Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Minister for Government Services

Transcript: Interview with Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast

20 April 2020

The Hon Stuart Robert MP

Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Minister for Government Services
Topics: 
Australian Government’s coronavirus contact tracing app
E&OE

 

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Meanwhile, Coalition MPs including Barnaby Joyce and Llew O'Brien say that they simply will not be downloading the coronavirus tracing downloading the coronavirus tracing app set to be released by the government.

One man hoping that the majority of Australia takes a different stance is Stuart Robert and he joins us now from the Gold Coast.

Most Australian cans be worried about this and can ask the obvious question - if Barnaby Joyce and others have concerns about it, why should I download it?

MINISTER ROBERT:

I think most Australians, like me, aren't too concerned where Barnaby is. Barnaby is concerned that someone is tracking or surveiling him. That couldn't be further from the case. The app simply digitizes a manual process. Right now, if you get coronavirus a lot of very hard working state officials, try and work who you have been in contact with. This app simply digitizes that process and speeds it up.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Okay, Barnaby Joyce isn't taking those reassurances he was on Twitter last night having another go at you citing evidence from the Imperial College of London that despite everything you say we should have serious privacy concerns.

MINISTER ROBERT:

I disagree completely. There'll be a Privacy Impact Assessment, we'll publish that, we'll publish the code base so you'll be able to see exactly what the app does. And remember this is all about saying hey you've been in contact with, not where you are. Our memories fail us, Michael, think about if you got the virus and state health is who you're with 10 days ago, you wouldn't know, you can't remember the name of the lady in the queue behind you at Woollies. Well, if everyone's running the app, the data is securely on the app, it only goes to state health officials if you test positive for the virus, no commonwealth agency sees the data. It is only used for health and it's only used to protect you.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Okay, compared to where we are at the moment how more, how much quicker, could this allow health authorities to track down people who may have had contact with somebody with coronavirus?

MINISTER ROBERT:

This would reduce the time from days to minutes. So it's a massive productivity saving, and frankly it's going to allow us to get back to life quicker. It'll allow us, Michael, to get back to the footy quicker and it allows us to get back to work quicker. It’ll allow us to resume the economic activity of the nation quicker and we need to do this for the country. There are a lot of people unemployed now. There are a lot of people hurting, and the Prime Minister has made it clear this is one of the key conditions we need to get economic life back into the country.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

In that vein, why not make it mandatory?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Because we think Australians will do the right thing and they'll rise to the challenge. Australians want to get back to the footy. I'm standing here in the Gold Coast, Michael, in a half-empty park and a completely empty beach, this is very un-GC. We want to get back to normal life. And using a digital app that simply speeds up a manual process will help us do that.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Okay. But what if Australians don't lean in, they don't do the right thing you've set a target of 40 per cent upload but what if that doesn't happen, what's the next step for the Government?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well I'm a glass half-full guy in that respect and I think Australians will do this- (interrupted)

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

What about a glass half-empty approach, what is mandatory implication of this and option for the Government?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, we don't do hypotheticals. What we’re doing is a Team Australia moment and I think Australians will embrace this.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Okay, when, when will this app start appearing?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, the Prime Minister said last week that it'll be a week or two away, so it'll be this week or next, cognisant of National Cabinet decisions, but it is imminent, because we want to get the economy back and running. We want to get back to the footy. We want to get back to the beach.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Okay, why should Australians have confidence in you to oversee see a large scale tech rollout given your responsibility for the bungling of the Centrelink website last month?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, keeping in mind this is one of a suite of tech measures. We've rolled out Australia.gov.au that has had over 10 million visitors. We rolled out the coronavirus app which has 2.9 million downloads. We’ve rolled out the WhatsApp channel that sent 10 million messages will soon be working on other channels and other areas, and MyGov can now can take 300,000 concurrent users, whereas two and a half weeks ago could only take 6000 users. So an enormous amount of effort has gone into preparing for this.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

So this app will work, whereas there was that crashing of the Centrelink website at the very start.

MINISTER ROBERT:

There is no question the app work just like the coronavirus information app now is providing valuable information, Michael, to Australians.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Okay, I want to ask you about that pretty grim analysis from the Grattan Institute about a worse job situation in Australia if this pandemic continues. Does that worry you as a Government Minister?

MINISTER ROBERT:

It's incredibly sad to hear that so many Australians may find themselves out of work and it just reinforces how we've got to get the economy moving back quickly, and the faster we can do that, the less the impact there will be on the country, it's deep deeply disturbing to hear.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Okay, just before we go, have you received a copy of Malcolm Turnbull's book?

MINISTER ROBERT:

I haven't, but if I had I wouldn’t be bothered reading it.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Okay, why not?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Because I'm just not interested Michael right now, I mean we can’t go from a discussion of millions of Australians potentially unemployed in one breath to a discussion about Malcolm's book in the next breath and take it seriously. There are really serious things happening right now, there are cities where streets are empty. There are homes where people don't have jobs, and that's what our focus is that's what all our focuses should be.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Okay we’ll leave it there, Stuart Robert on the beautiful Gold Coast, thank you so much for joining us on ABC Breakfast.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Cheers.

[ENDS]

Page last updated: 20 April 2020