Topics:  Queensland quarantine facilities; vaccine rollout


Bill McDonald:  Federal Finance Minister, Senator Simon Birmingham joins me now. Good afternoon, Senator.


Simon Birmingham: Hey, Bill. It’s good to be with you.


Bill McDonald: Thanks for your time. What role do you play in looking over this deal for the Pinkenba quarantine centre between the state government managing federal government interest?


Simon Birmingham: Indeed Bill, after receiving the request from the Queensland government that they were interested in having such a facility in Queensland? We responded highlighting firstly the type of Commonwealth criteria that we laid out for such facilities, namely that they ought to be built on Commonwealth owned land so that we can use them for a range of resilience purposes for the nation in the long term, that they ought to be close to international airports that have regular arrivals of international passengers and that they ought to be close to appropriate hospital and health facilities to be able to deal with potential issues that could arise. And with that, we’ve offered to undertake and did undertake an assessment of Commonwealth owned land across the Brisbane area that met those requirements of proximity to airports and health services and identified the barracks at Damascus as an appropriate site. From there, we proposed that to Queensland they’ve agreed to enter into a feasibility study. And my department, as the Department of Finance, is now working through that joint feasibility study between the Commonwealth government and the Queensland government, which would be a fairly quick, short affair. And assuming it doesn’t turn up anything untoward that will enable us to then proceed to looking at contracting and building the facilities.


Bill McDonald: Have you put a timeline on well you’ve said it’s going to be a short, short pre period. How long do you think it’ll take from go to woe, so to speak, to get it up and completed?


Simon Birmingham: It will still take a matter of months and that will depend on some of the contracting that we can manage to secure to get it done quickly. We are already through a process with the Victorian government that’s a little bit further advanced. It’s already passed the feasibility stage and for which we’re now working through the contracting arrangements with final designers and constructors and the like. And our ambition there is to try to see at least aspects of that facility operational by the end of the year. We will use all of the lessons we get and where applicable, designs and contracts in replicating those activities in Brisbane so that we get maximum efficiency for taxpayer dollars as well as maximum speed of delivery. But it would still be a matter of months


Bill McDonald: The Wellcamp lands near Toowoomba. They’ve been cast aside by the federal government. What boxes didn’t that proposal tick?


Simon Birmingham: Well it doesn’t tick a couple of those that I’ve mentioned already. So particularly in terms of proximity to international airport facilities that routinely handle passenger arrivals, as well as proximity to the type of hospital and health services that we think are appropriate for handling these sorts of cases. In the end, the Damascus site is just within three kilometres of the international airport in Brisbane, and that it shares in the southern border with some of the airport lands. And it’s got proximity to some four major hospitals within a relatively short distance.


Bill McDonald: Well, the Queensland Premier today, she’s not letting it go, says that a regional quarantine hub and Pinkenba together would be a game changer. I think the plan is there. She was stating that it would eliminate hotel quarantine altogether. Do you think you could ever see two getting across the line? That’s essentially what she’s saying or asking for.


Simon Birmingham: Well, we’ve indicated in terms of the Damascus site that the federal government will build it, will meet all the costs of building it. Obviously, it’s a partnership with Queensland in terms of the operation and utilisation of it. But we’re simply stepping up to say that we’ll fund and get it done. Now, the Queensland government wants to push on with building its own facility at Wellcamp. Well, it is obviously able to do so, and that’s really a matter for them.


Bill McDonald: Switching gears a little bit, you’ve been quoted as saying that young people should have confidence in the opening up of the vaccine rollout. When do you think we’ll see people under 40 getting the jabs?


Simon Birmingham: We’ve got a little way to go, but we’re seeing huge progress now, it’s more than eight point two million doses that have been administered across Australia. We’ve just completed our biggest week on record with some nearly 881,000 doses administered across the country last week. More than 70 per cent of those over 70 have had at least first dose. More than 50 per cent of the over 50s have had a first dose and around 30 per cent of the eligible population, aged over 16, have had a first dose. So you can see the strength of take up that’s occurring there. And obviously, as those numbers in the over 50s group continue to grow, that will provide confidence along with the increased supply in vaccine we’re expecting to open up to under 40s. It’s not a fixed date as yet, but with the expected increase in the number of Pfizer doses coming into the country through the course of this month and then that increasing again, scheduled to be the case in September. We should be able to move through those next stages fairly quickly. And that’s why we’ve got to Pfizer doses now going out to GPS for the first time, just starting that process. But some GPs are starting to get that in addition to the AstraZeneca they’ve been administering. And what we’re seeing is even more GPs come onto the system, some 300 more scheduled to come in distribution points. And then pharmacy has been added through the course of the year as well.


Bill McDonald: Thanks for your time this afternoon.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Bill. My pleasure.