Doorstop - Pakenham, VIC

20 May 2021
Prime Minister

The Hon Jason Wood MP, Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs: I’m Jason Wood, the Federal Member for La Trobe, and it's absolutely fantastic, again, to have the Prime Minister here in La Trobe and this time at Aquaterro. You can see over [inaudible]. La Trobe is the fastest growing electorate in the country. And one of the biggest things you’ll find, it’s of most annoyance to the public, it's road congestion. And the great news is in this Budget the Prime Minister again has announced for Racecourse Road and McGregor Road upgrades. It’s now going to be a $350 million package. Clyde Road and the Monash interchange down there will be a $250 million package. And also the Prime Minister a number of years ago came out and announced as Treasurer, in actual fact it was actually March 2016, for a big package for the Monash Freeway, which included extra lanes from Warrigal Road right out to Cardinia Road. And as you would have seen today, that work is well and truly underway, including the Beaconsfield interchange. Why is this so important? Because companies like Graeme’s Aquaterro gives them the confidence to come out here to invest, and Graeme has this amazing story where he actually started from a boat shed in Tasmania, and he's built this incredible business up, protecting military, law enforcement, and as an ex-member of Victorian Police Force the detail he puts into making sure members are kept safe - and this goes right across to all his staff. So Graeme thanks very much for being here and taking the opportunity to invest in La Trobe, and in particular the Prime Minister with the announcements, and he’s been to Racecourse Road and he’s been to McGregor Road. The extra funding we desperately needed. And can I say again, thank you PM for being out in La Trobe.

Prime Minister: Thanks very much, Jason. And Graeme, it's great to see you here again at Aquaterro. It was some years ago when we first met when you were over in Dandenong and you've been in this business, what, 27 years?

Graeme Bulte, Founder and CEO, Aquaterro: Yep.

Prime Minister: But it's been these last seven, as the Federal Government has certainly upped its game when it comes to meeting our commitments to the Australian people and investing in our Defence Forces to ensure that they have the capabilities that are necessary to protect Australia's interests and to pursue our national interests. But also, we are building the self-sufficiency here in this country to ensure that we can get that job done here in Australia and we can do it in partnership with our security partners, our Five Eyes partners. What is happening here is self-sufficiency. Earlier this week, I was up in Queensland and announcing the Government's commitment to self-sufficiency when it comes to Australia's fuel supplies and our refining capability. Well, it's equally true that here, in our defence industries, that we have been building the capabilities and the self-sufficiency year on year on year, to ensure that companies like this have the capacity to meet the demands and needs of our significant Defence Force upgrades. So it's great to see that more and more and more of what we're buying, what we're producing, what we're equipping our Defence Forces with, as we are now at two per cent of the size of our economy being invested into our Defence Force each and every year, supporting them so they can do the right job for Australia. The job we need them to do. More and more of that is being done by Australian companies like Aquaterro here in Melbourne.

Now, they’ve been able to do that for a range of reasons. They're able to do it because they can run successful businesses on lower taxes. And businesses like this one have benefited, of course, from the lower rates of tax that have been applied to businesses of their size over these last few years. But equally, they've been able to do it because we have a Defence Force industry capability plan. As part of our Modern Manufacturing Initiative, we're backing six key sectors in particular, to ensure that they can continue to make things here and make them competitively and make more of them and earn more for Australia, and work with our partners overseas, particularly our Five Eyes partners, to ensure that their part in the defence industries of that supply chain into the future. That means Australians can earn more. It means more jobs, it means more capability. And the assurance that our own men and women, who are serving in our Defence Forces, are increasingly kitted up with material and other supports that are made right here in Australia.

But it's also about a Government that understands that we do need to invest in our Defence Forces. We can't leave it to someone else. We can't. We can look to others who are part of our alliances and our partners across the region, but we can't leave it to anyone else, and we're not leaving it to anyone else. We're building our self-sufficiency, not only in the capability of our Defence Forces, but our capability as a country to ensure that we can manufacture what is needed to be manufactured here in Australia to support our Defence Forces.

So right across the manufacturing areas, whether it's in food and beverage or in space and aeronautical, whether it’s recycling or minerals, or any of these areas, these are the key sectors that we're investing in as part of our Modern Manufacturing Initiative. And defence industries are a key part of that. Backed in by lower taxes, backed in by a series of grant programmes that particularly Aquaterro have benefited from over many years now. This doesn't happen by itself. It takes big investments by their company, but also the programmes that we’ve put in place to support them to build the scale of these facilities that they have done here, and to get the people and the capabilities that enables them to do such a fantastic job for Australians.

But also, their capacity is now putting them in a space to be able to export as well. So it all comes together. This is how you secure Australia's economic recovery. This is how it's done, by backing industries like this with lower taxes, with clear commitments into sectors like defence industry, which means they can invest, create the jobs that we're going to need both now and into the future. So I'm going to ask Graeme to say a few words on that as well and then happy to take questions.

Graeme Bulte, Founder and CEO, Aquaterro: Thank you very much, PM. Thanks so much for coming out. It's a real privilege for us to have the Prime Minister and Jason Wood, our local MP, here. They've certainly shown a lot of support for our team, our company. We're a small business. We're 100 per cent Australian owned. I started the business 27 years ago in a boatyard in Tasmania, working with my dad and my mum. And we've done nothing else but look at how can we protect people who work in dangerous jobs and dangerous environments. And I've been very privileged to lead a great team of people that are here around that a lot of you have got to meet today who are passionate about their work. We've got a lot of personnel here working with us who’ve got great experience - former Defence Force veterans, people that work with police departments. It's a great skill set, and we have a real passion for what we're doing and growing. And as the Prime Minister said, one of the things that we look to here is the confidence to be able to say, yes, there's a future, there's a future here for this, there's a future for jobs. The work that we're doing here, in the next six months we're going to expand our workforce by 50 per cent. And that's because we've got a clear sight as to what's coming down the pipe. And we're investing our own money into those programmes and we're doing it off our own bat. So we’re very appreciative of that and very appreciative of the support we're getting, which you would hope for, that you've got a Government and you've got a local member that works as hard as ours does, that really is looking at small business in the area and you know, not just phoning it in. They really are working for us and we are stepping in behind that. So thank you very much everyone for coming today.

Prime Minister: Thank you, Graeme. Happy to take some questions.

Journalist: Prime Minister, Greg Hunt has suggested that if people aren't comfortable with getting AstraZeneca then they can wait for Pfizer or Moderna when those, when more supplies come in. Do you agree with that? And why are we bothering to make AZ if that's the case?

Prime Minister: Well, we don't have a compulsory vaccination programme in Australia. We made that very clear. We are encouraging strongly, particularly those aged over 50 where the AstraZeneca supplies that are there and the TGA have authorised and have approved. My mum's had AstraZeneca, Jenny’s had AstraZeneca. My mother-in-law’s had AstraZeneca, Greg Hunt’s had AstraZeneca, and so have so many across the country. And that has meant that yesterday we had a record day reported of vaccinations. We were, some weeks ago it was down about 300,000, then 350,000 a week, 400,000 a week, 450,000 a week, and we're getting close now to half a million vaccinations occurring every week. And in Victoria, I think they're doing a great job. I think the state-run facilities is really supporting the tremendous work of Victorian GPs as well, so I think that's tremendously exciting. So there's plenty of AstraZeneca jabs that are out there. They’re in the GPs' clinics, we’re seeing almost 100,000 of those being done every day. We’ve got about two-thirds of the population who’re very, very happy to get out there and achieve that. We already know that overseas, where vaccination programmes have been running, they seem to be levelling out. I was advised last night around the 60 per cent mark across their population. So what we're seeing here in Australia is not terribly different to that. And so we encourage, particularly those who are over the age of 70. We’re very focused on the more vulnerable populations. They are the ones most at risk. We're almost completed now, the full vaccination of those in aged care facilities, residential aged care facilities. We're very well advanced now on over 70s, around about 45 per cent of the over 70s population that has been vaccinated. But we’ve still got a lot more work to do there, and we're still very focused. So further down the track of course we'll be moving to other age groups, and further down in the year we'll see more of those other vaccines that come in, that are there for those who are under the age of 50, and we'll move to those groups later on. But right now, it's important, particularly if you're aged over 70, it’s very important that you get that vaccination because you're most at risk from a COVID outbreak. We saw last year in Victoria, sadly, that when there was an outbreak that was unable to be contained - and look there will be outbreaks from time to time, as we've seen in all states and territories - and what we've seen is a great improvement about how the states and territories are being able to contain those outbreaks. But if those outbreaks were to move more broadly throughout the community, then it’s our older residents who are most at risk, and that’s where our focus and attention is.

Journalist: Here in Victoria, though, our state-run facilities, our state-run hubs are sitting pretty quiet, with a lot of AstraZeneca in the fridge. Is it time that we open up the floodgates, say anyone who wants to come and get it sign that informed consent form, regardless of their age?

Prime Minister: Well, we're following the medical advice on this and what we're focusing on is the over 50 population right now. And I'd say to you, in Victoria, they're leading the country in terms of the state-run facilities presently, and I congratulate them for that and I thank them for their strong support. But the overwhelming number of vaccinations are actually being performed by GPs, and so their books are pretty full, I've got to say. And so we're providing them, we’ve upped the doses from 50 to 150 for those who were on 50. Those who were on 100, they’re now getting 200. And so we’re providing that support in to the GPs. And, as I said, each week it gets stronger, the rollout goes further, and it's reaching more and in particular it's ensuring that more of our most vulnerable populations are getting vaccinated.

Journalist: There's still a lot of worry in the community for people who don't want to get the vaccine. Are you looking at doing some sort of national ad campaign to promote the vaccine to get these people on board, to want to line up and roll up their sleeve?

Prime Minister: Well, we are. There's $40 million that the Government is investing both this year and next year in the communications campaign. But I'd make this point to you. There's around 65 per cent of the population who’s very happy to go and get the vaccine. So right now, the focus is ensuring that those who are very happy to go and do it, go and do it. And there's plenty of opportunity for them to do that if they're over 50 at present. And that's why we just simply encourage those who are already happy to go and have that vaccine, to go and get that vaccine. And we'll continue to have the conversation with the rest of the population about their concerns that they may have, and the best place to have that discussion is with your GP, and that’s what we’re encouraging people to do.

Journalist: Should all state premiers and MPs who fit into that age bracket go and get the jab to show that it's safe?

Prime Minister: Well, I've had the jab. I had one of the first jabs. Greg ...

Journalist: AstraZeneca?

Prime Minister: Well, that wasn't available to me at the time. Greg Hunt had the AstraZeneca when it was available a few weeks after I did, as did Professor Brendan Murphy. And as I said, my wife, my mother and my mother-in-law have all had the AstraZeneca vaccine. So, this is a safe vaccine, as approved by the TGA. They’re one of the best, if not the best vaccine regulators anywhere in the world today. This is a broad population vaccine. We’re vaccinating millions of people here in the country. There's never been anything done on this scale before and we just continue to make the progress we need to make every single week, and you'll continue to see that ramp up over the course of the year.

Journalist: You mentioned that advertising campaign, but doctors say it's not reaching older populations. What more do you think can be done to target that group?

Prime Minister: There is more communications going into the more elderly population, and you'll see that rolled out in the weeks’ ahead.

Journalist: So what do those look like?

Prime Minister: They'll see it when it comes.

Journalist: Is the idea for a vaccine passport essentially dead in the water now that both New South Wales and Queensland Premiers have said they're not on board?

Prime Minister: No, I don't believe so. I’m looking forward to those discussions. I think it's a reasonable thing to work through, that where states and territories, I suspect, will continue from time to time to make decisions which would see lockdowns in hopefully, just in quite contained areas, put in place, that where people have been vaccinated then that they would have the opportunity, let's say they happen to be in another state, then they can return home to Victoria and not be kept out of their home state, or that they may be able to move into other states and territories. I think that's something that Australians would support and I think it recognises the reality that states and territories, from time to time, will be making decisions which will restrict movements of Australians across the country. Now, I know the New South Wales Premier would prefer that there were no restrictions, but she can make decisions in relation to New South Wales, but other premiers, whether it's here in Victoria, Queensland, WA or other places, I'm sure will continue to exercise judgements they believe to be in the best interests of their states. And so it's a practical proposal, and I look forward to discussing it further with the premiers and chief ministers.

Journalist: And it would mean that they can do that, they can move without any quarantine requirements at all?

Prime Minister: Well, that's the plan. I mean, if they're in Australia and they've been vaccinated, and that's why we have to work that through with their medical advisers. This is something we tasked all the for quarantine. There's nothing new about that. It's been around for some time.

Journalist: What's your plan to prevent unemployment rising again? We’re waiting for some jobs figures today.

Prime Minister: Here's the plan. It's in the Budget. Lower taxes, guaranteeing those essentials that Australians rely on, tax incentives that enable businesses like Graeme’s here - this piece of kit over here, $200,000. $200,000 fully instant expensed. Wherever I’ve been around the country, what I'm seeing is businesses investing in equipment, putting more people on. We've got plans to have 170,000 additional apprentices and trainees come on. I'm seeing apprentices being employed and trainees all around the country. We have seen more people come back to work in the last year, in the last year, after almost a million people lost their jobs, than we've seen in this country in an incredibly long time. More people in work today than there were before when the pandemic hit. That's what’s securing Australia’s recovery looks like. But we cannot take it for granted. You've got to keep taxes low, you've got to keep rolling out the infrastructure programmes - $110 billion infrastructure programme. You've got to keep electricity prices down. You've got to keep the pressure on them down. That's why we're doing what we're doing up in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, backing in a new gas-fired power station to put downward pressure on electricity prices. More money for training, more money for apprenticeships. All of this is designed to get more Australians into work, and it's working. It's working. You don't get 13.1 million Australians back in jobs on the other side of a pandemic if the policies that you're putting in place aren’t working, and ours have been working and they'll continue to work in the future.

Journalist: What percentage of our population do you need to get vaccinated to ensure herd immunity? What’s your advice there?

Prime Minister: There's no hard and fast rule on that. And the medical advisers continue to look at that. I've said that overseas, that what we've been seeing is that many populations levelling it out about the 60 per cent mark, but medical opinion differs on those issues. And it isn’t just a population-wide measure. You've got to look particularly when you're at a vaccination programme about your most vulnerable populations. That's why we've been focusing so much on those in residential aged care facilities, those over 70. These are the populations that are most at risk for very serious illness and indeed fatality. And that’s why it’s very important, if you're over 70, then our priority is to ensure that you're vaccinated and I encourage you greatly to make that appointment, have a chat to your doctor, and they'll be able to talk you through any of the questions or any of the issues that you have, and that's where we're finding those vaccination rates improving because people are having those conversations and they're learning that it's in their best health interests to be able to get that vaccination to ensure they're protected, in the middle of a global pandemic which is raging, and it’s raging more today than it was a year ago. So, I certainly won't be complacent about that. We'll be taking decisions that continue to protect Australians' lives and their livelihoods.

Journalist: Sorry you’ve left out a pretty substantial vulnerable population there, with people with disabilities. What’s your plan to roll, to ramp up that rollout there?

Prime Minister: I met with the Disabilities Minister yesterday and what is clear, is that there are many people with disabilities who actually have been vaccinated as part of other programmes, but haven't been counted in the numbers that already have been vaccinated, specifically with the in-reach programs. So that's being worked through with the Disabilities Minister now, and we're working with the disability sector and those providers to ensure that we're matching all of those records so we can get a much clearer picture of how much progress we've made in that sector. So you’re right, it is a very important sector. But I would say this with our disability sector, one of the great achievements throughout the course of COVID-19 has been, at the start we were incredibly concerned about our population with disabilities. And we've had incredibly low rates of COVID infection amongst people with disabilities. So those programs have been working. We were also very concerned about how COVID might have affected our Indigenous populations, another very important vulnerable community we're also making progress with, particularly in vulnerable areas up in the Torres Strait and places like that. Again, we have had a lot of success in ensuring that COVID has stayed out of those very vulnerable communities. So the vaccination is incredibly important, but it's also important we keep doing the things that have kept these Australians safe all through COVID. We’re living in Australia like few countries anywhere in the world. Our vulnerable populations here in this country have been more protected than probably any other country anywhere else in the world, and we're going to keep doing that. That’s what the vaccination programme’s for. That’s what the safety and health programmes are for, particularly for those vulnerable Australians. And for Australians, it's important that we keep them in jobs, we get them in jobs and we grow those jobs in the future, and that's what securing Australia’s recovery and our plan in the Budget is all about. Thanks very much for your time.