Topics: Vaccine rollout; Border closures; JobKeeper and JobSeeker



Peter Stefanovic: Joining us is Finance Minister Simon Birmingham. Minister, good to see you. Thanks for joining us, as always. So when will it be your turn?


Simon Birmingham: Good to be with you. Well, I’ll be waiting in line with all other Australians. So this is a carefully sequenced process that starts with around sixty thousand Australians just this week and then ramps up to an even faster rollout. But those initial ones will be the people who are actually administering the vaccine and health workers. And then we move into those in medi hotels, those in our aged care centres, and older and more vulnerable Australians. So it’s very much a targeted process. There are going to be the odd symbolic jabs, if you like, the Prime Minister yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition to come during the course of the week. These are, of course, about demonstrating that we all have complete confidence in the safety of the vaccine. But the vast majority of parliamentarians will wait in queue according to our risk profile, and get our jabs when those like us of similar ages and health risks to do across the rest of the country.


Peter Stefanovic: The multibillion dollar question here, Minister, is should this now mean no more border shutdowns?


Simon Birmingham: Well, look, I think the risk profile will change as we get through the vaccine process. So once we see all older and vulnerable Australians and those at the highest risk categories vaccinated, there will be discussions about how that is changed the risk in dealing with that. This, though, is again one of the fortunate things Australia has of the way that we are undertaking this. We’ll be able to see how other countries handle these matters. This is a debate that is live already in the UK about whether their current shutdowns and lockdowns and of course, a far more punitive than what Australia faces should be lifted as a result of the success of the vaccine rollout to date in the UK. There are counter of voices there expressing concerns about what some of the other strains and variants of the virus might mean for vaccine effectiveness. And so we’ll have to be guided by the health advice as we get to that. But I hope and I do hope that that changed risk profile as we get the vaccine rolled out, will enable us to have more confidence to keep those borders open and to continue the very strong economic recovery that Australia already has.


Peter Stefanovic: So it sounds as though that you are expecting that to happen, at least in the next few months anyway, as far as the vaccine rollout gets under way, that there may well be border shut downs again?


Simon Birmingham: Well, look, we hope that there aren’t virus outbreaks, but we have to deal with the reality that could happen. Let’s remember, though, in the first wave of those being vaccinated, are frontline staff working in our medi hotels, and that’s intended to provide greater protection and buffer in that regard. And then as we deal with those vulnerable Australians providing further protection and buffer for those who would face the worst consequences of COVID should there be an outbreak. So that’s what I mean when I say it changes the risk profile, we hope that it reduces the risk of being spread out of hotels. We certainly hope that it reduces the risk of those most vulnerable to the virus catching it. Then, of course, then, of course, we want to work through the rest of the population.


Peter Stefanovic: Just we’re still looking at these live pictures. This is from the Royal Prince Alfred vaccination coming to us. And it’s coming in as we speak that we’re looking at. I just want to ask you quickly, Minister, before we go, your announcement and the Treasurer’s announcement, I’m sure, will be coming soon on the future of JobKeeper and JobSeeker. There’s not too many sitting weeks left before the end of March. When will you be making an announcement on that?


Simon Birmingham: Well, we will be making an announcement, obviously, as we’ve said, well clear of that end of March. So we’re getting into that zone. Final decisions yet to be absolutely settled. But the government’s been looking very closely at all of the evidence and analysis. And it’s not just JobKeeper and JobSeeker that are there as supports across the Australian economy. We have billions of dollars of support right across the economy. Be at the HomeBuilder programme, the JobMaker programme, the different tax measures that are there that for Australian families are putting more than one billion dollars extra into the pockets of Australian families and households every single month as a result of our lower taxes that we’ve put in place, big incentives for businesses to invest. But we’ll make announcements around further measures over the coming weeks.


Peter Stefanovic: Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time. Talk to you soon.


Simon Birmingham: Thank you.