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The Hon Peter Dutton MP
Minister for Defence
Defence Media: email@example.com
30 July 2021
I want to say thank you very much to the 20,000 Australian Defence Force personnel who since March of last year have been providing support to each state and jurisdiction to keep Australians safe and to help us get to the other side of COVID as quickly as possible.
Obviously, the New South Wales request for 300 defence force personnel has been met, and those personnel will be deployed into New South Wales today and over the next couple of days. These are highly trained personnel and they will supplement the New South Wales Police force effort. Obviously, the Commissioner yesterday detailed that there would be a higher level of enforcement in New South Wales and the effort of the Australian Defence Force will help the New South Wales Police multiply their efforts out across the affected region.
All of us as Australians feel for those in lockdown in New South Wales. We want people to be out of lockdown and back to their normal lives as quickly as possible, and I want the presence of the Australian Defence Force personnel to be a message of reassurance to those in New South Wales and elsewhere.
We know at the moment we have already got 229 defence force personnel deployed in New South Wales helping out in hotel quarantine, working with the contact tracers and people are in Victoria; we have got defence force personnel in Howard Springs and elsewhere around the country, and, as I say, 20,000 ADF personnel have already provided service to their country during the course of COVID-19 Assist.
I'm very grateful for their level of professionalism, their effort, and Australians know that weare incredibly proud of the work that the ADF personnel do.
What areas of Sydney will they be deployed in?
That will be a question for the Commissioner and for the Premier in New South Wales, but obviously in the south-west at the moment that's the main area of concern – but as we saw in Victoria last year, we have the ability to deploy the ADF personnel at the request or at the direction of the Police Commissioner and that will help. Where three police officers were performing a task, if we have got one police officer and two ADF personnel working at that particular point, then it allows that force multiplier to take effect and they can have a greater presence around affected areas and hopefully bring us out of this lockdown as quickly as possible.
What’s a real-life example about how they will work on the ground?
For example, as we saw in Victoria last year, in the area around Geelong, there will be a need for roadblocks and for people to check driver's licences for example, to make sure that that person is an essential worker, that they do have the ability to go from their home to their place of work – and that's work that can be undertaken by the ADF officer.
But remember these Army personnel don't have the powers that a police officer does. So in the circumstance where somebody is refusing to provide their driver's licence then that's an issue for the New South Wales Police to deal with, and in 99 per cent of cases, of course people are happy to provide their information because they want to stop the virus from spreading even further, they don't want to see people dying, and they want to get back to their lives as they knew it not too long ago. And that's exactly what we want. So there are different tasks that they will undertake, but that's the sort of task on a day-to-day basis that they will be involved in.
[inaudible] hope the people of Sydney might see the ADF presence as reassuring and do you think there is a chance it might have the opposite effect?
I don't think so. If we look to the example in Victoria, which is the most recent one, but we've seen it elsewhere; here in Queensland, we have seen it in the Northern Territory at Howard Springs and in WA early on in the pandemic we were involved in every Commonwealth asset, as we are now, in providing support and assistance and back-up to the states and territories. I think it will send a message of reassurance. People know that this is a serious situation and by the Premier's decision to call out the ADF, 300 personnel will supplement the efforts of the New South Wales Police officers, and I think it will help us get out of this lockdown more quickly than otherwise would have been the case.
Should New South Wales have accepted the offer to have the Army in sooner?
Well, that's really a question for the Premier. Obviously the New South Wales Police Force is one of the biggest police forces in the world; they have incredible capacity, but even their resources are stretched when you're talking about the geographic spread that we are talking about now.
So I think the ADF personnel and the decision to call them out now by the Premier is the right decision. Obviously, the Prime Minister has been making that offer to the New South Wales Premier for some time – so we are pleased the decision has been made, that the offer has been taken up – and we will provide whatever support we need whether it's in New South Wales or elsewhere in the country to help our country get to the other side of COVID as quickly as we humanly can.
Do you see being locked down in the worst affected LGAs at this point or will it be across the city?
Again, they are questions for the Premier and for the Police Commissioner of New South Wales. Commissioner Fuller will have responsibility for those deployment decisions and to prioritise in that tasking, and they will work with the defence force personnel leaders that will be on the ground there. We will provide what support we can.
Do you think the fact that the New South Wales Government was initially knocking back this offer now has had to request ADF, is a concession they have lost control of this outbreak?
I think what it indicates is that this is a very serious situation, as we saw yesterday with the numbers that had worsened. When you've got 70 people or so out in the community who are in that infectious stage, then you can expect numbers to rise, and I think the New South Wales Health Department – as is the case here in Queensland or in Victoria and elsewhere – have done an amazing job, and so too have the police, in very difficult circumstances. But we know with the Delta strain we are facing a very different prospect than the Alpha strain, and they have asked for assistance and we will provide that assistance and as I say, in New South Wales already we have over 200 officers who are providing support at hotel quarantine. The 300 now will supplement their efforts and hopefully we can get through this as quickly as possible.
Can you guarantee that all the ADF members that have been deployed are fully vaccinated?
We have obviously got a program in Defence where those ADF officers that have been deployed, particularly to hotel quarantine, will be vaccinated and the ADF roll that program out so we will make sure that they are vaccinated.
What about the vaccine rollout. Do you think they could also help out?
Already the ADF has been involved in the vaccine rollout, particularly in difficult circumstances. For example, either in the home or where there is an outreach service into an aged care facility, into some of the disability care services. So there's an effort there. But we are making sure that we are not taking away from health systems or from private health providers because many of the medically trained personnel within the Australian Defence Force will be reservists and they will have jobs, part-time or full-time, within some of those health and hospital systems. So we want to make sure that we are supplementing that, and already the ADF has been involved in some of that rollout.
And how long do you see them being deployed for?
We don't have a timeline and we are not bound to that. I think we will look at how this plays out day-by-day and we want to make sure that we can help those people in New South Wales at the moment who are separated from their families, who are stopped from going to work, who are stuck at home with kids who should be at school. We want them out of that as quickly as possible and back to their normal lives. I hope that by the ADF personnel presence we can see that happen more quickly.
People are saying that if the Federal Government had done a better job with the vaccine rollout, then the Army wouldn't have to be called in to essentially keep people locked up in their homes. Do you think it's sad that it has got to this point?
I just don't know that these people are properly informed and know what they are talking about. We weren't going to inject people with a vaccine until we had it approved by the regulators here. We weren't going to have an unapproved vaccine being jabbed into older Australians when we didn't know the efficacy of it.
So I think it was prudent for the Government to take that course of action. There would have been great undermining of confidence if we had been vaccinating people before we had clearance from the medical experts.
So we've done that, we are now rolling out, you know, over 1 million, 1.1 million doses a week and we will continue that and in a population of 25 million people you can see that that will compound very quickly. Any Australian who wants a vaccine will get it. But of course there are some who are reading all sorts of things online at the moment who don't want the vaccine, and I hope that their message doesn't spread because there is not a credible doctor in the country at the moment that is not advising people to take the vaccine.
So if you have a hesitancy, go and see your local GP and make sure that you get vaccinated as quickly as possible because as we are seeing in the UK, as an economy, as the country opens up, once you've got that herd immunity, then those that are unvaccinated are the ones that end up in hospital. As we are seeing in New South Wales at the moment, those people that are in ICU or those people who have been admitted are those that are unvaccinated.
In Victoria last year, the deaths were in aged care facilities. They are not at this stage in New South Wales because we have had a rollout of the vaccine in aged care facilities and vulnerable people have received the vaccine and we will continue the rollout across the population.
One of the scientists that created the AstraZeneca vaccine says lives have been lost because of the mixed messages in Australia over the vaccine. What's your response to that?
My response is that AstraZeneca is safe and people should have that vaccine as quickly as possible. As we are seeing in New South Wales the Delta strain can spread very quickly. You only need one or two super-spreader events before you lose control of this thing, and Delta is very different than the Alpha strain. It has a bigger impact on younger people, and if you are eligible for AstraZeneca get it today. Go and speak to your pharmacist or speak to your doctor, make sure that you get the vaccine today because if you think that you can wait and that this is not going to come to a place like Queensland or WA or to Victoria, it is going to. That's the reality of it. We are a population where people move around each day; people coming home to Australia from overseas. We need to be realistic about that and you're not going to have weeks to plan for this, as we've seen in New South Wales.
If you're living in an area outside of New South Wales at the moment look at what is happening. Don't hesitate. Go and speak to your doctor, speak to your pharmacist, and if their advice is to get vaccinated – don't listen to some of the rubbish online and to the extremists in this debate – listen to the doctors and be vaccinated as quickly as you can.
The Gold Coast has been doing it really tough, the tourist town through the pandemic. We know that JobKeeper has finished. There has been some lockdown relief support for places like New South Wales and Victoria announced recently. Tourism boss’s here are saying even though we are not locked down we are feeling affects because people can't come here because they are locked down. Is there any chance of a support package for the tourism industry and businesses affected?
I think when you look at what the Federal Government has provided already, I think the figures is an interesting one. If you add the assistance that the State Governments have provided together – so the eight states and territories – and then you double that figure, the Commonwealth Government has spent more than that already and we will continue to provide support, including in places like the Gold Coast.
At the moment I would just say that if you are in Queensland, if you are from WA or from Victoria come to the Gold Coast, go to the Whitsundays, go to Cairns for a holiday because there will be bed nights that will have been booked from somebody from New South Wales that's now been cancelled. You might get a good deal; you could get into a hotel you wouldn't think you were going to. I'm on the Gold Coast at the moment because my wife and I have just celebrated our wedding anniversary and we have come down here just for the night to support the local economy, and I encourage all Queenslanders to do that.
It's a massive undertaking when you look at what restaurants and hotels and other people within tourist destinations have had to put up with over the course of the last 18 months. So please, encourage your spend to be local.
There is something like $40 billion that Australians spend overseas each year, that money has been spent locally. You know, it is also the case for destinations like the Gold Coast that they can't find the labour; so they can't find people to clean rooms or to wait tables, and that's, you know, another significant issue at the moment because we don't have backpackers and we don't have those international travellers who can do some of that work.
So if people are looking for part time work, then it's a great industry to be involved in as well. In some places there's a very high occupancy because of that local spend. It's a mixed situation at the moment; but the most important thing to get us to the other side is for people to get vaccinated so that we can open up and get back to our lives, get kids back to school and to stay safe.
We've dodged an incredible…you know, if you look at what's happened in the UK and elsewhere, you can safely say that we would have had over 30,000 deaths in our country had we not taken the action that we had over the course of the last 18 months. The first act to close our border with China and the rest of the world. We are an island nation; we have taken advantage of that and we should make sure that we do whatever is possible to stay safe and we are doing that through the deployment of the ADF personnel to New South Wales at the moment and the Federal Government are taking steps to keep Australians safe.
Gold Coast depends so heavily on international tourism, is there any indication at all that we will start accepting international arrivals to open up those borders again?
The Premiers have obviously taken a decision to cut back on the numbers of Australians returning from overseas. So the first priority of course will be to bring back Australians who might have lived overseas or have been visiting sick relatives, for example, we are going to bring those back first before international passengers.
But as we are seeing in the UK at the moment, for example, I think they have lifted the need for quarantine on inbound tourists for people coming out of places like the United States if they have been vaccinated. So an important point here; as we have seen in Europe and elsewhere around the world, the steps, the first steps to allow international travellers to come into a country has been to allow those, and only those, that have been vaccinated.
Again, another incentive for people to be vaccinated. Our country will get back to, you know, a normal position when we have had herd immunity achieved and when we allow those that have been vaccinated to come into Australia to spend that money, to create the jobs. That's a very important message to Australians here; if you want to travel overseas, those countries aren't going to allow you to travel until you have been vaccinated. So go and see your doctor today.
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