Topics: Vaccine roll-out; Nationals leadership; G7 Summit


Michael Rowland: Let’s bring in the Finance Minister, Simon Birmingham. He’s at Parliament House in Canberra. Minister, good morning to you.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Michael. Good to be with you.


Michael Rowland: Great to have you on board as well, starting with this vaccination roll-out. Over the weekend, we’ve had the premiers of WA, New South Wales and Victoria all expressing various levels of concern about the roll-out, particularly getting access to Pfizer vaccines. How is the federal government going to fix this?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Michael, we’re working to ensure we have as much available supply as possible. There’s around 2.3 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine being distributed through this this part of June and is around 3.4 million doses expected to be available for distribution through July. We’ve had across the country around 6.5 million Australians who’ve had their first dose or a dose of vaccines or 6.5 million doses administered. And more than 65 per cent of those aged over 70 have received their first dose, and many of them are now becoming eligible for the second dose. So, of course, we would wish that some of the disruptions to the vaccine programme that we’ve seen, such as the changing health advice, had not occurred, but that health advice has changed. We’ve had to pivot and we’re working with the states and territories as best we can to make sure that the supplies that are there get out and get distributed effectively.


Michael Rowland: But we have the acting premier of Victoria, James Merlino, his words describing the roll-out as a shambles. They simply do not have enough at the moment of those Pfizer vaccines to meet with growing demands. And further to what you say, he reckons the situation will only get worse in the months ahead.


Simon Birmingham: Michael, it is a good thing that the demand is strong and I encourage Australians to continue to make their bookings as they become available and eligible for the vaccine. We do want people to want to get the vaccine. We want to maintain that growth that we’ve seen, you know, in distributing and in seeing the first million doses occur across Australia. It took around forty seven days to hit that one million mark. The last million doses were achieved in around about 10 days. So that shows just how much the speed of vaccine administration across the country has stepped up. And yes, we’ve had the last disruption last week with the health advice on AstraZeneca changing, lifting that to over 60 instead of over 50s. That will cause an impact. There’s no point pretending otherwise, but we work through that. And what Australians should know is that across the board we’ve got one hundred and ninety five million doses contracted for Australia, the vast majority of those are not AstraZeneca. So people who have choice and availability of vaccines and that we will get them distributed as quickly as we can as they come into the country. And in the meantime, we are continuing with our work to establish that sort of mRNA vaccine manufacturing capability in Australia for the first time ever too.


Michael Rowland: Okay, moving on, a senior unnamed liberal has told Phil Coorey in the Financial Review this morning that the government will lose the election if Barnaby Joyce becomes Deputy Prime Minister again because of his climate change concerns. Firstly, that wasn’t you, was it?


Simon Birmingham: No, I don’t run around giving off the record or background quotes like that.


Michael Rowland: Are you concerned about, Barnaby, the prospect of Barnaby Joyce coming back as this country’s Deputy Prime Minister?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I see Barnaby Joyce has said this morning that there’s no prospect of a spill.


Michael Rowland: Do you believe him?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I welcome that. I expect that that would be the truth, if that’s what he’s saying. I expect that that everybody ought to be focused on the jobs and security and safety of Australians. And we have a record number of Australians in employment at present. They’re jobs that matter and they’re the jobs we’ve got to keep creating and growing.


Michael Rowland: It’s not a great look, though, is it?


Simon Birmingham: I don’t know where the speculation has come from, I see Barnaby Joyce is ruling it out, that’s welcome because the priority is about Australians outside of this building. That’s where the Prime Minister’s focus is. It’s where my focus is. I know it’s where Michael McCormack’s focus is too


Michael Rowland: I want to get your reaction, initial reaction to a story that’s just breaking on the nine newspapers. Bevan Shields, their London correspondent, is reporting the Prime Minister, while he was over at Cornwall for the G7 summit, made a side trip after the summit finished under police escort to a nearby village to explore his convict family roots. Of course, that was not disclosed to the travelling media at the time. The first we’re learning about it is this morning. At the same time, the Government’s telling people they simply can’t travel overseas. It’s too unsafe. Does that smack as double standards to you?


Simon Birmingham: Look, Michael, all leaders when they’re overseas engage in elements of soft diplomacy, that’s the nature of building relations with other countries, other communities, the substance of the Prime Minister’s trip, saw a trade agreement signed with the U.K. Saw the NATO summit makes strong statements in relation to China and saw agreements for cooperation on hydrogen signed with leaders in Germany and Singapore. And saw an agreement with the leader of Japan signed in relation to decarbonisation, there was plenty of substance.


Michael Rowland: But this this wasn’t soft diplomacy. This was reportedly a personal visit.


Simon Birmingham: Well, Michael, that type of engagement is precisely what soft diplomacy type exercises and activities usually look like.


Michael Rowland: To trace down your family roots, that’s soft diplomacy is it?


Simon Birmingham: Showing the connection between leaders in other countries and between nations is indeed very much the often held nature.


Michael Rowland: So that you believe that was perfectly justifiable?


Simon Birmingham: My understanding is that these things happened on his way to and from the region in which the meetings were held. And as you can see from what I just went through, there was plenty of meaty agenda and substance. The purpose of that trip was very clear. It was the first time that President Joe Biden had travelled overseas for meetings and the fact that Australia was able to be at the table and have meetings with President Biden and Prime Minister Johnson to discuss the many particular challenges that we face and to highlight issues in our region. That was a crucial opportunity that the Prime Minister was right to seize and pursue


Michael Rowland: Out of time. Appreciate your time, Simon Birmingham. Thank you.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Michael. My pleasure.