Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Tuesday, 3 August 2021
Karl Stefanovic: Anthony Albanese has called on the Morrison Government to ramp up vaccine incentives by offering a one-time three hundred dollar payment to fully vaccinated Australians. Here's what he had to say on the show.
Anthony Albanese: This is something that we need to do. We need to get our vaccination rates up, way of running last in the developed world. So this would be good for our health, but also would provide a much needed stimulus at a time when workers and small businesses are really struggling to get by.
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Sophie Walsh: Federal Finance Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now in Canberra. Minister, good morning. Cash for a jab. What's your response?
Simon Birmingham: The evidence says this is unnecessary and won't work. Frankly, it's insulting to the many millions of Australians who've already turned out to get a jab, and they've done so because they know that this is the best way to protect their lives, the lives of their loved ones and the lives of the rest of the community. And what we're seeing is a huge response from Australia. And if you look at the over 70s, who were the first age cohort to be eligible, we're at more than 79 per cent of over 70s, have already had a first jab. People want it. People are turning out. And what we're doing is now scaling up the supply and the distribution outlets to meet that demand.
Karl Stefanovic: Insulting is a bit strong, isn't it? I mean, do you think that it's insulting what Joe Biden offered Americans?
Simon Birmingham: I just think if you look at the response of Australians who historically have always embraced vaccination and we should have every confidence that Australians understand the benefits of this to themselves and their loved ones sufficient to go out and get vaccinated this time as well. Now, the government has looked at questions around incentives. We've sought evidence from behavioural economics experts within government, and they don't believe that this is the type of pathway to go down. It just looks like the same tired old Labor, which is just to throw money at a problem rather than actually to work through the hard evidence and the difficult decisions.
Sophie Walsh: But surely if this convinces one extra person to get the job, it's a good thing?
Simon Birmingham: This is six billion dollars that we're talking about. Now throughout the pandemic, we've been willing to invest where it's needed to invest, as we are right now, in supporting people with their jobs and their businesses, to invest indeed in purchasing the vaccines and in paying for the distribution and in paying right across the GP network in states and territories to fund the standing up of new clinics. These are all these essential things that you need to invest in. But we can't just throw six billion dollars around against the evidence when you've actually got now, more than 40 per cent of Australians have already turned out for their first shot. And you do see that very strong desire from Australians to get a spot as soon as one's available and I would urge people to continue to do so.
Karl Stefanovic: Well, if it worked, why not?
Simon Birmingham: The evidence is it won't work, that it won't make the difference. It's six billion dollars, Karl.
Karl Stefanovic: Are you consulting that? Behavioural economists are saying it won't work.
Simon Birmingham: We're consulting with experts as we've done right through. I mean, it's all very well for Labor to just say we'll throw some money at the problem and that's what they've always done. It's what they did when they were last in government. The global financial crisis, just throw money around in a scattergun way. Our approach has been to be guided by principles, principles of making sure that spending is targeted, that it's proportionate, and that it is focussed on getting the exact outcomes that are necessary. And that's why our investments in relation to the vaccines have been about the purchasing of the vaccines, the purchasing of the boosters, the distribution networks being put in place, supply agreements with doctors, with pharmacists, with states and territories, and the communications campaign, which will shift gears as we see further supply come online over the next couple of months.
Sophie Walsh: Queensland's chief health officer is sticking to her guns. She doesn't want 18 year olds getting the AstraZeneca jab. How frustrating is that for you?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I just implore her, and indeed more importantly, all Queenslanders, to follow the ATAGI advice and to look carefully at the fact that advice is encouraging people to have the conversation with their doctor to make sure particularly where they're in outbreak areas, to go and get a vaccine where it's available. And I think for all Australians, it's not just a case of waiting for an outbreak. It is a case of going and getting that vaccine as soon as you possibly can. And that includes the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is being shown to reduce rates of death by around 90 per cent. And that's a big incentive for anyone to go and get protection.
Karl Stefanovic: Ok, so just definitively, you won't be offering cash and when we actually see your plan, because Albo's is out there this morning?
Simon Birmingham: You're seeing our plan live every day with record numbers of Australians getting vaccinated day in, day out.
Karl Stefanovic: No, no I just mean in terms of incentives.
Simon Birmingham: If there's a need for targeted approaches as we move through, particularly in terms of messaging or communications to different communities then that's precisely what we'll do as a government. But our approach has seen the first age cohort who were eligible. The over 70s already hit nearly that 80 per cent mark of turning up for their first jab. We are seeing Australians respond strongly with demand and what we want to do is make sure we follow that through every single age cohort.
Karl Stefanovic: Thanks for coming on so early, Simon. Appreciate it.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, guys. My pleasure.