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Interview – Credlin, Sky News

31 March 2020

Peta Credlin

Subject: COVID-19 and manufacturing of personal protective equipment (PPE)


Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews was interviewed on Sky News' Credlin.

Peta Credlin: Welcome back, you’re watching Credlin. Well a South Australian company who normally packages- produces packaging for fast food will shift their production to masks. The company’s called Detmold and they’re expected to produce 145 million medical masks over the coming months. It comes after the Government banned the export of personal protective equipment, including face masks and gloves, following tonnes and tonnes of equipment being shipped out of Australia, mostly to China, from as early as January this year.

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews, joins me now via Skype.

Minister, terrific to have you on the show, thank you. I said at the top of the show you’re a rare science minister in that you have a science background. We just spoke to the professor in charge of the Synchrotron in Australia. I know Anthony Pratt, the leading businessman, put a million dollars on the table today for the Doherty Institute, which is looking at some drug trials, old HIV drugs I think, you’ll tell me more. This is a real coming together of the science community, isn’t it?

Karen Andrews: Look, absolutely. We do have some outstanding scientists here in Australia. We were actually the first nation to be able to grow the coronavirus outside of China, so we were leading the charge to work out a potential vaccine and, of course, a cure. So you know, congratulations and a huge shout out to our science community, they do fantastic work. Unfortunately, it’s not always recognised as it should. We do tend to take that- that work happens and we take that a little bit for granted, but they have done some outstanding work and they are working around the clock to come up with a vaccine.

Peta Credlin: Right. Last week- maybe it was the week before, but in recent times I’ve had the CEO of a Shepparton company in country Victoria on. They were the last mask manufacturer in Australia and you got the ADF, the military involved, the army, to get there and help when we wanted to ramp up mask production, and it didn’t have the employees. You stepped in there as Minister. The announcement today also relates to masks and this relates to a business that doesn’t make masks in South Australia. Tell me more.

Karen Andrews: Yeah. Well, I might just at the start if it’s okay with you, talking a little bit about Med-Con in Shepparton because it’s a fantastic story there. Small family-owned business effectively, maximum mask production was about seven million. We needed to ramp up production in Australia. They were our only manufacturer so they needed support to be able to do that. So the ADF came in, provided people to get a third line up and running. That third lime is now running and they’ve provided people who are going to be able to run the machines around the clock. So, production there has doubled and we’re looking at production from them over a twelve-month period of 57 million masks. So from seven million to 57 million in a year is just outstanding.

Detmold as you said, is a packaging manufacturer based largely in South Australia but also has operations around the globe. They actually put their hands up a couple of weeks ago, spoke to the South Australian Government and also to the Federal Government about what they could do to ramp up production of masks here in Australia. So they are commissioning machines now in China. They will be brought in to Australia. We’ll get them up and running within the next couple of weeks and they’re going to be producing about 145 million masks. 45 million will go to South Australia directly and 100 million masks will go into the national stockpile. So it’s fantastic.

Peta Credlin: One of the issues I’ve been following very closely with my old sort of political policy brain engaged, was the issue of ventilators. I knew that we only had 2200 in Australia. I knew that when we were preparing for the Bird Flu pandemics of the past, that was also, and always, a critical issue: what was the ventilator capacity? If it got to the very serious end of respiratory failure. I’ve watched closely in the United Kingdom, there’s been a real push or a partnership with government and manufacturers like Rolls-Royce and Dyson to retrofit some of their manufacturing centres to produce – I don’t know if we’ve got you still there, Minister – to produce ventilators. What’s happening in Australia?

I think you might have dropped out for us there. I might move to my next guest if I can.