Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Tuesday, 2 February 2021
Karl Stefanovic: For more on WA's COVID outbreak, let's bring in Minister for Finance Simon Birmingham, who joins us now in Canberra. Minister, thanks for your time this morning. What happened in the WA hotel quarantine outbreak, do you know? I mean, 11 hours seems to be an awful long time.
Simon Birmingham: Look Karl, these really are questions for the WA government to respond to. We obviously expect that all states and territories will share information in a timely manner, in a transparent manner. And it's very important to everybody being able to make informed decisions as to how they respond to COVID. And it's an expectation, I'm sure, that our chief medical officers will discuss amongst themselves during their daily meetings as they do.
Karl Stefanovic: The whole point is that the whole thing should be more transparent and probably more expeditiously. Right?
Simon Birmingham: Look, we have we have a very high standard in Australia. Let's not forget the fact that, you know, in Australia we're talking about one case and one circumstance and how we handle that. And whereas elsewhere around the world, they're dealing with so many thousands of cases and tragically of deaths. So our systems have held up pretty well here. But in each and every one of these cases, there are lessons to be learnt and no doubt there will be out of this one too.
Karl Stefanovic: So you're not banging on Mark McGowan's door saying, what happened?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we expect that the chief health officers will get to the bottom of exactly what happened, if there were failures in relation to the timeliness or the transparency and how information was communicated. And then we've got to make sure that all states and territories understand their responsibilities to one another as much as to the nation or to the people in that regard, so that everybody knows how best they can keep Australians safe and continue to successfully manage COVID as well as we have today.
Karl Stefanovic: I think Mark McGowan has done a great job. Do you think he's made all the right decisions here?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I'll let again the health advice guide us all through this. Thankfully, every Australian state and territory has got COVID firmly under control. Australia's got it firmly under control. And we're the envy of much of the rest of the world for the fact that we don't have huge cases, we don't have large numbers of deaths, we don't have overflowing hospitals, and we don't have an economy that's been completely destroyed by it. Instead, we have that economic strength coming back. And Australians, by and large, living relatively normal lives across most of the country. Obviously, a tough few days in Perth.
Karl Stefanovic: How can you get rid of JobKeeper when we seem to be going two steps forward, four steps back every couple of months?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I don't think that's the case, Karl, if you look at the recovery in terms of-
Karl Stefanovic: You don't think lockdowns is going back four steps?
Simon Birmingham: I think what we're seeing short, sharp actions being taken. If you look overall across the Australian economy, we've got jobs that continue to come back and we've got confidence in consumers and businesses. That is that is high. We've got stored savings to a very significant sum. All of these things actually help to make sure that we can have confidence moving forward, that businesses and households have scope to continue to invest and continue to get people back into jobs with more than 90 per cent of the jobs that were lost or stood down at the start of the pandemic now, having been recovered.
Karl Stefanovic: Vaccinations will play a fairly significant role, I'm sure. How can you say with any certainty we will get the vaccinations we need when we have supply issues overseas and the biggest vaccine, AstraZeneca, hasn't been approved yet here?
Simon Birmingham: You're right, there are global challenges to the supply of vaccines, but I can say two things of particular importance to Australians. One is we've contracted 140 million doses of three different types of vaccines. And the fourth, a lot of doses contracted is across a suite of different products through the Kovács facility. So we've got a range of different options. But also, most crucially, around 50 million of those will be manufactured here in Australia at the CSL plant. So what we've done is, is make sure that Australia is well prepared and to be able to make and deliver vaccines, but also that we have a suite of options available. Well, yes, you're right. Many countries are facing challenges. Australia, we're in the fortunate position, not having widespread COVID having it under control means that unlike those who've rushed regulatory approvals, we put it through the normal regulatory approval. And unlike those who are feeling the pressure of delivery systems at present, and we've been able to plan effectively in terms of those delivery.
Karl Stefanovic: So simple question, when will the first jab go in an arm here in Australia?
Simon Birmingham: Plans remain on track, so the late February, early March timelines that the Government has been talking about remain the timelines that we're working to. And we have confidence in, as I say, all of the systems we've put in place. We're investing $1.9 billion dollars as part of the vaccine distribution strategy, because it's not just about buying the vaccines, it's about getting them spread, stage one across hospitals and into those highly vulnerable cohorts, then the further stages as we work ultimately to the entire Australian population.
Karl Stefanovic: This morning, you are guaranteeing those vaccinations will start in late February, early March?
Simon Birmingham: Everything remains on track, as far as I'm advised.
Karl Stefanovic: Ok, and by October, now anyone who wants one will have one?
Simon Birmingham: These are our ambitions and in Australia, we'd rather be here than anywhere else in the world when it comes to the management of COVID. I'm confident that we will be able to deliver the highest standard in the world in terms of the way vaccines are rolled out.
Karl Stefanovic: It sounds like you're starting to water down some of those promises.
Simon Birmingham: Not at all, mate. We are working to all of those deadlines, all of those timelines. It's a complex global environment they're in. There's a big battle for vaccines, but Australia is well placed to deliver, just as we have in keeping people safe and secure through the pandemic.
Karl Stefanovic: Are you sure you're not watering down those promises?
Simon Birmingham: Dead sure, mate.
Karl Stefanovic: OK, thanks for your time, Simon. Appreciate it, as always.