Doorstop - Symonston, ACT

Media release
10 Mar 2021
Prime Minister
E&OE

PRIME MINISTER: Well, good morning everyone. It's good to be here at the Therapeutic Goods Administration. I learned as I arrived this morning that I'm indeed the first Prime Minister to have ever visited the TGA here in Canberra, and I suppose that's appropriate given the year that we've just had. This has been an extraordinary year of heroic and courageous sacrifice and incredibly hard work and professionalism by so many Australians. We often think of those on the frontline of the pandemic, and rightly think of those working in our intensive care units and those attending directly to those who've had the most severe effects of the COVID-19 virus, and those working in aged care and disability care. But I can tell you the front line of Australia's effort on the pandemic has also been right here at the Therapeutic Goods Administration. Over the course of this past year, they have been working night and day, literally. Whether it's been the testing of materials and equipment, of medical equipment, that has come in over the course of the pandemic – or indeed this most important task now over many months, both in preparing for the approval of the suite of vaccines that Australia has pulled together, as part of our vaccination strategy. But then to go through the meticulous process of once they've arrived, to ensure that those vaccines go through the appropriate batch testing and other tests to ensure that they can be distributed across the country safely, and so Australians can have that confidence. As Professor Murphy and I have said on so many occasions the people who work in this building, they are the same people who ensure that the vaccines that our children take, that we take them along to each year, every day of the week when Australians do that with their own families. These are the same people who test those vaccines to make sure your children are safe, to ensure that you are safe. Professor Skerrit, who can't be with us here today, now, he heads up this incredible organisation and that's why I think Australians have such confidence and it was a great thrill for me this morning to go, to go and thank all of those staff. It was a great thrill to be able to see, as you have been able to see as you accompany me this morning, to see all of the meticulous processes that have to be gone through, and that's also essential to keeping Australians safe. The good news is, is that over the course of just this week, starting last weekend, a further 414,000 AstraZeneca doses have been able to be secured, and they've arrived in Australia as of last Sunday. A further 149,000 Pfizer vaccines have also arrived yesterday. That brings to a total of 1.3 million - 1.3 million - doses of both the AstraZeneca and the Pfizer vaccine here in the country. And yesterday, we went past the mark where 100,000 of those have already been jabbed into the arms of Australians. And I'm pleased to say that a quarter of those vaccines have been administered to the most vulnerable Australians, in aged care facilities and those with disabilities. And so the vaccination program is underway. It's sure, it's steady, it's safe, it's well planned, and it's overseen by the best medical experts in the world. And so we welcome that development and we look forward to the continued rollout of the vaccine. As I said last Friday, we are now providing regular information and that will increase as time goes on and those data channels become firmed up with the states and territories, and we can provide more information on how that vaccination program is rolling out. But that's certainly what it's doing and Professor Murphy will speak a bit more about that in just a second.

The other point I wanted to make today is you will have all learnt that the first ever meeting of the Quad leaders will be taking place this weekend. I'm very much looking forward to that, and joining President Biden and Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Suga on what will be the first ever meeting of Quad leaders. The Indo-Pacific is our world. This is where Australia lives. And our security, our peace and stability that all Australians rely on for their freedom and for them being able to live the lives in the way that they wish to in a liberal democracy, such as Australia, that depends on the peace and stability of our region. And to see the Quad now move to a whole new level, something Australia has been championing for many years now, and particularly under my Prime Ministership, this has been a key focus that we could get the Quad leaders meeting together. It was one of the first things, the first thing I should say, I discussed with President Biden and I was so pleased the new administration were also so enthusiastic about this program, and that President Biden is taking this to another level and seeing the Quad as his first engagement in this way, and to elevate it in this way. So I'm looking forward to those discussions – of course, it will deal with security matters and maritime issues and a range of other topics of that nature. But it'll also be dealing with the challenges and the environment, the climate and, of course, the COVID-19 response in our region. So I'm looking forward to that meeting - it is another key step forward in how Australia has sought to keep Australians safe, by ensuring that we're working with our partners, with our allies in particular. And these relationships have been strengthened individually with the United States, with Japan with India. This has been a core focus, and to see that all come together with the Quad, I couldn't be more pleased and I'm looking very much forward to attending that meeting. It may be in the wee small hours of Saturday, which Prime Minister Suga will also be up late that night. But it's certainly worth staying up late for that night because it will be an historic moment in our region. And it sends a very strong message to the region that our support for a sovereign, independent Indo-Pacific.

Final point I want to make before handing over to Professor Murphy is that I'm very pleased that Anzac Day is on. I'm very pleased that we're seeing changes being made to facilitate that happening right across Australia. This is a sacred day for Australia. Last year, we did it in the quietness and solemnity of our homes and on our driveways, as we, as Australians held up lights in the early hours of the dawn. But this year, as a sign that Australia is back on track with the comeback is well underway, Australians will come together in the way we always have – and we’ll remember those who have gifted us our peace, our security, our sovereignty and our freedom. I'm very pleased about the response that I saw yesterday from around the country.

With that I'll ask Professor Murphy to say a few words on the vaccination rollout. And we're happy to take questions. But we'll start, first of all, with vaccination, then I'll excuse our medical professionals who are with us.

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: Thanks very much Prime Minister. It’s very exciting today to have the Prime Minister see the testing of the AstraZeneca vaccine at the TGA. As we’ve said on many occasions, we’re not in this position of other countries who have not had the luxury of being able to test these vaccines as thoroughly as we test every other vaccine that we rollout to the Australian people. We’re in a wonderful position and these vaccines are going through all those normal tests. The other exciting thing is that the AstraZeneca vaccine is going to be the workforce vaccine for Australia because that’s what we’re going to have most of from the wonderful production of CSL. And I really want to make again the point that all the data now that’s coming out of the UK where, particularly, and other countries where there’s good real world experience is that we now have two vaccines that are indistinguishable, they are both really, really good vaccines. They are both highly effective at preventing severe COVID hospitalisations and deaths, and both are probably going to have some impact on transmission. There was some narrative around several weeks ago that maybe one vaccine was better than the other. The data, the real world data now has put to bed that argument. We have two vaccines that are indistinguishably effective. Australians are in this position that we couldn't have dreamt of 12 months ago, that by early 2021 we have two brilliant vaccines, really brilliant vaccines, much better efficacy than the flu vaccines we get every year. So this is a wonderful position. We're also in the position because we've got no community transmission, we can take our rollout of the vaccines safely and carefully and scale it up according to the experience we get with the early rollout. We can do the aged care residents respectfully and carefully. And so we're working hard to expand and increase our rollout of the vaccines, but we are in this wonderful position of not having a burning platform. The rollout is going really well – over 300,000 aged and disability care facilities. As the Prime Minister said a thousand, over 100,000 jabs in arms – one in my arm last Sunday didn't hurt at all. Great, great vaccines. Very exciting time to be here at the TGA with the Prime Minister. Thank you. 

JOURNALIST: Professor, has the TGA started batch testing the locally produced AstraZeneca yet?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: So the locally produced AstraZeneca is being tested at the same time as the international ones. So that the locally produced AstraZeneca, the main issue with it now is getting it into bottles. So that's what CSL is focusing on at the moment. The actual bulk vaccine is produced and it's being tested here and it's looking very good.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, how many vaccines are you expecting to have any Australian arms by the end of March? And how are we on track to ask for it? 

PRIME MINISTER: I’ll ask Brendan update on that. But the important point about the 1.3 million that we've been able to secure and have in-country now means that that has built the bridge to get us to the commencement of the locally produced vaccines. So we took the decision to have sovereign capacity to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine here in Australia because we did not want to be reliant on overseas supply chains. Now, we've seen just how threatened those supply chains can be. But Australia has been successful and I particularly want to commend Professor Murphy and Minister Hunt, together with Minister Payne and Frances Adamson at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for the great work they've done to ensure that we've been able to get 1.3 million doses into this country. That gets us on the bridge to the start day for the Australian produced AstraZeneca vaccines. And we'll be at a stage where they're rolling out about a million a week once that is in full production phase. And so we are watching in these early phases of how the rollout is progressing. We're obviously working with states and territories. And once the data becomes a bit clearer, I think we'll be in a better position to provide more accurate estimates. But we're moving as quickly and as safely and as surely as we can. But Brendan, did you want to add to that? 

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: Thanks, Prime Minister. So the major target has always been to offer every adult Australian a vaccine by the end of October. And that's what we're working to, and particularly to get those vulnerable people in phase 1A and 1B vaccinated as quickly as possible by the middle of this year. So that's what we're targeting. It's a dynamic programme. So some of the states have been a bit slower starting up. Our aged care has we've had to start a bit more slowly than we looked at, but we're scaling up. In the meantime, we've brought forward some of the 1B and we're vaccinating some 1B health care workers across the country much earlier than we thought. But as the Prime Minister has said, the real ramp up starts with the release of the locally produced AstraZeneca vaccine. That's when we'll have lots of supply. We'll be able to distribute it to simply thousands of GP points of contact, and that's when we'll see the real scale up. 

JOURNALIST: But do you believe you will get to four million vaccinations by early April as you yourself and Mr Hunt had previously indicated?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we said at the time that any of these estimates that we give are always subject to the progress of the rollout and the events that we encounter along the way, and when we're in a better position to give an update on those figures, then we will. And we're certainly working to the sort of targets that we would hope for. But they are always subject to events. So I think Australians know that they want the vaccination programme rolled out safely and surely and done in a way and I think Professor Murphy's made a very good point. Right now, we're dealing with the most vulnerable of Australians. We're dealing with elderly Australians. You know, we're not going to put them in buses and take them off to military sites and, you know, have them herded into tents where they're going to be vaccinated. No, they're going to go to their GP. They're going to go to a proper place where they can get the care and support that they need when they're having these vaccines administered. What matters most is doing this safely, and that's exactly what we're doing.

JOURNALIST: Are you certain Minister Hunt hasn’t had any negative reaction to the vaccine and how is he?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, I am certain of that. The medical advice that I've been provided and Minister Hunt and probably Professor Murphy is better equipped to give you an update on his medical situation. But he'll be fine by next week. He'll be back up on his feet. Minister Hunt and I have worked hand in glove over this last year, in particular on this matter. And until he returns, I'll be personally addressing the ministerial responsibilities of Health and Aged Care, together with Minister Colbeck.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you mentioned data channels. National Cabinet agreed last week for states that they wouldn't disclose to the public how many of their allocation each week they didn't get through. Obviously, there are legitimate reasons for not getting through it all. But given supply is still limited, don't you think the public deserves to know if there are vaccines out there not being used? What we, you know, they deserve to know where they are and what states aren't using them?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we're finalising what we call the common operating picture. And there's a data board that we're currently using between the premiers and myself to track all this and we have sufficient doses now to get us to the start of the locally produced AstraZeneca vaccine. So we don't have a concern about the number of doses we have here in Australia. There are 1.3 million and we have vaccinated over 100,000 people now and that will continue scaling up in the weeks ahead as we get to the point of the locally produced vaccine being in place. There are vaccines that are being forward deployed not for immediate distribution. There are others that are available for that. And I'll let Professor Murphy speak on that issue.

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: So obviously, it's a huge logistic exercise getting these vaccines around the country. So we have, for example, deployed two or three weeks’ worth of supply to state and territory hubs. So mainly because it helps us with the logistics when you're deploying minus 70 vaccines. So we won't expect them to have deployed them all over in the first week of a three-week period. So it's really hard to say, you know, what someone should have used in a week, so the most important thing is we're being absolutely transparent about how many doses have come in the country, and how many doses have gone in arms. Remembering, of course, that we have to keep back enough of the Pfizer vaccine particularly, and also the AstraZeneca later on, for second doses. We can't be in a position of not having vaccine in reserve for second doses. And the second doses of Pfizer will be starting very soon. I think the Prime Minister's due for his fairly soon.

PRIME MINISTER: Very soon, I will be back with Jane Malysiak. So, I mean, this is the data that we agreed that we were releasing, certainly weekly, and we're already doing that. And this will be released daily as well and we're moving pretty close to that now. I mean, this is the data at the close of before yesterday morning. And so these updates and we hope to add further to the granularity of this information as time goes on and to ensure that it's presented in a way which doesn't allow it to be in any misleading way of suggesting things that it doesn't seek to suggest. And so we're working with the states and territories to make sure that data board can be provided, not obviously just to the media, but to all Australians, can give them a shot in the arm themselves of confidence knowing the progress of the vaccination programme.

JOURNALIST: Do you see the elevation of the Quad arrangements to a leaders level as a balance to China? How would you describe it? What's the purpose of this?

PRIME MINISTER: I would call it what President Biden said Australia was - and that is an anchor of peace and stability in the region. That's what it is. What the Quad is about is ensuring an open, independent, sovereign Indo-Pacific that enables all countries and nations within the Indo-Pacific to engage with each other, all of them, and to do that in a way which is good for their own citizens and good for the peace and prosperity of the region itself. That's what we all want. That's what the Quad leaders want. And we want to work together to achieve those goals and to work with many others to achieve those goals as well as we currently do. ASEAN Quad leaders are a very, very firm on this. We look into the Indo-Pacific through the same lens as the ASEAN nations and we understand the critical role of ASEAN within the Indo-Pacific. We respect it and we see what is not, you know, a formal gathering with secretariats. It's not a mini UN of four nations. That's not what it is. This is about four like-minded countries coming together that have significant interests within the Indo-Pacific region, that has fantastic relationships with countries throughout the Indo-Pacific region to ensure that all of us can have the assurances about the peace and stability of the region.

JOURNALIST: The ABC is reporting this morning the Attorney-General-

PRIME MINISTER: Just before we go to that, I'm happy to, while we’re still on health and I have my health officials with me.

JOURNALIST: Professor Murphy,  in the full approval of the TGA gave the AstraZeneca vaccine, they specifically said that social distancing measures and a lot of those protections and restrictions we have in place now would still need to be practised around the elderly, even after they've had the vaccine, which was mostly due to a shortage of data on the efficacy. Will that advice now change? Do you have sufficient evidence that the elderly will be protected without masks and social distancing? Or are we still waiting on that?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: I think the evidence is emerging that these vaccines are really effective in preventing against severe disease. The TGA takes its decision very carefully on the best available evidence, and they will be reviewing on a regular basis the product information advice on the AstraZeneca vaccine. You'll recall that when they originally approved it, even though they approved it for each age group, there wasn't a lot of data for the over 65’s. There’s now really good data for the over 65’s from England showing that it's really effective. So I think once we’ve vaccinated all the elderly, we will certainly be able to relax some of those measures. But TGA is always conservative in its advice and it will take its time and look at the published data and review it as necessary.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, is it tenable that-

PRIME MINISTER: Any more health questions?

JOURNALIST: Just one more. Sorry, Professor, then I will let you guys go. We have 1.3million doses in the country right now and 100,000 given out. Even if you silo another 100,000 for the second dose, that's still only one in every ten doses.

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: No, it’s more. We have to silo half of the Pfizer for second doses. 

JOURNALIST: Sure. There's still going to be shipments coming in every week. So can we expect that before the CSL arrival kicks in that hopefully we will have given out more than that one million or 1.3 million?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: We are. This is not a race. We have no burning platform in Australia. We are taking it as quickly and carefully and safely as we can. We're not like the US or the UK or most other countries in the world where they've got people in hospital dying. We can take our time, set up our systems, do it safely and carefully, we are expanding our rollout every day. Every day, there are more aged care facilities being done. Every day, the states and territories are setting up more clinics. We're setting up clinics for aged care workers and for health care workers over coming weeks. But the big, big, big shift will be in that last week of March when we roll out to over up to 1,000 general practise sites. And then over the next month after that will be expanding up to over 4,000 general practice sites. And that's when the real rubber hits the road. So we're not in any hurry to race this rollout. We want to do it safely and carefully, and we're in a great place to do that.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, look, the former solicitor general, Justin Gleeson- 

PRIME MINISTER: Ok. I'm going to thank you very much for joining us today. Appreciate that. 

JOURNALIST: Former Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson has called for the current Solicitor-General to assess whether Christian Porter is a fit and proper person to remain as Attorney-General. Is that something that you will ask him to look into? 

PRIME MINISTER: No, and that's not the advice that I've received from my Department as I've dealt with that issue. I mean, he's entitled to his view. He's not someone who's been a particularly big fan of our Government, I should say. But that said, he's entitled to his opinion on this. But that is not the advice that I've been provided at any time during the course of managing this.

JOURNALIST: Is it tenable for Christian Porter to continue as the Attorney-General given he'll now be responsible for implementing the Respect@Work report? And will you consider moving him to a different position in Cabinet as something of a circuit breaker, assuming he does return? 

PRIME MINISTER: No, I wouldn't consider moving to someone else. He's a fine Attorney-General and a fine Minister for Industrial Relations, and he is an innocent man under our law. And to suggest that there should be some different treatment applied to him, based on what have been allegations that the police have closed the matter on. I think that would be grossly inappropriate to take actions against him on that basis. And there's no basis for doing that at law at all. And when it comes to the principles upon which we run our country, that would be highly inappropriate. 

JOURNALIST: So would you be comfortable with him being the one implementing Respect@Work campaign for your government? 

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, I would.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Kylie Moore-Gilbert has said she wished the Australian Government would have gone to the media earlier to try to secure her release from Iran. Do you stand by Australia’s handling of the case?

PRIME MINISTER: Kylie's home and I couldn't, I'm probably more than most in this country, other than her own family, I could not be more happy about that. I had the great privilege of inviting Kylie to our home in Sydney in Kirribilli. And she met with Jenny and I, and her bravery, her courage, her resilience is something extraordinary. And I know she's deeply grateful for all the work that was done by the Government and by the officials, and particularly in DFAT, those who were on the ground there and others who have been involved. Now, Kylie Moore-Gilbert obviously can't be aware of all of the things that the Government has been involved in to secure her release over a long period of time, and the many other matters that were running over that period. And there are obviously things that sit within the national security dimension of what the Government handles on a day-to-day basis. I am aware of those issues and have been directly involved in many of the decisions, in fact, all of the decisions that ultimately ended up in securing her release. And I know Kylie Moore-Gilbert is very appreciative of that. And there will be views about this matter – but what I know is that, at all times, this was our top priority, our top priority consular case to get Kylie home. And the day I learned that we'd finally secured it and that she was on the plane and getting out, I spoke to her en route back to Australia. And she was still, I think, still quite numb from the experience and ordeal she'd been through, and the fact that she was coming home, that when we had the opportunity to sit down and discuss these issues at length, I listened carefully to what she had to say and she reflected to me her experiences. And we've ensured that there's the opportunity for all of those to be debriefed, also with DFAT, which is very important. So I'm just so glad Kylie is home – she's an amazing Australian and she's a great example. 

JOURNALIST: The New Zealand opposition is pushing for a two-way travel bubble. How far away is a reciprocal arrangement given New Zealand has had more cases than Australia recently? Is it time for them to open up?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's a matter for the New Zealand Government. If the New Zealand Government doesn't wish Australians to visit Australia, New Zealand and spend money in Queenstown or Wellington or other parts of the country, that's a matter for them. It's always been a matter for them. And I'm happy for them to open it up as soon as the Prime Minister and her Government would like to do that. And we've had very amicable conversations about this. Australia is open to New Zealand and has been for some time, with the exception of a couple of the brief pauses in that arrangement, that is benefiting our economy. It's benefiting particularly our travel and tourism industry and the aviation sector, which has been most hardly hit by the pandemic. But if Australians can't go to Queenstown, I'm hoping they'll go to Cairns.

JOURNALIST: PM, I'm sorry, the ABC is reporting this morning the Attorney-General is being referred to the Legal Practice Board of WA by a group of high profile academics. Are you aware of that? Are you concerned by that?

PRIME MINISTER: It's been brought to my attention, but that's a matter for them. All I know is what the criminal law procedures are. And I know that in this case, they have been followed and the rule of law applies in this country and applies equally to every single Australian. I just want to reinforce this point once more. No Australian faces a different law to any other Australian. If anyone here at this press conference was accused of a matter, you would face the same process that the Attorney-General would, and you would have the same rights and the same presumptions made about you as he would. Now that is fair – that's the fair go you get under a rule of law in this country. And I, for one, will not be one to undermine it. Thank you very much.

JOURNALIST: I'm sorry. Have you spoken to Dan Andrews? 

PRIME MINISTER: I sent him a text to see how he was going. 

JOURNALIST: Did he write back?

PRIME MINISTER: I haven’t heard back from Dan, but I imagine he’s been a bit busy. But I wish him all the best and hope he’s very well. You know, Dan and I get on very well.