Topics:   Aged care vaccinations; pandemic support;


Lisa Millar:
Parliament resumes today, joining us from Canberra is Finance Minister Simon Birmingham. Good morning. Welcome to News Breakfast.


Simon Birmingham: Hello Lisa, good to be with you.


Lisa Millar: Minister, we’ll get onto the finance side of your portfolio very shortly. We had hoped to speak to the aged care minister, he wasn’t available. I’m going to put some questions to you, though. I’m sure you’ve been fully briefed. Why has the federal government failed to ensure full vaccination across aged care for residents and workers?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Lisa across Australia, more than 99 per cent of aged care facilities and in Victoria now, 100 per cent of aged care facilities have seen residents have access to a Covid-19 vaccine. Across the country, around 85 per cent of residents have chosen to receive that vaccine and that first dose, which is shown to reduce the risk of serious illness or sickness from Covid-19 by around 80 per cent in various studies. So the priority has always been on getting to those older Australians, those senior Australians who are at highest risk in relation to Covid-19. And what we have managed to do is get across in Victoria 100 per cent of aged care facilities and to ensure that residents have that choice, of which around 85 per cent have exercised to receive a vaccine.


Lisa Millar: Minister. Minister, it is the 1st of June. It is the 1st of June. We’ve got six facilities that have had no dose. We’ve got 600 facilities that haven’t had their second dose. I hear what you’re saying, but our audience will be gasping at this line from the government. Surely you have to accept that this vaccination has not gone as you would have hoped to have. You have vulnerable people in Victoria right now.


Simon Birmingham: Lisa, I do accept that it has not gone as we would have hoped to. We would have wished to receive the more than three and a half million doses that were expected to come from Europe earlier in the year-


Lisa Millar: So, you’re blaming it on the delay that there are aged people who don’t have two vaccinations-


Simon Birmingham: Sorry, I was directly answering your question there. Directly answering your question there. So, yes, it has not gone as we had hoped to in that we have not received the doses that we had hoped to receive earlier in the year. We had not anticipated the health advice would change and limit the Australians who could receive the AstraZeneca dose only to those over 50. So there have been disruptions to the vaccination rollout that is 100 per cent acknowledged and it has caused disruption-


Lisa Millar: But none of it’s the government’s- You’re not- saying that it’s nothing about the rollout and the plan and the process?


Simon Birmingham:  Lisa they’re just the facts. And we have had to respond to those facts. And in responding to those facts, we’ve made sure that we still pushed on with aged care residents as the priority. Australia’s vaccination rollout, we would wish, could go faster. But it is going faster than New Zealand. It is going faster than Japan. It is going faster than South Korea. And we are we are certainly pushing with the vaccines that we have where we can according to the priority-


Lisa Millar: And you raised those vaccines, AstraZeneca.


Simon Birmingham:  More than 99 per cent of aged care facilities across the country now. And by getting the first dose, it is shown to provide about an 80 per cent reduction in the likelihood of serious illness.


Lisa Millar: Minister, you make AstraZeneca here in Australia. That is what people in aged care residences are getting. We have 600 facilities that haven’t had their second dose.


Simon Birmingham: Because there’s a 12 week wait between receiving the first dose and the second dose, Lisa.


Lisa Millar: Because they got their first one so slowly.


Simon Birmingham: Because the manufacturing capability in Australia had to scale up, we weren’t making a million doses a week, three or four months ago, Lisa. And that’s only been a recent achievement in terms of getting that manufacturing capability at a higher level. So, yes, AstraZeneca is crucial in terms of the rollout. You know, it’s caused disruption because it’s not available now to those aged under 50. But it is absolutely an essential part that will enable us following that 12 week gap to send those teams back around each of those aged care facilities, the more than ninety nine per cent of them across the country that have had the first dose and those handful who have not had the first dose, you can usually go through each of them and find there are complicating factors around gastro outbreaks, the timing of flu vaccinations and other medical reasons as to why they have not received. That’s literally a handful out of more than 99 per cent.


Lisa Millar: And I’ll tell you another reason someone messaged in and said their mother’s deaf, it wasn’t explained to her properly. She’s scared about it. There was hesitancy. There’s a whole lot of other reasons that points to the rollout not being handled as well as it should. But okay, we’ll move on. Were you surprised to learn that people were still able to move from one aged care facility to another, the ban had been in place till November. There are people really surprised, given that we are constantly being told there is still a pandemic, that that was lifted?


Simon Birmingham: Once we reached a position where there was no community transmission effectively across these parts of Australia. Then you had other pressure points, which is the shortage of staff in the aged care sector. And so it’s crucial that residents receive the care they need. And so these measures have been put in place as soon as there were problems known again, to provide those restrictions in relation to the risk of transmission from one site to another. The priority along the way has been about getting that vaccination and getting that vaccination across virtually every single aged care residents in the country so that residents have that choice, which the overwhelming majority, 85 per cent have chosen to exercise based on the information provided to them.


Lisa Millar: Minister, on the money side of things, we’re looking at possibly an extended lockdown here in Victoria. You know, what’s the high jump for Victoria to actually have funding or help start flowing from the federal government?


Simon Birmingham: So certain funding continues to flow. Pandemic leave payments for those who need to isolate of fifteen hundred dollars continue to be available. Emergency disaster assistance funding is available in different ways. Continued support for businesses through loss carryback measures is there-


Lisa Millar: So nothing more. I’m aware of that. But how long how long does it have to go on before you change it-


Simon Birmingham: You asked the question like there was no support.


Lisa Millar: No, I asked what the high jump has to be for more funding to come through.


Simon Birmingham: And we’ll continue to closely monitor that situation. And we’ve provided more than $45 billion in direct economic assistance to Victoria alone. Now, we welcome the fact the Victorian state government has released a two hundred and fifty million dollar package in relation to this limited short term lockdown. Of course, as the situation evolves, we will monitor it. And if our policy settings need to be expanded, then we’ll work through that. But the scale of assistance to Victoria at present from the federal government dwarfs anything that the Victorian government has invested in its local economy. And we continue to make sure that those sorts of targeted payments and assistance are available to Victorians who need them.


Lisa Millar: All right, Minister, thanks for your time this morning.


Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Lisa.