Event: Andrew McKellar interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News AM Agenda
Speakers: Laura Jayes, host Sky News AM Agenda; Andrew McKellar, chief executive
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Date: 9 September 2021
Topics: Rapid antigen testing, NSW reopening plan, COVID management
Laura Jayes, host Sky News AM Agenda: The federal government is being urged to provide free and accessible rapid antigen testing to all businesses allowed to open under lockdown restriction. Businesses and industry leaders say it’s the first step to reopening the economy and learning to live with the virus. Joining me live now is the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry boss, Andrew McKellar. Andrew, good to see you. This is great timing, in line with the freedoms that we are going to get the announcement today on the 18th of October. So what’s the difficulty for business at the moment and what exactly are you asking for?
Andrew McKellar, chief executive Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry: Well, good morning, Laura. Indeed, the fundamental priority that we have to be working towards here is opening up the Australian economy, getting to a situation where, as you say, we can remove the restrictions of lockdowns that are clamping business at the moment, clamping the economy and having such a wide impact across our community. So we have to open up domestically, we have to open up internationally. To do that, we need all the tools at our disposal and rapid testing is part of that. We’ve seen that in other countries around the world, so we have to learn from what happened with the delay in getting vaccines, we have to move now to make sure that all of those options are available as we move towards hyping up the Australian economy. Rapid testing is part of that, and you can see that from the experience elsewhere.
Laura: Well, at the moment, the TGA is only approving rapid antigen testing for health officials to be able to actually conduct these tests. What we see overseas is at home tests, so people doing them individually. Do you think that would help? And why would it help business, do you think?
Andrew: Well, it would help dramatically and here it needs to be freely and widely available. So the cost of this needs to be met by governments, just as they are paying for PCR testing at the moment, which is much more expensive, just as they’re paying hundreds and hundreds of millions out for assistance to business and individuals. This is a way to move to a different stage, to get to the point where businesses can get back open, they can start serving their customers, they can start getting some cashflow back in again. But here, we need to move very quickly to that, we need to make it widely available, it needs to be accessible. In the UK, you’ve got 14-year-old children administering these tests themselves and getting results, so there’s no reason why we can’t get to that situation here.
Laura: Indeed. And we need to be proactive as well, because at the moment, the government has argued that it needs to know who is testing positive and negative to be able to give that public health response, but we need to get ahead of it. So what is your understanding about what is required here? Because the TGA and the government seem to be a little bit at odds here about who has the jurisdiction to do what, or whether the TGA can actually allow this under the notifiable disease legislation. Parliament doesn’t sit for another six weeks, so what is your understanding about the roadblocks in the way at the moment?
Andrew: Well, look, as you’ve described, it’s a very complex situation. And honestly, this is a national emergency. We’ve got to cut-through, we’ve got to take action quickly. Of course, the federal government has got to press for these tests to be available and to be able to be used widely. Ultimately, yes, we’ve got to get to a situation where you don’t require a medical practitioner to administer one of these tests. Of course, it’s important that the results are being reported and reported accurately. All of those things have got to be done, but they can be done and we’ve seen internationally that it is been done. So let’s learn from that experience, let’s get our act together, let’s show that there is leadership and take the initiative and get out there and make sure that we have all of those tools available to the community, to get back to the sort of lives that we want to live.
Laura: Yep. So just for everyone pushing for this, it’s legislation under the notifiable disease law, the federal government has to make an exemption for home COVID to enable the TGA to then evaluate and approve tests, and that hasn’t been done yet, that’s what is being asked for. Now, finally, before I let you go, Andrew, we’re seeing this plan for Sydney reopening some businesses for the fully vaccinated once we’ve reached that 70% mark, which will be on the 18th of October. Is it a good plan? Do you like it? And will it work?
Andrew: Well, look, obviously, our team in New South Wales is having a look at that, but the objective has got to be to get to those vaccine thresholds, and there’s still a lot of work to be done in that regard. So I think we do have to ensure that we don’t take the foot off the accelerator there, we need to hit 70% then 80%. But obviously the objective is yes, absolutely, get to the point where we can open up again, where we can start to get back to business as usual. And the first stage in that, for those who have been vaccinated, of course, they should have some extra freedoms and privileges because they are the ones that are helping to keep the community safe. So it’s a step in the right direction.
Laura: Andrew McKellar, thanks so much for your time.
Andrew: Thank you.
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