Topics:  Victorian lockdown; Economic impact; International border arrangements; National cabinet; Vaccine supply; Leppington triangle;

09:35AM AEST


Simon Birmingham:  Good morning, all. Obviously another difficult day across much of the country and particularly a difficult day for Victorians facing another lockdown there. But we recognise the fact that containing the Delta variant requires strong, swift and effective action and in that regard we appreciate what Victoria is doing to get on top of it and to make sure that these restrictions can be in place for a shorter period of time as possible.

This will trigger, once again the flow of Commonwealth assistance to Victorians, the flow of the COVID-19 disaster assistance payments. And we’re committed to making sure that process happens as seamlessly and effectively as possible. We’ve seen now hundreds of millions of dollars provided in assistance to Australians through those payment streams. And they will be there once again for Victorians who need them as they are across the country where people need them right now. We’ll also continue discussions with Victoria in relation to relevant business support and assistance, as we have done to date too.


Journalist:  Minister with lockdown’s in three states. How much economic damage is this doing and do you still believe that we can avoid another recession?


Simon Birmingham: These are putting real strains on the economy. The first and foremost task that we have is to ensure the health and wellbeing and safety of Australians in working with the states and territories to do that. Our economic assistance has shown its ability before to carry Australians through these tough times and to help our economy recover quickly and strongly afterwards. And we’re confident the measures that are in place now will enable us to do that again. In terms of looking forward beyond the beyond the current quarter to future quarters of economic activity, that really does depend upon the nature and state of lockdowns as we move through. And we’ll just have to see in terms of the success of them at suppressing delta in that regard.


Journalist: Minister, you can’t rule out a recession?


Simon Birmingham: We can’t foresee exactly what’s going to happen with COVID-19 in the Delta variant. We’re seeing now record vaccination rates. The nation is moving through vaccines at a very strong level, with some 42 per cent plus of the Australian population having had their first dose and more than 220,000 doses administered on the last daily record. Another record day. And the important thing is to keep moving through those vaccines as quickly as possible whilst we act on these means to suppress.


Journalist: Minister, why do Australians who live overseas need to provide a compelling reason to return overseas, when they’re an Australia? Isn’t that a compelling reason enough?


Simon Birmingham: We’ve seen too many instances where people have left the country only for in relatively short order to put their names on the request list to come back into the country. And that just puts additional pressure and additional difficulties in terms of managing the finite number of places that can safely be administered for returning Australians. So it’s important that people who are seeking to leave are either doing so because they’re returning to another place of residence for a long period of time, or that they have a very strong, credible reason for doing so.


Journalist: Previously, secret national cabinet documents can now be made public. What’s your reaction to that?


Simon Birmingham: That’s a matter that the lawyers will take a look at the court judgements and findings in that regard. We’re going to simply get on with the job through national cabinet, working with the states and territories. And the prime minister is very transparent in giving press conferences and answering many questions after every national cabinet meeting effectively. We’ll focus on the task at hand, which is working with the states and territories. The legal teams can worry about those issues.


Journalist:  To bring forward more deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine. Do you know where we are that and how many more doses we may be getting in coming months?


Simon Birmingham: We continue to keep in close contact with the vaccine manufacturers to try to ensure that Australia can get as much as possible as quickly as possible. We need to be mindful there is still huge global competition in relation to vaccine supply. Our position in relation to other countries in the world and particularly those in our region who’ve had similar levels of success in in trying to suppress and manage COVID relative to other parts of the world, such as Japan, such as South Korea, such as New Zealand or places like Taiwan. These are all places where we are at comparable stages broadly in terms of the vaccine rollout, because we have each of us to battle, in a sense, to keep getting vaccines. Because those large manufacturing locations and centres in Europe and in the US have not, unsurprisingly, prioritised their parts of the world, where the COVID-19 disaster has been even more devastating than in our region.


Journalist: The pregnant women have been eligible for vaccines for Pfizer vaccines for some time, but they still can’t book doses appointments through the eligibility check. Do you know why?


Simon Birmingham: Look, I trust health will address any issues there as quickly as possible and equally urge people to make sure they get in touch with their GP or with medical clinics to get those bookings as quickly as they can. You don’t have to use that process. You can, of course, get directly in touch with eligible medical practitioners.


Journalist: Just on another topic. We saw the tabling of the Leppington Triangle brief a couple of days ago where Paul Fletcher said that this was a perfectly sensible deal, that 30 million dollar block of land. Is that perfectly sensible, in your opinion, as Finance Minister?


Simon Birmingham: Well as the Auditor-General found it was appalling that officials, in terms of the administration of that apparently withheld information from the Minister at the time. And obviously the action is being taken in implementing the recommendations to address those things in the future. Thanks, everyone.