Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Tuesday, 3 August 2021
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, all. The best incentive for Australians to get vaccinated is it could save their lives, the lives of their loved ones and the lives of their fellow Australians. Our intention as a government, is to ensure that all Australians have the opportunity to get vaccinated and we're seeing them respond in record ways and I thank them for doing so. Already, more than 12.4 four million doses of vaccine have been administered already more than 12.4 million occasions where Australians have turned out voluntarily knowing that the best thing they can do to protect themselves is to get vaccine. Indeed, if we look at the data in terms of the first outbreak, people were eligible to get vaccinated. The over 70s, more than 79 per cent of Australians over 70 have already had a vaccine. Across all Australians over the age of 16, more than 41 per cent have already chosen of their own free will to go out and have a vaccine. Demand is strong. People are turning out in record numbers day after day to receive these vaccines. And it is driving Australia towards the types of targets that the Doherty Institute has laid out. This week in Parliament the government's going to build on our COVID response by legislating arrangements in relation to the COVID disaster assistance payments and frameworks to support the potential for business support in the future.
This is necessary to make sure that we continue to be able to respond in a careful, targeted way to the ongoing situation with the COVID-19 pandemic. We've all learnt much in the last 18 months. We continue to learn as we face new threats like the Delta variant that pose new challenges in relation to the management of this pandemic. Our economic responses, such as the COVID Disaster Assistance Payment are now better able to be targeted to the regions where there is an outbreak and to make sure they support all of those who are losing more than eight hours of work and to provide the right type of assistance to ensure Australians can respond as they should to lockdowns and restrictions by respecting them and following the instructions, but also be in the strongest possible economic position to bounce back, because we've seen that time and time again through the COVID pandemic. That despite restrictions, lockdowns, interruptions that have occurred, our economy has bounced back strongly afterwards because of the types of supports and measures that have successfully helped businesses, households and individuals through those difficult times.
Journalist: Are you ruling out all cash incentives altogether for the vaccine. Or are you saying now is not the right time given we obviously don't have enough supply?
Simon Birmingham: We've looked carefully at the types of incentives and the evidence from behavioural economists and others this government has worked with to show that these types of proposed cash incentives from the Labor Party aren't necessary, won't change [indistinct], and ultimately would prove to be quite wasteful in terms of the overall scale of public expenditure. But what we're what we're seeing from Labor is another typical Labor Party cash splash of some six billion dollars without the evidence to back up that it's necessary or that it would work. Our approach to seeing Australians turn out in record numbers each and every day, and frankly, it's a little bit insulting to the many millions of Australians who know the best way and reason to get a vaccine is because it protects their lives and those of their loved ones. That's what's driving Australians to get vaccinated. And we thank them for it and encourage them to continue to do so despite these distractions from Labor.
Journalist: Are you looking at other incentives? What are the alternatives are we talking about a gift voucher to Bunnings? What industries?
Simon Birmingham: We'll look carefully as the rollout progresses in terms of any targeted measures that are necessary to help hit certain cohorts of Australians where there might be any additional need or otherwise. We'll follow evidence in relation to what might work there. But the vast majority of Australians already participate in Australia's vaccination programs. Year in, year out. They go and get their kids vaccinated. They go and get themselves vaccinated. They understand the importance of vaccinations. And you can see with the COVID vaccine that they are turning out in record numbers. You don't get 12.4 million doses already without Australians responding positively to the vaccine message. Clearly they are and they continuing to do so.
Journalist: So will there need to be targeted incentives in order to reach that 80 percent threshold or do you believe we can get there with nothing?
Simon Birmingham: I think if you look at that first age cohort of Australians who became eligible in the over 70s, they're about to get the 80 per cent target. And so we can see that where Australians have had the longest period of time to be able to go out and get vaccinated, clear messaging around the benefits of doing so. They've responded in huge numbers, not just hitting the 70 per cent target, but about to hit the 80 per cent target. And that's what we want to see every Australian age group do. And we will be encouraging younger age groups as more and more of them become eligible for all stages of the rollout to follow the lead of those older Australians that have driven us to such high vaccination rates in their age cohort already.
Journalist: Labor are arguing that these three hundred dollars payment would act as stimulus at a time that we may see another recession, two quarters of negative growth. What does the government say about that?
Simon Birmingham: Once again, Labor's learnt absolutely nothing from their wasteful spending in the global financial crisis. All throughout the course of this pandemic, where the types of targeted proportionate measures we've put in place right throughout around economic support have worked in terms of our economy bouncing back. Before these latest lockdowns and setbacks, we saw the Australian economy be the first in the world to become bigger than it was prior to COVID commencing. We all the Australian economy become the first in the developed world to reach the point where it had more jobs post or during the pandemic than it actually had prior to the pandemic. And so our measures to date have been shown to work not just in terms of supporting Australians during a period of lockdown or restrictions, but supporting our economy to come back strongly afterwards. We have confidence that the targeted proportionate measures supporting Australian households, supporting Australian businesses, supporting sectors like our airlines through these difficult times will ensure our economy is well placed to bounce back yet again.
Journalist: Labor has set a December 1st date. Can you give a guarantee that every Australian who wants to be fully vaccinated will be fully vaccinated by December one? Or is that too premature that date?
Simon Birmingham: We're confident that the supply should flow through. That is going to give us, according to the projections that we've released publicly, doses for all Australians through distribution points to be able to get vaccinated this year. And that's where our focus has been getting the scale up and supply coming in, which has already seen AstraZeneca in abundant supply. Pfizer with now a million doses a week coming into Australia and expected to be even more over the coming couple of months, Moderna to come in, more distribution points opening up in terms of adding to the GP networks, adding to the state distribution hubs and even more pharmacy outlets opening up as distribution points of the vaccine. That's how we make sure we have the supply to reach Australians, the places where they can get vaccinated in ample numbers. And that's going to create the best environment for all Australians [indistinct] vaccinated this year.
Journalist: The prime minister yesterday said that it would be a reasonable question for businesses to ask customers to show proof of vaccination do you agree with that?
Simon Birmingham: Yes, look it is a matter for individual businesses, just as it's a matter for states and territories who by and large, are the ones that have powers in relation to legal frameworks in that regard.
Journalist: Sydney is increasingly seeing younger age group, those under 40s that are becoming infected, when are we going to start seeing those younger ages groups become eligible for the Pfizer? And yesterday, Lieutenant General Frewen said that there'd still, you know, that there'd be that choice later in the year. Is that sort of language keeps saying that there's going to be choice later in the year, going to discourage people, make people more likely to wait for those other vaccines when they could be getting them now?
Simon Birmingham: Few questions there. I'd pointed to the published documents, to Lieutenant General Frewen has published as part of the operations there, which highlight and outline the different phases as to when we would expect to open up the next stage to those between 30 and 40. And that's likely to occur in August and then around September. We would expect to see the entire eligible population be able to access vaccines as we see those step ups in supply, such that we can have confidence that the supply coming in is able to accommodate the rates of demand that we would come through. Continuing to follow carefully the health advice in relation to that phased approach of opening up. But certainly as the Prime Minister has done, I urge all Australians to look and think very carefully about going and getting whatever vaccine is available to them right now, because we know that the vaccines, AstraZeneca and Pfizer have around a 90 per cent success rate in reducing the risk of death from COVID-19. That's the most important incentive to get either of those vaccines because it will reduce your rate of dying or those of your loved ones.
Journalist: To get to that 80 per cent mark. Is that a concession that the communications strategy has failed if you have to effectively end up thriving [indistinct]?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we're not at that stage yet. We have confidence in saying Australians turning out in record numbers, in seeing the cohorts that have been eligible for the longest period of time, not just hit 70 per cent rate, but about 80 per cent rate. And I'm sure that young Australians are just as committed to protecting themselves, their loved ones and our community as older Australians, and that they will embrace the opportunities of safety that come from getting vaccinated that we've seen older Australians do today. Thanks, everyone.