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Sky News Live, AM Agenda with Annelise Nielsen

1 May 2020

Interviewer: 
Annelise Neilsen

Subject: Best practice principles, COVIDSafe app, China and Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Victoria

E&OE

ANNELISE NIELSEN: Joining us live now from West Australia is Michaelia Cash, Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business. Minister Cash, thank you for your time.

MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you.

ANNELISE NIELSEN: Now, we know people want to get back to work. Will the Government be putting out a safe set of guidelines, so people can do it in a responsible way?

MINISTER CASH: Certainly, that is what I’ve been working with across industries, for the last couple of weeks. Ensuring that small and family businesses in particular – we’re about to, you know, see the reopening of the Australian economy. Slowly, but it will be happening. What we want to ensure is that as we restart Australia, you have your exit strategy in place, so you understand the particular needs of your industry, what the actual health requirements are for when you reopen and you have a set of best practice principles in place. And certainly, I mean we saw restaurant and catering the other day. They have formally released their best practice principles, because they want to get back into business, sooner rather than later. They know when they're given that green light, they need to be ready to go from day one and show the Australian public that they can have confidence in those workplaces and that they have a COVID-safe environment.

ANNELISE NIELSEN: What will those best-practice guidelines look like, though? Practically speaking, how do you make sure that people can work together in a safe way and not transmit coronavirus?

MINISTER CASH: So, in the first instance you need to look at what are the overarching principles that are in place. So, at this particular point in time, 1.5 metre distances in terms of our social distancing or one person, depending on how big the shop itself is. Then depending on the industry, you’ll do different things. So I've been talking to the fitness industry. They obviously won't be able to share equipment — you’ll need to clean your equipment down after people have used it. This morning, I've seen that the Pilates industry are putting in place their best practice guidelines. If you're an industry, like restaurant and catering, that you normally handle actual money, as we all know now we're not touching cash and what we're doing though is that we're actually utilising, say, pay-pass. So depending on your industry, you’ll need to look at what are your specific circumstances and then you’ll need to ensure that you put in place those best practice guidelines and they will differ depending on the industry. But in terms of the social distancing and the space required between people in workplaces, within reason, that will be the same across Australia.

ANNELISE NIELSEN: Will bosses ever be able to require employees to download the COVIDSafe app?

MINISTER CASH: So a big shout out there, the COVIDSafe app. Big shout out to the over three million Australians, who have to date, downloaded the app. This is one way of ensuring that we’re that step closer to restarting Australia and a big shout out to all of the small and family businesses who are out there, promoting the downloading of the app. They know they want to get back to business sooner rather than later and the way to do that is to ensure that we can control the spread of the virus and that is what the COVIDSafe app entitles us to do. In terms of will it be mandatory, the Prime Minister has made it clear — no. It is a voluntary app; but if you want to go back to your pub, if you want to go and get that massage; if you want to go and undertake your Pilates lesson; if you want to sit down in a restaurant with your family — I would really encourage you, if you haven't already, download COVIDSafe. It really is a great weapon that we have to stop the spread of the virus and to get us back to normal sooner rather than later. Or should I say actually, it's now the new normal, it's living with the virus, but in that safe environment.

ANNELISE NIELSEN: But there is the right of any employer to require things of their employees that aren’t necessarily the law. So will there be anything stopping employers requiring their employees to download the app?

MINISTER CASH: Well at this point in time, the Prime Minister has made it clear that it is voluntary. What individual employers ultimately do would need to be conducted in accordance with the law. I haven't heard anybody say to me to date, that they are going to make it mandatory. But I have had so many small businesses, industry associations contact me to say we are out there actively encouraging people to download the app. To date, and it was only released, what? A few days ago, 26 April, in excess of 3 million Australians, which is absolutely fantastic. But we obviously want to see that number increase. And ask yourself that question, as so many are every day — do I want to go to the pub again? Do I want to have that meal, sitting down in a restaurant? Do I want to go to my cafe and sit down and have my coffee? You will be able to do that, but a lot of it is going to be — do we have the necessary response required, in terms of stopping the spread of the virus? And that's all about the COVIDSafe app.

ANNELISE NIELSEN: And now, if I can ask you about another topic of the day. The Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Victoria's compared the coronavirus to the arrival of Captain James Cook. The Prime Minister’s condemned those comments and said she should consider standing down, do you agree?

MINISTER CASH: Oh, absolutely. Totally inappropriate. This particular person is the Deputy Chief Medical Officer in Victoria. We are in the middle of a global pandemic. It is devastating people's lives; it is decimating the economy. People look to you for the best available medical advice. They do not look to you for political commentary and so. I would endorse both the Prime Minister and even Peter Dutton's comments: stick to your day job and do the right thing by the Victorian people. Concentrate on getting the right medical advice out, not indulging in political commentary, which has clearly now distracted from the messages we want to get out to people.

ANNELISE NIELSEN: Just on that topic though, wasn't Andrew Forest indulging in a bit of political commentary when he invited a Chinese official along to that press conference with Greg Hunt?

MINISTER CASH: Look, Andrew Forrest has done some fantastic things and the press conference was actually all about the acquisition of 10 million additional testing kits. That is actually a fantastic thing and I wouldn't want to see what happened at the press conference overshadow what the actual press conference was about. And as you know, National Cabinet have made it clear, the way we reopen the Australian economy, sooner rather than later is getting three things right. The first of that is actually testing. We've now done in excess of 560,000 tests in Australia. We're now seeing the gradual expansion of that testing regime and you know? To have that press conference with Andrew Forrest, where they were announcing the acquisition of the additional 10 million testing kits was a very, very good thing and I wouldn't want to see anything overshadow that.

ANNELISE NIELSEN: Are we having a mixed message though, when we've got business leaders like Andrew Forrest, who looms large over WA where you're from, saying that we need to be placating the Chinese Government throughout this pandemic? At the same time as we have the Federal Government calling for an inquiry?

MINISTER CASH: Okay. So in the first instance, in terms of our economic relationship. As we all know Australia has a comprehensive strategic partnership. Both countries know, both China and Australia, we understand the benefits of that relationship. Australia is very pragmatic in its dealings, but as the Prime Minister has clearly articulated, we will always act in Australia's best interests. That's in relation to the comprehensive strategic partnership. In terms of the principled call for an independent inquiry into the outbreak of COVID-19. Australians, the world has a right to know what actually occurred. We are seeing lives lost, health systems decimated, economies devastated. The social consequences that will be ongoing — we don't really even know what they are going to be. So certainly, understanding what occurred, how it occurred and learning from that to ensure that if this was to ever happen again — and nobody wants to see something like this happen again — but if it was to ever happen again, we have learnt from it and we can put in place the appropriate response.

ANNELISE NIELSEN: Michaelia Cash, live there from Perth. Thank you for your time

MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you as always.

ENDS