Australia

Minister says coronavirus tracing app will 'get us back to the footy quicker'

Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert is under fire of the scheme. Source: AAP

The federal government is linking the take up of a voluntary coronavirus contact tracing app to a faster restart for economic and social activity.

A coronavirus contact tracing app has been linked to restarting Australia's economy amid grim warnings about soaring unemployment because of the pandemic.

Think tank the Grattan Institute has released a new report predicting the jobless rate could go as high as 16 per cent, despite $130 billion in wage subsidies.

The Morrison government has set a series of benchmarks for economic restrictions to be gradually eased, with state and federal leaders due to make a call in mid-May.

Among the goals is a 40 per cent take-up rate of an app that uses phone interactions to trace when people with coronavirus have come into contact with others.

Government Services Minister Stuart Robert said the software would help to allow a restart of economic and social activity.

"It's going to allow us to get back to life quicker," he told ABC TV on Monday.

"It will allow us to get back to the footy quicker. It will allow us to get back to work quicker."

Earlier, Mr Robert trashed Barnaby Joyce's privacy concerns about a new coronavirus contact tracing scheme.

Mr Joyce, the former deputy prime minister, and Nationals colleague Llew O'Brien are refusing to sign up to the program citing privacy concerns.

But the minister in charge of the app has gone on the counterattack against the rebel MPs, arguing they don't understand how it works.

"I think most Australians, like me, aren't too concerned where Barnaby is," Mr Robert told ABC News Breakfast on Monday.

"Barnaby is concerned that someone is tracking or surveilling him, that couldn't be further from the case."

Mr Joyce fears the Chinese government will wage a cyber attack against Australia to collect data.

"My major concern is, it doesn't matter what they say, there is always the capacity for people to hack into it," he told Seven's Sunrise.

Privacy assessment

Mr Robert has promised to undertake a privacy assessment and publish the app's code to allay fears surrounding the scheme.

"This is all about seeing who you've been in contact with - not where you are," he said.

At least 40 per cent of the population needs to sign up to the app to make it effective.

The government has raised the prospect of easing coronavirus restrictions if enough people get on board.

"We think Australians will do the right thing and they'll rise to the challenge," Mr Robert said.

Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon has agreed to sign up to the app if privacy issues are examined by parliament's powerful intelligence and security committee.

"We live in extreme times and I will do everything reasonable and possible to get us to the other side to get the economy rolling again," he said.

Mr Robert, who presided over a massive crash of Centrelink's website last month, also rejected suggestions there would be glitches with the technology.

"There's no question that the app will work, just like the corona information app is providing vital information to Australians," the minister said.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

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