Topics: Borders reopening; COVID child vaccination; Monthly financials;



Sylvia Jeffries: Well, a huge decision is expected today about the reopening of Queensland. It comes as New South Wales and Victoria vow to press ahead, regardless of the growing threat from Omicron.


David Campbell: For more, let’s bring in Finance Minister Simon Birmingham this morning who joins us now from Adelaide. Birmo, good to see you. Is there any turning back now the states are reopening? Well, except in Adelaide?


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, guys. Look, it’s great to see the continued progress against the national plan in terms of reopening that in South Australia, the first COVID-free state to open up to New South Wales and Victoria, we’ve seen a resolute approach that is keeping borders open. In Queensland it looks like they may well bring the decision forward. And so there you’ve got Steven Marshall in SA, Annastacia Palaszczuk in Queensland. I think doing the right thing in taking the steps to open up their states. Tasmania is set hopefully to do the same over the next few weeks, and that will be a real reunification across the country of so many different families coming up to Christmas. Big chance for so many businesses and just continues to help with the really strong economic recovery from COVID-19 that we’ve been enjoying lately.


Sylvia Jeffries: You mentioned Annastacia Palaszczuk, the Queensland premier, expected to hold a press conference this afternoon. Do you expect that border opening date to come forward from December 17 and do you think that would be the right call?


Simon Birmingham: Queensland’s health minister seemed to continue over the weekend to back the 80 per cent double dose target as the point for Queensland to reopen and that really is to be encouraged here in SA where I am, Steven Marshall’s open the state borders shown strength in doing so to lead the other states and has kept firm in that regard. And of course, you know, you’ve got the careful, cautious approach being applied. Queensland can do the same, should do the same. Of course, many thousands of Queensland’s small tourism businesses and operators will be hoping that’s the case. And across Australia, there would be many, many thousands of people and families hoping to reconnect with loved ones, hoping to be able to undertake that trip or that holiday, and here’s hoping that they can have the confidence that’s all going to go ahead.


David Campbell: But what about everybody there in Adelaide? I mean, Queensland declared you guys a hotspot, a COVID hotspot, and is forcing arrivals 14 days of quarantine. How does that feel?


Simon Birmingham: Well, look, hopefully it’s temporary. I mean, in the end, if Queensland’s going to reopen its borders to New South Wales and Victoria, they’ll obviously do so to Adelaide at the same time. So look, they’re applying the rules they’ve got at present. But as they hit that 80 per cent double dose, then they’ll have, we trust a new set of rules consistent with what the Queensland government has announced and that will enable freer travel for business, for pleasure, for holidays and for loved ones to reunify in time for Christmas. And that’s really what we want to see. I mean, across Australia now, we’ve got more than 88 per cent of Australians double dose vaccinated. We’ve got around 76-77 per cent of children aged 12 to 15 now vaccinated. And the great news that we’re going to from the 10th of January be able to start vaccinating kids five to 11 years old to ensure that everyone has the chance really to be protected.


Sylvia Jeffries: What difference will that make the shots for five to 11 year olds on how we move forward as a nation with COVID just, you know, being free and or spreading freely within the country?


Simon Birmingham: So I think it’ll provide a lot of reassurance to parents, to mums and dads that that protection is there for school aged children, that they can start to get that protection before school goes back next year. It will also provide real benefits in terms of further helping to slow the transmission of COVID-19 across the community that although kids generally don’t suffer the same sorts of serious illness that you can see in older people, they can be individuals for transmission. And so what we want to make sure is that in getting the vaccine, those children are less likely to transmit COVID-19 between themselves, to their teachers, to their parents, to their grandparents, to the loved people in their lives. And so it boosts protection not just for children, but for everybody around them, too.


David Campbell: Just quickly, Minister. Australia’s economy is rebounding better than expected after months of lockdown, but we’re still 43.9 billion dollars in debt. I mean, that’s going to be hard going into an election.


Simon Birmingham: COVID-19 has come at a huge cost to the budget to make sure we keep people safe in their jobs, to keep businesses viable. And what we’ve done as a country, though, is quite extraordinary. It’s a top three result in the world in terms of Australia’s economic growth. We’ve seen really strong employment outcomes and so the investments to keep us safe, to save 30,000 plus lives, to keep us secure and our jobs to save 700,000 plus jobs have been worth it. But there is definitely now a period where we have to show caution, spending restraint. Going forward, there are many pressures in the years to come to meet promises on aged care, on disability services, to invest in our national security where it’s essential, but we have to make sure that we also show restraint elsewhere. The good news, though, is that the economy performing so well means that even as we’re giving Australians around $1.5 billion worth of tax cuts a month, we’ve actually seen revenue come into government stronger thanks to higher company taxes, higher income taxes, actually providing that dividend from a strong economy, even while Australians getting to keep more of what they earn.


Sylvia Jeffries: Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, we appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.