Interview with Matt Shirvington and Monique Wright, Channel 7 Sunrise

MATT SHIRVINGTON: Novak Djokovic’s case will be back in court this morning after the Australian Government was denied extra time to prepare its case.

MONIQUE WRIGHT: The tennis world No 1 is fighting deportation and for the chance to compete in the Australian Open after Border Force cancelled his visa due to his vaccination status.

MATT SHIRVINGTON: Joining us now is Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon. Good morning to you both. Well, let’s start with you, Barnaby. Within hours of Novak Djokovic’s submission the Government applied for an adjournment. Are you concerned that the strength of Novak Djokovic’s case is going to allow him to overturn this visa cancellation?

BARNABY JOYCE: I’ll let the court do the court’s job and the proceedings follow the way they do. I’ll rely for my part on the facts that it was made quite clear by the Health Minister Greg Hunt – we’ve all read the letter, I have – and it’s quite clear it said that having COVID is not enough, you have to be double vaxxed. It was black and white as clear as that in the letter. But I’ll let the court make their deliberations over it.

MONIQUE WRIGHT: Do you think he shouldn’t have come then, Barnaby?

BARNABY JOYCE: It’s a question for Novak. If I was in the same position I wouldn’t have. But that’s not the issue. It’s not about me, it’s about what he’s decided to do. And now it’s before the court and the court will come to their deliberations and their understanding of how the facts were. But it is a fact that Greg Hunt sent a letter to Tennis Australia. It’s quite clear it said that if people are coming out just saying, “I’ve had COVID,” is not enough, you have to be double vaxxed. And Mr Djokovic apparently isn’t.

MATT SHIRVINGTON: Joel, Craig Tiley, head of TA said that there was a lot of finger pointing going on, a little bit of miscommunication between Federal Government, State Government, Tennis Australia. Who do you think is it fault here?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, Matt, we know it’s never Scott Morrison’s fault, is it? I don’t know whether Barnaby has read Novak’s submission to the Federal Court, but it’s no wonder having read it myself that his lawyers – that is the government’s lawyers, Barnaby’s lawyers – immediately sought an extension of time because it’s a pretty compelling case I have to say. We have to wait and see what the court says but it’s a pretty powerful case and it will be interesting to see how this thing pans out. But he came here with much more than a letter, as Barnaby suggested – much more than a letter – a certificate from the medical expert panel working under Tennis Australia. Now, if Scott Morrison was looking for a distraction, something to turn people away from – attention away from their inability to secure rapid antigen tests, empty supermarket shelves and long queues, he’s certainly achieved that. But this is really hurting our international reputation, and I think Novak Djokovic has been treated terribly.

MONIQUE WRIGHT: Barnaby, are you just picking up on something that Joel just said there about our reputation internationally, and we are getting caned, particularly your Government? Do you think that that’s fair and are you concerned about that?

BARNABY JOYCE: We’ll do what’s right and we’ll do what follows the process that’s equivalent for all people, including Australians. We’re not making special exemptions for people because they’re rich or they’re famous. That’s not how Australia works and it’s certainly not the mail we’re getting. Australians want everybody treated fairly but equally. Now, Mr Djokovic can get on a plane from whatever part of the world he likes, but the issue is once you land here that – we don’t interview when you get on the plane in Serbia or when you get on the plane in New York or London or Paris – it’s what happens when you arrive here. And it was made quite clear by the Federal Government that you had to be double vaccinated. And the Health Minister Greg Hunt made that absolutely black and white clear. And what other people decide to do and they decide that they have an exemption around that or Tennis Australia told them something about it or the Victorian Government, the Victorian Government said it was okay or Tennis Australia said it was okay, well, they don’t make the decisions. That’s not where the laws come from, they come from the Federal Government.

MATT SHIRVINGTON: Well, we’re going to get an outcome of that court case and, no doubt, we’ll be talking to you about that in the coming days. Let’s move on. Workforce shortages due to COVID positives and close contacts is increasing massively – up to 35 per cent some industries are reporting staff shortages. Barnaby, what more can be done from the Government to fix this?

BARNABY JOYCE: They’re changing what is a close contact now, and I think we just have to accept the Omicron variant of COVID is everywhere. You’re having 120,000 people tested and 40,000 people of them have the Omicron variant. There’d be a lot of people who would be doing the rapid antigen test and just staying at home. So we’ve got to accept that this, the Omicron variant, as I said – I had it myself – is going to be everywhere, and it is everywhere. Now, obviously by reason of isolation or people in the food industry who are isolating, and, of course, this causes problems in the delivery of a crucial outcome, which is groceries, but we’re dealing with that and we’re making sure that we keep people at work because that’s how we keep food on the shelves. And we’ve got to make sure also that we don’t have panic buying. That doesn’t help. We’re not going to run out of food, okay? We’re not running out of food. But if people panic buy – whether it’s toilet paper or RAT tests or onions – then it’s not the case that you can’t supply, it’s the case that there’s an unreasonable sweeping up of a product off the shelf. The good thing about this is we’re learning how to live with this virus and I think everybody accepts now that the Omicron variant is everywhere and we’ve just to get on our lives and live it.

MONIQUE WRIGHT: Okay, Joel, shortening the amount of time that somebody needs to isolate if you’re a close contact if you’re in the food supply chain staffing area, would you be doing something different to that?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, that’s a good thing, but it’s reactive. The problem we have here is a lack of pre-planning. People, if they’re feeling a little bit unwell have to be able to secure a test, either the more complex test or a rapid antigen test. But out here in the regions, and in particular in Queensland where I’ve just been – I know Barnaby is there now – they’re as rare as hen’s teeth. You can’t secure a rapid antigen test, so people have to play it safe and stay at home, sometimes unnecessarily. And that’s impacting on all of us. And, again, we can see that every time we now walk into a supermarket where those shelves are becoming increasingly empty.

MATT SHIRVINGTON: Yeah, well, very different trying to stockpile toilet paper to papayas or mangoes, but thank you very much, gentlemen. Barnaby, thank you so much. Joel, thank you.