Topics:   ATAGI advice; vaccine rollout;



Lisa Millar: Finance Minister Simon Birmingham joins us from Adelaide. Minister, good morning. Welcome to News Breakfast.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Lisa. Good to be with you again.


Lisa Millar: Look, Australians could be forgiven for feeling very confused this morning. Who should they be believing? The ATAGI co-chair says it should only be pressing circumstances. And those pressing circumstances are very small for someone under 40 to get the AstraZeneca job. And yet our Prime Minister has encouraged under 40s to get it.


Simon Birmingham: Lisa, Australians, I want to thank for the way they’ve engaged with the vaccine rollout, more than 7.6 million doses administered to date and more than 140,000 administered yesterday alone, along with a 150,000 Australians who went out and got tested for COVID yesterday, a record number. So Australians are embracing and working through the vaccine rollout. The ATAGI advice has not changed. That advice is that its preference is for those under 60 to access Pfizer. Now, that’s advice that has changed a couple of times previously to obviously initially had all vaccines available to all Australians. It’s indicated a preference first for those under 50, then subsequently for those under 60. It’s always been the case. That advice has also said that Australians under that age level should be able to talk to their GP’s about their own circumstances. And all the government’s done is provide additional support for GP’s to be able to have those conversations with Australians.


Lisa Millar: Did the Prime Minister speak too soon on Monday night, given that so many state leaders have said it wasn’t discussed at national cabinet, they were completely blindsided by it.


Simon Birmingham: Well, the prime minister was announcing the fact that the indemnity was being put in place for GPs in relation to vaccine administration, and that is one of the supports for GP’s to be able to have whatever conversations are necessary with Australians of whatever age to talk them through the implications of having a vaccine.


Lisa Millar: He went further than that though.


Simon Birmingham: And ultimately to help us get the vast majority of Australians vaccinated. Now I know some of the state Labor leaders, in particular the Queensland Premier, have been desperate to politicise this and frankly, that’s shameful. But the advice for Australians hasn’t changed. The only thing that changed was an increase in support for GP’s to be able to do their job as part of a nationwide vaccine rollout.


Lisa Millar: Well, the New South Wales premier says that they won’t be offering it at their hubs to anyone under 40. So it’s not just the Labor governments that are concerned but what the Prime Minister said.


Simon Birmingham: But Lisa, that’s not something that we’ve encouraged. What we’ve made clear is that younger Australians should talk to their general practitioners, talk to their doctor, because the individual circumstances that ATAGI has said should be the nature upon which those decisions are made for younger age cohorts. That’s been the position of ATAGI all along, the position of the government. And what we did was simply say that there is additional support in place through indemnity arrangements for GPs to enable them to have those conversations. There’s never been a suggestion of moving to mass vaccination clinics for younger Australians pushing out AZ. And again, that’s one of the lies the Queensland premier has told.


Lisa Millar: Yeah, it’s going to be quite the national cabinet meeting tomorrow. There’s also going to be a conversation about whether incoming passenger numbers need to be cut. The Queensland premier says she’d want to see it cut by as much as 75 per cent until more people are vaccinated in Australia. Do you think that is something that should be considered?


Simon Birmingham: Look, we’re still bringing home people who are Australians from overseas, the vast majority of people, 80 per cent of those entering the country under these arrangements are Australians or permanent residents or their families. Now, this has been a challenge right through in terms of how to manage those quarantine numbers and how we step through the different issues in relation to that. Ultimately, what we need is to keep updating the advice in terms of how those arrivals are managed to make sure that drivers are vaccinated, as they should have been, to make sure, frankly, that staff working in COVID wards in hospitals are vaccinated, as they should have been. And we can manage these arrivals safely but of course we’ll work sensibly through all of those issues.


Lisa Millar: So keep the numbers at their current levels. Yeah. So keep the numbers. There’ll be no sort of looking at cutting them tomorrow?


Simon Birmingham: Lisa, we’ve shown we’ve shown a willingness to adjust based on changed risk profiles. And we’ll always look at that. That’s what we did as a government when we stopped all arrivals from India. Of course, is what we did as a government right at the start of the pandemic when we sealed Australia’s international borders effectively and are only now taking such a tiny proportion of arrivals into the country compared with what we ordinarily would have been.


Lisa Millar: What do you think all this political bickering and point scoring is doing for the vaccination program? Are you worried that there’s going to be more hesitancy?


Simon Birmingham: I’m not worried about hesitancy in that sense, Lisa, because we’re seeing Australians turning out in huge numbers to be vaccinated and I thank them for it and encourage them to continue to do so. We’ve seen in countries like the UK, AstraZeneca has saved essentially their population and a standing ovation given for the inventor of AstraZeneca just at Wimbledon the other night. So I think Australians can see the overwhelming benefit of being vaccinated. I’m sure that they are as fed up of some of the political comments from certain state premiers as I am. And I’d encourage them to actually get back to working constructively as part of a team across Australia. That’s the approach the Prime Minister’s taken, is to approach our government has taken. We’re not into the politics of this or into simply getting the job done in difficult trying circumstances.


Lisa Millar: Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time this morning.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Lisa. My pleasure.