Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Wednesday, 12 May 2021
David Bevan: The Minister, Simon Birmingham, joins us now. He helped shape the budget that was delivered last night by the Federal Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg. Good morning, Simon Birmingham.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, David, Ali and listeners.
David Bevan: After nine o'clock, we're going to focus on aged care for a minute or two but we'd like you to explain, with nearly 18 billion dollars in extra funding for aged care, that still doesn't clear the home care waiting lists and aged care home residents get just ten dollars extra each person each day. Is this going to be enough?
Simon Birmingham: David, there is there is significantly more investment than that. Yes, there's a base uplift in relation to the ten dollars per resident per day funding. But then there's also additional funding that will be used to support and deliver the minimum mandated care times that we are committing to as part of these reforms and that's to guarantee residents a minimum of 200 minutes per resident per day of minimum care. There’s 40 minutes per resident per day to be delivered by a registered nurse as part of that and so there are additional supports that we're putting in. To make sure we've got the skilled workforce to do that, we're funding more than 33,000 training places across Australia to be able to deliver that. And then, of course, there are the reforms to regulation, standards, safeguards, the watchdog and how beds are allocated into the future that are all important ways to give confidence that as we put in the extra money and the extra staff and resources, that there will also be a much stronger cop on the beat to ensure standards are met. Much greater transparency around how the performance of aged care facilities is reported to the public and much greater freedom for the good facilities to provide extra beds and for residents or potential residents to choose to access those good facilities in the future.
David Bevan: Do you worry about paying the bill?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I do and it's why the first pillar in relation to this budget plan is about our economic strength, our economic strength through COVID, where we have to keep Australians safe not only in health outcomes, but also in terms of the strength of our economy and in growing that economy over the long run because that's the way we can fund and pay for essential services. We've handed down a budget where net debt in each of the next 10 years is lower than had been projected in last year's budget. The net debt as a share of our economy is lower than had been projected and will peak at a lower level than had been projected in last year's budget. And so we've been able to, because of our economic strength, make those sorts of investments in aged care whilst having an improving long term debt situation rather than what had been forecast last year. But it is important that we keep that economic strength up and it's why our manufacturing strategy, our digital economy strategy, our agriculture strategy, the tax breaks being provided initially to some 720,000 South Australians, but also to businesses to be able to invest and invest in their productivity that isn't then just a short term hit but is crucially about long term job and economic creation for the country.
Ali Clarke: When you talk about short term hits, long term economic growth though, all of this is done under the presumption that all Australians will be vaccinated by the end of this year and that international borders will open mid-2022, so all of this, I guess, is on the proviso that we don't have any big outbreaks here within this country or our internal borders are shut down or there are lockdowns. Is that right?
Simon Birmingham: Well Ali, you're right that the most important part of our continued recovery is the continued suppression of COVID. Now, we've made no decision about when international borders will re-open. For budgeting purposes we've had to make an assumption and so we've said cautiously around the middle of next year in a staged approach. We want to be able to open international borders as soon as is possible, but no sooner than it is safe to do so.
David Bevan: But is the closure of the borders for at least another year, an admission that your government has failed to vaccinate the country and it's failed to expand quarantine facilities.
Simon Birmingham: No, David, it's not because there remains uncertainty around vaccines in relation to the extent to which they stop transmission. They certainly stop you from getting sick and that's why individuals should follow the health advice and get vaccinated as they're eligible to do so. But in terms of the extent to which vaccines reduce the rate of transmission and indeed the ongoing analysis about when booster shots will be necessary and their effectiveness against different variants constrained, are all things that we are getting live updated advice in real time on that will help to inform those future decisions.
David Bevan: Is your government interested in putting money into this proposed facility at Thebarton that we've just talked about with SAMRI and BioCina?
Simon Birmingham: That's really one option for us to establish an mRNA vaccine facility in Australia. We're committed to doing that to get that capability into our country. This is a new type of vaccine technology that didn't exist previously and Australia doesn't have the tools and the technology to do so. But we've put a measure in the budget which requires us to do two things. One is to negotiate with those who have developed the patents and have those mRNA vaccines, which we have been doing, companies like Pfizer and Moderna, to find one of them willing to transfer that technology to a manufacturer in Australia. And then secondly, to use the potential of manufacturing in Australia with companies like those that you've mentioned. And certainly, Premier Marshall has raised the potential of that South Australian company with me before today and as has South Australian Industry Minister Stephen Patterson highlighting the potential that BioCina and Health Department's been talking with them. And as we try to get and secure the contracts for tech transfer of the mRNA vaccines to Australia, I expect there'll be part of them, the potential production capability process that we will go through.
David Bevan: Listening to this is Mark Butler, South Australian MP and Shadow Health Minister. Good morning, Mark Butler. What do you say are the assumptions regarding the vaccination programme?
Mark Butler: Well, there are some weasel words in the budget papers saying that there and this is a quote, “likely to be in place a vaccination programme by the end of 2021”. But the prime minister was asked this morning whether that meant that every Australian would be vaccinated by the end of the year and he said bluntly, no, the prime minister has failed every commitment he's given around vaccination. The latest commitment was that six million people would be vaccinated by the 10th of May, which, as you know, as Monday this week, and we're nowhere near even half of that. So the problem is that at the current rate of vaccination, which is about 400,000 per week, we're not going to be fully vaccinated, just the adult population, for another two years or so. They really are going far too slowly on this. They're not building purpose-built quarantine facilities, which means that we continue to see these outbreaks and hotel quarantine because we're relying on buildings that were built for tourism, not for medical quarantine. And the Government's been incredibly flat footed in terms of trying to progress this question of sovereign manufacturing, of mRNA vaccines like they've been talking about it for eight months now. Germany build a facility in six months because they recognised the importance of having sovereign capability in terms of security of supply, but also having good workforce outcomes for the country.
David Bevan: So just very quickly, we haven't got a minute before the nine o'clock news coming back to you, Simon Birmingham. The argument seems to be the reason you need to go into so much debt is because you've got to keep pump priming the economy and you've got to keep doing that because you haven't rolled out the vaccine and opened up the quarantine facilities
Simon Birmingham: It is fanciful to believe that there are silver bullets here, particularly in relation to quarantine facilities. Just because you build a different building doesn't mean that you necessarily are going to get profoundly different outcomes from the 99.99 per cent successful management of COVID we've had in the quarantine facilities that are successfully operating across Australia. In terms of vaccines that all Australians know that the health advice changed only in the last couple of months to limit some of the vaccine distribution to over 50’s only. That obviously changes the pace and tempo of the vaccine rollout. But we have in total 170 million doses of vaccine procured and contracted for Australia. They will flow through to Australians. I expect some Australians will still be getting vaccinated next year. That will be their choice, but we expect to be opening up the vaccine schedule to all Australians during this year and for supply to be available for them.
Ali Clarke: Okay. Thank you very much, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham and Shadow Health Minister Mark Butler. It's time for me to make my way out of here. I'll leave you with David. And here comes your nine o'clock news.