Government Services Minister Stuart Robert has slapped down Barnaby Joyce for threatening to not download the federal government’s COVID-19 tracking app, saying the former deputy prime minister just doesn’t understand it.
A number of federal politicians, including Mr Joyce, have cited privacy concerns about the Covid tracker, which will be available in the next couple of weeks, and helps to track down people who may have been in contact with someone with the coronavirus.
“I treasure the government knowing as little about me as possible,” Mr Joyce told Nine newspapers on Sunday.
“Australia is doing an extraordinary job of flattening the curve by reason that we are overwhelmingly decent and logical people. We don’t need an app to tell us that.”
Mr Robert said he is not sure everyone fully understands the app, including the Nationals MP.
— @CatPurry9 (@CatPurry9) April 18, 2020
“Look Barnaby, no one wants to know where you’ve gone, pal, we are not interested. And plus the app doesn’t do geolocation,” the minister told 2GB/4BC radio on Sunday.
“I’m not interested in where you are on the face of the earth.”
He explained the Bluetooth connecting app aims to digitise the present manual process and collects four things – name, mobile number, age and postcode.
“If you’re within one and a half metres of someone else with the app for more than 15 minutes, both of those apps swap mobile numbers or details,” Mr Robert said.
“Then, if you confirm positive for the virus, that information goes to a secure national data store, then straight to state health authorities and then they can call people you’ve been in contact with, or, they can call you if you’ve been in contact with someone.”
‘Calm your jets’
Nationals deputy leader David Littleproud said he would sign up to the app because it would allow authorities to trace the spread of coronavirus faster and potentially save lives.
“I respect my colleague’s decision not to download that app, but this isn’t a point of confrontation. Just calm your jets,” Mr Littleproud told media in Brisbane.
Labor’s health spokesman Chris Bowen also said he is inclined to download the app to support its aims.
“Australians have shown they are willing and able to do what is necessary to defeat COVID-19,” he told reporters in Sydney
“But whether you are an MP, an ordinary Australian, any Australian, you are entitled to know more before being asked to download it.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Saturday took to social media to hose down concerns the app would be mandatory, saying government would be seeking the “co-operation and support” of Australians to download the app to help health workers, protect the community and help get the economy going again.
The app “will not be mandatory,” Mr Morrison tweeted.
The App we are working on to help our health workers trace people who have been in contact with coronavirus will not be mandatory.
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) April 18, 2020
News Corp has reported Mr Morrison sent an email to MPs, saying privacy issues are being “carefully addressed”, but saying it’s an important tool to help Australia return to normal.
“…we need to get people signing up. We all have a role to play here,” he wrote.
Mr Morrison has said the nation needs to have a broader testing regime, better contact tracing and greater capacity to respond to local outbreaks before governments can look at easing restrictions.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said a 40 per cent take-up of the app “is a goal”.
“But anything which adds to our tracing capability, adds to our ability to protect those who might have been inadvertently infected,” he told reporters in Melbourne on Sunday.