Topics: ADF support to Victoria, hotel quarantine.
NEIL MITCHELL: Now, 50 ADF personnel landed in Melbourne overnight, part of an expanded deployment to help with hotel quarantine. The Premier sent off a new request for help on January 29, which is good, which is good. He wouldn’t do this last year, and look where we ended up. I can’t quite wrap my head around it still. There still seems to be some agro about it, a chip on Victoria’s shoulder. Now the Health Minister, Martin Foley, didn’t know about it yesterday. Well, that’s an internal problem; he should have been told by the quarantine minister. But then there was this from our Health Minister.
MARTIN FOLEY: I do draw the distinction between the high levels of assistance the ADF are providing in Sydney as opposed to the somewhat lower levels of assistance they’re providing here in Melbourne.
NEIL MITCHELL: Okay. Lower levels of assistance in Melbourne. On the line, Federal Defence Minister, Linda Reynolds, good morning.
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Good morning, Neil.
NEIL MITCHELL: So what are you doing in New South Wales that you’re not doing here? Are they getting a better deal?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Absolutely not. Can I just say, Neil, first up that 14,000 ADF personnel have assisted all states and territories over the last 12 months, and I could not be prouder of their contributions and their professionalism in quite often very difficult circumstances. And 3,300 of those have actually supported Victoria. So Victoria so far has had the largest contingent supporting any state or territory.
NEIL MITCHELL: But are they doing different things?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: No, they’re not. So the facts are really important in this. So as you said, on the 29th of January, Premier Andrews wrote to the Prime Minister with an additional request, and that went through Emergency Management Australia, from Victorian officials, and the ADF have been working with the Victorian officials since then –
NEIL MITCHELL: So how many are here now?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: I’ll give you the numbers, yes. So total, we’ve got 266 working in Victoria; 202 of those are working in 12 hotels. And we’ve agreed to bump the numbers up to 430 to support 22 quarantine hotels in Victoria. So by way of comparison, in New South Wales we have 216 currently supporting the New South Wales quarantine efforts, particularly at hotels. So we have worked incredibly well with the Victorian authorities. And we did have a technical hitch last night with an aircraft. The C-130 that went to Townsville to pick up those 64 new troops did have a technical fault – safety first – and we got 50 down to Victoria overnight and the rest will come by civilian air today.
NEIL MITCHELL: So it’s another 390-odd?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Yes.
NEIL MITCHELL: Okay. But the other thing, Lisa Neville, the quarantine minister, says that she’s disappointed the resources won’t be assisting with floor monitoring work in non-COVID complex care hotel. Will your people not be working with floor monitoring work?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Neil, I’ve been very clear, and as has the ADF, that there are many things that we can do, but we cannot do that floor monitoring.
NEIL MITCHELL: You have in the past, you know. You did in Sydney last year.
MINISTER REYNOLDS: No, we didn’t. We did not do floor monitoring –
NEIL MITCHELL: I’ve spoken to people who did it.
MINISTER REYNOLDS: – not in terms of what the Victorian government is asking.
NEIL MITCHELL: No, but I know in Sydney last year you had Defence personnel sitting on a floor making sure everybody stayed there.
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well, we are not – we are not doing this at the moment anywhere in Australia because the numbers – apart from the fact that the numbers are very large. But the most important issue, Neil, is that the Australian Defence Force is constitutionally there to defend our international borders, and we deliberately do not have law enforcement powers and powers of detention and restraint –
NEIL MITCHELL: Yeah, but as I understand – but as I understand they were sitting in the halls and if they had a problem they called the police to come up, but they were sort of monitoring it. You won’t do that either?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Neil, we have learnt over the course of this 12 months – we have done many, many things, including in Victoria learning how to drive ambulances to relieve your ambulance drivers. We’ve worked – we’ve had our nurses in aged care. We’ve done a lot of things. In Shepparton we’ve worked to double mask production. So we’ve done many things and many things that are within our skill sets to do and learning new skill sets. But the problem is, if you have ADF in corridors, we do not have the power to restrain or to stop anybody. And that really is a law enforcement. And it’s easier for the state government to give powers to security guards to do that. But ADF should never be used for law enforcement.
NEIL MITCHELL: Well, we saw how that worked. We saw how that worked. Do you think we need to have a review of the way hotel quarantine’s working – I mean, from your point of view, from everybody else’s point of view?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Look, Neil, from my perspective that is really an issue for the Prime Minister and the Premiers. My focus has been on ensuring that we do as much as we constitutionally can and as much as we should. And Victoria has had the largest contingent over the course of the last 12 months – 3,300 of those 14,000. So we are doing everything we can. And I commend the Victorian authorities and the ADF because they have worked together really well to make this happen.
NEIL MITCHELL: Okay. Thank you very much for your time.
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Thank you.
NEIL MITCHELL: Federal defence minister, Senator Linda Reynolds.
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