Transcript - Hoxton Park Press Conference

MICHAEL McCORMACK

It's all about data, it's all about freight. It's about using technology to make sure that we get the best out of our transport systems, to make sure that we increase productivity.

Datahub.freightaustralia.gov.au is going to be such an important website. Such an important website for companies such as Woolworths, which on 20 December last year were sending a semi-trailer load of groceries out of one of their freight transport distribution centres, just like this one at Hoxton Park, every 32 seconds. I'm pleased that Ben Newton has enabled us to come here today to talk about this exciting initiative. I'm excited that Woolworths is taking part in this, but Ben Newton also played such a collaborative role in helping my Department, the Infrastructure Department and Transport, to indeed form this important, important announcement and this important website.

Making sure that our trucks are able to know where the rest stops are, making sure they know where to avoid the congestion hot spots. That's going to be so important as we look towards improving our freight task. And we know that the freight task in Australia is actually going to increase 35 per cent over the next 20 years, and it will eventually double. What we need to do is to make sure that we get the trucks to where they need to be in the most efficient manner possible.  That's what this network system is going to provide. Whether it's Woolworths, whether it's other supermarket chains, whether it's Linfox, Toll, Ron Finemore Transport which indeed carries the groceries around our nation, carries the freight task and makes sure they get everything from where it needs to go, from where it needs to be. That's so important.

I'm really pleased too that this has been a collaborative approach. On Friday, we had the fifteenth meeting of the Transport and Infrastructure Ministers from around the country and they're on board too and so, to make sure that we make best use of data, we make best use of technology is what this freight data hub national network is all about.

Well done to Woolworths for coming on board. Well done to the freight companies and you know, this is actually going to help our truck drivers who have been perhaps the unsung heroes of COVID‑19. When everybody thought they needed ten rolls of toilet paper every time they went to the loo, our truck drivers were there to make sure that the shelves were stocked, to make sure that those toilet rolls were on the shelves. They've delivered everything right around our nation during these challenging times. So, to have a more efficient system, to be able to tap into that system, whether they're in their cabins or whether from the resource centres at the various distribution centres such as this one, is going to make such a difference for them. Using technology to increase productivity, to address the freight task, I say well done.

JOURNALIST

Deputy Prime Minister, will the Federal Government now commit to building purpose‑built quarantine facilities in –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I'm happy to answer any questions about any other topics but if there's any questions about this $16.5 million investment, which is a significant investment for our freight task, I'd be happy to take them now.

It seems I've covered off so well on that that you're all over it, so well done. I might get at this stage, Ben Newton, if he wants to just say a few words about the data hub and then I'm more than happy, if you don't mind, Ben.

BEN NEWTON

On behalf of Woolworths, we see the investment in the freight data hub as a great step towards both driving productivity and safety. So, the hub itself will start to get a greater adoption of standards, helping all companies like us, like our carriers, like Toll, like Linfox, like Finemore Transport, to be able to interact more efficiently, which is good for us and then also good for the drivers. Elements within the data hub, like the national location registry, which is one of the specific projects, will also start to help us just digitising entire supply chains. So, the location registry should be in many ways for transport what the bar codes have been for supermarkets. We're very excited and very happy to be supporting it.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Ben touched on a good point there about safety and that's one of the big things. Only recently in Wagga Wagga I announced the Healthy Heads in Trucks and Sheds initiative. That is a significant investment and a significant network of support for our truck drivers and for those truck drivers to know where the rest stops are in an aggregated and integrated way is going to be so important for their well‑being and to make sure that they get to where they need to be sooner and safer.  That's why we are rolling out $110 billion of infrastructure. That's why that infrastructure roll‑out is actually supporting 100,000 workers and that's why our recent budget supported initiatives such as this and to make that road safety is paramount of course for our trucking industry.

JOURNALIST

Will the Government now commitment to purpose‑built quarantine facilities, including Avalon and others in other states?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we've said all along that we're very committed to making sure that we have the right quarantine facilities and the right system available for returning Australians and to make sure that we have our quarantine systems in place the way they need to be.

We're working at the moment with the Victorian Government, indeed with the Fox family about Avalon to make sure that that submission is what it needs to be. We're happy to take submissions from other State Governments, but as I said earlier this morning, these quarantine facilities need to be fit-for-purpose, they need to be close to a capital city. They need to be close to international air destinations and routes. We just can't plonk them all over the place, as Anthony Albanese is now, you know, getting a map and playing pin the tail on the donkey and putting quarantine centres every which way and anywhere he thinks sees fit. But this is a challenging time, I appreciate that and I appreciate also that, you know, our record as far as COVID‑19 has been the envy of the world.  We've case rates to a minimum. We've kept the death toll as low obviously as possible, it would be better if nobody had died at all, but 910 deaths since James Kwan first lost his life on March 1 last year and we mourn for those families who have lost loved ones, but it has been the envy of the world and Australians know that they can rely on the Government to do the right thing, to listen to the best possible medical advice and to act accordingly.

JOURNALIST

Will the Federal Government reinstate income support for Victorians who are having to endure a fourth lockdown?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We've already provided $40 billion of support to the Victorian Government. Now the lockdown hopefully is going to come off on Thursday. I've already messaged James Merlino, the Acting Premier, and we'll provide what support is necessary. We're providing of course 160 Defence Force personnel who are helping with door knocking and tracking and tracing. But as far as economic support, well hopefully these lockdowns will end on Thursday and people will get back to work and businesses will re‑open and life will continue as it was before this fourth lockdown.

JOURNALIST

What's the plan if it doesn't end?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We'll listen to what Victoria has to say after that. We've been very responsive as a Commonwealth Government. Prior to the budget we'd already put down $253 billion of support. $253 billion of support to address the health outcomes but also perhaps just as importantly to make sure that we address the economic issues. As I travel around the countryside, and four States I visited just last week, they were very pleased. So many business people came up to me and said, "But for your support we would be closed today. But for your support we would not have a job today.” The support I know has been very well appreciated and it's kept the economy going whilst at the same time addressing the health outcomes from COVID‑19 which, you know, is an absolute global pandemic. It's still raging elsewhere in the world and so Australia's measures have been very good, very quick, very responsive and have done the right thing.

JOURNALIST

Why has it taken this long though to look at these purpose‑built facilities?  We know that hotel quarantine is a risk, we know it's not safe and we know they're not purpose‑built for that so there are issues, including what we're seeing in Melbourne right now.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We've got Howard Springs.  We're working on expanding that –

JOURNALIST

That is one quarantine facility that's not large enough –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

And we are addressing the issues, we are making sure that, of course, we can't just decide, as Anthony Albanese might have us do, to build quarantine facilities all over the countryside, in the Nullarbor. I know he was talking Exmouth today and making sure that the, you know, the proposal for RAAF to take over quarantining. I mean it's a long way from anywhere and RAAF Bases are meant for the protection of the nation, not just for some quick-brain-idea or snap decision to say, "Hey, let's build a quarantine facility there. Let's make the RAAF do the job.” The Defence people are already very much helping out with State public health authorities and when asked to do so, providing that vital assistance to states but we just can't build quarantine facilities everywhere.  What we're doing is we're making sure in a pragmatic and practical and responsive way, we're addressing state submissions, we're looking at those and we're addressing this as you would expect us to do, very responsibly.

JOURNALIST

Queensland made a submission months ago about mining camps.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

And what we will do and what we have done certainly is also take on board the local community's responses and their feelings towards that. Like I say, we can't just put quarantine facilities in regional areas where there isn't the ready‑made health services and health personnel, front line medical personnel right on hand, right at this time, to provide the assistance that there would need to be if there were outbreaks. We just can't do that. It would not be responsible to those regional areas. I come from a regional area. Regional areas have been the best place in all of the world in which to live during this pandemic. But we can't go plonking quarantining facilities and amenities all over the countryside in regional areas where perhaps the health and medical outcomes are not as great as those that are in capital cities. Also, how are we going to get those people from those capital cities and from those places in which international flights come in to those regional area? You know, we need to think through this. That's why we have thought through it and that's why we have responded to state submissions. That's we have been taking the best possible advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, from the likes of Brendan Murphy, from Paul Kelly, from the medical experts. That's what we've responded. I'm not going to say that we're going to respond to, you know, ideas that Anthony Albanese or anybody else from Labor just dreams up overnight and thinks, “That will get me a media grab on the 6 o'clock bulletin.” We're doing it in a responsible way.

JOURNALIST

Can those affected by the lockdown in Victoria access Centrelink crisis payments if they don't have COVID, aren't looking after anyone with COVID and aren't in quarantine or self‑isolation?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, at the moment the conditions are – as far as assistance is concerned – the same as what they were prior to this lockdown. But we'll see how long the lockdown goes. Hopefully it will end on Thursday but any assistance that anybody was receiving before the lockdown, they're still eligible to get now but we will continue to work with the Victorian Government. As I say, I've already messaged and had a response back from Acting Premier James Merlino, given the fact that I am in the chair for two days while Scott Morrison is on important bilateral talks in New Zealand with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and we will be acting accordingly, as we've done the whole way through.

JOURNALIST

You said this morning that we're not in a race on vaccines. Do you stand by that statement?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Absolutely. I mean it's not a race, I'd urge and encourage all Australians to, when they're eligible to do so, get that jab. Absolutely, I would. It's not a race. We don't want to see panic. We want people to be alert, not alarmed. We want people to get the jab, of course, but it's not a race. We've been very good and very lucky in Australia that so many Australians – all Australians – have done the right thing as far as COVID‑19 is concerned. So, you know, people have listened to the best possible medical advice and they've followed and complied with that. What we don't want to see though is those people in Melbourne and generally it is a capital city, where they get out and decide that today would be a good day to protest. “Let's defy the police,” they think. “Let's get out and protest.”  That's not responsible. That's not doing the right thing. What they've been asked to do is stay at home. What they've been asked to do is for this short period, seven days and yes, I appreciate it's inconvenient, but to do the right thing, to listen to the authorities and to comply for not just their sake and not just their family's and communities' sake, but for the stranger they've never met. Going out and waving placards and protesting and carrying on like idiots is not the right way to go. Do the right thing for yourself because if you don't do the right thing for yourselves today, six weeks from now you may well be in an ICU bed and we don't want that.

JOURNALIST

Medical experts disagree with you, including Marylouise McLaws, who says we are in a race. Is this simply just a way of saying you don't have the supply? You haven't guaranteed the supply early enough for Australia to actually get done quickly?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I listen to Paul Kelly, he is the Chief Medical Officer of this nation. I listen to Brendan Murphy, another professor, he is the Secretary of the Health Department Federally. We listen to the AHPPC, we act accordingly.

JOURNALIST

Are they saying we're not in a race?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We're not in a race.

JOURNALIST

Are they saying that?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we don't want people to be panicking, we don't want people to be alarmed. Australia is the safest place in all of the world in which to live. I want to assure Australians that they are in a country which has a government which is looking after them. We have the vaccinations, we have a system in place. We urge and encourage Australians to do just that. 120,000 yesterday got vaccinated. 120,000 the day before that. 111,000 the day before that. Overall, 4.1 million Australians. We're working very steadily and very responsibly towards getting all Australians, should they so choose to do so, to get vaccinated. That's important but we don't want Australians to throw their hands up in the air, to get all alarmed and excited. We want them to feel assured that the vaccinations are there. We've got a system in place.

JOURNALIST

Should fully vaccinated foreign visitors and students be allowed to go into home quarantine?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, if the medical experts say as much then we'll follow their advice.

JOURNALIST

Should food delivery drivers who are constantly involved in these outbreaks, you know, there was an issue in Perth, there was as issue in Melbourne where suddenly we have all these tier one exposure sites. Do you think food delivery drivers should be some of the people that should be able to skip the queue and get vaccinated quickly?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well I have heard that and I know that those sorts of issues will be discussed this week. Of course, there's a National Cabinet meeting at the end of the week and I'm sure those sorts of issues and others will be discussed and decided and I'm sure that health authorities, those that we listen to, those experts who have led us all the way through this global pandemic, who have provided such responsible advice that we are the envy of the world, they'll make determinations on that.

JOURNALIST

You say we're not in a race but I'm sure the five new people in Victoria who have gotten diagnosed overnight wish we were in that race. What do you say to them?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, five new people in Victoria and I feel for those five people. But compare five people to what they're getting overseas. Now, Adam Bandt was carrying on the other day in Question Time about how good America is and America is, it's a great country, no doubt. You know, greatest friends and closest allies. But if Adam Bandt feels as though our situation is worse than America, then perhaps Adam should go, the Greens leader should go and live in America. We'd all be better off, quite frankly, because we've done very, very well. We've kept our nation safe and secure. I compare that to any other nation in the world. You mentioned five new cases. Overseas there are thousands upon thousands upon thousands upon thousands, I think you get the drift, of new cases each and every day. And we've got five new cases. People should not be alarmed. There is going to be outbreaks, as Professor Paul Kelly and Brendan Murphy have said all along. There will be fresh outbreaks and we're doing our very best of course to minimise those and of course to eliminate those. New South Wales has been the absolute gold standard exemplar when it comes to addressing COVID‑19. You know, we wish every state had very much the tracking and tracing operations that New South Wales has. But given all of that, Australia is the best place in all of the world and regional Australia is the best place in which to live during this pandemic.

JOURNALIST

Isn't the point here though that five can easily become 500, especially when we're looking at variants like the B1617 variant that is currently circulating in Melbourne?  Isn't the point here that without a vaccination roll‑out that is speeding up or is at least what we were promised at the beginning of this, that we are sitting ducks as the AMA, as the College of GPs, as all of those medical professionals have been saying now for weeks?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

And that's why the vaccination rates are speeding up, as you say. That's why more people, a record number of people are getting out and getting their jabs, getting their first jabs, following it up and getting their second jabs and that's a good thing and I urge and encourage Australians to do just that.

JOURNALIST

We've just learnt that an aged care worker in Melbourne has also tested positive to coronavirus. I'm sure people with parents in aged care are panicking. What do you have to say to that?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Don't panic. Don't panic. Things are under control. Make sure you get the jabs when you need to do so. Contact tracking and tracing is taking place. The Australian Defence Force are helping the Victorian State authorities, public health authorities, to do just that. I know that having messaged James Merlino, if they need any assistance in any way, shape or form the Federal Government will be there to provide it.

JOURNALIST

If that aged care worker turns out to be from one of the facilities, the 29 facilities that were not vaccinated in Victoria when this outbreak happened, should the Health Minister resign?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

The key word in that question was if. I mean, if starts raining in a minute we're all going to get wet.  So, you know, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Hypotheticals are not going to, in any way, shape or form, help people to understand they need to get vaccinated. We're being responsible, we're doing what we can, working with states in cooperative and collaborative fashion and we'll continue to do that.

JOURNALIST

Those aged care centres were supposed to be done by the end of March, it's now May.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Given the fact that some of them had flu shots and at the time the advice was that they shouldn't get any other vaccinations on top of the flu shot within a certain time –

JOURNALIST

Two weeks.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Some of those aged care centres were making sure that they kept that space in between. Now, they've been told by the medical experts who've looked into it closer and better and they've assured them that they can get the double dose, the vaccination for flu as well as the COVID‑19 vaccination within a matter of a short time. So that's what they're following. But also some of those indeed aged care centres you mentioned were state run too. So, they were taking the vaccination roll‑out as per the State doing it, as per their program. The Federal Government can't have the blame pointed at them all of the time in every situation by media, by Labor. I mean we're all in this together. I mean this is a team Australia moment. What we need is for people to do the right thing, to get vaccinated, to stay at home when asked to do and to stay away from work and work from home when asked to do so and hopefully this Thursday the lockdown will end and everybody can get back to some sort of normal life. Thank you very much.

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