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Australia: Dominic Perrottet and Greg Hunt blast Annastacia Palaszczuk

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NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has blasted blasted Queensland's 'confusing' Covid test requirements for fully-vaccinated travellers.

The Sunshine state will reopen for tourists once 80 per cent of its vaccine-eligible residents are double-jabbed - which could be as early as December 6.

But Annastacia Palaszczuk's government is refusing to allow inbound travellers to be Covid screened with far cheaper - and fully approved - rapid antigen tests, meaning families will have to pay $145 for each member over 16 for a PCR test just to cross Queensland's border.

Testy moment Annastacia Palaszczuk hits out on $145 Covid tests

  Testy moment Annastacia Palaszczuk hits out on $145 Covid tests Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has refused to change the need for a $145 test for interstate people to enter the state, as she came under fire for the policy at a press conference. The Queensland government had been criticised for insisting on the need for a Covid test from a private pathology clinic within 72 hours of arriving in the state when it fully re-opens on December 17. A family of five will face a bill of $725, for example, in order to meet the requirement upon entering the state for holidays.

Mr Perrottet has called for the Commonwealth and state governments to work together and subsidise the cost of PCR tests.

The NSW Premier said the 'common sense' approach would mean the tests would cost just $30.

'If these onerous testing regimes are put in place, someone's got to pick up the bill,' he told 2GB radio on Tuesday.

'If it's going to keep people safe, I'm happy here in NSW for us to pay our part.'

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Mr Perrottet's suggestion came after Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt fired off a scathing letter pleading the Queensland government to reconsider its PCR test mandate.

The rule is expected to remain in place until Queensland hits its 90 per cent double-dose milestone.

Mr Hunt sent a strongly-worded letter to Queensland counterpart Yvette D'Ath to raise his concerns and suggest rapid antigen testing be considered as an alternative.

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'I note this declaration is a Queensland-only definition of a hotspot and has not been declared by the Australian Government's Chief Medical Officer,' Mr Hunt wrote.

'Under the National Plan, agreed to by all First Ministers, the Commonwealth's hotspot declaration automatically ceases within a particular state or territory two weeks after the 80 per cent fully vaccinated rate has been reached within that jurisdiction.

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'I am concerned about this in two regards. Firstly, it appears Queensland has failed to give sufficient regard to the value of rapid antigen testing in this context, and secondly, that Queensland is proposing not to assist Queenslanders with the provision of these tests.'

In the letter obtained by Daily Mail Australia, Mr Hunt reiterated the cost, speed and convenience advantages of rapid antigen testing for Queensland's border arrangements.

COVID-19 PCR test confusion about 'singling out Queensland', Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says

  COVID-19 PCR test confusion about 'singling out Queensland', Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says she was unaware until yesterday that people coming to Queensland would not have to pay for a COVID-19 test to enter the state, despite the cost being covered by an inter-governmental deal since the pandemic began. There had been confusion over who would pay for the test requirement for entry into Queensland, at a cost of up to $150 per person, when the state opens its borders to interstate COVID hotspots next month.

He also reminded Ms D'Ath of Australian Health Protection Principal Committee's updated statement that 'large-scale, non-targeted, asymptomatic testing.........should be strongly discouraged.

'AHPPC noted testing must be carefully targeted to strike the right balance between maintaining epidemic control and protecting the sustainability of laboratory and testing site capacity,' Mr Hunt continued.

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'AHPPC's advice should be considered in finalising Queensland's approach to testing requirements for interstate travel.

'I would welcome reconsideration of Queensland approach to ensure that appropriate and risk proportionate COVID-19 testing arrangements support the resumption of domestic travel, in line with the National Plan to Transition Australia's National COVID-19 Response agreed by all governments at National Cabinet.'

Mr Hunt ended the two page letter urging Queensland to reconsider its decision.

'Given there has been no change to these arrangements, it is unclear to me why Queensland would now be suggesting that a different approach should be taken,' he wrote.

Qld premier tones down spat over PCR tests

  Qld premier tones down spat over PCR tests Annastacia Palaszczuk has dialled back on criticism of the federal government, waving away questions and pledging to co-operate on easing COVID-19 restrictions.She struck a conciliatory note on Thursday after a six-day feud over who would fork out for the PCR tests needed by fully vaccinated domestic travellers to enter Queensland once 80 per cent of residents are fully vaccinated.

'I would welcome reconsideration of Queensland approach to ensure that appropriate and risk proportionate COVID-19 testing arrangements support the resumption of domestic travel, in line with the National Plan to Transition Australia's National COVID-19 Response.'

The strict testing mandate has also been slammed by some of the state's infectious disease experts.

University of Queensland's Dr Paul Griffin said the 'rigorous' enforcement of the testing mandate a 'little bit out of keeping'.

'I'm not sure how much additional protection that mandate has, and it comes at a significant (financial) cost,' he told the Courier Mail.


Video: Qld govt calling for PCR COVID tests to be covered by Medicare (ABC NEWS)

'We are in for a very confusing time when it comes to the borders.'

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Ms Palaszczuk was grilled by reporters on Monday about the expense of the PCR test as well as loopholes on where people undertake the test.

A family of five will be forced to fork out $725 in order to meet the requirement upon entering the state over the Christmas period.

'We make no apologies for keeping Queenslanders safe, it's the same as other states,' Ms Palaszczuk said.

The requirement for the test is expected to remain in place until Queensland reaches 90 per cent of its eligible population fully vaccinated. That threshold is expected to be reached in early January.

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Ms Palaszczuk said the policy was no different to the one insisted on by Western Australia, Tasmania and South Australia for those entering from Covid hotspots.

Ms Palaszczuk was asked why a Queenslander would be able to get a PCR test in Queensland, travel to NSW for 72 hours, then return to Queensland using the same test result.

Queensland Police have said they will not check where PCR tests were done.

'There will be random checks,' Ms Palaszczuk responded.

'We're hoping that people do the right thing… honestly we are in a unique situation here in Queensland,' she said. 'We've had zero cases for many, many days now, we're getting vaccination rates up

'Queenslanders want to be kept safe and this is a measure that is part of our plan and the plan is there for everyone to see.'

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Read the full letter from Greg Hunt

Dear Minister D'ath

I am writing to raise concerns about Queensland's proposed approach to the use of COVID-19 testing for Australians entering from other states and territories.

Recent media reporting has suggested that under the Queensland COVID-19 Vaccine Plan to Reunite Families, vaccinated domestic travellers arriving from a COVID-19 hot spot declared by the Queensland Chief Health Officer will be required to have a negative COVID-19 PCR test undertaken within 72 hours prior to entry to Queensland.

I note this declaration is a Queensland-only definition of a hot spot and has not been declared by the Australian Government's Chief Medical Officer. Under the National Plan, agreed to by all First Ministers, the Commonwealth's hotspot declaration automatically ceases within a particular state or territory 2 weeks after the 80% fully vaccinated rate has been reached within that jurisdiction.

I am concerned about this in two regards. Firstly, it appears Queensland has failed to give sufficient regard to the value of rapid antigen testing (RAT) in this context, and secondly, that Queensland is proposing not to assist Queenslanders with the provision of these tests.

RAT offers significant advantages in cost, speed and convenience, and I encourage you to further consider what role it could play in Queensland's border arrangements.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee's (AHPPC) updated statement on asymptomatic testing states that large-scale, non-targeted, asymptomatic testing in Australia should be strongly discouraged. AHPPC noted testing must be carefully targeted to strike the right balance between maintaining epidemic control and protecting the sustainability of laboratory and testing site capacity. AHPPC's advice should be considered in finalising Queensland's approach to testing requirements for interstate travel.

Where COVID-19 testing is medically necessary and has been requested by a doctor, it is appropriately funded by the Australian Government through the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS). Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Government has spent around $1.75 billion on MBS funded COVID-19 pathology testing.

Where COVID-19 testing is undertaken for public health purposes, for example asymptomatic testing for travel, workplace testing, or testing of casual or close contacts, it is appropriately funded through the National Partnership on COVID-19 Response (the Partnership).

Through the Partnership, the Australian Government has provided over $7.0 billion in funding to support state and territory health systems respond to COVID-19 outbreaks as of 7 November 2021. In particular, the Partnership has provided $270.0 million in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 financial years in direct funding to COVID-19 PCR testing delivered in state and territory clinics. Partnership funding is demand driven with no cap on funding.

These mechanisms for the Australian Government to support ready access to testing for COVID-19 have both been in place since the start of the pandemic. These testing arrangements have worked well to support testing that has been a critical component of our successful response. A fundamental principle remains, and should continue, no costs should be imposed on those requiring a test, including necessary testing associated with border crossings.

Given there has been no change to these arrangements, it is unclear to me why Queensland would now be suggesting that a different approach should be taken. It is difficult to see any reason for this other than Queensland seeking to remove its responsibility to ensure the provision of testing, including bearing 50 per cent of costs, as agreed under the Partnership.

I would welcome reconsideration of Queensland approach to ensure that appropriate and risk proportionate COVID-19 testing arrangements support the resumption of domestic travel, in line with the National Plan to Transition Australia's National COVID-19 Response agreed by all governments at National Cabinet.

Yours sincerely

Greg Hunt

Ms Palaszczuk then insisted she'd answered the question when it was asked again.

'There are thousands of cases in NSW and Victoria, I'm trying to protect people in Queensland. I've announced our plan and the plan is staying.'

Ms Palaszczuk said she would look into exceptions for border residents doing day trips into the state but did not expect the policy to change 'at this stage'.

Acting chief health officer Peter Aitken appeared to admit the loophole in the policy in a follow-up answer.

'That's a loophole we will look at, it's certainly not the intent, the intent is for people to have the test in the area that they've been exposed to... that's what we want Queenslanders do and that's what I think Queenslanders will do,' Dr Aitken said.

No new cases were announced in the state on Monday, with four active cases.

Ms Palaszczuk announced that 80.55 per cent of Queenslanders had now received a first dose of a Covid vaccine, while 73.34 per cent were now fully vaccinated.

On the Gold Coast, where Ms Palsazczuk held the press conference, 81.3 per cent had received a first dose and 69.8 per cent, two doses.

Queensland is expected to reach the 80 per cent double dose threshold a week earlier than the announced December 17 re-opening date, in which case Ms Palaszczuk has indicated the plan will be moved forward.

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Ms Palaszczuk also announced Gold Coast physician Dr John Gerrard would become the state's new chief health officer in mid-December, replacing Dr Jeanette Young who become Queensland Governor.

Dr Gerrard is currently director of Infectious Diseases at Gold Coast University Hospital and was the first in Queensland to treat a Covid patient.

'What we have seen in Queensland is quite extraordinary,' Dr Gerrard said.

'We have been able to keep Covid-19 out of Queensland for two years.

'This is something that has not been achieved anywhere else in the world.'

Ms D'Ath said the Federal government should cover the cost of the PCR pathology tests through Medicare.

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She and Dr Aitken also rejected the use of the rapid antigen test (RAT) in place of the PCR test, even though it now has TGA approval.

'We don't want to swap tests just because one might be cheaper,' Ms D'Ath said.

Dr Aitken said that even if the cheaper RAT was used and a new infection detected, a PCR test would then be required to confirm.

'Queensland currently has four active cases – we want to identify every case and not miss 30 per cent, so we will continue to use PCR tests at this stage,' Dr Aitken said.

'[With rapid antigen tests] you miss the early stages of the disease and the later stages of disease, which means you don't detect Covid in people until they are much further into disease.'

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