Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Friday, 2 July 2021
Peter Van Onselen: Finance Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now. Minister, what percentage of the population need to be vaccinated before we can get to phase two?
Simon Birmingham: Thanks Peter, well that's work that we're going to be working through, particularly with the experts at the Doherty Institute, as well as the rest of Australia's medical experts that have guided us so successfully in saving Australian lives through the pandemic. It’s work that's having to be updated in light of the impacts of the Delta variant in the faster transmission we're seeing there. But it's on the way-.
Peter Van Onselen: Minister, I can understand some updating, but surely 18 months into this pandemic, we've got some idea now. Most estimates are somewhere around 70 or 80 per cent is the benchmark. And can't we get some sort of an idea?
Simon Birmingham: Peter, I mean, I think it's fair to say that indeed, most people will talk in those sorts of ranges. But in terms of putting precise figures on it as target points, that's where we're going to work with those medical experts now. Importantly, we want all Australians to have the chance to be vaccinated as well as part of this process. And that's where we're really pleased to see the fact that we've recorded yet another day of record vaccinations. And we've got to the point of now eight million doses having been administered in Australia. And as long as we see supplies continuing to come in as forecast, well then we know even on the current rate of vaccination will hit 70 per cent of the Australian population by year's end. And indeed with the extra supply as anticipated-.
Peter Van Onselen: But will we really do that Simon Birmingham. I mean, we're only at, what is it, eight and a half per cent, less than eight and a half percent, having had both jobs up till now. And there's all this talk about phase two, three and four. That's a bit like me saying I want to play rugby league for Australia. I've just got to learn how to play rugby league and then we can move on to the rest of it. We're so far off actually ever getting there.
Simon Birmingham: Peter, 70 per cent of over 70s have had at least one dose, 50 per cent of over 50s have had at least one dose, 30 per cent of all Australians who are eligible, everyone over 16 has had at least one dose. So we're going to see that double dose number climb really quite quickly is all of those Australians have already had the first dose get their second jab, but important we start to move further into the Australian population-
Zoe Coombs Marr: What was the point today of today's announcement. You didn't actually announce the only thing that people want to know.
Simon Birmingham: I think people did want to know and do want to be reassured that the work is underway to understand the different steps, that it's not going to be a single rip the Band-Aid off moment where we say mission accomplished or done borders open. It is going to be a staged and careful approach built on the health advice where we work through those different elements the PM outlined in terms of piloting, first and foremost, how we might bring vaccinated people into Australia under different models that still maintain safety and in stepping through the different gradual phases before we get to a return to normality.
Simon Birmingham: Minister, yesterday you admitted that Australia is at the back of the queue when it comes to the vaccine. Last year, the PM assured us that we were at the front of the queue. So what happened?
Simon Birmingham: Well, indeed, we were at the front of the queue in terms of vaccines that we were planning to make in Australia. And that's what we did with AstraZeneca. You know, at that point, we made sure that we had the technology brought to Australia, upgraded the manufacturing capability, and in doing so produced a vaccine that was going to be able to produce a million doses a week for our country. Now, unfortunately, the health advice changed and that's why we had redundancy measures in place. So those second options, such as Pfizer and in fact, we contracted for 195 million doses of vaccines overall. So indeed, when the health advice changed on AstraZeneca, when expected doses of Pfizer didn't turn up from Europe. We had fall-back positions. And that's now what we're seeing coming to effect. And it's why we've vaccinated a million doses, just in the last eight days.
Jan Fran: And I do respect that. The prime minister says that anybody who wants to get a vaccine can or will be available to them by the end of the year. You're saying that we're at the back of the queue when it comes to Pfizer. The rollout hasn't gone according to plan so far. The Australian people, I imagine, want to believe what you're saying, but why should they?
Simon Birmingham: Because we've done a million doses in the last eight days, because we have seen a step up in delivery of Pfizer. And so indeed, that growth in the vaccine strategy is working and delivering. It's why we've got to eight million doses. Indeed, it did take around forty seven days to get the first million doses, but it's only taken eight days to deliver the last million of those eight million doses across Australia. And if we maintain just the rate we're doing at present for the rest of the year, then that gets to 70 per cent of Australians. But we expect there to be more doses available. And for that rate to be able to increase in terms of supply increasing and we're bringing in extra thirteen hundred GP's online as distribution points, we'll be opening up during the year to more pharmacies as distribution points so Australians will see more vaccine coming to the country, more places to get vaccinated, and that should give them the confidence that they will see the vaccine option for all Australians achieved.
Peter Van Onselen: Minister, we're out of time, but if you had your time again, I know hindsight's easy. Would you do it differently?
Simon Birmingham: Sure, Peter. I think we would have said that there were lots of uncertainties. I mean, clearly, if we had known the doses weren't going to turn up three point four million from Europe, if we'd known the health advice on AstraZeneca was going to change, well, you would have done things differently, I'm big enough to admit that. But you can't foresee those things and anybody who pretends he can is really misleading I think. We invested to try to make sure Australia had sovereign manufacturing capability of a vaccine here in our country. And we have. But it's not a vaccine that is recommended for everybody all of the time. And that's why we've had to make sure we had the other options in place. Those options are there. They're coming to Australia now, and Australians should have confidence for the future that there's a plan to get them vaccinated and the different phases of the plan to open again and give them their freedoms in terms of within Australia and ultimately moving in and out of Australia.
Peter Van Onselen: Minister Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for speaking with us tonight.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, guys. My pleasure.