Press Conference

Transcript
21 Jul 2021
Canberra, ACT
Prime Minister
E&OE

Prime Minister: Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to The Lodge. The global pandemic has taken many turns over the course of these past more than 18 months. The challenge that governments, all governments have faced, all around the world, is to seek to understand these changes as quickly as we possibly can and adjust how we're dealing with those changes as quickly as we can to achieve the same goals that we've always had, and that is to save lives and to save livelihoods. The Delta strain of the COVID-19 pandemic is taking a heavy toll all around the world. What Australia is dealing with right now is no different to countries all around the world, whether it's in the United Kingdom where we're seeing around almost 50,000 cases a day, 94 deaths yesterday. We're seeing similar very high rates of infection in Indonesia. We're seeing it in the developing world. We're seeing it in the developed world. We're seeing lockdowns occur back in Singapore again. We've seen Netherlands open and shut within days of their freedom day. And, of course, we are seeing what is largely a very significant experiment occurring in the United Kingdom, as we see now, and we wish them the best. We wish every single country in the world all the best, and hope for the best, as they each wrestle with the very difficult challenges that have emerged with this most recent strain.

Now, this, of course, is impacting here in Australia. We have had great success in saving lives and livelihoods. I don't think anyone would contradict that. Some 30,000 lives at least saved in this country, a million people back into work, about 3.5 million people, in particular, supported through income supports last year, with unprecedented levels of economic intervention brought to bear by the Federal Government to see Australia through to now. State governments have put in place the world's best contact tracing systems. They've built up the capacity of their health systems to cope with surges in cases. And, as a result, as a country, we have had that success. But, the Delta strain is throwing another big challenge at our country. But, we're up to it and we'll deal with it, just as we've dealt with each and every one of these challenges to date.

So, it is important, to all Australians out there today - whether they're in Sydney, whether they're in Orange, whether they're across in South Australia today, or right across Victoria, and particularly in the suburbs most affected. It's tough and it's going to continue to be tough in the weeks ahead, and potentially months ahead, as we continue to wrestle with this new strain of this virus and we adapt our responses to fight it, just as we have with every other episode that we've gone through as we've responded to the coronavirus pandemic all around the world.

Now, today, once again, we are hitting new marks with our vaccination programme. I'll be open with you, we've had our challenges with this programme. We've had significant challenges with this programme, as many countries have. But, what matters is how you respond to them. What matters is how you fix the things that need to be fixed and get the programme doing what it needs to be doing, and hitting the vaccination rates it needs to hit to ensure that we can get to where we need to be, where we want to be. Today, with the most recent seven days data, we've finally hit that mark of a million doses in arms, in a week. We've been working towards that now for weeks. A few weeks back, we were in the 700,000s and the 800,000s. Well, now, Australia, you've got us to a million a week.

In this same week, we've seen a million doses of Pfizer turn up, and we've gone from 300,000 doses a week escalating to a million doses coming every week with Pfizer. And, we started that process of securing that bring forward of supply back in May of this year. And, so, we're pleased to see those come through.

I particularly want to thank the GP network and all of those working in vaccination all around the country that is enabling us to hit these marks. And, it does mean that at these rates of vaccination we will get to where we want to get to. The supply is increasing, the points of presence increasing - 320 new GP presence, points of presence, for Pfizer established this week. More pharmacies coming online with AstraZeneca to support the effort where there aren't sufficient GPs in those places, and Lieutenant General Frewen bringing on more pharmacies as we go into the weeks and into the months ahead as the supply continues to support those changes.

So, a million doses in seven days. We're at another, almost another record day today in the total number of vaccines delivered in a day, and that is at 174,589. So, that's what we have to keep doing to hit the marks that we need to keep hitting to ensure that we can put Australia in the best possible position that we can be in as we continue to combat the Delta strain. But, the tools we've used to fight the virus in the past, such as the contact tracing and the QR codes and all of this, the Delta strain has thrown new challenges at that. And, as a result, the lockdown measures that have been put in place we will continue working with and adjusting and changing as we need to to get them right to ensure we can both save lives and save livelihoods, and do all we can to minimise the burden on the Australian population.

But, as we are seeing around the country, around the world, even with countries that have higher vaccination rates than Australia and New Zealand, that have similar vaccination rates on double doses, and in fact, our first doses are far higher, all around the world they're dealing with the challenges of Delta, and so are we. The economic impact of this, of course, will be a heavy blow, but it's not a blow we can't recover from. And, how do I know that? Because last year when we faced the same heavy blow, we turned it around and got a million people back into work. So, we know how to see our economy recover. I remember at the time I was criticised for saying that the economy will come back strongly. Well, the economy did come back strongly. We put the supports in place to enable that, and it worked. And, it'll work again once we come through these lockdowns. Then, whether it's in New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria, those economies will return to growth. People will go back to work. People will go back and buy things in the shops. The sites will open again and the economy will come back to life very, very quickly.

That said, the supply chain disruption, the impacts on confidence, the fall in job ads, which is to be expected in these circumstances, we anticipate will have an impact on, obviously, the September quarter GDP, and will have a near-term impact on employment. It is impossible to avoid it when you've got lockdowns running at the rate we're seeing across three states right now. And, so, we do anticipate that. I spoke to the Governor of the Reserve Bank only this week and the Deputy Governor with the Treasurer, and they share an outlook as we do, and that is while these impacts of the lockdowns will be here in this quarter, in the quarter that follows, should we continue to be on the path we're on, in increasing our resilience, then we can expect that to turnaround in the December quarter.

Finally, I want to make a number of points about payments - the $600 and $375 payments that are available to individuals. These payments are the same level of payment that was being provided in the December quarter last year of JobKeeper, exactly the same. The only difference is they're being paid by the Government direct, not through your employer. And these, the design of these payments is designed to support the lockdowns in encouraging people to be able to stay at home where they have to be at home as a result of these lockdowns. They're there to support that health initiative. When you go through a pandemic or in any sort of policy challenge, you don't address last year's challenges. You address today's challenges. And, today's challenge with these lockdowns is very different to what the Treasurer and I and the Government were confronted with last March and April when we put JobKeeper in place. That was a national scheme that went across all businesses in Australia and it was designed with the prospect of having Australia in that situation for at least six months, which indeed it was in. And, it needed the scale of that type of initiative to be able to deliver that support. We need to be able to turn this on and turn this off quite quickly. And, with the method that we've chosen, we are able to do just that.

To give you an indication, what we are experiencing currently today is some 70,000 claims per day. We saw $32 million paid out in support in the last 24 hours alone. In New South Wales, we have already provided 452,395 grants of support; $219 million is already out the door. So, this support is coming swiftly and it is being done principally through the online distribution of Services Australia, where I thank Australians that some 93 per cent of claims are being handled online. We’re seeing payments made, as some of your own colleagues have observed, within 40 minutes of that claim being undertaken or indeed being paid the next day. We’ve put in place a system of payments that is designed to be swift.

Now, let me run through how that's running in each of the states, because it's now exactly the same in all states. In all states, people are, that are affected by the lockdowns, where there's a Commonwealth hotspot definition put in place, the payments are being provided statewide through the partnership that I've been able to put in place with each of the state premiers, most recently last night with Premier Marshall. So, it's the same right across all the states of the states affected by lockdowns. The payments as you know are $600 for 20 hours lost in the period of the previous week, and $375 if it's less than 20 hours and more than eight or a days week, a full day of work lost in the course of that week. You make your claim at the end of the week based on what happened during that week. The payments are then made in arrears, and importantly now, importantly now, when you're registering for these new payments - and so that was from last Friday for those first who went onto those payments in Sydney, and Sunday for the rest of the state. And, now those who'll be making them on the 23rd in Victoria and the 28th in South Australia - those payments will be recurring. So, you don't need to go in and reclaim every single week. If you're registered for the payment, then you're registered for it to recur each week.

Now, we ask you to keep us up to date with any changes in your circumstances. You may be in a position where you no longer need those payments and you've got hours back. Equally, you may be in a position where previously you were losing less than 20 hours a week, but now you're losing more than 20 hours a week. You can go online, you can update your application for that payment, and it is recurring. We're doing this because we want people who are experiencing these lockdowns and suffering these economic losses to know that each week those payments are going to turn up in your bank account and you can count on it. You don't have to apply again. You don't have to worry about it. There's plenty of other things I know you have to worry about. I don't want you to have to worry about that. So, those payments will keep turning up every week the lockdowns continue to roll. Of course, when the lockdowns are lifted, well, that's when the payments are no longer necessary, and people, hopefully they go straight back to work. People go back to the economy moving forward, and they will be able to be in a position of being supported by their employment.

So, that gives you a bit of an update where we're at. Happy to take questions across a range of different issues. But, of course, let's start with COVID.

Journalist: Prime Minister, given that more than half the population is in lockdown and the situation in Sydney is getting worse, will you consider directly appealing to ATAGI to change their medical advice on AstraZeneca and open it up to 50s and over on the basis that that decision was made when the country was in a very different situation to what it is in now?

Prime Minister: It's a constant appeal, I can assure you. It's a constant appeal that the situation that Australia faces should be managed on the balance of risk, as ATAGI has said to me in the past. When they made the decision to restrict or to have a preference for those under the age ultimately of 60 to have the Pfizer vaccine, they said they made that decision on the balance of risk. Well, it's for them to now constantly reconsider how that balance of risk applies and provide their advice accordingly. I do note, though, that there are tens of thousands, particularly of those under the age of 40 - I think it's about 32,000 or thereabouts since I made some remarks about this a little while back - they've gone to their doctor, they've had a chat with them, and they've had the AstraZeneca vaccine through informed consent. Now, that is available to all Australians to have that discussion with your doctor and to have informed consent. That's what the medical advice is. TGA has given their approval for the administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and we are encouraging states, just like Victoria did. Victoria pumped an extra 300,000 AstraZeneca vaccines into their state through their state-based clinics, particularly going back several weeks where that was really lifted. So, I would encourage states to be using the AstraZeneca vaccines, to be dispensing them through those state-based clinics to get as many people vaccinated as possible. And, I commend the Victorian Government for the way that they've led the way on that.

Journalist: Prime Minister, just continuing on the AstraZeneca issue. Yes, it is available to younger people to have that conversation. But, the messaging has been very confusing. Is it time to be much more direct with some kind of campaign to encourage people to get AstraZeneca? And, also, Gladys Berejiklian today accused the Federal Government of not giving enough AstraZeneca to GPs. Is that a problem? Are we not giving them enough? And, is New South Wales ordering enough for its own state clinics?

Prime Minister: Well, no, there is significant, there is significant quantities of AstraZeneca vaccine going out through the GP network. I mean, that is the principal network through that is occurring. I would like to see more AstraZeneca vaccines being distributed through the state-based clinics, like Victoria has been able to achieve. Why? Because I know this vaccination rates, the Victorian experience has proved that.

When it comes to the other issues, of course, the ATAGI advice, the TGA advice, I’ll always be very respectful of that. But, I could not be more clearer, I think, that every Australian above the age for which vaccines are available should be having those discussions with their doctors. We know that in other countries the AstraZeneca vaccine, particularly the UK, has been the primary vaccine through which they've been able to achieve the vaccination levels they are at. So, I would encourage them to do that. I know many people who have in my sphere of contacts. I know you probably know many as well. And, that is a discussion you have to have with your doctor. I am not your doctor and therefore I would not be giving you medical advice. You should take that advice from your doctor. I can only tell you what the policy settings are, and I think the policy settings are very clear.

Journalist: Prime Minister, specifically to follow up on those first two questions. Gladys Berejiklian and Brad Hazzard today, particularly Brad Hazzard, said they need more Pfizer in New South Wales. Has the Federal Government given any thought to giving extra Pfizer - not just bringing forward - to New South Wales or to Victoria or in addition to South Australia, given the outbreaks there? And, secondly, on Pfizer, last night I was reading your Facebook page. You have about 800,000 followers. You put up a message about a million doses a week coming in. A lot of people were angry. One thing really stood out - the number of women over the age of 60 saying, ‘I don't want AstraZeneca, I want Pfizer. When can I get Pfizer?’ What is your message to those women, to the people who are hesitant about AstraZeneca?

Prime Minister: Well, we have two vaccines and we'll soon have a third with Moderna. My message is that people should be getting vaccinated as soon as possible with the vaccines that are available for them to get vaccinated. That is, that is my message. And, that is what I think is in Australia's public health interests. If you're vaccinated, you're at less risk to yourself, to your family, to your community and indeed the nation. And, so, I would encourage people to have the vaccines that are available to them. And, we can't mandate that. That's not the way we do things in this country. People will make their own choices. I totally respect that. The additional Pfizer vaccines that are now coming in at a million a week is obviously going to increase then the supply of those vaccines, particularly to states and territories. When the Premier contacted me several weeks ago in New South Wales, she asked if she could get additional vaccines, and that was her priority. She had an answer that same night, I believe, and followed through the next morning that they were getting an additional brought forward 150,000 supply of Pfizer and 150,000 of AstraZeneca, which I'm not aware has actually been utilised. I haven't caught up on those details.

Journalist: She said today, PM, she specifically said today we need more Pfizer. So, following that discussion …

Prime Minister: More and more Pfizer is going out to all of the states and territories because we have a national vaccination challenge. Of course, we have specific challenges in Sydney, particularly in south west Sydney where the rate of vaccination had been much lower. The rate of vaccination overall, even before going into the lockdown, was lower in New South Wales than it was in Victoria and some other states. That said, all states need to lift their vaccination rates. There is more Pfizer coming in. We started that process of getting those brought forward supplies back in May when I, when I directly contacted the head of Pfizer at that time with Minister Hunt, and we worked on that plan and we've had that brought forward. That means more states will be getting more Pfizer. But, my message to Australians today is, take the vaccines, please, that are available to you now. Discuss them with your doctor. That's what has occurred in my family. Jenny got her second dose last week of AstraZeneca. Both my, my parents, sorry my mother and my mother-in-law, they've both done the same thing. I'd say the same thing to you that I say to my own family.

Journalist: Prime Minister, you mentioned the impact on September GDP. You're expecting there to be some impact. How much worse would that be if we weren't still seeing the same elevated iron ore price? And, businesses are obviously really suffering in, all across the country. Can you confirm JobKeeper absolutely is not going to come back, it's not going to be extended, to let it go?

Prime Minister: Well, again, you solve the problem with the policy responses you need that's in front of you. I'm not trying to solve last year's problem. That's what JobKeeper solved. I'm trying to solve the issues and provide the economic supports directly to individuals fast. You'll recall that when we put JobKeeper in place it took four to six weeks, four to six weeks in order for the system to be rolled out, for businesses to go to their banks to get the loans for their cash flow, to then, to then actually make the payments to those who are working with them, and to work through that process. I don't have six weeks. I need to make sure that we've got $200 million out the door now, which is exactly what we've done. So, we will continue to tailor our responses of economic supports to meet the challenge we have now. Now, we have a broad range of other tools. We're continuing to consider what they are, if additional supports are needed. States and territories, unlike this time last year, are also stepping up to the plate in terms of their economic supports, which they agreed to do some weeks ago when I got them together at National Cabinet. I welcome that. South Australian Government has announced measures to support business there today, as has the Victorian Government, as has the New South Wales Government. I'd say in New South Wales, the most significant of all the states in rolling out those business supports. And, of course, there is the additional arrangement there that we're co-funding to, with them, to the tune of half a billion dollars a week. So, we need to address the cash flow challenges of businesses to get through what are hopefully short-term lockdowns in the other states, in Victoria and South Australia. And, as the stubborn situation persists in New South Wales, then we continue to provide the supports to business to get them through, and to ensure that individuals get payments. I mean, I can only refer you to what Dan Andrews said just in the last 24 hours - it's basically JobKeeper by another distribution method. And, what matters is people are getting economic support. They get it timely, that it's proportionate, that it's targeted, and it's there when they need it, and that's what's coming off. Look, the Budget is comprised of, on its revenue, of many different elements, and it's very difficult to segregate that out to individual factors. What we're seeing in this current quarter is you’ll of course see a hit to GDP because of the lockdowns. I mean, that is impossible to ignore and it's impossible to avoid. All the supports that we're providing are not designed as replacement income. They never were, and neither was JobKeeper. They're there to provide people with that income support, that economic and cash flow support for businesses that enables them to get on this bridge to the other side of the lockdowns, so on the other side they can open up and they can get going again, keeping our businesses whole as best as we can, and ensuring people are supported with the income they need to get through these more difficult times. Phil.

Journalist: What is the latest estimate you've got from Treasury and or the RBA on the hit to GDP this quarter? And, what's underpinning their confidence that we’ll rebound in the December quarter and avoid a second recession, given the uncertainty of the situation we're going to find ourselves in? What are they assuming is going to happen between now ...

Prime Minister: Well, there are no official estimates at this point, Phil, so I wouldn't be offering what are only sort of speculative positions at this time. But, clearly, it's going to have a significant impact in this quarter, and we'll wait and see what that is. And, those numbers won't come through till much longer. But, the fact is, people are already experiencing that. They won't have to wait for the numbers to come out, you know, many months from now to know what it meant to businesses in this quarter. Businesses will, and employees and those who have lost hours, will already know what that is. And, that will become clearer as the months roll past and the data comes in. The confidence that is being expressed by both Treasury and the Reserve Bank is the confidence of experience of what we've already seen occur. Now, I've also had quite a lot of direct engagement with business leaders recently, as has the Treasurer, and it's the same issue. And, that is, the economy in Australia is fundamentally resilient and strong. And, you know, you don't get a million people back into work after the biggest pandemic the world has seen in 100 years, and to do so ahead of almost every other country in the world, if your fundamentals in your economy are not strong going into it and remaining strong, as we've seen demonstrated with both the GDP data and the employment data, particularly over most recent quarters. So, that resilience and that strength is there. That is why it's our task, what the Treasurer and I and the Cabinet are seeking to do is ensure, and with the premiers, to ensure that the economic supports we are providing, to the best we can, brings those companies through, and that we hopefully see those lockdowns end as soon as they possibly can. And, that's what gives them confidence that as you go through this quarter and into the next, that you're able to have those lockdowns end. You will see, as we've already seen in the past, businesses come back and come back strongly, and hopefully pick up some lost ground.

Journalist: Prime Minister, could I just ask a couple of non-COVID questions?

Prime Minister: I’m going to stay with COVID, but I will come back to you.

Journalist: Prime Minister, you recently had a conversation with the Global Chief of Pfizer. What was your purpose in that conversation, and were there any tangible outcomes?

Prime Minister: Following up our earlier representations, to appreciate the bring forward that we were able to achieve in working with him and the entire Pfizer organisation, particularly here in Australia, to continue to get a further understanding of what their global production levels were, and to continue working on, as has been our practise the entire time, to keep seeking to bring forward our supplies. That's a function of global production levels.

Journalist: Was he encouraging?

Prime Minister: Well, that will be evidenced only in what the outcomes are. And, so, once that, once the doses are on planes, then that's when I'll count them. And this, this week, a million doses on planes.

Journalist: Prime Minister, can you tell us specifically what you are doing to try and increase vaccine supplies? Are you having conversations with Moderna as well as Pfizer to try and bring forward supplies? And, can you tell us whether that will make any difference to getting out of these current lockdowns? And, just in regards to your comments on ATAGI, can you confirm whether you have spoken directly to the Chair of ATAGI with that, as you say, that appeal?

Prime Minister: Look, there are appropriate conversations that are had with the head of ATAGI, and they're done through the Secretary of Health, and the Chief Medical Officer. And, that's where the dialogue occurs between our regulators and, and the Prime Minister. In the same way, I don't have conversations with other regulators, be they APRA or others, about those sort of specific issues. I don't think ATAGI’s in any doubt about the Government's view on these issues. When I spoke to Allen Cheng about these issues, when he was chairing ATAGI and he was presenting to us on those matters, then I relayed those, those sentiments at that time. And, so, I need them to get on and do their job. We'll get on and do our job. Everybody, I think, is acting in good faith in the best interests of the country, and everybody respects each other and the roles that they have, as I indeed do, ATAGI, and the TGA and Professor Murthy and Professor Kelly, and the many others who are involved in this process - Dr Kennedy, Dr Lowe and many others. And, so, we have very professional, I think, very effective relationships, and that's how we’ll continue to pursue these, these very significant challenges.

Journalist: [Inaudible]

Prime Minister: We're working across all the supply chains.

Journalist: [Inaudible]

Prime Minister: Well, fundamentally, no. And, just ask people in Singapore the same question. I mean, their vaccination rates are higher than in Australia. Ask the people in the Netherlands, ask the people in other countries. That was my point in opening today's press conference. The Delta strain is a new challenge and the whole world is wrestling with it. Countries that thought they could open up within days are shutting down. Now, there are many elements to what builds our resilience, but the difficulty right now is getting the right set of policy tools about how you can deal with outbreaks that occur in Delta. An outbreak under Delta is different to dealing with an outbreak under Alpha. I remember when we had Alpha outbreaks earlier this year in Queensland and we didn't know what the Alpha strain was going to look like. And, Queensland and other states moved quite early, and I remember applauding them at the time. And, thankfully, that virus strain did not prove to be as invidious as this one did. And, as a result, we were able to know that under the Alpha strain, contact tracing, QR codes, all of those mechanisms are proved up to the task of being able to managing those strains. Delta is providing a different challenge, not just to countries like Australia, but in the United Kingdom, across Europe, in the United States we're only now starting to see the Delta variant get into their system and how that plays out there. We've already seen states start to bring in new restrictions and, of course, their vaccination rates are higher. Now, what I do know is this. If you're vaccinated, you're less likely to contract it, you're less likely to transmit it, you're less likely to get very sick, and you're less likely to die. They’re four pretty good reasons.

Journalist: Sorry, Prime Minister, do you have any update on when the Doherty Institute? Well, sorry, my accent is ...

Prime Minister: No, no, it’s more the mask, your accent is fine.

Journalist: Ask SBS for some subtitles. Prime Minister, do you have any update on when the Doherty Institute will finalise its vaccine threshold data, and do you have confidence that the premiers will accept those vaccine thresholds for opening up?

Prime Minister: Well, very good questions. The first question is there's been no change to what I updated you on last Friday from Sydney, and we're expecting that that information to be completed by the end of this month. And, I only had a further update on that in the last 24 hours. And, they’re still on track for that, and looking forward to receiving that information. Remember, that information then needs to be combined with the advice of Treasury’s to understand the economic issues that are relevant to the setting of these, these thresholds and the benchmarks, and also looking at the health system capacity as well and the role that can play in the tolerance of managing the risk. See, what Doherty is able to give to us is a sense of what the risk profile is at various levels of vaccination, and not just at the top line level of vaccination. You know, we’re at 14.5 per cent today, but we're over, you know, at for the over 70s, you know, 75 per cent and more have had first doses there as well. So, it's about vulnerable populations and their vaccination levels. You know, we need to look at this right across the country. As you've all already noted, there are different rates of vaccination around the country, even now by state, let alone potentially at lower levels as what we've seen in south western Sydney more recently. So, they will help us understand the risk that exists at various levels of vaccination. And, I'm, I welcome the statistics, most recently from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which shows 70 per cent of Australians are not hesitant. They're happy to have the vaccine. And, a lot of our messaging to them is the issues of convenience, points of presence, why you should do it now, and, you know, that ATAGI advice has already said four to 12 weeks for your second dose on AstraZeneca. Very much welcome that advice, and encouraging people to basically walk through the open door. They're in a position to be able to do that. So, that is why Doherty is really important to help inform those decisions. Now, to the best of my knowledge, Australia - I think Singapore is another example of this, perhaps in South Korea - we are one of the few countries in the world that is scientifically trying to determine what this is, before taking the next step of easing what those restrictions would be and how lockdowns, which shouldn't be happening in that next phase, and how that will work. Because, as we said, we've had other countries, the Dutch - I'm not criticising them, it's, no country has a perfect record on any of these things. No country has got everything right. That's the nature of dealing with an issue like this. But, we don't want to be in a situation where you start it and then two days’ later you're not able to proceed with it. And, so, we have to be careful. Now, I know we've been careful in Australia. I know my Government has been careful when it comes to the authorisation of vaccines in this country. And, I know that in Australia those approvals were given later than they were in other countries. But, I also have a responsibility to ensure Australians are kept safe before we put millions and millions of doses in people's arms. Then it was important that that process was done the way we regulate all vaccines in this country, so people can have confidence about the health treatment they’re receiving in this country. The premiers and the chief ministers, well, these are big decisions for leaders. We will certainly have a view and I'll certainly be articulating my view based on the sound economic, health and epidemiological advice that we receive and the scientific modelling that's there to support those decisions. But, we need to know what those targets are. And, I look forward to telling Australia what those targets are to get to step two, to get to step three, to get to step four. How soon we get there is up to all of us. Mark.

Journalist: So, Prime Minister, on that issue of nobody being perfect, you had a very interesting exchange on FM radio this morning. I think a lot of people have been scratching their heads. Why is it that you so firmly believe the Government doesn't need to say sorry about anything in relation to the failings of the vaccine rollout?

Prime Minister: I think, I think Australians just want us to get it right. And, no country's got their pandemic response 100 per cent. And, I think Australians understand that. And, Australia, despite saving more than 30,000 lives and getting a million people back into work and providing economic supports at its peak to around 3.5 million people, and what we've been able to achieve together, I think Australians accept that. I know Australians would like the vaccination program to be further advanced than it is now. But, I can tell you, based on the plan that was agreed and adopted by both my Cabinet and endorsed by the National Cabinet last year, we’re about two months behind where that otherwise will be, and it may even be less than that by the time we get to the end of this year. And, so, those delays are regrettable. We all know they were a result of many factors. People have perfect hindsight after these events. But, let's remember, we were focusing on vaccines that we knew could be manufactured in Australia. This was very important. No one's making Pfizer outside of this country other than those who were making it before. And, so, a series of decisions were taken. And, don't forget, when Pfizer, at that stage, like last year, we were talking about sub 70 degree temperatures to store and transport this. Now, we're a big country. Our most vulnerable populations were in remote and regional areas and Indigenous communities. We needed vaccines that we'd be able to transport and move around the country far and wide. So, there were many factors that were being worked through by our medical experts, by the Cabinet, as we, as we advanced that plan. Sure, there's going to be plenty of critics in hindsight. They'll have various motivations for doing it. But, what Australians, I think, want from me, is to make sure we make up that ground, we hit these marks that we're hitting, and that we are hitting those marks and they want me to, I take responsibility for the problems we've had, but I'm also taking responsibility for the solutions we're putting in place and the vaccination rates that we're now achieving.

Journalist: Thank you, I've got a couple of questions.

Prime Minister: I’m sorry we’re still on COVID. I’m sorry COVID is, but that’s what I’m here to address, COVID.

Journalist: Prime Minister, if ATAGI doesn't change its advice …

Prime Minister: Sorry, I can’t hear you.

Journalist: If ATAGI doesn't change its advice, when do you expect that all Australians that want a jab would have their second dose? And, once they are able to have that opportunity, would you support measures such as vaccines certificates to make sure that people can go to events at full capacity next year? 

Prime Minister: Well, these are all the things that we'll consider in those various step changes - step two, step three. We already have vaccine certificates. They already exist. And, those vaccine certificates, this month, we expect to be in a form that can be dropped into Apple Wallets, things of that nature. And, later in the year, about October we estimate, we'll have a vaccination certificate that will be able to be used, internationally recognised, to facilitate when people are moving out of the country and into the country, being able to recognise others’ certificates. That's something that has been a common feature of the conversations I've been having with other leaders - when APEC has been meeting, when G7 has been meeting. This is a very practical thing that we've been talking about. Now, where we have to get to is that we get as many people vaccinated as possible. We believe that we have the supply - subject to any external shocks that still could impact anyone’s systems - we believe, by the end of the year, that those who wish to have the vaccine will have had the opportunity to do that. What the level of vaccinations will be, will be a function of how many Australians take that up, and we'll be seeking to maximise that as much as possible. An important way of motivating people to do that, which is why I'm so keen to get this advice and to be able to put those vaccination rates on when we can get to step two and be very clear with the states about what step two means, I think that will give Australians things to work towards and to go towards. And, you know, we're not a country that mandates vaccines, and we’re a country that respects the individual rights and liberties of our citizens. But, at the same time, we have to act in accordance with public health. And, if by the end of the year everybody has had that opportunity to have a vaccine, by not having that vaccine, well, they're putting their own health at risk, the health of their families at risk, and the health of their communities at risk.

Journalist: Thank you, Prime Minister. You don't need me to tell you that since your last press conference Victoria's extended its lockdown, South Australia has gone into lockdown and the situation in New South Wales isn't getting any better. We have businesses crying for JobKeeper to be reinstated and there's growing criticism that you're an absent leader and that you're passing the buck. Is that true, Prime Minister? Are you an absent leader?

Prime Minister: No.

Journalist: Just on no jab, we don't mandate vaccines in this country, but you, I believe it was Social Services Minister, when ‘no jab, no play’ came in, which is about as close as you can get to mandating vaccines. So, why wouldn't you take that approach? Just, to follow up this question …

Prime Minister: Well, I didn’t say we wouldn’t. I’d say ...

Journalist: Well, why not take up the French approach where we've got a tiny minority protesting and millions of extra people now getting vaccines?

Prime Minister: My record, as you've outlined it, is true. So, I think, you know where, I think you, my record speaks to my disposition on these things, but they're not things that the Prime Minister or even the Federal Government decides. Ultimately, restrictions that will be placed on people moving about in their states can only be imposed by states. The Commonwealth Government can't do that. Only the state governments can place restrictions on people entering a venue, entering a place of work, things like this. There are also industrial relations issues here that apply as well. They can apply the public health orders that mandate vaccinations, like the Western Australian Premier has done in terms of quarantine-based workers. They have those powers. They can implement them. I can provide them with the tools that helps them to implement them, like the digital vaccine certificates and things of that nature, and they could employ them. That's why we've kept them well up to date with how those mechanisms, those systems are working.

Journalist: Prime Minister, you spoke earlier about wanting the states to deliver more AstraZeneca through their state-run hubs. You also spoke earlier about challenges that the rollout has faced. One of those challenges has been the miscommunication over AstraZeneca. States aren’t wanting AstraZeneca because of hesitancy. So, do you concede one of the challenges has been your own Government’s miscommunication around AstraZeneca and whether or not people should take it?

Prime Minister: Well, I'm not, I cannot control what ATAGI advises. They are an independent, they are an …

Journalist: [Inaudible]

Prime Minister: So, are you suggesting that the Government, when advised by the Technical and Advisory Group on Immunisation, some of the most senior level scientific medicos in the country, tell the Government that the preferred vaccine for people of particular ages is 50, and then they changed it to 60, that the Government should refuse that advice?

Journalist: You've just said there's a constant appeal, though, for them to change that advice.

Prime Minister: Well, sure, but they're the ones …

Journalist:  What’s different about then as opposed to now?

Prime Minister: No, no, they’re the ones who make medical assessments, scientific assessments about what's in the health interests of Australians. Now, all through this, all through this, we have listened carefully and been guided by that medical advice. So, if you're seriously suggesting that the Government should have neglected medical advice in the handling of the pandemic …

Journalist:  But, you’re asking …

Prime Minister: No, I’m sorry, that is exactly what you're suggesting.

Journalist: Prime Minister, you’re asking for …

Prime Minister: That is not something that I would accept as a viable proposition. Thank you.

Journalist: Prime Minister, just a couple of questions, non-COVID. Firstly, on Afghanistan. It’s obviously a very difficult decision to withdraw all Australian personnel from Afghanistan.

Prime Minister: Yep.

Journalist: Under what conditions would you send personnel back? And, secondly, if I may, what assurances can you give the taxpayers of Australia that should, should they lend some money to Telstra to buy Digicel Pacific that they would not be, it would not be at a loss, and what strategic benefit would that purchase have?

Prime Minister: Well, I'm not going to speculate on the latter point. They’re market matters for companies on, I’ll leave that to the Managing Director of Telstra. That's a matter between him and his shareholders. They have commercial objectives which they pursue, and I wouldn't expect them to be doing anything that wasn't in their commercial interests, and that's what shareholders look to. And, I'm sure that's what they'll do. But, they should, they'll make those decisions, individual shareholders, in concert with their financial advisers, who are properly accredited to provide that advice. And, I think that's the way that that should occur.

On the other matter, we've always made it very clear that were we in a position to safely have Australians in Afghanistan and providing support to our efforts there, then we would. And, so, were it safe to do that, we have always been open to the opportunity to pursue that. And, that's what we would do. I'd also note that we are making progress on ensuring that those who helped us in Afghanistan, we're getting to Australia. Already, 252 Australians, sorry Afghan nationals, have been able, we've been able to bring to Australia, both, that's them and their families. And, we are making real steady progress through the many others. And, we've spent quite a lot of time on this, as you'd expect us to do, through the National Security Committee, working with the Immigration Minister. Where necessary, if we have to have facilitated commercial flights to bring them to Australia, I know Australians would support that. There are two programmes. There's the locally engaged employee programme, and that is the one I'm referring to now. But, where there are those who don't qualify that, for that programme, we’ll be ensuring that they also have direct access going into the humanitarian programme. So, you know, if one channel is not open because of the rules of that programme, and those rules are important - there are important health, security and other issues. I can assure you, it's not a simple process to do that in a country like Afghanistan at the moment. And, we're working with IOM and our other partners to do those medical checks. I'm sure Australians would expect us. I mean, it would be, I think, unlikely that anyone who'd been a locally engaged employee, for health reasons wouldn't be allowed to come to Australia. Certainly, if there were security reasons then I'm sure all Australians would agree that we wouldn't do that. But, those instances have so far been very, very limited, and we are making good progress. There is still more work to do. It has a great urgency on both the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Defence who’ve been involved in certifying those who are eligible to make applications. And, then, of course, the Department of Home Affairs and the Immigration Minister working through the visa process, and then the logistics exercise of getting people to Australia, which, as I said already, 252 individuals and their families have been able to come under that programme. So, I look forward to having more to say, as does the Immigration Minister, on that in the weeks ahead. But, we are making steady progress and we are very thankful for the support we've received. And, as soon as we're able to have Australians in Afghanistan in a diplomatic capacity to support our efforts there, and when it's safe to do so, it's a matter I’ve discussed with other leaders, particularly when I was at the G7, and I hope we'll be able to do that at an early opportunity. But, only if it’s safe. Thank you all very much.

[Ends]