Every Thursday I speak with the Minister for Defence and Member for Dickson Peter Dutton. He’s online from Canberra. Are you in a bubble Minister?
I’m very keen to get out of the bubble as soon as I can Ray. It’s nice to be in Canberra, but not in winter. It’s raining and wet and I’m keen to get home, but there a lot of people doing it tough around the country at the moment, particularly in New South Wales and you really feel for those small business people and tourist operators in Queensland and elsewhere. It’s a hell of a period for them.
I’m not going to go kicking the Queensland Government. I was a bit angry when I first – it was a case of highs and lows yesterday Minister – first of all, everyone in those LGAs barred, and then you think, “Well, hang on, I was there somewhere. I went to work and that’s in that LGA.” And then she said, “No; no, as long as you’re not there at 1 o’clock Thursday morning, beyond that you’re in trouble, before that you’re sweet.” And I thought, “Oh, you beauty. I go up and call Origin and have a week off.” And then about an hour later comes, “No, you’re all barred.”
Now, I’m not going to go kicking and screaming about what Queensland have done because the architects of all this are New South Wales. You know, they haven’t followed the instructions that were laid down 12 months ago by a task force that looked at the way we get people back into the country. And to think that a driver wasn’t compelled to wear a mask while transporting people from a FedEx jet back to a quarantine hotel and to think that he wasn’t compelled – he should have, but he wasn’t compelled – to get a nasal test to see if he had COVID every time he came off a shift is just incomprehensible. It’s beyond my belief.
But anyway, it is what it is. It’s what we’ve been dealing with for 18 months and I’m sure it’s what we’ll deal with into the future.
I think it is Ray. I mean you look at what’s happening around the world at the moment – 6,000 cases a day in the United Kingdom, 23,000 deaths in Canada – this is a very infectious virus, even more so with the Delta strain, as we know, and we’re going to be living with it for a long period of time and that’s why the elimination process or approach of some of the Premiers is just a nonsense.
We need to be realistic about the virus. We need to be realistic about the way that it spreads and there will be human error – we’ve seen human error in hotel quarantine. It wouldn’t matter whether that was a federal quarantine facility or a hotel quarantine facility, a tent out in a paddock; if there’s human error and then it doesn’t matter what part of the process you’re talking about, the virus will spread and we just need to deal with it and respond in a sensible way. The fact that Queensland hasn’t stopped all of New South Wales coming to Queensland or the fact that the Berejiklian Government hasn’t closed down or locked down, you know, the whole of New South Wales – which is part of what we’ve seen in Victoria – I think that’s a positive thing that we’re moving away from that.
So we deal with it as best we can, and I think, again, if you look at us compared to any other country in the world at the moment, we’re incredibly fortunate. We’re lucky we’re an island nation that you can deal with it in a way that land-locked countries just can’t.
I just wanted to share with you something from the former British PM Theresa May, which is fairly thoughtful. She said, “First, we’ll not eradicate COVID from the UK. There’ll not be a time in history when we can say there’ll never be another case in this country. Secondly, variants will keep on coming. If the UK Government’s position is we can’t open up travel until there are no variants, well, we’ll never go anywhere again.” And the third fact she said, “The government needs to state much more clearly that, sadly, people will die from COVID here in the UK even after vaccines are issued because of their elderly state or pre-existing conditions.” I guess she’s referring to. So, unfortunately COVID is going to be a fact of life. We’ll minimise it with the vaccines, including Pfizer to a certain extent, to a lesser extent AstraZeneca and Moderna, but hopefully that will come soon rather than later.
I think that’s right and I think Theresa May is right in her comments, Ray. We need to be honest and frank about the transmissibility. If you’ve got a virus that can spread if people are walking past you, then that’s a very different scenario than anything we’ve experienced in our lifetimes. So, we need to deal with that. We need to get the vulnerable vaccinated as quickly as possible, which is why the medical advice has been consistent and people who have been complacent about getting the vaccination or feel that they don’t want to, they need to take the medical advice.
The medical advice is still very clear that the threat of the virus well and truly outweighs any threat of having the vaccine. We’ve got more and more Pfizer coming and we’ll roll that out as quickly as possible, but to the most vulnerable, as we’re seeing in the UK, an 18-year-old, unless there are underlying medical conditions or comorbidities, somebody’s obese or they’ve got asthma or some other disease, then this virus is not going to impact on them the same way that it would a 70-year-old with, you know, some sort of hypertension or other medical condition.
So we need to put that into perspective. We need to be realistic about it. It’s why the vaccine rollout is important. It’s why the elimination process won’t work, and we need to, you know, put all of that in place, heed all of the medical advice and deal with this as best we can. But people will get sick from this virus. Many people overseas have died from it. We haven’t had that yet, but we should be very, very cautious and we need to make sure that people get the vaccine as quickly as possible.
Later in the program I’ll speak with the AFP Assistant Commissioner Lesa Gale about a new podcast called Closing the Net, which provides an insight into work to prevent and deter child sexual abuse and exploitation. Now, I know it’s something that you are involved in given that you’re in the podcast, but you were the architect behind the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation. The work from these police is unbelievable, and I’m sure that Lesa Gale will take me through some of the things they have to do. I can’t believe some of these very young people who deal with them, the worst of the crimes against children, keep battling on and keep battling on and solving these crimes and putting people before the courts. It’s an unbelievable effort by all of them.
It’s an incredible [inaudible] and we should keep talking about it Ray because we know [inaudible] it is in our society, we know that with people spending more and more time online they want more images to share. They now, as we’ve spoken about before, can pay for livestreaming of children being sexually abused. It’s abhorrent to think about. It’s disgusting and, you know, we don’t want our kids to hear it, but it’s a conversation that we do need to have in society because otherwise these people live under a rock in their own homes, and they conduct themselves in this most abhorrent way, but if we talk about it then we can challenge it and we can defeat it. We should never stop until we can stamp it out and therefore, you know, this will never be a campaign that ceases.
We put $70 million into the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation when I was Home Affairs Minister, and Karen Andrews is doing a great job in that portfolio now, but when you speak about Lesa Gale who’s an exceptional officer of the Australian Federal Police, and the people that she leads at ACCCE, all of the state and territory police are involved in the ACCCE, and they’ve got international partners as well. They’re saving the lives of children. They’re stopping children from being sexually abused, and that is just amazing work that they do.
And when you look at the scale now of the images that they need to sort through, all of the investigations that they undertake, it does take a toll on those officers personally as well; and the many that I’ve spoken to have got kids of their own who are the same age of the victims that they are looking at online, and we should pay an enormous amount of respect to those police officers and the work that they do and be very grateful that they do what they do so that our kids can be protected as best they can. But I’m very proud of the fact that we set that centre up.
I was a detective a long time ago working in the sex offenders’ squad and dealing with young girls and boys that had been raped and sexually assaulted. Many of them will not go on to be able to form relationships and will have mental health issues for the rest of their lives. It’s a life sentence for them and that’s why I just think it’s incredibly important that we do as much as we can and that’s exactly what the Government’s doing.
Thanks for your time. Peter Dutton there.