Topics: Labour force data; vaccine rate; essential workers; child vaccination;
Laura Jayes: Live now to the Finance Minister, Simon Birmingham. Good to see you. Thanks so much for your time this morning. First of all, what do these figures show about this so-called bounce back from lockdowns?
Simon Birmingham: Hello, Laura. Thanks for the opportunity. Look, I think these latest figures show a couple of things. They show that there is really a strong resilience across the Australian economy, that it shows that we do continue to come back strongly after different lockdowns or interruptions to economic activity that we’ve seen. And we can see that in the data as it relates to many different states. But they also show that the economic support the federal government is providing is hitting the right mark, is keeping people off unemployment queues. And you can see that in terms of the New South Wales impacts. And when we’ve got so three point one million payments that have been made as part of the individual targeted, tailored economic support arrangements we’ve put in place. We know that that is hitting the mark and in doing so is providing enormous financial relief to individuals, to households, also to businesses through the partnership arrangements we’ve got with the states and ultimately with that underpinning economy. And so more broadly, I think these figures should at a time of deep concern I know for many Australians provide a sense of optimism that our economy still has that underlying strength, that resilience, and that just as we’ve come back time and again through this pandemic, will do so again in the future.
Laura Jayes: Look, the vaccine rate, is not where we needed to be. We need to be 80 per cent. We’re kind of halfway there when you look at the total number of doses. Is it correct that if states choose to lockdown, an 80 per cent vaccination rate right across the country, they’ll have to pay for it themselves?
Simon Birmingham: Laura, we certainly hope that states won’t be doing that. The national plan that’s been discussed by national cabinet that is essentially achieved consensus through those discussions says there may need to be certain highly targeted focussed interventions when you hit those 80 per cent rates, but you shouldn’t see the type of broad, wide scale, city wide, state wide lockdowns put in place. Now, as Dan Andrews himself said quite a while ago, ultimately you don’t want to be shutting down to protect those who won’t protect themselves. So the message very clearly as we see, the vaccine rates now running in excess of 300,000 doses being administered a day. That in the course of the last week, the equivalent of the entire state of South Australia has received a vaccine dose or over the last 10 days, the equivalent of the entire city of Brisbane has received a vaccine dose that shows the fact that we’re moving quite strongly towards hitting ultimately those 70, 80 per cent targets. We wanted to keep going and keep going really strongly. But at that stage, we do hope and trust that the states and territories will take the scientific advice that we’ve commissioned and act in ways that enable us to really target the responses to COVID rather than these broad scale activities.
Laura Jayes: Minister, when you look at New South Wales, under the 40s have kept what’s left of this economy going at the moment. They are the essential workers. They are also the ones that your own research identified as having the biggest chance of getting and spreading COVID. We owe them a debt of gratitude, don’t we, given it’s still hard for them to get a vaccine?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I think we do certainly owe so many Australians a debt of gratitude. And, yes, a big call out to so many essential workers in the situation in New South Wales. And when we have said that, customarily people think of frontline health workers and of course, we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. But we equally owe a debt of gratitude to those working in logistics, in operations, in warehouses, in places that keep food on the shelves, groceries, getting to market and enable people to still be able to get the necessities of life in a lockdown situation. Now, equally, I would say that if we look at the first age cohort to be provided with access to the vaccine, the over 70s who were given that access because they were the most vulnerable to death and to be a consequence. Well, a big thank you to them as well for the fact that they have now swept past in terms of first doses, the 80 per cent mark and setting an example for the rest of the nation. And we can also see in terms of the impacts of the outbreak in New South Wales, that because we got those older Australians vaccinated first the impacts have not been as devastating as, for example, they were in aged care settings and the like in Victoria last year.
Laura Jayes: Minister, we’re now starting to see so many kids getting COVID. Thankfully, none of them seem to be needing to go to hospital at this point. But isn’t it the case that if your government got more vaccines earlier, we wouldn’t be in this position with our children?
Simon Birmingham: Laura, if we had a limitless supply of vaccines around the world, we of course, would have secured more, earlier. We’ve been over this many times in our discussions. In the end, Australia, like New Zealand, like other countries in our region, such as Japan, or South Korea, or places like Taiwan. We are countries who by global standards have managed to suppress COVID, minimised deaths. But as a result, in terms of the global pharmaceutical manufacturers, particularly, really Pfizer is the only one who was able to produce mRNA at scale, early. Moderna coming along at more scale now. They prioritised the parts of the world where their manufacturing plants were, the parts of the world where the death toll was greater. North America, Europe. That’s not surprising. We made sure that we had contracts with them to get doses as early as we can. And we’re now seeing the fact that those doses are getting out. What we are eager to see in terms of the vaccine rollout is to see that opening up now to 16 to 40 year olds coming online in the next couple of weeks and also to get the advice from ATAGI as soon as possible around those 12 to 15 year olds so that we can make sure there are decisions there. And we’re certainly working through the vaccine rollout strategy with the states and territories to make sure that consideration is given to making sure that as we get that ATAGI advice, that health advice we can open up to those younger Australians quickly too.
Laura Jayes: We hope so. Sooner rather than later. Minister, always appreciate your time. Thank you.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Laura. My pleasure.