Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Saturday, 14 August 2021
Tom Connell: Joining me live now, the Minister for Finance, Simon Birmingham. Thanks for your time, first of all, on this hotspot. The fact that employers would only be able to do it for some industries in a hotspot, is that problematic? I mean, the hotspots declared overnight that you can't just have all your staff vaccinated overnight. Can you?
Simon Birmingham: Tom, an important point to remember is that we've always said the vaccine rollout should be voluntary and that we want every single Australian to think long and hard about getting vaccinated, and we encourage every single Australian to go out and get vaccinated. But mandating this, is an unnecessary debate to have. Yes, there are some sectors quite clearly like aged care, where it makes absolute sense to mandate getting vaccinated. There are other sectors where businesses rightly will use their judgement based on the circumstances they are in and the laws as they stand. And of course, we've asked businesses to make those choices in those decisions, and that's why this advice is being prepared for them.
Tom Connell: So just on the problematic element of the advice, though, as I said, a hotspot can be suddenly declared that business can't just suddenly make all their workers get vaccinated. Is that problematic when you have hotspots going on and then going off.
Simon Birmingham: Those businesses should be taking and all businesses, frankly, should be doing all they can to encourage their staff to get vaccinated, whether they're in a hotspot setting or not, and giving them the support, the information, the advice about doing so. That's what's driving vaccine rates at record levels in this country, is what saw us get to another 262,314 people during the course of Wednesday. And I'm sure we will continue to see those sorts of records broken in Australia turning out and getting vaccine doses.
Tom Connell: All right, it sounds like the Government will let this advice ride than not step in. I just wanted to ask you, though, you're in isolation yourself at the moment. That's why we can't speak to you in a studio. Olympians are as well. But in the state of South Australia, they'll endure a total of four weeks. What do you make of this? Have you asked the State Government what this is based on? There's been quite a bit of criticism.
Simon Birmingham: This is a terrible failure by the Australian Olympic Committee who were told way back on the 20th of July that Olympians who returned to Sydney would, under South Australia's laws, have to isolate again when they came into our state. And I can understand that hesitancy from South Australia, given the last lockdown caused and last outbreak that occurred in South Australia, was caused by somebody who had been in isolation in Sydney, but came to Adelaide and then later proved to have been positive in the community. So I understand the South Australian Government's hesitancy in relation to transit through Sydney and frankly, the AOC should have done better by their athletes in sending them to any city other than Sydney.
Tom Connell: So that's where all the blame lies, with no one else seems to be taking the same approach. These are double vaccinated athletes who are tested daily.
Simon Birmingham: They are and I appreciate that, Tom, but I do, understand hesitancy not just from the SA Government, but frankly, of South Australians in relation to those transiting through Sydney, given the fact that it's only a few weeks ago that SA was in lockdown, in that lockdown, caused as a result of somebody who had transited via Sydney.
Tom Connell: The Prime Minister said of vaccines this week it is a race, it doesn't matter how you started the race, that it matters how you end. In this race. We're in the race right now. We're in lockdown's. It doesn't matter just how you win, does it? It matters how you start. It matters how it's going in the middle.
Simon Birmingham: Well, it matters that we get through it Tom absolutely, now Australia, by world standards, remains in a far better position in terms of having saved lives from COVID-19. People are facing enormous challenges right now, I acknowledge that. But the challenges we face in Australia still pale into insignificance alongside the massive death toll we've seen around the rest of the world. It was the reality that major pharmaceutical companies dealt with countries facing huge loss of life where they had their manufacturing facilities and made sure that they were able to access those vaccines, such as the Pfizer vaccine. We're now seeing a big step up in our availability, as are other countries in our region. New Zealand catching up, still a little bit behind us, Japan, South Korea, places like Taiwan, they're all places in the world where we have managed to save lives better than Europe or to North America or many other parts of the world through the pandemic, but have had to had to fight to get shares of the vaccine along the way.
Tom Connell: But just on that PM comment, again, because he's talking about the only focus is the end date, so we might hit the original goal we were supposed to in October. The point is right now, according to the original goal, where we're going to be about sixty five per cent double vaccinated, that would make a big difference, wouldn't it, to the lockdown's going on right now to people's lives, to the death rate as well.
Simon Birmingham: Sure, Tom, as I've said before, if we'd had the 3.4 million doses turned up at the start of the year from Europe that were contracted but didn't arrive, if we had not had the change to ATAGI advice in relation to AstraZeneca, all of those things would have made a difference, did make a difference to the vaccine rollout. But those unforeseen circumstances did occur in all of those elements. And what we've had to do is respond to those. We take responsibility for responding to them.
Tom Connell: That just to jump in on the ATAGI and the response to that was to take that advice. In hindsight, was that a mistake?
Simon Birmingham: Tom, I don't think so. I think if we had ignored if we had had politicians overriding the advice of the ATAGI, we'd have had weeks of criticism and the damage to the reputation of AstraZeneca would have still been done and the government would have just been relentlessly attacked and no doubt by the opposition and everybody else for not taking the health advice at the time. So in the end, we have sought to act on health advice. We'd all wish that we were able to just wave a magic wand and have the entire population vaccinated overnight. It's not that easy. This is the biggest logistical undertaking in the nation's peacetime history. And right now we're at the point where more than 82 per cent of over 70 have had their first dose. More than 70 per cent of over 50s have had their first dose, and around 46 per cent of every Australian over the age of 16 has had their first dose. So this rollout is progressing at a pace now when we want to make sure we keep it going.
Tom Connell : But is ATAGI set up correctly or is it right to be the final port of call and advice it only takes into account health advice, seemingly didn't think it was a big chance of Delta coming. It doesn't take into account Lockdown's, mental health, economic impact. Who does take that into account if you're making decisions purely based on the ATAGI's advice?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I think I think it's fair to say that the Chief health Officers across the country and others have learnt and understood that they have to take into account all of those different factors in trying to provide advice to government to enable us all whether the Federal Government or states and territories to manage this situation. But when it comes to vaccines, we've always tried to provide Australians the confidence that vaccines are safe and that they can take them with absolute confidence. And that's required us to stick carefully to that health advice. But I think by sticking carefully to the health advice along the way, it gives us the maximum potential in getting to the maximum number of Australians by the end of the vaccine rollout. And that's ultimately the objective is to get as many Australians as possible across the line. And we are definitely seeing them turn out in record numbers now getting around the population of Adelaide vaccinated each and every week. And that's going to get us through this over the next few months.
Tom Connell: Just finally, the IPCC report to this week bluntly, more needs to be done to limit climate change, is the government, the Australian government, open to or discussing increasing its current 2030 target?
Simon Birmingham: Well, the 2030 target is now pretty imminent and we're on track to meet it. And I trust that as we have with the first Kyoto commitment target and our second Kyoto commitment target, we're not only made it, but beat it, and that's what we should be striving to do. We set a target at the 26 to 28 per cent range. I trust that will come in at the high end of that or even <inaudible>, as we've done before.
Tom Connell: What does that mean for increasing it? Everyone else says we need to increase it.
Simon Birmingham: Well, I don't know that everyone else says that we need to increase it Tom, what we need to do is make sure that we have momentum through 2030 that also carries us beyond 2030 to zero as soon as possible. And the investments that we're pursuing in relation to making clean hydrogen more affordable, not just for Australia, for the rest of the world, to lowering emissions in creating a greener steel and aluminium investments in relation to carbon capture and storage. These are all the ways that will ensure we actually beat those targets, have the momentum to get to zero and get other countries with the technology to do that.
Tom Connell: Doesn't sound like a yes at this stage to increasing it. We'll perhaps keep checking in. Simon Birmingham, appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you. My pleasure.