5 September 2021

Interview with Andrew Clennell, Sky News Sunday Agenda

Note

Topics: National Plan to transition Australia's National COVID-19 Response.

Andrew Clennell:

200 days in lockdown now. Can you tell us what’s happened to Victoria as a result of that and when you would like to see the lockdown end?

Minister Sukkar:

Obviously, Andrew, Victorians have suffered the most under lockdown. I think it’s pretty clear that most Victorians have a feeling of being worn down by the lockdowns, there’s no doubt about it. But there is a stoic sense of doing what we have to do to get through this and I think the hope that the Prime Minister has projected to Australians and Victorians in particular, the hope of coming out of lockdown as the vaccine rollout now hits, per capita, the fastest rates in the world on many comparisons. That hope I think is what is now what Victorians are clinging too. 

Andrew Clennell:

What would you like to see happen at the 70 per cent double dose measure? Daniel Andrews has indicated some measures. Does it go far enough in terms of loosening restrictions in your view?

Minister Sukkar:

The National Plan makes it clear at 70 per cent we ease a number of those restrictions and then at 80 per cent, state‑wide lockdowns are no longer necessary, border closures are no longer necessary. These are the things that have been agreed to by the National Cabinet being informed by the Doherty Institute so that’s what I would like to see. I think some of the seemingly capricious decisions that have been made recently in relation to closing playgrounds, don’t seem to make any sense to Victorians. Yes, we have to look at the health advice in relation to COVID‑19 but you have to weigh that up against a whole range of other factors including the mental health and wellbeing, and indeed the educational development of children. When the Victorian Government closes playgrounds with seemingly no basis for doing so from a health perspective, that’s another difficult way in which the State Government is impinging on families. I can tell you as a parent with a four and a two‑year‑old in lockdown, playgrounds are your salvation. There is a place in this current phase, of course, for short, sharp lockdowns and for appropriate restrictions but it has to be weighed up in a more holistic way and I am pleased that this week, the Victorian Premier seemingly has been mugged by reality and he has changed tack.

Andrew Clennell:

This difference between the states on border closures, where does that end up do you think? Surely it will be when they have outbreaks, would you agree? It’s a pretty hard argument to their population to say ‘bring Covid infections in’, but when it occurs, that’s when we’ll see the border come down?

Minister Sukkar:

Well look I don’t want to see outbreaks anywhere; I just think the day of reckoning is coming for all states and territories that being locked down is not a way that you can maintain forever. As an Australian being able to travel interstate to visit friends and family or go on a holiday, in the end we are all Australians, this is Australia. I think we’ve probably all become quite accustomed to and quite happy to do our bit to combat COVID‑19 with border restrictions and the range of other restrictions that have been put in place. But we don’t have to think back too far when being an Australian meant you could travel anywhere in this country. I think Australians are longing to get back to that point.

Andrew Clennell:

You’ve already got issues in New South Wales hospitals. Have the states got the hospitals prepared?

Minister Sukkar:

Well, we’ve put in place huge amounts of additional funding, we’ve also readied our health system with ventilators, with additional ICU capacity. That work was actually done last year in the…interrupted

Andrew Clennell:

How much extra have you provided to the states in readiness for outbreaks?

Minister Sukkar:

Well at least $6 billion is my understanding but there’ll be a range of additional programs that Greg Hunt has announced that have a tangential relationship to that including a whole host of additional mental health support.

Andrew Clennell:

Do you think Australians are prepared for how many deaths there will be even at an 80 per cent vaccination rate with COVID‑19? How many COVID‑19 deaths are you expecting next year?

Minister Sukkar:

I don’t think Australians instinctively want to accept any deaths and I don’t think Australians have a great appetite for seeing people dying from COVID‑19. If the alternative is being locked down forever, then I know what Australians instinctively will agree with and that is how do we ready our health system, how do we get our population ready by getting them vaccinated and how do we get back to living a normal life?

Andrew Clennell:

Was any of it worth it when you look back? I mean you talk about more than 200 days in lockdown in Victoria, you look at the way a lot of the rest of the world handled it. We shut our borders, we locked down, we end up living with the virus anyway. Was it worth it?

Minister Sukkar:

I think it was worth it, Andrew. I think again if you look at the death rate now with the Delta variant versus the death rate in the first outbreak of COVID‑19, this is a relatively less deadly virus this year than it was last year. So it was absolutely worth it because we’ve saved those 30,000 lives. Those people, we don’t know who they are, but we know that would’ve been the devastating consequence of not having taken all of those measures last year. We’ve now given ourselves the best opportunity and that’s why sticking to the National Plan, I hate sounding like a broken record, but sticking to the National Plan when we hit our vaccination rates is going to be so important because that will mean it’s worth it because we’ll be back to some relative level of normal life, we will have saved Australians, saved their livelihoods and be through the other side of it in reasonably good shape. 

Andrew Clennell:

Annastacia Palaszczuk’s comments about every child in Queensland being vulnerable for opening state borders. You’ve got young children, what did you make of that?

Minister Sukkar:

I thought that was an obviously ill‑informed statement and seemingly to me designed to put fear in parents. That’s what it seemed to me. Only the Premier can explain what she was trying to achieve by making those statements. I think if you look at all of the evidence it’s very clear that COVID‑19 is much more devastating for older cohorts and older population groups and that it is relatively low in the case of children. That is, I think self‑evident, well known. I would have thought it was well known to the Premier of Queensland too, I’m surprised she didn’t. Only she can explain what those comments were designed to do but from the outside looking in, they seem to be designed to put fear into parents which I think is a pretty despicable thing to do at the moment. There’s a lot of fear, there’s a lot of fear and there’s nothing that is going to make you more fearful as a parent, not even your own health, but the health of your children. That’s why it’s so important that we speak in facts, that we don’t overblow our rhetoric, that we’re measured in what we say as political leaders. I think the most charitable thing I can say about the Premier of Queensland’s statement there was that it was far from measured. 

Andrew Clennell:

Mr Sukkar, thanks for your time.

Minister Sukkar:

Thanks Andrew.