Interview – The Today Show with Karl Stefanovic and Anna Caldwell

Topics: Omicron virus spike, reopening of schools, RAT and testing, elderly care sector, Prime Minister’s WeChat account

E&OE——————————————-

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Finally, some positive COVID headlines splashed across today’s front pages. Could the Omicron peak be over, signaling a major leap forward in our pandemic recovery? Let’s talk to the Acting Minister for Education, Stuart Robert, who is in Canberra. And in Sydney, Daily Telegraph Deputy Editor Anna Caldwell, Anna nice to see you too.

ANNA CALDWELL:

Hello.

STUART-ROBERT:

Hello.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Stuart, there’s still a huge number of cases. What are you told about the peak?

STUART-ROBERT:

One of the great things about the national strategy for COVID, Karl, of course, was scrapping it, so we could get our nation vaccinated. And we’re now one of the most vaccinated nations in the world, and, and thank you to all the Australians who have come out, and of course for, for the kids who are following now. So we’re looking forward, we’re looking forward to the summit, and we’re looking forward to getting back to as normal a life as possible. So encouraging news.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

But you’re not, you’re not told anything more than that at this point?

STUART-ROBERT:

Well, I think that’s the start, Kar and we don’t want to jump to conclusions. We just want to keep making sure Australians are vaccinated. We want businesses to open up, supply chains to normalize and, of course, kids back to school.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

You cannot find workers at the moment. I mean, that’s one of the major issues. Anna, it seems a bit early. Everyone knows someone who has it, and everyone knows a business that’s closed right now because they can’t find staff.

ANNA CALDWELL:

Yeah. Look, I mean, I’m always hesitant to call, call an earlier trend.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Yeah.

ANNA CALDWELL:

I think Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant told us that quite repeatedly over the past year. However, you know, the numbers give us all a reason to be quite optimistic on this Monday morning. You know, you know, the numbers are definitely showing a shift in the right direction. Even, for example, intensive care numbers, which are falling and still not at the peak that we saw with the Delta wave. So I think, overall, you know, that’s good news. You’re right, we still see a lot of people having them, the numbers are still very high. But we were told we were going in that direction, it’s happening now, well, I think we should welcome, welcome those numbers.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

The school year is not far away now. Lots of details this morning on how this new school will pick up millions of children, with NSW and Victoria unveiling very similar back-to-school plans – we’ll be waiting for Queensland too. They include rapid home tests twice a week; classroom masks; and air purifiers to limit the spread of COVID. Stuart, will there be enough test kits for everyone, given the huge numbers?

STUART-ROBERT:

The short answer is yes. And I certainly welcome, not just as education minister but as a parent, what New South Wales and Victoria have announced – it’s in line with what Doherty’s modeling recommends. It makes sense.

This sends a clear message to parents, which we all know, that it is safe for children to return to school. And, Karl, we have to, we just have to put an end to distance learning. We need to bring children back to face-to-face learning.

I think our children have carried a disproportionate burden over the past two years. And every survey I’ve read shows mental health issues. Let’s take our children back to school.

It’s great to see my counterparts in New South Wales and Victoria coming up with very, very strong reasoned plans. Parents can trust. I look forward to working with the rest of the states now.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Listen, there are still going to be problems. But when you say the short answer is yes about these test kits, when will they be here? And, and are they going to be able to keep those numbers?

STUART-ROBERT:

Well, the states and territories are responsible for that and they’ve given all the assurances. The federal government, of course, pays 50-50 on the cost of this, as we did on the costs of the whole testing regime. And Karl, of course, we’ve seen Australians undergo over 50 million tests. We therefore have a solid experience in supplying these supplies. And states and territories will look to reopen with those supplies in stock.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Anna, there are still going to be things to settle here. It’s not going to be easy, logistically, inside those classrooms and those schools. And there will be no more contact tracing. We hear that parents may not know if a student in your child’s class is positive, but they will be told if there is a positive case in your child’s cohort – whatever that means. Isn’t this a recipe for a certain level of conflict within these classrooms?

ANNA CALDWELL:

Yeah. Listen, I mean, there will always be challenges. And I think that probably reflects the stance we’re taking more broadly in cities like Sydney and Melbourne right now. You know contact tracing has really been kept to a minimum. But yes, there will be challenges.

But basically, I think kids should be in school. You know, I think we’re up to these challenges and I think they’re worth it. You know, these kids have had two years of disruption. I think we should give it a good crack. And it’s great to see the two largest states on an equal footing with this. You know, it looks like we’ve put those kind of COVID wars behind us, and we’re continuing with that – putting Western Australia aside. But overall, you know, we’re making progress.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Why do you wear Western- oh, that’s right. Stuart, you’re not- obviously you’re not in charge of all the schools, but you’re in charge of a lot of nursing homes and aged care. Let’s talk about it this morning. The Daily Telegraph has a very concerning story, with a new survey revealing that our aged care system is so overstretched that many elderly residents are going without food and drink and even essential medicines. We are failing the most vulnerable people in our society again. And that’s after multiple inquiries, royal commissions. It’s just not good enough.

MINISTER ROBERT:

I read the story. It came out of a statement and a union investigation, Karl. The bottom line that we saw in the budget, $17.7 billion…

KARL STEFANOVIC:

[Talks over] Does it hurt?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, it gives a contemporary textualization around it. $17.7 billion has been invested in the senior care system. 89 million RAT tests ordered, all in January and February to support our older workers. And of course, as Minister of Labour, Karl, we are very keen to attract more and more Australians to this vital area. That’s why there are 37,000 free training places via JobTrainer. And I would really encourage Australians who have a passion to love our Australian seniors to get involved in this training. There are great career options out there.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Why the hell would you work in a nursing home when you make $22 an hour?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Again, wages and conditions are set by the Fair Work Commission, Karl. That’s how it is, that’s how our system works. These are the laws that have been in place since the previous government, and this is how it works.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

So you don’t think this story is true, going without water and food under certain circumstances, and more importantly without medication?

MINISTER ROBERT:

There are so many incredibly decent older workers in facilities across the country. I think the idea that so many Australians would be deprived of basic food and water, and that the lovely staff at aged care centers would do this, defies belief. There is a lot of work to be done in our aged care sector to ensure it continues to be world class.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Anna, the government wants to be right about that.

ANNA CALDWELL:

Yeah, look, I don’t really think that answer is good enough. I don’t think it’s enough to dismiss this as a union position. I mean, you know, the problems in the elderly care sector have been very well documented. And we know, in this pandemic, you know, these people are our most vulnerable. They had the toughest times basically even now with Omicron. You know, I think that’s a pretty devastating report.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

I agree with you. Finally, the front page of the Telegraph this morning. Beijing cops are on fire for censoring the prime minister on WeChat in China. That’s the story right there. Stuart, I can’t believe that Chinese WeChat viewers are being denied – the Prime Minister’s 75,000 subscribers there in China – are being denied his – well, his great content.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, that’s incredibly weird. Mr. Albanese, of course, did not block his WeChat account. Now the government speaks through many channels, to our Chinese community, there are over 1.2 million great Chinese-Australians. But it’s strange, and of course the PMO is looking to connect with them to resolve the issue.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Is it strange? How about Anthony Albanese’s account?

MINISTER ROBERT:

It’s strange.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Anna?

ANNA CALDWELL:

Well, look, I mean, I think if it’s an act of censorship, as Senator James Paterson identified it, it’s astounding. I mean, I think it should be about all of us, and it’ll be interesting to see. I mean, the prime minister asked to get his account back. I mean, you know, we can make our judgments about the- you know, the contents of the account, like you just did, Karl. But in any case, I don’t think we want Chinese actors to take over our social media pages. So this will be interesting-

KARL STEFANOVIC:

[Interrupts] Do we really care? And is it so serious? Or, more importantly, is it such a big surprise? Go on.

ANNA CALDWELL:

Well, I mean, it’s true. Relations with China are, you know, complicated at best. But, you know, I think – my view is, I think, if China takes over our prime minister’s social media account, I think – I find that shocking.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Okay. Good to talk to you guys. Have a good week. Appreciate it.

[ENDS]

About Thomas Brown

Check Also

Michael James Shaw from The Walking Dead in Blood and Treasure season 2

Michael James Shaw as Mercer, Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier …