Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Minister for Government Services

Transcript: ABC Radio National, Interview with Fran Kelly

8 February 2021

The Hon Stuart Robert MP

Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Minister for Government Services
E&OE

FRAN KELLY:      

Preparations are ramping up for the nationwide rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, which is due to begin in just a few weeks' time. The Morrison Government has now announced that all inoculations will now be recorded on the Australian Immunisation Register, and certificates proving vaccination - which could be required for overseas and interstate travel and for access to certain services - would then be available either digitally or in hard copy. Stuart Robert is the Minister for Government Services. Minister, thank you very much for joining us.

MINISTER ROBERT:         

Fran, great pleasure.

FRAN KELLY:      

Minister, what is a vaccination certificate? What will it look like, and what information will it convey?

MINISTER ROBERT:         

In short, it's the immunisation register; what you can access right now, what you've been able to access for many years. So, it's no change to that. We'll flesh it out over the coming weeks and months to make it more accessible, but you can see that right now.

FRAN KELLY:      

Will it include which vaccination was administered? Keeping in mind that the Pfizer shot is believed to be more effective than the AstraZeneca one?

MINISTER ROBERT:         

It will record the type of vaccine you've got, the amount, and of course, dates - in this case, you'll need it twice. So, the same sort of data you currently look at on your vaccination certificate that rolls out all those crazy names of vaccines that are hard to pronounce. So, yes it will.

FRAN KELLY:      

And do you actually get it before you've had your second dose?

MINISTER ROBERT:         

So, the vaccination record gets updated with every vaccination you receive. So, after your first dose, you'll be able to look at your vaccination certificate online, or indeed, go and print it out or the vaccination provider can print it out for you, and you'll see that it'll have the first dose, and then you'll see it'll have the second dose.

FRAN KELLY:      

And you get a green tick or something with the second dose?

MINISTER ROBERT:         

Yes, and this is what we're sort of working out to make some changes to the vaccination record, just to highlight that actual issue.

FRAN KELLY:      

And how - you referred to get a copy - or how will people carry them and do you envisage it's something that we will need to carry with us, for access to services or to travel?

MINISTER ROBERT:         

The- right now, you can access your vaccination record on your Medicare Express Plus app, through myGov. So, you can access it digitally and then you'll be able to drop it down into a digital wallet. But I recognise that only about 89 per cent of Australians have a smart phone, so it'll be able to be provided in hard copy, either through the vaccination provider or through Services Australia, if you call us we'll send it to you or pop into a service centre.

FRAN KELLY:      

And once someone has the certificate, proving they've been vaccinated, is- do you think this is going to make it easier for people to move around? Perhaps across state borders that might be closed for a moment, or access to hospitals and aged care homes, or allow venues to shift back to full capacity? Is that how you see this working?

MINISTER ROBERT:         

It's a really good question. The states and territories are responsible for workplace laws, and of course, their public health orders make those determinations. So, you've got instances where you have to have a flu shot to work or visit some facilities. So, it's not without the realm of possibility, but of course, they're all matters for the states and territories. And that's the great thing about what the PM has done with National Cabinet; it allows a capacity to work with states with and territories on addressing issues like these.

FRAN KELLY:      

Yeah. But, presumably, the Commonwealth's going to try and sort of help lead on this. I mean, presumably, the fact that we're going through this process, which is an enormous logistical change, will want these certificates to lead to a further lifting of restrictions. Will you lean on the states to ease up once the programmes up and running?

MINISTER ROBERT:         

That's a question for the Attorney-General - he's working this through as we speak, not just with states and territories, but with industry. You've seen airlines overseas adopt a construct called common path, that's being driven by the international travel associations in that space. So, there are moves afoot. The key thing that we need to ensure is we're ready, that Australians have got proof if it's needed. But, more importantly, for their own sense of assurance as well.

FRAN KELLY:      

So, just on that, the overseas travel thing, because that's a big thing people hope might, you know, might be advanced by having these vaccination passports. What work is being done to ensure that these certificates will be recognised overseas? And also, and some listeners have asked this, that overseas proof of vaccination will be acknowledged here?

MINISTER ROBERT:         

We're working through that as we speak. There's a World Health Organization vaccination passport working group, if you like. And we're also working with our counterparts to look at how we pull this together. So, for example, the International Air Transport Association, there's a Commons Project Foundation, IBM's working on this, the mob(*) called Clear. There's sort of four leading contenders.

And we're working with our commemorative governments overseas as well, just to look through what it means for interoperability. How do we ensure that Australians aren't disadvantaged? Now, the good thing, Fran, is that in terms of our immunisation register, its mandatory nature, the fact that it's all run in terms of government and we can now provide a certificate - we are so far ahead of so many other countries in the world.

FRAN KELLY:      

Well, sort of we are, except we've had that register for a while. And as I understood it, you know, with the flu shot, only about 40 per cent of flu shots get registered. So, where's the guarantee that this is going to work as well as you hope?

MINISTER ROBERT:         

Because the vaccination register up until, goodness, a few weeks ago, was always voluntary. But, we've now passed legislation that's passed the House, so it's passed the Senate, that has now made it mandatory. So, the requirement is that once the COVID vaccine is given, it's mandatory to upload it to the immunisation register. And that'll give Australians confidence that when they get their certificate, when they download it, it will be there.

FRAN KELLY:      

Do you think it'll give Australians some privacy concerns about a database like that? Who's going to have access to it, what private information might be captured by it?

MINISTER ROBERT:         

The immunisation register's covered by, in fact, the Immunisation Act 2015. So, it's been around for a long time. It gets accessed by six, seven million Australians every year. It's enormous security controls, all of it have been substantially beefed up, concurrency or access has been improved to half a million concurrent users. So, there's a lot of strengthening provisions and of course, it all sits behind the Government's big cyber walls. So, a lot of work has been done to protect this.

FRAN KELLY:      

Well, you say that, but I'm sure a lot of people listening will go, well, the Government's big cyber wall has been breached a number of times. There was, of course, the monumental census fail from a few years ago, but there was a major cyber-attack on Parliament House network just two years ago, you know, the political parties. Why would people trust that their personal information would be protected by state of the art cyber security?

MINISTER ROBERT:         

Because the cyber wall, especially for Services Australia, Defence - these are the big ones that operate out of Australian Government - haven't been breached, Fran. They are world class, well tested, and there's a high degree of confidence when it comes to public data.

FRAN KELLY:      

Will Centrelink payments be linked to vaccines?

MINISTER ROBERT:         

There's nothing before the Government in that respect.

FRAN KELLY:      

What do you think? I mean, how do you see it? Do you see a link in the future?

MINISTER ROBERT:         

Well, I haven't put my mind to it, Fran, in that respect. But there's nothing before the Government that would indicate anything in that respect at all.

FRAN KELLY:      

Just in terms of the security issue, again, just last week, Europol warned that criminal gangs were selling fake COVID test certificates in European airports for as much as 300 euros each. So, it doesn't take long for this counterfeit industry to spring up, as you'd know. It would be relatively easy, wouldn't it, to mock up counterfeit certificates - how do you protect against that?

MINISTER ROBERT:         

And that's what we're working through. So, currently we're using the immunisation register as the basis of it. Over the coming weeks and over the coming few months we'll continue to iterate what the Australian vaccination certificate will look like. One, because international standards will hope to start rising(*) up on a principle basis, so we'll have to make some changes to meet those. Two, we'll start to drive some of those standards working with our counterparts. And fraud is always topical for us, as well as protecting an Australians identity. So, we're onto the challenge, but we are very aware of the challenge as well.

FRAN KELLY:      

Okay. So basically, we won't know what it looks like because hardly any of us will have one initially. How are you going to make sure we do know? Can we tell the difference between a fake and a real one?

MINISTER ROBERT:         

Well, right now you can download the immunisation register, Fran. Five, six million people do it every single year. So, it'll be that existing format right now with COVID at the top under vaccinating, and then as we move forward in the coming weeks and months, we'll continue to iterate that in line with any changes that are determined internationally, or any other requirements we need to make it easier to access, easy to identify, or more and more fraud proof. And that's a continual process we do.

FRAN KELLY:      

I mean, fraud proofing is what I'm asking about, because if we just down- if we just look at the current vaccination register copy, it would be easy to duplicate that, I would think. You know, are we going to talk about watermarking it or something? I'm not sure.

MINISTER ROBERT:         

All of that. What you- the things you look at is watermark, holographic marks, details, for example, in terms of identifiers. There's a whole bunch of stuff [indistinct]…

FRAN KELLY:      

[Talks over] Who's developing this? Have we got a tender process for this? Who's developing all this?

MINISTER ROBERT:         

No. Services Australia would have been working on this now for three or four months; there's nothing new here.

FRAN KELLY:      

Right. And just back on the question of- because a lot of people are asking this, about if you get vaccinated overseas, will that vaccine be carried on your passport?

MINISTER ROBERT:         

Yeah, great question. Decision hasn't yet been made by the Department of Health in that respect. And there's a range of decisions that still have to be made, and we tend to make them at the right time to be able to access it. For example, there's a million visa holders, Fran, in Australia, so we'll have a process whereby they can get a vaccination certificate, because currently they can't. So, I'll make sure that those million visa holders go onto the international vaccination- sorry, the Australian vaccination register, so they can actually then be or have access to a vaccination certificate.

FRAN KELLY:      

So, there's a lot to still be worked out. When's the proposed start-up date for the vaccination passport?

MINISTER ROBERT:         

The Prime Minister's always said the end of February is when this will start to rollout.

FRAN KELLY:      

Well, you've just- I mean, there's a lot of unknowns still that you can't answer yet. That's only three weeks away - are you going to be ready?

MINISTER ROBERT:         

Well, we're ready now. The unknowns you've rolled out are things we're looking forward as we're going through this process. But the vaccination certificate is ready right now. The process-

FRAN KELLY:      

[Interrupts] But for instance, on the certif- on the security thing, it's pretty important when we roll it out that we have some kind of anti-counterfeiting measurement on it, there's not like a kind of a watermark or something like that?

MINISTER ROBERT:         

And all of that will be entrain(*) and ready for the end of February.

FRAN KELLY:      

Okay. That'll be all sorted by the end of February. Okay.

MINISTER ROBERT:         

Absolutely it will.

FRAN KELLY:      

Can I ask you another question about another hotel quarantine worker has tested positive for COVID-19 in Melbourne. The Commonwealth's talking with the Queensland Government about this proposal to build a quarantine facility next to the airport in Toowoomba. Given that the community breaches now are almost all from hotel workers who are being infected and returning home every night, is it time, as a matter of urgency, to take a closer look at shifting the whole system further out of the CBD? You have all the staff on site with the guests. I mean, the group who've got this proposal in Toowoomba say they could get a facility built in six weeks.

MINISTER ROBERT:         

[Indistinct]… out there at Toowoomba. We're working with the Queensland Government, and I believe there's a range of questions that we've then put to the Queensland Government. So, I suspect they'll work that through in the coming period of time. But it's got merit, and it's being discussed.

FRAN KELLY:      

As a Queenslander, what do you think?

MINISTER ROBERT:         

I think it's got merit, Fran. And they're trying to get through as to all of the challenges that go with it. These things are not insignificant and unsubstantial in how they work out.

FRAN KELLY:      

And are you lobbying for it?

MINISTER ROBERT:         

I've had discussions with the local member, who's positive. He's got a range of questions as well, but he's working very hard with his local community, which I think is really good to see.

FRAN KELLY:      

Alright. Stuart Robert, thank you very much for joining us.

MINISTER ROBERT:         

Thanks, Fran.

FRAN KELLY:      

Stuart Robert is the Minister for Government Services and the NDIS.

Page last updated: 8 February 2021