Topics:  Vaccine roll-out; Nationals leadership


Karl Stefanovic: Sydney’s outbreak has been closely watched by other states this morning with border checks on the cars from New South Wales residents hoping to travel interstate, for more we’re joined by Finance Minister Simon Birmingham in Canberra. Simon, did you hear Bill Bowtell then?


Simon Birmingham: I did hear a fair chunk of that Karl.


Karl Stefanovic: How did it sit with you?


Simon Birmingham: Well Karl look, we are moving through the vaccine roll-out, 6.5 million doses of vaccine have been administered across Australia. 65 per cent of over 70s have had their first dose and many are now becoming eligible for their second dose. As the time elapses, there’s around 2.3 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine being administered. And during the course of this month, around 3.4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine forecast to come into the country in July for administration. And we are making sure that we continue to drive that supply into the country as hard as we possibly can with overall 195 million doses of vaccine and now booster shots contracted and expected to be rolled-out and especially seeing some uplift during the next couple of months,


Karl Stefanovic: 3.2 per cent of the Australian population has been vaccinated. That’s embarrassing, isn’t it?


Simon Birmingham: [Inaudible] it’s 6.5 million doses, 65 per cent of those over 70’s having received their first dose, and now they’ll become eligible for their second dose and are becoming eligible over this week and next week and so on. Given the gap that occurs there, it’s important to remember the first dose provides a very high level of protection, around 80 per cent effectiveness in terms of that first dose. So just getting to that stage is important is protecting Australians. And we saw that in the Melbourne lockdown where the couple of individual cases in aged care facilities were senior Australians who had their first dose and who proved to be ok.


Karl Stefanovic: Ok, Bill Bowtell says it’s a disaster. It’s not going fast enough. State leaders in Victoria, as you’d know, are saying this morning that the roll-out is in a shambles. How do you respond to those sort of criticisms?


Simon Birmingham: Look, I don’t accept all of that, Karl. There have obviously been disruptions and disruptions that we would wish had never occurred. It would be far preferable if the AstraZeneca vaccine had been able to be administered to all Australians. But the health advice changed. And so the process and the policy around that has had to change. That’s just a reality that we have had to deal with. And we had the disruption of supply early on from Europe, where around 3.4 million Pfizer doses that were expected never made it to Australia. And so these have just been things that have hit along the way. And we have had to respond and pivot as best we can as a country. And I thank Australians for the fact that they are getting out there. They are booking their vaccinations, I encourage them to continue to do so. And we do have a steady supply coming through, as I said, a further 3.4 million doses of Pfizer coming into the country forecast in July. And we’re hoping to see continued strength in that, that will enable us to work as quickly through the Australian population as possible and giving people the chance to have had at least that first dose population wide by the end of the year.


Karl Stefanovic: So you’re saying what percentage of Australians will be vaccinated, will have their first vaccination by the end of the year? And when what level are you comfortable with?


Simon Birmingham: [Inaudible] that will depend a little bit on Australians themselves, we want to be in a position where all Australians have had the chance to do so. I think the fact that for those over 70, some 65 per cent have gone out and had their first dose, and I encourage those who haven’t yet had their second to make sure they follow through those bookings and get that done. That’s an encouraging number. But we want to see that drive higher in the over 70s and then reflected across the rest of the population.


Karl Stefanovic: Ok, what do you think? Just finally, what do you think about the National Party and its leadership was will the National Party have a new leader by the end of today?


Simon Birmingham: I think the most important job for everyone in Canberra to worry about are the jobs of all Australians. And we’ve got a record number of Australians in jobs at present. We’re the first country in the advanced world to have got to a point of having more people employed today than were the case pre-COVID. They’re the jobs that matter Karl.


Karl Stefanovic: Simon, it’s a very simple question about your Coalition partner and the leadership of that party?


Simon Birmingham: Well it’s a matter for the National Party. I’ve heard Barnaby Joyce say he’s not challenging, so I assume that that they are as equally focused as I am on the jobs of Australians in maintaining that record jobs growth we’ve seen.


Karl Stefanovic: Is that because some people think the National Party leader at the moment, Michael McCormack, is the PM’s whipping boy?


Simon Birmingham: I know Michael is a strong advocate for rural and regional Australia, but he’s also an effective partner in government. And that’s what we need. That’s what we’ve got.


Karl Stefanovic: And you’re happy to have him as the leader?


Simon Birmingham: Absolutely.


Karl Stefanovic: There won’t be a change today?


Simon Birmingham: As I say, it’s a matter for the National Party. But Barnaby Joyce has said he’s not challenging, so I assume that they are as focused as I am and the Prime Minister is on the jobs of every other Australian. That’s a priority.


Karl Stefanovic: Well, one truth out of this interview is that they are certainly not as focused as what you are?


Simon Birmingham: They’re saying that they’re all getting on with their jobs and that’s what they ought to be doing.


Karl Stefanovic: Exactly. Well said.