Doorstop - Canberra, ACT

05 Jan 2022
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Well, a very moving time to be spending together here at the AIATSIS. This is a wonderful national institution. It started in 1964 under the Menzies Government. And today, to be taking it into a new phase and a new chapter not just for Indigenous Australians, but all Australians. It is tremendous to be part of this. Again I want to acknowledge Minister Wyatt in particular, to Craig and Jodie and everyone here who has been part of getting us to this day. A lot of work ahead of us. But this is going to be a day I think we'll remember for a long time and when generations come to this amazing cultural precinct, here in our national capital, they will come back to this day. The Government committed, the proposal was cleared, and then we did it together. 

After this, I'll obviously return to Parliament House, I'll be chairing the National Cabinet meeting later today. There are many issues as people are very aware, that we're dealing with at the moment. There's 160 million rapid antigen tests that are on their way to Australia. In addition to that, I want to stress once again that those who are required to have a test, be it a rapid antigen test or a PCR test, those tests are free. They are free. Essential tests - so if you're a close contact, if you're symptomatic, those tests are free to all Australians. Always have been. That has never changed. For what I call peace of mind tests, and others have called them that, these peace of mind tests where people are seeking to get them over and above what the essential requirements are, I'll be putting a proposal to the premiers and chief ministers today, how we can offset the cost for those who are on Commonwealth Seniors health cards and pensioners, and those on health care cards and things of that nature to defray the costs for those that they're seeking to get, where other Australians are buying. And we'll be talking through those issues today, as well as improving the access and supply of the rapid antigen tests. 

The Omicron variant has been a major disruption in many respects, not just here in Australia, all around the world. You'd be aware that in the United Kingdom, the tests that are supplied there, they've had to pull back from in terms of how they're getting to people. This massive demand, which is caused by the sheer volume of the Omicron variant. Under the Delta variant it was very, very different. It was extremely different. The volume of cases with different vaccine protection was different and the demand for testing was different. The Omicron variant was a game changer for that, and that is affecting countries all around the world, not just in Australia. So today, I'll be meeting with the premiers and chief ministers to ensure that we work together to work through these current challenges. They are a challenge, they are a problem. There's no silver bullet. Making everything free is not a silver bullet. There are no silver bullets here. You've just got to work the problem, work it together and push through. And that's what we'll be doing at National Cabinet. 

JOURNALIST: PM, so have you completely ruled out making these rapid antigen tests free, for all Australians, like they are in other countries? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that is only true in two countries that I'm aware of. 

JOURNALIST: Three as well as New Zealand.

PRIME MINISTER: There's the United Kingdom, and they are having very significant problems in the supply of those tests. And so that is proving to be very challenging. Singapore is a much smaller country than Australia, as is New Zealand. More broadly across the world, that is not what all the countries are doing. What we're focused on is ensuring that the tests are there for those who need them for health reasons. So if you need one for health reasons, then those tests are free and I encourage people to get that message out. The suggestion that tests are not free is untrue. The tests are free if you require one and are required to have one because you are a close contact or you're symptomatic. The challenge at present sits predominantly around the issue of supply, and as I said 160 million tests both state and federal governments have been out there and we've been in the market since August. We've been able to ensure that we've met all of our obligations and responsibilities for RAT tests to the aged care sector, those sectors that we're responsible for. The states are now working to acquire those tests. As you know, in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, they've all been moving on that. And so we have a challenge in the short term. We will overcome that challenge, like we've overcome all the challenges through COVID, which has put us in the situation where Australia has one of the lowest death rates, strongest economies and highest vaccination rates of any country in the world. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, with regards to today's announcement, how confident are you that Indigenous peoples from across the country, not just here in the capital, will be able to be consulted or have been consulted as far as the precinct goes?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, AIATSIS's reputation precedes it. This is where the Government has put our trust, and rightly so in the process that AIATSIS and the Minister will lead. That is what has brought us to this day and that that is what will take us forward. This is being driven by AIATSIS with the Minister, and I have every confidence that they will work through that way that they have for a very long time since 1964. They have the credibility and the reputation to take this project forward, with Minister Wyatt. And so I'm very confident about how that process will flow forward and we can look forward to an amazing precinct here in Canberra, where the shared stories of Indigenous peoples all around the country can be honoured, can be respected, can be learnt from, can inspire us. And of course, it's the stories of loss, but it's also the stories of dignity and hope as well and achievement and ensuring we tell the whole story. And I think it's going to be a very, very special place in Australia. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister just quickly on Novak Djokovic, how did he get an exemption to come into Australia and have we see his vaccination passport? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that is a matter for the Victorian Government. They have provided him with an exemption to come to Australia, and so we then act in accordance with that decision. 

JOURNALIST: Do you think that's appropriate? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's how it works. States provide exemptions for people to enter on those basis, and that's been happening for the last two years. So there's no change to that arrangement. The Victorian Government made their decision on that. And so I'd have to refer to the Victoria Government about their reasons for doing so. Thank you.