Doorstop - Washington DC, USA

21 Sep 2021
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Well, good evening here from Washington. On the way in from the airport, we learned of the earthquake which has occurred in Mansfield in Victoria. Geoscience has provided us with the advice of a record of six, with aftershocks of five and a half, four and four. I’ve been in contact with Premier Andrews, as well as the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister McKenzie, and we'll continue to receive reports as, throughout the night. Of course, that first response has obviously been provided by the Victorian Government. And, of course, the Federal Government stands by, through Emergency Management Australia, to provide whatever assistance is needed, whether from the ADF or others. But, at this stage, we have had no reports of serious injuries or worse. And, that is, that is very good news, and we hope that that good news will continue. But, obviously, we'll get further reports as as the night unfolds here in the United States. But, it can be a very, very disturbing event, for an earthquake of this nature. They are not, they are very rare events in Australia. And, and as a result, I'm sure people would have been quite distressed and disturbed by that, particularly in the most immediate area affected. But, the agencies, at a state government level, are there, responding. And, of course, the Federal Government will provide the support that is necessary, and we'll be in touch further with the Premier, I suspect, throughout the night. But, back in Australia, that will be done by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Emergency Management.

JOURNALIST: What did you say to Premier Dan Andrews about it?

PRIME MINISTER: We've just been in text contact tonight. He’s dealing directly with the issues. So, he's aware of that, and and the Deputy Prime Minister will continue to interact with him and and be in contact with me overnight.

JOURNALIST: Did you speak to him about the protests in Melbourne and what he’s doing … ?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, no, we didn't have a conversation. We just had a text.

JOURNALIST: Did you text about it?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, these are matters that are being handled back in Australia. Those, those events in Melbourne, of the protests, are very concerning. There’s, there’s, that is unacceptable behaviour, and particularly at a time when those in Victoria are dealing with lockdowns and many other stresses. This is, this is very concerning. But, tonight, my primary concerns are those with the, with the earthquake, and making sure the response is there for the people who are in need.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, now that you've had time to consider the meetings that you had today, and in particular the comment from the European Council about transparency and loyalty, is this the reaction you expected from the European Union to your decision?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, subsequent to those, those comments being made, we had the opportunity, over about a 50-minute meeting, to inform the President of the European Council about these events, and that was a very good opportunity to inform. And I think that has greatly assisted the situation and that understanding of the nature of the agreements we've entered into and the arrangements that we weren't able to proceed with with the, with the French SOE Naval. And I think that all of those issues are much better understood now.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, have you got a message for those people who have been out protesting in Melbourne?

PRIME MINISTER: My message is very straightforward, and that is, none of us are above the law. And it's important that at a time like this - I know it is difficult when there are lockdown restrictions that are being put in place - these are, these are measures that we've seen in other states when it comes to the construction sector and the outbreak. The same, similar arrangements were put in place in New South Wales. And I think it's just very important that we exercise that patience and we get through what is a very difficult time. The COVID Disaster Assistance Payment - which has been made available right across Victoria, right across New South Wales, the ACT - for those who have a loss of income, then that is there to support them at this time, as it has been in other states and territories. So, I, look, I think it's important, I can understand that people would be concerned about the shut down of the construction industry. These are important jobs and they will return. We will get through this. But, the protest activity and what we've seen there, I think, is highly distressing, and that is not an appropriate response to trying to deal with an outbreak of this nature.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, this is the largest earthquake that Australia has ever experienced. How do you feel being out of the country when this has occurred?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that, of course, is unavoidable, and these things are certainly not predictable. I’m concerned to know what the facts are. I’m pleased that the reports, so far that I've received, are not of of serious injuries and things of that nature. That's very welcome news. But, of course, these are early reports. And, so, I remain concerned. And I asked the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister to keep me informed of of developments. Joe Buffone at Emergency Management Australia is liaising with the state authorities. And these are very professional people. And regardless of whether it's a flood or a bushfire or an earthquake or a cyclone, we have some of the best disaster response agencies anywhere in the world, if not the best. And I know that those who may be in distress tonight, during the day there in Melbourne and across Victoria today, will be well looked after and well attended to in terms of the, any needs that they have.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Boris Johnson apparently wants to ask you to loosen travel restrictions to save the Ashes. Has he asked you that, and would you do that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we haven't met yet, so ...

JOURNALIST: Well, he's going to ask you tonight.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I can't, let’s just see. I'm sure we'll talk about …

JOURNALIST: Would you do that?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm sure we'll talk about many things tonight. Boris and I are very good friends, and I'm looking forward to catching up with him this evening. It's, we've we've achieved a lot together as our two countries, and I'm looking forward to continuing that relationship tonight. I'm looking forward to Australians being able to travel again and and for Australians to be able to return to to Australia. That's what the national plan is all about. I'm very pleased to see some some more great figures in terms of vaccination rates today, sent to me by the Minister for Health. And these these vaccination rates, we’re at almost three quarters of the country now with a first dose, and we’ll be at one in two having received a second dose very, very soon. So, we keep that up, people will be able, will be able to travel again, and and particularly in those states that are achieving those marks, and I want to encourage everyone across Australia to go and get that jab. I'm particularly pleased to see the very high rates of vaccination of children aged 12 to 15. We're only a week down, pretty much, and we're seeing some some really strong levels of vaccination. I strongly support the measures taken by the Minister for Health now that we've seen, received that news about the successful trials that are being undertaken with children under 12. And we've invited, of course, Pfizer to bring forward that information and to progress that through the TGA, and to enable us to be in a position where we can provide those vaccines, should the TGA approve them for use. Thanks very much, everyone.