Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Thursday, 29 July 2021
Will Goodings: Let's turn our attention to federal politics and some of the question marks with regard to assistance that the federal government has been providing for businesses and individuals as a result of lockdowns in what was South Australia, but certainly New South Wales for the next four weeks. The Finance Minister federally is South Australian Senator Simon Birmingham. Senator, good morning to you.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, guys. Good to be with you.
David Penberthy: Thanks for joining us, Birmo. Before we get to the detail around these payments, can I just ask I thought it was heartening to hear the Prime Minister yesterday, and I know there's been a few missed targets in the past six months, but he said that by the end of this year, he thinks that lockdowns will be a thing of the past?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we're going to have updates over the next couple of days, including a prelim talk at national cabinet tomorrow about the modelling work we're getting done by the Doherty Institute, a leading health researchers here in Australia doing research, looking at what's happening around the world with the Delta variant and what type of vaccination rates are going to be necessary for us to open up and how we can open up. And obviously seeing an end of lockdowns, a key part of that. Now, even if the vaccine program had continued just at the rate it had been rolling out at in June, for example, we could have hit 70 per cent of the whole Australian population this year. It's ramped up significantly since then, with extra doses coming in from overseas, with extra outlet points opening up and distribution points around the country. And we had around 200,000 vaccines administered in the last 24 hours and we're up past or around the eleven point six million dose total. And so that gives us real confidence that if Australians keep turning out, getting those jabs, then we're going to be able to get potentially some world leading rates in terms of vaccines administered. And that can put us in the best possible position with the right medical advice to hopefully end lockdowns and start the transition out of the COVID phase.
Will Goodings: Is ending lockdowns within the purview of the federal government, though what stops various states saying, well we will stop lockdowns when it's 70 per cent, nah our medical devices is it's 80 per cent when we can stop lockdowns, what capacity do you have to actually enforce an end to lockdown?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we don't have the capacity to enforce, but that is precisely why it's a process we're taking through the national cabinet. It's why we'll be briefing the national cabinet members or the premiers and chief ministers on the prelim findings of the Doherty Institute work and why the Prime Minister's going to keep taking them on that journey. There have been some, I think, quite sensible comments from Dan Andrews, for example, who he said ultimately he doesn't want a lockdown to protect people who won't protect themselves. And that was a reflection on the fact that we want to get to a point where every single Australian has had the opportunity to get vaccinated. We're seeing as the vaccine rollout really ramp up, we're now at around 78 per cent of the over 70s, have had a first dose. So it's getting very close to 80 per cent take up in that category and urge everybody to make sure they follow through, get their second dose. Around 64 per cent of over 50s have had at least a first dose, and close to 40 per cent of the entire eligible population have now had a first dose. So you can see the scale that is happening there.
Will Goodings: So then do you rule out using something like the disaster relief payments as an instrument to encourage or coerce state governments into adhering to whatever framework you ultimately come up with? So you won't put them in a position where you say, look, we've said the rate of vaccination needs to be this, and at that point there shouldn't be lockdowns. But if you go down that path, will you go it alone when it comes to financial assistance for your people?
Simon Birmingham: We're a long way off those sorts of discussions. And what we want to do with the states is bring them on an evidence based journey. You know, many countries around the world have basically decided if they've got to certain points to start to reopen. And we've seen that's been quite disastrous in some parts of the world. In the Netherlands, they reopened and they've had to close things back down and re-institute lockdowns. In Singapore, although it's vaccine program is a little ahead of ours, is equally back in a lockdown situation of sorts because of the Delta variant. So this is all about following the evidence. And in Australia we're taking the time to work with the medical researchers to develop that evidence. And hopefully we can get all the states and territories to accept and come on a journey together, as we did really at the start of this whole process.
David Penberthy: So in terms of the compensation and assistance that was being outlined yesterday, Senator Birmingham, what does that mean for people are doing it tough here in South Australia?
Simon Birmingham: Well, look, South Australians have taken the opportunity, as they should, to seek assistance through the COVID disaster payment where they lost work during the one week lockdown we had here. Around 20,000 claims were lodged with Services Australia yesterday for those payments of $600 or $375, depending on how many hours of work were lost by South Australians, and those claims will be processed as quickly as possible and money should be flowing into bank accounts pretty steadily over the next couple of days.
David Penberthy: Senator Simon Birmingham, thank you for joining us on 5AA Breakfast this morning.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, guys. My pleasure. And if you haven't made your claim and you're eligible, please do so. Services Australia website or use your myGov account,
David Penberthy: Good on you. Thank you, Birmo.