Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
The Hon Mark Butler MP
Shadow Minister for Health
Deputy Manager of Opposition Business
Member for Hindmarsh
Date: Tuesday, 3 August 2021
David Bevan: Is Mark Butler back with us now. We've lost him entirely. Well, we might just have to sing uplifting songs or maybe we can go to Simon Birmingham, he's the Federal Finance Minister. He joins us now as we try and make a reconnection with Mark Butler, Simon Birmingham. We wouldn't be in this situation if your government had handled the vaccination program better.
Simon Birmingham: David, I think listeners and Australians are mature enough to know there have been many uncertainties along the way. We had three point four million doses expected to arrive from Europe at the start of the year that didn't turn up. We've had the changes in a ATAGI's advice in relation to AstraZeneca. They've all been curveballs we've had to deal with. We take responsibility for getting on and fixing that. That's why we've now got to a situation where we're seeing record numbers of doses being administered. And more than twelve point four million doses have been administered to date. Around 41 per cent of the entire over 16 population of Australia have now had a first dose. People are turning out in record numbers each and every day. And if you look at the age cohort who were first eligible, the over 70s, they're actually at nearly 80 per cent who've had a first dose, which shows just how strong the demand of Australians is. And thankfully, we're seeing supply step up routinely now. Distribution points increase. And this is a rollout that has momentum.
David Bevan: Right. So how would you rate your vaccination program to date?
Simon Birmingham: It's a job in progress and to work in progress and we don't shy away from that-
David Bevan: Do you think you've done a lousy job, a crackerjack job, satisfactory- Ps make degree's job. How do you rate- should come on seriously, can you answer that question? How do you rate your vaccination program to date?
Simon Birmingham: David, they're questions for commentators-
David Bevan: No, it's a question for you. What do you think? You've got to sit around the cabinet Simon Birmingham and say, well, guys, how do you think we're going?
Simon Birmingham: And as I said, it is a work in progress, that's what I think we have to focus on to make sure we get the job done, which is our focus to make sure that the millions of additional doses anticipated of additional Pfizer of additional Moderna come through this year, that the extra distribution points that we're standing up in terms of thousands of extra pharmacies across the country as we get those extra vaccines in the nation, that they all come online seamlessly, that all Australians, as we've committed, get the opportunity to be vaccinated this year and that we give them all of the education, all of the information to do so. The number one incentive-
David Bevan: But there must be a point Simon Birmingham, where you and your cabinet colleagues sit around with the prime minister. I'm not asking you to breach cabinet confidentiality. Let's pretend you're in a pub doing this and you say to each other, well, how do you think we're going? Because if you don't know where you're at, you don't know where you need to get to. So do you sit around saying, yeah, we've done a great job?
Simon Birmingham: No, David. We don't sit around and pat ourselves on the back. We sit around and say there have been problems. Issues have come up that we couldn't foresee, but that we've had to respond to and we need to make adjustments as necessary to overcome those issues. That's what we talk about. We focus on getting the job done for Australians and we're incredibly grateful to the millions of Australians who have turned out to date to the millions of Australians who've made bookings to the millions more who want to make bookings when eligibility rules change over the coming months. Our focus is on making sure we give Australians that opportunity. We have confidence that they will come out and get vaccinated. If the over 70s are willing to do it to the tune of 80 per cent. I have confidence that younger Australians care just as much about their health, the health of their loved ones, the health of the rest of the community. And that's the number one incentive that is there for people to get vaccinated. It can save your life. You can save the life of your loved ones, and it can save the lives of fellow Australians. And whether it's AstraZeneca, whether it's Pfizer, whether it's Maduna, they reduce the rate of death by around 90 per cent. That's the incentive. And that's what Australians are responding to in droves.
David Bevan: In a moment, we'll come back to Mark Butler. We put some money in the machine and we think we've got a good phone line. But Susan has called ABC Radio Adelaide. Hello, Susan.
Caller Susan: Good morning, everyone. Well, we've all had ours and we had AstraZeneca and we had no problems, but look this government's pretty good at giving money out. And I think if you give 300 dollars to those people, that they may come forward. After all, Australia has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the world at the moment.
David Bevan: It's better than New Zealand, Susan.
Caller Susan: Well, it's not doing too well. And I just think anything that you think might work. After all big business has been given what almost a- big and small business, almost a trillion dollars. After all, if this works, I would just give it to them.
David Bevan: Susan, thanks for your thoughts. Mark Butler's back with us. Mark Butler, a lot of people on the text side saying, no, look, you shouldn't be handing out money. People should just do it because it's the right thing to do.
Mark Butler: Well I mean, that would be that would be great. And I've heard the government say the fact that it protects you and your community is incentive enough to do it. But the reality is, and we've seen this across the world, you can get up to a certain percentage of the population relatively easily vaccinated when you fix supply. And this government's got to fix the supply arrangements but getting that extra 10 or 20 per cent is hard yakka and we can't waste time. We're already well behind the rest of the world. This is a race and we think this is a positive contribution to making sure we get this done as quickly as possible. And across the world, they're looking at these ideas.
David Bevan: So how would it work?
Mark Butler: So 300 dollars would be paid to everyone who had been fully vaccinated by December. So people who have been vaccinated over the last few months, like Rose and Susan and others who've done that, done the right thing because they were eligible they went out and got vaccinated. They wouldn't be disadvantaged, they would be paid. But also those people who, research only out again this morning, show thinking about getting vaccinated don't feel in a rush. Think they want to wait back and see we want them to go out and get vaccinated as soon as possible.
David Bevan: Well, is it possible that you've muddied the waters because some people might be thinking, oh, hang on, I heard on the radio there's a guy who wants to hand out 300 dollars and I'm going to wait until that scheme is being put in place before I get vaccinated.
Mark Butler: Well, I mean, I think I was saying before that the phone gremlins interrupted us. I would like nothing more than the Prime Minister this afternoon in Parliament to stand up and agree with this. And this is what we did with JobKeeper. We proposed a wage subsidy program. He originally said it was a dangerous idea and then came around. And so we ended up with JobKeeper that served the country very well. That's what I hope happens with this program. We get to a position where as soon as possible we have Australians vaccinated and we end lockdown after lockdown that is costing the economy billions and billions of dollars and causing enormous hardship. Children not able to go to school, workers not able to go to work, enormous mental distress. It will be an economic stimulus at a time when the economy has started to dip potentially back in to a second recession.
David Bevan: One criticism is of this plan is that you're increasing people's perception of risk. If you have to pay someone, it might not be just intrinsically good for them, a good thing for them to do.
Mark Butler: Well, there's a there's a bunch of different research out about these sorts of programs. They've been researched for many, many years in different contexts. And there is some research that says a lottery is better. There's some research that I know the government's promoting that says, you know, you don't need to push incentives. People will do it just because it's the right thing to do. We've looked at research that shows these sorts of incentives works. It's why Joe Biden is pushing this sort of programme in the US, they've already got a very strong vaccination rate way ahead of where Australia is, but they're finding it difficult to get that extra 10 or 20 per cent they need to get really strong levels of herd immunity.
David Bevan: Ok, Mike has called from Ingle Farm. Hello, Mike.
Caller Mike: Hi. Good morning. Yes. I've had it. I'm about a week behind Rose. I figured it could save my life. That's more of an incentive than 300 bucks. And I've got an argument for a few of the others. You know, we don't know what's in it, but you drink coke. You don't know what's in that either.
David Bevan: Mike, thank you very much. Simon Birmingham. You're not going to go down this path. The prime minister's not going to get up in parliament today and say, I've had an epiphany. Anthony Albanese has had a great idea in bipartisanship I will adopt this. You're not going to do that, are you?
Simon Birmingham: No, David, because the evidence shows that this is unlikely to be effective or to work indeed, as you posed to Mark Butler. There's plenty of evidence that suggests it can send the wrong types of signals and that this is a reckless act by Labor. It shows they've learnt nothing from their cash splashes of the past. When you go back to the global financial crisis and checks were sent to dead people and all of those sorts of things. What we will focus on here is making sure that the supply keeps turning up in the record volumes we're getting that the distribution outlets open up in record numbers so that Australians who are already turning out in record numbers to get vaccinated continue to do so. We think Australians are bigger and better than this ploy from the Labor Party. We can see already in the behaviour of Australians that they understand the benefits of being vaccinated are about protecting them, protecting their families, protecting all Australians. And that, frankly, this is a bit of desperate attention grabbing from Labor and an unfortunate distraction from the main game, which is to educate, raise awareness whilst we make sure that availability of vaccine supplies continues to grow, to give everybody, every Australian that opportunity this year.
David Bevan: But we can expect over the next few weeks and months something of a campaign from the federal government saying these are the benefits of being vaccinated, apart from the obvious one, that it might save your life, freer travel, access to events, theatre, sport, there will be that kind of a campaign and that will be associated with some sort of passport.
Simon Birmingham: So if you look at the scientific modelling that the Doherty Institute has done for our government and for the national cabinet, it identifies the fact that people who have been vaccinated do have a reduced rate of transmission in the community. And that means you can look at providing greater liberties potentially to some of those who have been vaccinated relative to people who have not. And as we hit those 70 per cent, 80 per cent marks, then they will be some of the things that might be able to be considered in terms of the ability to more freely travel to and from the country or other types of measures in recognition of somebody's vaccination status.
David Bevan: Ok, well Mark Butler, last word to you. It's your party's idea. It's not going to get any further than today. I mean, look, we have a concept of debate or ideas.
Mark Butler: That complacency from Simon Birmingham, oh she'll be right, we'll get there. That's the complacency that has got us into this mess at the moment where we are dead last in the developed world, 15 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, almost half of a country locked down, but our biggest city locked down for weeks and weeks. And just negative politics, when we propose an idea, it's knocked out of the park simply because it's a Labor Party idea. And Simon says, look at the Doherty Institute modelling. Well, we can't look at it because the government's not released it. It's keeping it secret. This is critical modelling that's going to drive the most important decision the nation makes this year. And he won't show the Australian community what it says.
David Bevan: Mark Butler, thank you for your time. Shadow Minister for Health, South Australian MP, Member for Hindmarsh and Simon Birmingham, South Australian and of course, the Federal Minister for Finance.