Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Wednesday, 6 October 2021
Will Goodings: South Australian Senator and Federal Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, Senator, good morning to you.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, guys. Great to be with you.
David Penberthy: So we're clearly powering ahead now Birmo, compared to where we were three or four months ago. But how confident are you that the roadmap, as agreed to by the premiers across the nation, is going to stick?
Simon Birmingham: I think it's a very strong roadmap based by evidence from the Doherty Institute. And so for the million plus South Australians who've had their first jab - done the right thing. You know, they are to be applauded and congratulated. And for everyone else, it's a case to keep doing so, driving not just the 80 per cent target, but beyond it, if we can. We're seeing that many parts of Australia are exceeding that. The over 70s have indeed in SA hit more than 92 per cent having done so and that should be an inspiration to the rest of us.
Will Goodings: Being the number being that high and you look in New South Wales and that older age cohort that we've focussed on for longer is all over 95 per cent right now. Who's the message for? It seems as though people have largely decided, haven't they?
Simon Birmingham: People overwhelmingly have. But you know, there's still a sticky few who seem to say, 'Oh, I'm going to wait until there's an outbreak.' Well, that's got to be the most stupid thing I've ever heard. Don't wait until there's an outbreak to get protection, go out and get it now because it is actually available. And that's the key message is there are more than 550 spots across SA - doctors, pharmacies and SA health hubs where you can go and get a vaccination. So if you're one of those people who are sitting back thinking, 'Oh, there's no hurry to get around and do this.' Look, you're right today, but who knows what the situation will be in one week, two weeks or one month.
Will Goodings: Why won't the federal government release modelling with regard to the predicted surges in hospitals around the country when borders do reopen?
Simon Birmingham: So the data that underpins the Doherty Institute modelling, which includes projected rates of hospitalisation, as well as projected rates ultimately of deaths, is public and available and it shows that when we hit those very high vaccination rates…
Will Goodings: That was the Doherty Modelling Institute. But you know the modelling to which I'm referring to, that was received by the National Cabinet last week.
Simon Birmingham: The information that is there, is based profoundly upon what we know the evidence analysis is that we've got at the Doherty Institute. It is public, does show rates of hospitalisation, does show ultimately rate the death and shows that with high rates of vaccination, we can treat, manage COVID more like we do the flu. It's not exactly the same, but certainly we can treat it in ways analogous to that.
David Penberthy: Are you confident, though Birmo, that by wearing your South Australian hat that when you look at some of the commentary out of Western Australia and some of the commentary out of Queensland about, you know, us opening up to Victoria and New South Wales, I mean, Victoria had its worst day ever yesterday in terms of case numbers. How do you think most South Australians feel about the idea of borders reopening? And do you think that they might actually favour more of a McGowan-esque approach to this question?
Simon Birmingham: I think people do want a sense of caution, and I understand that. And it's why certainly we shouldn't just rush to an instant 'rip the Band-Aid off' moment at 80 per cent, taking a cautious staged, careful approach to that is the logical thing to do. We also have to get away from just talking endlessly about the number of cases. Yes, the number of cases is higher in Victoria and has been higher recently in New South Wales. But the health outcomes from those cases are not like what we were seeing last year when the population was unvaccinated. People aren't as likely to get sick, they aren't as likely to die. So we need to put a bit more perspective around the COVID discussion, and I think there is a really crucial point to shift away from that mere sort of focus on a big headline number and actually understand that underneath that, you've got much, much better health outcomes today, including from better treatment options as well.
David Penberthy: To your very forthright point, which I totally agree with I should say earlier about this the stupidity of sitting back and twirling your head twiddling their thumbs, thinking, 'Oh, well, you know, there's plenty of time', when you look at what has happened to people who have not been vaccinated in the eastern states where overwhelmingly the people have died, the people have ended up in ICU, have been unvaccinated people. Does it worry you that in some, particularly in some parts of suburban SA and not always based on the availability of vaccines, there are huge lags compared to the eastern states vaccination rate.
Simon Birmingham: Go to suburban SA, some parts of rural SA as well, and people in those areas, sometimes there might be a little bit more effort required to get a vaccine. Perhaps the big hub isn't near you, and you might have to hunt out the pharmacy or the doctor. But again, the message is clear the vaccine doesn't just jump up and get in your arm. You do actually have to make some effort to go out and do so, and the overwhelming majority of Australians are doing the right thing. And so that is to be applauded. More than 75 per cent of us over the age of 16 and people are now turning out for their kids aged 12 to 15 as well. So make that effort and do so. We're putting more effort in as the federal government in terms of where some of these extra locations can go in opening up new pharmacies and providing targeted support, particularly to vulnerable cohorts in indigenous communities in the disabled sector and so forth. I know the state government is looking and doing their pop up hubs in the areas that need it most. So the options are there just to get it done.
Will Goodings: With your Finance Minister cap on Senator, do you share the Reserve Bank governors fairly rosy outlook for the Australian economy over the last part of this year and into the early part of next year?
Simon Birmingham: People should be optimistic. We saw just how strongly we came back after last year's lockdowns and shutdowns and people do, I think, now see that the economic supports put in place through the pandemic have worked, kept businesses afloat, have enabled people to have more job security than was previously the case. And so New South Wales, Victoria, the ACT as they reopen, we expect to see them come back quite strongly. Remember, it was only a few short months ago that we were talking about labour shortages and record low unemployment rates and record high levels of employment and participation across our economy. So the aim is to get back there and the things we announced in this year's budget to incentivise businesses to invest, to grow in productive machinery and plant equipment, they're all still there to make sure that the recovery is as strong as possible.
Will Goodings: South Australian Senator Simon Birmingham appreciate your time on FIVEaa breakfast this morning.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks guys, my pleasure.