Topics: Vaccine rollout; WA border controls; Afghanistan
Laura Jayes: Joining me now live from Adelaide is the finance minister, Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for your time. Now, Qantas says it plans to resume international flights in mid-December. Is that going to happen?
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Laura. Look, we’ll be taking a cautious, careful approach in terms of the way in which international borders re open. We want under the national plan to see Australians get vaccinated, hit 70 percent targets, 80 per cent targets, to actually push above that where possible to see, 12 to 15 year olds vaccinated in addition to the 16 plus population encapsulated in those target levels. And that’s the key part that will enable us to move from Phase A into Phase B. But then into the latter phases, that will get us back to seeing those international borders reopened. It will be a commercial decision as they reopen for Qantas to make. And, of course, we will be looking to work closely where we can with Qantas around the types of green zone countries that might be possible in the early stages of reopening that can give Australians confidence around the continued careful management of COVID whilst getting us as close to normal as we possibly can.
Laura Jayes: Yeah, might be a commercial decision, but we know that the decision is actually in the hands of politicians at the moment, perhaps even more so the premiers. So have you been able to tell Qantas that mid-December is a real possibility? And what would quarantining look like?
Simon Birmingham: Well, quarantining will perhaps depend upon the types of destinations that people are returning to Australia from or coming to Australia from, and we have already the South Australian government leading the nation in trialling new technologies that might enable certain forms of home quarantine to apply to perhaps vaccinated Australians returning from some parts of the world. So there may well be some significant changes in terms of what we’ve known quarantine to be to what it will be and there may well be new additional green zone countries. And we are continually looking at that situation and evaluating it. But the key thing, first and foremost, is for Australians to do, as they’re doing right now, respond in those record numbers to get the vaccines. The fact we’re routinely seeing 300,000 plus days, that we have now got a vaccination rollout that is occurring at a per capita rate faster than what the US or the UK ever achieved at their peaks is a testament to Australians. And that’s what’s going to get us to the point where these potential re-opening steps become a reality.
Laura Jayes: Are there consequences for premiers who do not stick to a reopening plan and reopen even internal borders when we’re 80 per cent vaccinated? Or do they act with impunity?
Simon Birmingham: Laura, obviously states and territories have their own powers, which they have exercised through the course of this pandemic, and on the main they’ve exercised them to keep Australians safe, and it’s saved along with federal measures, some 30,000 or so estimated lives. And so that’s been crucial. But as we hit those, hopefully much higher, very high vaccination rates that we aspire to. Well, at those points, then, the likelihood of the continued economic assistance that Australia has provided to the states and territories as a federal government will shift that we want to ensure that is progressively targeted as it has been to where it’s really needed. And we’ve moved from the wide scale application of JobKeeper last year and through to now the more targeted application of the COVID support, business support payments in different cases around the country. And there’ll be further shifts if we see states stick to the national plan, which envisage only highly targeted, potentially localised restrictions or lockdowns being in place. And of course, we’ll respond appropriately to that. If states decide to chart their own course, that is against the medical advice well then that will be a matter for them.
Laura Jayes: Minister, it was great to hear a plane overhead just now. It’s pretty rare these day, so it’s good to hear indeed, we welcome the interruption in the interview. Now more seriously, Mark McGowan won’t even let family in to see dying family members in WA, but he’s welcoming the AFL grand final. He’s being rewarded for his brutal choices isn’t he?
Simon Birmingham: Sorry, what was the question he’s been rewarded, did you say?
Laura Jayes: Essentially for the brutal choices that he’s making? No family members allowed in, no exemptions on compassionate grounds, but he’s welcoming the AFL grand final.
Simon Birmingham: Well, look, I mean, it’s up to the AFL as to where they choose to hold the AFL grand final. I would urge every single state and territory to find means to address compassionate circumstances in terms of people crossing borders. Of course, we understand the very legitimate desire of parts of the country that aren’t suffering the type of COVID outbreak that New South Wales has, to keep that COVID outbreak out of their state and territory and border controls have become an effective means of doing that. But that doesn’t mean you apply those border controls with no compassion, no recognition of the types of personal issues that people face in terms of our management of international borders. We’ve been able to try to address some of those personal pressures through the course of the pandemic. And right now, I would acknowledge all the states and territories, including Premier McGowan, who have responded to the humanitarian crisis, we’ve been evacuating people from Afghanistan by creating additional quarantine places. And I want to thank them for responding in a sensible way to that. That is enabling us to help the repatriation and indeed resettlement of thousands of individuals.
Laura Jayes: Indeed, do you have an update, Minister, I know it’s not your portfolio area, on how many flights now with Afghans have come to Australia?
Simon Birmingham: So in terms of those who have come to Australia, we’ve seen, I think approaching 800, 7 to 800 who have landed in Australia to date, and more than 4100 have been able to be evacuated from Kabul. And as we know, that’s occurred in the most trying and difficult of circumstances. And with the terrible, tragic, barbaric terrorist attacks overnight, just reinforcing what a difficult situation our officials have confronted on the ground there.
Laura Jayes: Minister, we’ll have to leave it there. Thanks so much for your time, as always.