Interview with Danica De Giorgio, Sky News

5 January 2023


SUBJECTS: Covid testing; flood update for WA; ADF support; Qld voluntary home buybacks; disaster resilience; Defence capabilities

DANICA DE GIORGIO, HOST: Returning now to one of our top stories – Australians will need to take a PCR test ahead of going to China when its borders reopen next week as travel requirements for Chinese travellers arriving in Australia take effect today.

Joining me now live is Murray Watt, the Minister for Agriculture and Emergency Management. Minister, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Is it hypocritical of China to be condemning Australia’s testing requirements when China itself requires a PCR test from people entering that country?

MURRAY WATT, MINISTER FOR EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Good morning, Danica. I don’t think it’s really helpful for politicians to be getting into labelling the actions of other countries. I mean, really, what we’ve decided to do on behalf of the Australian people is take a decision about entries into Australia. It’s really a matter for other countries to decide what they do. But obviously, it is a fact that China is requiring a similar requirement of Australians entering the country. And, again, I guess that reflects the kind of policies that they’ve decided to take in relation to their own country.

DANICA DE GIORGIO: How long do you expect Australia’s restrictions need to be in place for?

MURRAY WATT: Well, we haven’t set a particular time frame for that yet. We’ve obviously got to keep a bit of an eye on how things develop in China in the weeks ahead. We have said that this is a temporary measure in response to China deciding to open up and the Covid wave that we now see there and, of course, the lack of transparency of data that we have seen to date from China.  So hopefully China will make a decision to become more transparent in its data sharing and provide information about genomic sequencing and other things, and that might mean that these measures may not need to continue. But we have said that we will keep this in place for the moment at least so that we can get a better handle on what the situation is in China from people who are entering Australia.

DANICA DE GIORGIO: And what is your message to Australian travellers who may need to visit China? How will they manage to get tested there when the health system is buckling under the outbreak?

MURRAY WATT: Well, it is still possible for people to get PCR tests in most parts of the country. And the reality is that we’re not looking at substantial numbers of Australians undertaking travel to China at this point in time. The flights are really just reopening and the numbers are expected to be relatively small for the next few weeks at least. But, again, this is an evolving situation in China. I think all of us are concerned about the way that that country is currently going through- to some extent I guess it was inevitable once they did start to open up and, of course, it would be a good thing for people in China, Australia and the rest of the world if China can get on top of this outbreak.

DANICA DE GIORGIO: All right. Let’s move on now, There’s been significant flooding in WA’s Kimberley region this week. What’s the latest information?

MURRAY WATT: Yeah, it’s a pretty serious situation in the Kimberley, Danica. And, of course, there’s still flooding going on in other parts of the country as well. I was in South Australia a couple of days ago with the Premier and Emergency Minister down there to look at what’s happening there. But certainly WA is the main worry at the moment.

I was briefed about this again this morning and really what we’ve been looking at is record flood peaks in communities like Fitzroy Crossing. And when you think about the amount of rainfall that that area gets every year, that is really saying something to say that it’s record peak. The evacuation centre in Fitzroy Crossing is full, and that’s prompted the Western Australian Government to open a new one, which is a good thing.

We’re working very closely with the Western Australian Government to make sure that they have the support that they need to relocate people if that becomes necessary to get them out of those communities. Because it’s not just Fitzroy Crossing itself, which is a community of about 1500 people, there are dozens of small, remote particularly Indigenous communities in the surrounding region that are threatened with inundation or isolation for quite some time.

So it’s a pretty difficult situation and this weather pattern hasn’t gone away. It’s moved towards Broome, which has been experiencing very heavy rainfall over the last couple of days. The latest indication is that it's likely to head back inland, which at one level is a good thing because if the wet weather were to go off the coast we’d be risking it reforming into being a cyclone. But what that’ll might mean is more rainfall into other parts of Western Australia and even Northern Territory over the next few days. So it’s a pretty serious situation and we’re working very closely with Western Australia to manage it.

DANICA DE GIORGIO: Speaking of flooding and the impact, more than 130 Queensland homes have been bought back following the flooding that we saw last year. How many properties do you expect will be taken up?

MURRAY WATT: Yeah, I joined the Queensland Acting Premier Steven Miles in Brisbane yesterday to recognise that milestone. I think it’s a great thing that the Federal and Queensland governments have been able to cooperate to buy back now 130 homes in South East Queensland that were in particularly flood-prone areas. There are about 180 offers - have been made in total, so we would expect that number to increase. And all up we’re probably looking at in the order of 500 homes all up in South East Queensland that would be bought back under this program.

In addition to that, there’s also substantial funding available to raise homes and also to make them more resilient. No government is in a position to buy back every single home that is potentially at risk of being flooded in the future. And what the buybacks are really directed to is homes that are in extremely flood-prone areas that we know are going to get hit time and time again.

So, it’s a really important measure I think and another step in what the Albanese Government has been trying to do – which is to make us much more resilient for future disasters.

DANICA DE GIORGIO: Before we let you go, there are reports this morning that the Australian Army will get a huge firepower upgrade under a new contract to acquire US-made missile systems. How big of an impact will that have?

MURRAY WATT: I think it’s going to be a really significant boost to the ADF’s capability. What we’ve announced today through Minister Pat Conroy is that we will be purchasing 20 of these HIMARS missile launchers. Basically, they’re truck-mounted missile launchers and they’ve been very successfully used in the Ukraine. One of the really key benefits of this is not just the mobility of these vehicles and these forces but the range that those missiles can be fired.  Really, the sort of capability that the Australian Army has at the moment is missile launchers that can reach maybe 40-50 kilometres. These missile launchers will enable missiles to be fired for up to 300 kilometres. And over time we expect that to potentially even get up to 500 kilometres or even higher. So it’s a really significant investment in our Defence Force capability and it proves again that we really want to make sure that our Defence Forces have the best equipment to keep Australian people safe.

DANICA DE GIORGIO: Murray Watt, we’ll leave it there. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.