Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Wednesday, 4 August 2021
Kieran Gilbert: With me now is the finance minister, Simon Birmingham. Minister, thanks for your time. The prime minister targeting Labor over this idea of an incentive payment to get vaccines, talking about six billion as if it's a lot of money. But these lockdowns are costing a couple of billion dollars a week.
Simon Birmingham: Kieran, it's still important that where we're spending taxpayers money, where we're spending borrowed money from the future, that we spend it on things that are necessary, now paying incentive payments to people who have already been vaccinated. And we've got some 12 million plus doses that have been administered already. And indeed, 42 per cent, 42 per cent of all Australians eligible over the age of 16 have already had their first dose and many more are turning out each and every day. 200,000 plus again yesterday. And we're seeing these records set. And the vaccine rollout doesn't need a cash splash to get people wanting a vaccine. People want a vaccine. They're turning out in record numbers. There have been challenges in terms of supply because we had three point four million doses that didn't turn up from Europe. We've had challenges in terms of the changing advice of ATAGI along the way, they've been disruptions and we acknowledge that.
Kieran Gilbert: But General Frewen himself today said while demand is exceeding supply right now, incentives may be later. When we're getting into some of the more hesitant groups, he says, we will look at all positive alternatives. There is cash. There is the idea of lotteries. General Frewen's open to why not you and the Prime Minister?
Simon Birmingham: And importantly, what he said there is maybe later if and when we're getting to very hard to reach cohort's. He said quite accurately, demand is exceeding availability in a range of ways at present. Now we do have AstraZeneca available for Australians, but there is more Pfizer coming, there's more Moderna coming. And we know that through the remainder of this year there will be more vaccines available for all Australians to be able to access. And so this idea that we need to go and spend six billion dollars to get people to do something that they are turning out to do already, it's unnecessary. Many of the experts actually say it could be quite unhelpful in terms of creating the impression that there is some reason why government needs to incentivise or bribe people to do it rather than actually educating people on the health grounds. And actually, it's a little bit insulting as well to Australians who overwhelmingly want to do the right thing and are doing the right thing.
Kieran Gilbert: That what I asked the Prime Minister yesterday. You already have the cash for the jab payments with childcare payments and that sort of thing. Family tax benefit. If people don't have their kids vaccinated, people don't get the money that's- you already have incentives.
Simon Birmingham: Those are payments that exist for other purposes. Those are payments in relation to paying child care subsidy, in relation to paying family tax benefit. Eligibility for those might sit in a different way in terms of needing to have undertaken child vaccinations. And child vaccinations are another demonstration of just how willing Australians are to get vaccinated. We sit close to ninety five per cent of child vaccination rates in this country. And so if we've got more than 80 per cent to around 80 per cent of over 70s have already had their first dose of a covid-19 vaccine. And if we've got ninety five per cent of people who manage to get their children vaccinated, why on earth do we think that getting the rest of the adult population-
Kieran Gilbert: With cash incentives though-
Simon Birmingham: The vast majority, the vast majority of Australians get their kids vaccinated not because they're worried about whether or not they can get family tax benefits-
Kieran Gilbert: That's true.
Simon Birmingham: They do it for the right reason.
Kieran Gilbert: But if you get to that cohort that you said, hard to budge, you would be open to an incentive at that point.
Simon Birmingham: There may well be incentives. They may be, of course, incentives in relation to the fact that greater liberties might be available to people who have been vaccinated. Which arguably is exactly how the no jab, no play type policies work, that they're actually about something you miss out on, that everybody else gets if you don't follow through.
Kieran Gilbert: Ok with the Doherty modelling. It's pretty clear saying that as supply allows extending vaccinations for those under 40 offers the best potential to reduce transmission. Can the government do more to try and drive the vaccination availability and then take up of the younger cohort?
Simon Birmingham: So obviously we have AstraZeneca available for all Australians at present and all Australians of any age can go to their doctor to get that and to make an informed consent decision in doing so. And there are additional places in terms of state clinics or in some cases pharmacies that Australians can do so as well. We're getting more doses, a million doses a week of Pfizer coming in, and that's expected to grow further. That's going to enable us to open up. Pfizer to those between 30 and thirty nine from later this month or very early next month and enables them to step only a month or so after that into those other Australian 16 to 29.
Kieran Gilbert: There's no there's no plan to shift that to align on the Doherty modelling now?
Simon Birmingham: Well, on the current on the current projections and the Doherty Institute themselves have answered questions around this on the current projections of what's available. That's the way that we will be able to open up those other choices beyond AstraZeneca to different age groups to be able to make sure we've got the supply as that increases into the country. Distribution channels are increasing, such as with pharmacists such as more doctors coming online. These are giving greater choices for people of where to get a vaccine, and that will all provide openings. And you've seen some jurisdictions being in a position to be able to open a little earlier than those national targets. And that's welcome where it provides the opportunity and is obviously a decision take.
Kieran Gilbert: Has Victoria been vindicated in its approach to COVID now that the Treasurer and others who were critical of Victoria's short, sharp lockdown is what needs to be done.
Simon Birmingham: There's no doubt the Delta variant has changed the advice in relation to these matters, that going harder sooner is necessary because you've got a variation of COVID-19 that is one hundred per cent more transmissible by estimates than the previous one. So what Victoria was dealing with last year was serious and needed to be gotten on top of, but they were dealing with a virus that was less transmissible than what New South Wales is dealing with this year, which is one hundred per cent more transmissible than was the case during the big Victorian lockdown. That's obviously a lesson for all, and it's why we've backed Queensland in going in hard and early. It's why we acknowledge that Victoria and South Australia did the right thing to get on top of it quickly too.
Kieran Gilbert: Finance Minister Simon Birmingham. Appreciate your time.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Kieran. My pleasure.