Topics: COVID child vaccination; Monthly financials;



Natalie Barr:  Finance Minister Simon Birmingham joins me now. Morning to you.


Simon Birmingham: Morning, Nat.


Natalie Barr: This approval by the TGA is the first step in getting kids vaccinated in this country. What else needs to happen before we can get those doses into arms?


Simon Birmingham: Well, now it’s a pretty quick process from here, we’re going to work through the ATAGI process, which is the Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, so they’ll provide any further dosage, administration, etc. advice. Then, of course, it’s about making sure we get the doses in Australia that they go through all of the safety and batch testing and get them out for administration from the 10th of January. And we’ve got all of that in place. We have plenty of doses lined up to come into Australia, and what’s going to be really exciting is the opportunity now for all school aged children to join all working age Australians and all senior Australians as part of one of the world’s most successful vaccination programs that’s seen more than 88 per cent of adult Australians have the double dose jab. And we’re climbing towards that 90 per cent figure, and it’s great to see that the school kids are going to be firmly part of that program around about the time that school gets back next year.


Natalie Barr: Look, we are obviously right behind vaccination in this country, almost leading the world, aren’t we? But I’ve heard some parents say if your kids are little, some of the doctors say you only get a sniffle. So why would you need to vaccinate in this case against COVID?


Simon Birmingham: Look, kids indeed haven’t been impacted as severely by COVID in terms of the disease and the serious illness sense, and that’s very reassuring as we indeed see more states reopen and deal with COVID in the community. But kids do play a significant role at times in transmission. And so getting the vaccine doesn’t just help to protect those children, but it can protect the teachers. It can protect their parents, their grandparents, their loved ones by slowing down even further the rates of transmission of COVID in our community and so kids can do it well and truly for themselves, but they’re going to be doing it for all the loved people in their lives, too.


Natalie Barr: Okay, so Pfizer is nearly there with its approval. Moderna has also made this application to the government for a vaccine for kids aged between 6 and 11. What can you tell us about that?


Simon Birmingham: So the Moderna process will go through all the same safeguards, it’s one of the things we’ve been really careful about in Australia is we haven’t rushed the regulatory approvals back at the start of this year when we were getting ready for the vaccine rollout for all adult Australians. We made sure we went through all the different safety checks to give people confidence in doing so. And so I’ve now had the conversation with my kids. They’re nine and 10 about the fact that we’ll be going out next year for them to get the vaccine. They know that mum and dad already have. They know their grandparents have, they know we’re talking about getting our own booster shots because we’re one of the first countries in the world to roll out a nationwide booster program, too. This is in Australia, the Australian story where we’ve had one of the lowest fatality rates in the world from COVID-19. We’ve now got one of the highest vaccination rates, and through all of that, we’ve had a top three performing global economy as well. That’s a very strong outcome for Australia, and it’s a testament and credit to everyone who’s done the hard yards these couple of years.


Natalie Barr: So what sort of reactions can little kids get from the Pfizer vaccine?


Simon Birmingham: The advice is really only very much the same sorts of, you know, sore arms, maybe a day or two of feeling a little bit under the weather type reactions. Otherwise, the advice is that this is very safe, very much a case of having built and looked at all of the evidence. We haven’t just done the clinical evidence and the in the lab evidence that we’ve been able to analyse millions of doses being administered with children across the United States. And that should give all mums and dads reassurance when they’re sitting down and talking to their little angels that it’s definitely the right thing to do. And we have around 95 per cent paediatric vaccination rates in Australia. So we are a country that backs vaccine programs from a young age very comprehensively, and I trust that parents will do the right thing by their kids, by their families, by their teachers and by everyone in a child’s life, by getting their kids vaccinated.


Natalie Barr: Yep, we vaccines, everything else don’t we. Now there have been fewer than 20 cases of this new Omicron strain detected in Australia, yet different states are beginning to take their own precautions. Is there any way this could derail Christmas travel plans?


Simon Birmingham: I don’t think so, Nat. I mean, we’ve seen South Australia, who were the first COVID-free state to open up its borders to New South Wales and Victoria show incredible strength in deciding to keep their borders open at present. And Steven Marshall has demonstrated real leadership by taking those steps. We’re now seeing Annastacia Palaszczuk and the Queensland government recommit to opening it at 80 per cent double dose, and they may well hit that this week. And so it’d be great if they can bring forward their border opening. And Tasmania, I know, is on track to do similarly as they reach even higher vaccination rates. That shows that each of these states working to the national plan, backing the safety that the vaccines provide and the evidence is increasing in terms of what experts are telling us. That the vaccines will provide protection against Omicron as well and whether there needs to be some variation to booster shots or so on in the future. We’ll get more expert advice about that in the weeks to come. And of course, we’ll do what is necessary to keep Australians as safe as we’ve done these last couple of years.


Natalie Barr: Under something else, the latest financial statement show a boost to the budget bottom line. Are you confident we can avoid a second consecutive quarter of negative GDP growth after that slump in the September figures?


Simon Birmingham: We absolutely in September suffered from the lockdowns in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra. They obviously hit the economy quite hard in those cities and did see us have negative national economic growth figures, but the rebound is incredibly strong, more than 350,000 jobs coming back. What we’ve seen is that indeed the economic fundamentals are so strong that even as we’ve been delivering tax cuts to Australians that are putting $1.5 billion more back into the pockets of hardworking Australian families, we’re also still seeing revenue growth in government because of the strength of the economy. That’s really encouraging. It means our deficit isn’t as bad as had been expected, notwithstanding the Delta lockdown that it occurred. And our determination is to make sure we keep investing in our economic recovery plans, which are all centred on ensuring that we get as many Australians in work as possible, drive the unemployment rate back down into the fours. And if we can do that and sustain it there, as so many economic forecasters think looks possible for Australia, that’ll be the first time we’ve done so in a long while and be a real testament to the strength of the Australian economy at present.


Natalie Barr: Okay, Simon Birmingham, we thank you for your time this morning.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Nat.