Transcript - ABC television interview, Cairns

MICHAEL ROWLAND

We can bring you some live pictures now of that Jetstar flight taking off from Sydney; the first flight, or about to take off anyway, leaving Australia for New Zealand as part of the bubble that formally takes effect today. That plane brimming with not just excited travellers but let's not forget so many families have been disrupted and kept apart by this virus for so long. So, we'll have continued coverage of the bubble operating today.

Let's bring in now the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack. Michael McCormack, good morning. This is a very big moment for Australians, all Australians who've gone through a lot over the last year.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we're getting back to that pre-COVID normality. It's taking a long time but bit by bit, flight by flight, little provision by little provision we're getting there and Australians are welcoming it. I'm up here in – I won't say it's sunny Cairns, Michael, but it's one of the destinations that so many Australians have taken advantage of that, those half price tickets; more than 472,000 already snapped up. And yes, even though it's raining, there's still plenty to see and do up in the tropical far north.

MICHAEL ROWLAND

I was standing where you were, in fact, two weeks ago for the show and I can attest Cairns is a great place to visit and the industry there desperately needs Aussies to travel. But I want to talk about overseas travel bubbles. The tourism industry is very happy that the New Zealand bubble is up and running but they want the Federal Government, Mr McCormack, to set timelines now for other bubbles; perhaps Singapore, perhaps some South Pacific nations. Can the Government do that to help preserve the travel industry?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We can and we will and we must. But we will do it based on the best possible medical advice. So, whether that's Singapore next or, as you identify, one of those Pacific Island nations. We're in those discussion, those early preliminary discussions and as vaccine rollouts happen, both here and elsewhere, that's what's going to happen. We want to make sure that we get international travel back to some sort of normality, even in the next few months because it's so important that we get Australians to be able to travel and people to be able to come here and spend their dollars and have a good time.

MICHAEL ROWLAND

I'm a bit confused, though, about some of the –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Safely.

MICHAEL ROWLAND

Safely, most importantly, safely. I'm a bit confused, though, about some of the messaging from the Federal Government over the past week. Last week we had the Prime Minister saying, yes, he wanted to allow vaccinated Australians to travel overseas and the price of doing that, of opening our borders, would be up to a thousand cases a week. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said no, he's in no rush to open our borders. Can you understand why Australians are bit confused by all of this?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, all the way through we've listen to the best possible medical advice. So we've taken the advice from, whether it's Professor Brendan Murphy or Professor Paul Kelly, we've acted on that advice and that's why we've kept Australians safe. That's why our – our death rates, albeit there's 910 people have lost their lives and that's very, very sad for their families and friends. But compare that to any other nation anywhere else in the world. And we are the envy of the world. We've done incredibly well and I say again to Australians, thank you for exercising social distancing and wearing masks and doing all those sorts of things. We'll get through this together. The Prime Minister's correct. You know, there's no rush but we'll do it bit by bit. We'll do it acting on the best possible medical advice.

MICHAEL ROWLAND

I guess I want to put it in a way that a lot of our viewers can understand. So outside of New Zealand and outside of other bubbles that might open this year, can Australians expect to travel overseas beyond those bubbles this year?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, let's hope so. But, again, we'll do it based on the best possible medical advice. So if our chief medical officers and our chief health officers and those experts say that it's right and proper to do so and safe to do so, then we will. And we'll roll out our vaccine. Vaccines will be rolled out elsewhere. We're going to provide the vaccine that we've paid for, free of charge to all those South Pacific Island nations as good neighbours would, but we'll act on that best possible medical advice and then we'll open up those travel bubbles.

MICHAEL ROWLAND

The Prime Minister is floating the option of home quarantine for Australians down the track returning from overseas. Practically, though, how will home quarantine work?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

It'll work on the best possible medical advice. I know I sound like a cracked record, Michael, but again it's so important that if the health authorities, they're paid to do that job, they're experts at their job. We're very lucky in Australia, we've got the best possible medical advice and we've got those experts. So, if they put a set of standards around what could possibly happen under a home quarantine situation, we'll follow that advice. But we'll do it through the National Cabinet process.

I know early preliminary discussions are being held now and I know that Mark McGowan, as I understand, has also flagged the possibility of home quarantining, as has the Health Minister in Victoria, Martin Foley. So, you know, we'll take on all that advice. We'll do it through the National Cabinet process and when it's right to put that process in place, then the home quarantining may well become a possibility.

MICHAEL ROWLAND

You don't need to be a health expert to answer this question, though, Michael McCormack. Are you confident Australians will follow any rules, any guidelines surrounding home quarantine –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, Australians have been magnificent so far.

MICHAEL ROWLAND

It's quite different to hotel quarantine with police officers –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Yep.

MICHAEL ROWLAND

And Border Force staff.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Sure. Sure. Well, look, Australians have been magnificent so far and Australia has been the best possible place in all of the world in which to live during this global pandemic. And regional Australia, moreover, has been the very safest place and that's why we've kept our death rates low, it's why we've kept our case rates to an absolute minimum. Australians have been great. They'll continue to do that. They're very good and we thank them for it. We thank them earnestly and honestly every day for what they've done. It's been a very, very difficult 12-15 months but we'll go on. We'll continue to make sure that we keep Australians safe and that's – that's the right thing to do.

MICHAEL ROWLAND

You mentioned the vaccine rollout. We are waking to news this morning that half of all adults in the United States, Michael McCormack, have received at least one vaccine injection. 84 million American adults have been fully vaccinated. Our rollout, our program, is looking pretty embarrassing in comparison, isn't it?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I know where I'd rather live. Give me the option of Australia or America at the moment with what we've been able to achieve through this global pandemic, as far as the economy, as far as the health outcomes, it's right here. It's in Australia, Michael, and I'm proud of the fact that what we've gone through the global pandemic, we haven't had – we haven't had to have mass graves like they've been digging elsewhere. We haven't had the case rates, the death rates and the job losses. We've done very, very well. I'm proud to be Australian.

MICHAEL ROWLAND

And we haven't – but we haven't had – we haven't needles in arms. That's the question. It's pretty poor, isn't it, to be honest?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we're getting there. It's a very large country, a lot of remote communities. And one thing I am very proud about is the fact that we haven't actually had COVID in those remote Aboriginal communities. I think that's something, as a nation, we can all be very proud of. And we'll get the vaccine out. There's no question. We've acquired another 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine. We'll get it out. DHL and Linfox and others will do a magnificent job and with our public health authorities, we'll get it transported. We'll get it in the arms and I urge and encourage Australians to do just that.

MICHAEL ROWLAND

Ok, Michael McCormack, from not-so-sunny Cairns, thanks for joining us this morning.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Thanks, Michael. Any time.

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