Topics:   Sydney lockdown financial support; vaccine supply;



Laura Jayes: Greater Sydney’s lockdown has been extended for another week, and residents of three south western Sydney LGAs face tightened restrictions. It is another setback for tourism, families, small businesses and big businesses alike. And they worry that they won’t survive this extension without more economic support. Joining me live now is Simon Birmingham, the Finance Minister, thanks so much for your time. Is a mini JobKeeper out of the question here?


Simon Birmingham: Hi Laura, thanks for the opportunity. We made the decision in relation to providing additional support to Australians in response to the Victorian lockdown. So do now have a mechanism in place that says financial assistance flow to those individuals, households and families who are impacted by lookdown. Now, we also with that state worked through the states and territories an arrangement for the Commonwealth in terms of driving that financial assistance to households and families while states and territories step up in terms of providing financial assistance to businesses, particularly small businesses, during these times. And that’s the approach that is there to make sure that the funds do flow through into those communities in Sydney who are doing it tough right now.


Laura Jayes: Yeah, indeed. And look, there is more coming from the state government. We know that. But are you worried that, you know, you’ve spent 80 billion dollars on JobKeeper in the last year alone? But if these businesses go to the wall now, won’t that be a complete waste?


Simon Birmingham: Laura, the funds spent on JobKeeper where essential, but they also contributed to some $200 billion worth of additional savings that we started the year with across the Australian economy in terms of household savings being up, business savings and debts being down, providing a greater resilience across many parts of the economy to a deal with the challenges that individual businesses and households faced during the course of the year. So we’ve got that assistance flowing into households and into businesses that the Commonwealth and state and territory governments working together to ensure that we’re supporting across the board. But it’s also happening on the back of an elevated basis of savings and a stronger financial position for many households and many of those businesses, too.


Laura Jayes: Well, we see what the premier and the treasurer in New South Wales have said before. When JobKeeper well, when Victoria was offered asking for another JobKeeper extension in its last lockdown, it kind of scoffed at the idea. Are you punishing New South Wales?


Simon Birmingham: No, I mean, we are applying consistent approaches in that regard. So JobKeeper was essential when we were confronting obviously enormous unsuitability in the early parts of last year, not knowing just how wide, far, deep lockdown’s and shutdowns from the impact of COVID could be. Whilst we still confront a significant unsuitability. People have, I think, greater confidence in terms different management strategies and tough as it is being in this space of a few weeks as Sydney is right now. I think people also have confidence that there will be a pathway out of it, and which is why we have targeted support programs in place to help those families and working with the states and territories to help those businesses.


Laura Jayes: Ok, let’s talk about vaccines, because you know what I’m like when it comes to vaccines. The United States at the moment have many more millions more vaccines than they need. Have we asked if we can have some of those?


Simon Birmingham: So our commercial arrangements are with the vaccine manufacturers to why we have 195 million doses contracted. Be it with Pfizer or Moderna or AstraZeneca, we’ve worked through with those companies who own the vaccine intellectual property, who manufacture the vaccines, and they’re the ones that we have to have to buy them from in terms of individual countries providing spill-over amounts. Well, we would expect many countries to do just as we are in terms of now additional quantities of AstraZeneca, and that is to help those most in need, those where lives are being lost in significant numbers. And much as we want to get Australians vaccinated as quickly as we can. It’s pleasing to have seen more than 8.5 million doses of vaccine administered now and another record day yesterday in excess of 160,000 doses yesterday. We also have to acknowledge that luckily, fortunately here in Australia, although there is some people sick at present, we still haven’t had a life lost in Australia through community transmission during the course of this year. Other countries, including those adjacent to the US, like Canada and Mexico, have people dying every single day still.


Laura Jayes: Yep, that is true indeed. And while she talk about the commercial arrangements we have, that is true. But we don’t need a gift from the United States, just an advance on the vaccines that we could probably give back in December. What does it say about our alliance in this tough time? We can’t lean on America just to give us a few million. That’s all we need.


Simon Birmingham: Well, Laura, to be honest, I think for a country like Australia that has successfully suppressed COVID, that doesn’t have people losing their lives right now in the type of scale or anything remotely like the type of scale happening in other nations, including nations like Mexico, to say that we should get some sort of queue jump for charitable assistance or otherwise ahead of places where lives are being lost would be really to put an unfair expectation on what we expect from the alliance. The alliance is very important in terms of our work on a range of security settings. We are as close as two nations can be in terms of areas of cooperation. But when it comes to vaccines, Australia has the strategies in place through our domestic manufacturing of AstraZeneca, but also through the contracts in place for the delivery of Pfizer and Moderna to get us through this. Yes, we’d all love for it to be able to be done miraculously faster than is the case. But, you know, we are seeing that huge step up in terms of the vaccine distribution and the fact that we’re hitting such a significant record, daily numbers so routinely now should give Australians confidence. And we will see those increased deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine occurring through the course of this month and then again through other months throughout this year. That will allow us to hit even more Australians even faster, that even if we just kept going at the June rate of vaccination, 70 per cent of the Australian population gets done this year. But our expectation is to have supplies far stronger than the June rate, which enables us to hit even higher targets.


Laura Jayes: But don’t you think this is a pretty hard to hear for people in lockdown in Sydney in particular, when we look at a full stadium at Wembley this morning, we have 165,000 doses being administered in a day, we’re celebrating that as a record when we see two million a day in places like the United States. I mean, how bad does it have to get for us to try and get these vaccines earlier? We are in a dire straits situation. Aren’t we reaching that point?


Simon Birmingham: Laura, our situation is nothing like the situation those in the United States lived through for most of last year. And we hope and trust it never gets that bad.


Laura Jayes: Ok, we do hope that. Minister, thanks so much for your time. Thanks, as always.


Simon Birmingham: Thank you. My pleasure.