the voices. So the Parliament, as a whole, spoke to say truth is important. And we’ve agreed as a government, indeed as a parliament, about the core truthful aspects of the virus, and I think it’d be helpful if we all stuck to that.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Would it be helpful if Gladys Berejiklian went a bit harder in terms of her lockdown? Because it's not turning the numbers around, and it seems increasingly like Greater Sydney at least will be in lockdown until they get a big chunk of the population vaccinated?

MINISTER ROBERT:

We'll continue to work with the premiers. What the country now see or now needs to see, not just a set of truth that we hold to, but a set of unity in supporting our state and territory leaders. It’s a difficult job being a premier. Lots of things to try and work through. And I think they're doing the very best they can under some horrendous circumstances with what this Delta variant is doing.

KIERAN GILBERT:

It's almost even more difficult as Prime Minister because he doesn’t have the power to intervene, like you alluded to earlier, the state health order in terms of the way vaccines are used. But at the moment, and he seems powerless in terms of how he could intervene, even if he wanted to.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Imagine being a prime minister previous to Mr Morrison, where you did COAG, Council of Australian Governments, twice a year. Last Friday was the Prime Minister's 50th National Cabinet as he is keeping the federation together moving along. I'm not too sure the President of the United States ever managed to get all of the states in one room. That gives you an idea of how challenging it can be. And of course, Great Britain, no states and territories and a minor Upper House. So considering the challenges we've got, I think the Prime Minister and National Cabinet is doing an extraordinary job.

KIERAN GILBERT:

So you don't see the point, though, that many would look at him at the moment and think, well, how would he intervene? Anyway, these are the state premiers who are making the decisions that count here.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Who’ve got constitutional rights and authorities with public health to do what they're doing. Prime Minister's job there is to keep the nation together in extraordinary circumstances, and I think it's a world class job.

KIERAN GILBERT:

What about the job on the vaccines, though? As the Opposition Leader has said repeatedly and… there's a simplicity to that comment. But the Prime Minister had two jobs: one of them the vaccine. It might be catching up now, but it's still well behind.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well the other countries, of course, did an emergency approval for drugs and then they rolled it out. Kieran, if you and I were sitting here – and this is where you need to be honest – if we are sitting here nine, 10, 11 months ago and we said, look, there's only two cases in the country, but we're going to do an emergency rollout of the drugs before they've been TGA approved, the assault wouldn't have been from Mr Albanese. It would have been the entire media and the Opposition going, this is outrageous. You've got to wait for the drugs being approved. We were the first country that moved once the drugs were fully approved.

KIERAN GILBERT:

It's a difficult few months, though, for the Government, isn't it, while you've got this this period of the speeding up the vaccine rollout, lockdowns in various parts of the country, and the Prime Minister copping flak? Until you get to that number, this is a tough few months ahead, isn't it?

MINISTER ROBERT:

It's been a tough few months ever since the election, as we fought bushfires, floods, droughts, now pestilence, and I think more importantly, it's really tough for Australians and Australian small business, and that's who we should be thinking of.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Minister, as always, appreciate your time.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Thanks, Kieran.