Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Monday, 26 July 2021
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Ali. Good morning, David and listeners. It's great to be with you.
David Bevan: Well, we have a text here, Simon Birmingham that I think we should run by you. From Anne of McLaren Vale. And she says, I quite often don't agree with David. So there's something you don't have in common with her. I know you agree with me all the time. But I don't I often agree with David-
Simon Birmingham: Anne is very controversial already.
David Bevan: But I feel this sentence that the riots prove that Sydney has the largest number of morons in the country. Should be the quote of the day. Simon Birmingham, discuss.
Simon Birmingham: Well, that's a very tempting discussion point, David, but probably would be quite career limiting for me to endorse your comment. We saw some appalling behaviour in Sydney by a large number of people, but still a small proportion of the population. And I hope, and I'm sure all South Australians hope that New South Wales and Sydney in particular can manage to get on top of it. Now clearly, that sort of reckless behaviour by people out protesting in defiance of health orders does nothing to help and everything to harm. But hopefully it is a one off instance and that the city of Sydney in particular can focus on implementing this lockdown more effectively than they did in the early days and get this virus suppressed.
David Bevan: What's the politics of that rally? Are they votes that the coalition need?
Simon Birmingham: Oh, look, when you go to an election, you ask for everybody to consider voting for you, but we'll be standing at the next election in whatever time it occurs next year, outlining to the Australian people how we've managed to work through a period where despite the fact we haven't got everything perfect or everything, everything right all of the time as a country, Australia has managed this global pandemic pretty much better than anywhere else in the world in terms of saving lives and saving jobs. That continues to be the case. And we see the vaccine rollout stepping up very significantly now with record day upon record day being recorded and more than 11.1 million doses of vaccine delivered across the country. That I think we will get Australia through this as long as everyone can hold their nerve through the next few months.
Ali Clarke: With regards to holding nerve, when I spoke to Premier Steven Marshall and I put to him and say, look, why not help Sydney? They are crying out for this. And he basically said, well, we need to get our own backyard sorted first. But he also said that our lockdown, which we're on track to lift tomorrow night, we're going to still be restricted because of the numbers we're seeing out of New South Wales. So are some people cutting their nose off despite their face?
Simon Birmingham: Ali, look, it's important that everybody works through health advice. That in terms of New South Wales, we really do want to see them get on top of it because that will help the rest of the country. Now, South Australia has done a magnificent job defeating each of the outbreaks that have occurred here during the life of this pandemic. And we look to be in a great position to defeat this latest outbreak as well. And that's a testament to all South Australians and South Australian businesses have made sacrifices to individual South Australians and to the government who have managed to manage and bring along that goodwill of South Australians to get the best possible outcomes.
David Bevan: Were you disappointed that none of the states responded to the pleas from New South Wales for vaccines?
Simon Birmingham: No, I can understand the position of the states-
David Bevan: Was it a stupid request from New South Wales. Was it a stupid thing to ask because nobody was going to help the out?
Simon Birmingham: Look, each of the states would like to ask the others for their share. And every time I would expect the response from the other states to be the same. But the number of doses coming into the country, is continuously increasing. We've got extra doses going into the New South Wales system as a result of that. You also have ATAGI now, having reconsidered their advice in relation to AstraZeneca and there's no shortage of AstraZeneca that it's there and available for individuals. And so New South Wales has a number of different pathways, but a small, relatively small lift in vaccination isn't going to change the dial on suppressing the virus in South Wales right now. That's going to take compliance with public health orders that are there. Of course, we want to see continued growth in the vaccination rate, we are seeing that. We've now got some 77 per cent of the 70s, having had at least their first dose, some 62 per cent of over 50s, having had their first dose and some nearly 38 per cent of the entire over 16 eligible population having had their first does. So, the vaccine rollout is hitting a very growing and very significant proportion of Australians, particularly in those initial target age groups who are at the highest risk in relation to COVID-19. I thank those South Australians who got out there and made their bookings to date and encourage people to keep doing so and because getting more doses each and every week available to us in the country. And that means that people can have more confidence in ringing, making a booking. And pretty soon we'll have more pharmacies online to ensure there are more distribution outlets to match those additional doses.
David Bevan: Well, can you explain what deals have been done to ensure the vaccine supplies for next year and the year after that?
Simon Birmingham: I can, David. And so we have secured through contractual arrangements with Pfizer a further 60 million doses in 2022 and 25 million doses contracted in 2023. And that's going to ensure that as we go into next year, every Australian can have access to a booster dose when it is needed for them in accordance with the health advice at the time. So we've made sure that we have the security of supply right through the course of next year to be able to sequence those booster doses, as and when the health advice recommends they be administered.
David Bevan: Can I put a question to you that David Speers asked of Bill Shorten yesterday in the Insiders program. He said-
Simon Birmingham: No, well I don't want to be leader of the Labor Party, David.
David Bevan: Do we need to prepare the Australian people for the reality that there will be some deaths?
Simon Birmingham: This is a dangerous virus. And we saw tragically some deaths in New South Wales. And I would expect there will be further the deaths. And yes-
David Bevan: You understand, Minister, what was behind Speers' question? That is that there is a zero tolerance of this of this virus. And once we are, we reach a certain level of vaccinations and the economy and we abandoned lockdowns. We can only do that if we accept that there will be a certain amount of death.
Simon Birmingham: That is true, it at a certain point in time, a virus like this will obviously cause death if it spreads. Vaccines are about minimising the number of instances of serious illness and death with the vaccines that we have. Be it AstraZeneca, be if Pfizer, the Moderna vaccine. They're all demonstrated to be highly effective at reducing the likelihood of serious illness or death. And that's why every single eligible Australian should go out and get the vaccine as and when it becomes their turn in the program rollout to be able to do so.
David Bevan: Yeah, but now understandably, quite rightly, we are appalled that a young woman has died from this disease. But what Speers is putting to Shorten and what I'm putting to you is that we're going to have to get used to that. As tragic as that is, people are going to die from this just like they die from the flu. And we're not that isn't going to become a headline anymore.
Simon Birmingham: I'm sure in many years to come, the reporting of COVID will be treated very much the same as if anything else and there are important considerations around how we continue to protect the population. And that's what the booster shots are all about, providing that ongoing protection. And whilst we've made those contractual arrangements for the next two years, importantly in that time frame, we'll have to think about how we bring COVID vaccine and booster shots for COVID into the nation's normal vaccination program, that this does become all part of business as usual in the years to come. And that may mean that if time allows that people will be able to get their COVID booster shot in a single shot together with the annual flu vaccine. And that is, in fact, what we will have to drive for. There is much higher take up of those annual flu vaccines if they would have become a combined COVID flu vaccination. I know that the medical scientists and researchers are working on those things to ensure that it becomes a seamless as possible for countries like ours to maintain the protection that vaccinations are going to give people but will require ongoing effort and quite possibly for the rest of all our lives.
Ali Clarke: Let's go to the phones. That is Federal Finance Minister South Australian Senator Simon Birmingham. Linda, you're a GP and you've called, what do you want to say?
Caller Linda: My point is the way the media publicises the adverse effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine, I think that they should be treated in the same way as death by suicide, where there's an unspoken understanding on the media that they aren't publicised. So I'm not saying that any adverse effects should be hidden, just not on the seven o'clock news. My community, I work in a small town in the Adelaide Hills, and my community is really frightened of the AstraZeneca. Most of my patients I've known for over 30 years and they still won't take my reassurance that this the right thing to do. I'm thinking the media has to take some responsibility here.
David Bevan: You think it's the media's fault or is it ATAGI's fault for handing out that kind of advice in a pandemic?
Caller Linda: Well, when I come home and see that suddenly there's a death and it's on the seven o'clock news and it's headline news, you have to understand how that sits in people's minds. If I have a patient who's died of a DVT because I've given them an oral contraceptive pill that's not on the seven o'clock news.
David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, have the media let you down or is it ATAGI who have let you down? You must be very frustrated with ATAGI?
Simon Birmingham: It's been frustrating, as I think I've said to 891 listeners before, if we had our time again and we had the wonderful benefit of hindsight making decisions again. Well, of course, you would have made different procurement decisions. But AstraZeneca is a vaccine that has saved the United Kingdom essentially, it's saved many other parts of the world in terms of supporting the management of COVID to save millions of lives, potentially-
David Bevan: But ATAGI has given that advice as if we were in a normal situation, hasn't it?
Simon Birmingham: They did seem to make their advice with a perhaps excessive belief that we wouldn't have any outbreaks of COVID in Australia-
David Bevan: Did they not get the email that we're in a pandemic when they were telling people, oh you ought to be careful?
Simon Birmingham: Well, look, they've revised their advice again. And made it clear be particularly in relation to those [indistinct] the advice really carry across the country, that AZ is a highly effective vaccine. It is as Linda has just said a vaccine that like all comes with some side effects but is overwhelmingly safe for the vast majority, the overwhelming majority of individuals who use it. It's certainly been the vaccine that that most of my family members have all had. And you know, I'd encourage people to access it, particularly those in the older age groups who still haven't had your vaccination yet or if you've had your first shot of AZ, please know the health advice has always been consistent, that if you have your first dose we had no adverse consequences, then definitely go back and get your second dose.
Ali Clarke: Thank you very much. Federal Finance Minister Simon Birmingham there on ABC Radio Adelaide.