Press Conference - Australian Parliament House, ACT

06 Apr 2021
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon, everyone. Another big step today with the opening of the Tasman. It is six months ago, almost, that Australia opened up to New Zealand and I am very pleased that the New Zealand government has decided that that two way travel will commence Monday fortnight. Prime Minister Ardern called me last night and we had a very positive discussion about this. It is something we have been talking about for some time. This is the first of many more steps to come, I believe, as we get back to a more normal position, not only over the course of this year, but beyond. This is an important first step. Australia and New Zealand have led the way when it comes to managing COVID. We have ensured that both our countries have been, despite dealing with the virus, have not suffered the same types of virus impacts that we have seen in so many other countries around the world. And the fact that we can now combine again will mean jobs, will mean people reunited, it will mean many opportunities as those normal relations are restored between Australia and New Zealand. 

So, I very much appreciate the arrangement the New Zealand Government has come to today. We welcome them back as indeed Kiwis will be welcoming Aussies. And all in time for Anzac Day too which is tremendous, to see that occur in the true Anzac spirit of our two nations coming together again. This will mean, importantly, jobs for Australia. We’ve already made major announcements about our travel sector and it is true that the trans-Tasman route is one of the most busy in terms of volume. That means more planes in the air, it means more jobs on the ground and in the air as well for our airlines. It means further support for our travel agents who book many of the international, the first of the international travel that we will see for Australians. And so I am sure that will be welcomed by those in the travel sector and in the aviation sector. 

On jobs more broadly, more good news today with wonderful news of 7.4 percent increase in ANZ job ads today. That is 180,542 jobs that are out there right now. That is the highest level in over 12 years and it is further positive news, further good news, that demonstrates the comeback of the Australian economy. When you combine these events together, what we are seeing is Australia continue to move forward and our own part of the world moving forward between Australia and New Zealand, and we can welcome that into the future. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what is the update today in the number of vaccinations that have been done across the country, and why isn’t that information being provided daily as you do with the number of COVID cases?

PRIME MINISTER: The figures I have as of the 5th of April is that 854,983. Of that, there are some 280,943 that have been done through the GP clinics and the GP respiratory clinics and the other federal agencies. That is in addition to those that have been done through age and disability facilities, which is around the 112,830. 

Now, I agree with you. I think it is a good idea for us to have even more data transparency on these issues and that is what we will be discussing with the premiers and chief ministers on Friday. I will be taking that to them on Friday to discuss. I think there is an interest and a keen appetite for more regular information. We are providing that weekly information but there is no reason why these figures can't be done on a more regular basis, and we welcome that. So I will talk those issues through with the state premiers and chief ministers on Friday. They have also, I think, indicated that they are keen for more data transparency on these things and I look forward to being able to satisfy that on Friday.

JOURNALIST: What do you say to Australians who are frustrated or disappointed at the slow pace of the rollout?

PRIME MINISTER: I think it is important that when we provide even more information that just before Easter, we hit 79,000 vaccinations in a day. And it is true that at this stage of our rollout, it is actually better than where Germany was, it is better than where New Zealand was, it was better than where South Korea was and Japan was, and so I think there will be some important context in the weeks ahead as we see the significant ramp up of the distribution network. And already, we are around about 1,500 or thereabouts GPs that are in the network at the moment but we are expecting that to grow even more by the end of this week. What this means is that we are getting more points of distribution closer to people in their communities.

I want to stress this point, and that is in the phase we are in currently, we are dealing with Australians who are more vulnerable. And so the best place for those Australians who may be elderly or may have disabilities or are in any of these sorts of groups, is to get that healthcare support of their vaccination through their GP. Their GP knows their medical history, their GP has built up confidence with them over a long period of time, they can talk to them about any questions or issues they might have about the vaccination. So the strategy has always been to use the primary health network to ensure that we can do the bulk of the vaccinations that are done for this important programme. Now, that is no different to any other vaccinations that are done. Our GP network does hundreds of thousands of vaccinations every week at normal times and this is added to that load and they’re doing a tremendous job and more and more are signing up. So in the weeks ahead, I think, you will see that continue to improve. The challenges Australia has had has been a supply problem. It is pure and simple. There was over 3 million doses from overseas that were contracted that never came. And that's obviously resulted in an inability to get 3 million other doses out and distributed through the network. I think it is really important that these points are made very clearly when we are talking about the rollout of the vaccine. Now, as CSL are ramping up their production and their systems are becoming even more efficient as they get into the rhythm of their production systems, there is also the approvals that they must follow once batches are produced. That involves both AstraZeneca internationally, it involves the TGA batch testing as well. I think it is very important that people understand that the fill and finish process doesn't involve the little vial coming off the production line and it go straight to the courier and the GP or the hospital where the states may be administering doses. That is not how it works. The way it works is once the vials are produced, they have to go through an approval process and that it is important because Australians need to be assured of these vaccines and that they are ticking all of the boxes. It is not just a matter of having the vaccine approved initially by the TGA, they have to test the batches as well. That is about Australians’ safety, and I don't intend to rush the process and put people's health at risk. So the capacity to distribute, the capacity to administer, the production of the vaccines, are starting to increase. And as that occurs in the weeks ahead, then we will see ourselves progressively working through what is a very large group of people who are needing to be vaccinated. Rosie?

JOURNALIST: Can you confirm which countries we are looking at announcing travel bubbles with next? And Jacinda Ardern said in her presser that she expected to get about 80 percent of the Australian market back by early 2021 because of today’s announcement. Is it the same arrangement for Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we have been getting 100 percent of the New Zealand market because they have been the only ones who have been able to come to Australia for the last six months and we have welcomed that, and I think that will only increase now with Kiwis not having to do their return quarantine at the other end. The New Zealand-Australia travel market is a very high volume market and it works really well for people on both sides of the Tasman. After spending all of that time in New Zealand for the past year, I am sure that so many will be keen to get on a plane and come across to whether it is Queensland, New South Wales, WA, Tasmania, wherever they would like to go. So, look, it is a win-win outcome for the trans-Tasman travel to be open. Both countries benefit from that occurring.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you didn’t answer the question about where you’re looking to next, where can we expect the next travel bubble to be, is it Singapore, and do we…

PRIME MINISTER: Well, no, I can't confirm what they are at this point, we are not in no position to be outlining where the next ones will be. These things are regularly assessed by the Chief Medical Officer and we have looked at places like Singapore and Japan and South Korea and countries like this, but at this stage we are not in a position to move forward on any of those at this point.

JOURNALIST: Janet Yellen says the US will push for G20 Nations to adopt a minimum corporate tax rate. Is this something that…

PRIME MINISTER: I’m happy to move to another topic, but while we are on vaccines, why don't we stay there?

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you have comments about the need for particularly vulnerable groups to talk to their GPs, suggest that later down the track as more supply becomes available, mass vaccination centres might be an option for the broad population?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, right now we are dealing with vulnerable populations and that is why we believe, particularly the way we’re doing it at present, provides the most care to those Australians. When we move into the balance of the population, when we’re talking about people in their 30s and their 40s and so on, then there are other options that open up and that is the stage at which in mid-year and beyond we were looking at things like pharmacists being involved in those distribution mechanisms. We were never looking at it at this stage of the rollout. That was never part of the plan and that was always very clear. Working with the states in terms of more high-volume facilities, well, we certainly haven't ruled that out. But the nature of that will depend on where is the best and most effective way we can distribute those vaccines. We will learn a lot from the rollout with the GP network particularly for the next few months and we are already seeing it ramp up considerably. In just two weeks, the GPs vaccinated 280,943 people. It is not a bad effort in their first couple of weeks and they are just getting started. That will continue to rollout as we ramp up the number of GPs that are directly involved in this programme. Ultimately, we are looking to get around 4,000, as I mentioned some weeks ago, and we are making steady progress towards that goal. But working with the states where they have the ability to assist further and as many of them have, I have indicated our willingness to work with New South Wales and we are already working with all the other states and territories on that. I'm pleased they have joined that group and I am sure that is something we can discuss further this weekend. But what is ultimately important is that we do this safely and we do this progressively and the key issue that we need to keep focusing on is the supply of the vaccines. And I can't stress enough again, were it not for our domestic manufacturing production capability of the AstraZeneca vaccine, Australia would not have a vaccination programme. We wouldn't be talking about anyone getting vaccines. And that is why the decision we took to put that in place wasn't just important last August, it is important right now because it is those very vaccines that are coming out of the CSL plant and going through the approval process. They are the vaccines that our vaccination programme depends and relies upon.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you agree though that if you went down the mass vaccination route, more people would be safe right now and vaccinated?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I don't. Because you are assuming a supply of vaccines that was not there. You are assuming that there were 3 million vaccines that were here, that were not here. I mean, the vaccines that we have available to us are being distributed and they are being administered, and so you are suggesting that they would have been other vaccines that could have been used at a larger scale. Well, the supply of those vaccines were not there, and so your assumption is based on a false premise of supply that was not there. 

JOURNALIST: I mean the supply of vaccines we have now, though.

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, but those vaccines that we’re producing now are matching the distribution network that we have.

JOURNALIST: How many doses is CSL actually rolling out every week at the moment? The Acting Chief Medical Officer and CSL both can’t say how many doses they’re providing to Government each week.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it varies from week to week. We are still in the early phases so it would be misleading, I think, to give you an average at this point. We know what we are hoping to achieve. But at this point, we are hoping to achieve the figures that have already been realised to some extent and that is around the 800,000 mark. That is achievable and we want to be able to try and keep achieving that, and if we can do better than that, then we will.

JOURNALIST: On the travel bubble, Prime Minister Ardern mentioned that the risk of disruption for people’s travel plans if there is an outbreak, have you sought assurances from the premiers that they will not be hasty to shut their borders to New Zealand if there is an outbreak in Auckland, for instance, as we saw at Christmas when Daniel Andrews gave very short notice to get home to Victoria. Is that threat of disruption perhaps going to impede the flow of  two way travel at all?

PRIME MINISTER: It is a standing request that I have of the states to have proportionate responses, but ultimately, they are the ones who make those decisions about how they are the respondent on those specific cases. I was pleased to see that the restrictions that were introduced in Queensland were just as quickly removed, and that is very welcome. I think we all understand, whether it is Prime Minister Ardern or myself, that we are still not living in a COVID free environment, despite the success of both countries, and that from time to time, steps might have to be taken to protect both countries if there is a sizeable outbreak. So I think that is just assumed as part of how we all live with COVID. But where that can be minimised in terms of the size of the area we are talking about, and particularly to quite defined hot spots, that is an approach we have taken to New Zealand in the past when there has been outbreaks in Auckland. So we will continue to follow what I would call a proportionate response, and I would be always encouraging states to follow the same process. And I think, increasingly, that is what we're seeing this year compared to what we saw last year. Chris?

JOURNALIST: Given what we’re seeing with vaccine rollouts here and around the world, what’s your view on the likelihood of any international travel beyond New Zealand this year?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I can’t really speculate on it Chris, and I’m not about you. I don’t think that’s fair. We are seeing populations around the world increasingly being vaccinated, but the important piece of information, which I’ve told you all on many occasions, is that while we know, absolutely, that the vaccines that we’re using and that other countries are using are very effective in ensuring against serious disease, and protecting, obviously can’t in all cases, particularly where people have comorbidities, against fatalities. But as more of the world, and particularly more of our own country, is vaccinated, then obviously we can start moving to managing this virus a lot more like other viruses that we deal with in a more standard way. That’s our objective, but we’ll let the evidence lead us on that. And at this point, the evidence is not strong enough to give us a good pointer about when we will arrive at that point.

JOURNALIST: The cohort that you’re now dealing with in terms of vaccinations often visits chemists, these people, and the chemists are saying today that they’re absolutely ready to go. They’re worried about their timetable slipping. Wouldn’t there be a case for bringing them forward in the progress, or is the supply the restraint on doing that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the supply is the major restraint and always has been, whether it’s been the non-delivery of vaccines from overseas, some three million that we were relying upon, and we all are aware of the situation in Europe and other places that has frustrated that supply. They’re circumstances that are outside Australia’s control. What was inside our control was ensuring that we had the capacity to make the vaccine in Australia, and we’ve done that, and that supply is what is supporting the distribution network through our GPs and the states and territories that is in effect now. It was never ever the plan that pharmacists would be involved in the vaccination program at this point, so there has been no slippage, there has been no delay, and the medical advice is it is not the time for pharmacists to be involved at this point. There has always been the plan to involve them at a later point with the more general population, and that is still the plan. And we have arrangements that are in place to achieve that, but right now, the supply is supporting the distribution network we’ve got through the GPs, and the states and territories, and we are seeing that ramp up week after week after week. To give you an example, I mean when we were first starting we had hoped to get, we hoped to get to around 80,000 a week and we were achieving that in the first couple of weeks. In the seven days prior to the Easter break - and obviously over the Easter break there hasn’t been many vaccinations over the course of the last four days, that will ramp up again as this week commences - we got to around 350,000 in a week. Now that is a significant increase in just a matter of weeks and we can continue to expect to see that increase over the weeks ahead as the distribution network expands, more GPs are involved. And I want to stress, it’s important that we get as many GPs involved as possible because that is more points of contact with the public, more points of contact. And they’re receiving anywhere between 50 and 2,000 doses. And so the fact that those doses have been getting out and they’ve been getting in the jabs in the arms, I strongly welcome, and there will be more rollout as they come off the production line and as they go through the necessary approval processes. And that is the phase that we’re dealing with now, and then we get to the next phase and there will be a role for pharmacists, and there is the potential for other ways that we can do that to ensure that we can move the vaccines across the balances of the population as safely and reasonably as possible.

Sam, Sam. I will come back to you, I’ll come back to you, I’ll come back to you, but Sam had her hand up.

JOURNALIST: Originally in January you were hopeful that you could vaccinate four million people by the end of March. That hasn’t happened, we’re at about a quarter I think, about 800,000, and you said partially that’s in relation to exports. But in relation to CSL, in relation to …

PRIME MINISTER: … imports …

JOURNALIST: … imports, sorry. In relation to CSL, they’ve got about 800,000 that are on the ground, and there’s also around two million that are awaiting further checks, and you’ve said that’s important. Given those sort of hold-ups, how many people would you expect to be vaccinated by the end of April?

PRIME MINISTER: Well Sam, a couple of things. There’s not a hold-up. The release of vaccines has always been based on them completing those processes, so the fact that they actually have to get approved by the relevant authorities and do the batch testing is not a hold-up, it’s a necessary part of the process to guarantee Australian safety. So I think to describe that as a hold-up would be, would be incorrect. Secondly, you talked about the four million figure. Well the simple explanation of that is three million - 3.1 million vaccines - that never came to Australia. And so that is the reason. Back in early January we had anticipated we would have those 3.1 million vaccines. Those 3.1 million vaccines were not supplied to Australia, and that explains the difference between the numbers you are referring to, and we made that very clear back in February. So to- and we made it very clear that they were indicative figures that we were working to at that time based on the information that we had. So I think it is important that as the Government puts information out about the program, it will be subject to change from time to time. There will be factors that come into play, such as the disruption of supplies. That can occur, even with domestic production, and we need to work to the supply that we have. And I think that’s only reasonable to consider it in that way, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.

Last, I said we’d, I said I’d come back to Greg, and then…

JOURNALIST: Pharmacists say that they were supposed to get, they were initially supposed to get advice on what clinics would administer doses by March 12. That’s been pushed back to April 12, and they say that their initial advice was they would actually be administering them by May, and that’s been pushed back to June. So, in what ...

PRIME MINISTER: It was always mid-year. We were always working to mid-year. Pharmacists were not coming in until the next phase. And so I welcome their enthusiasm and willingness to want to be involved in this, and when we reach that stage where they were to be involved then they’ll be involved. But you had another question on another matter?

JOURNALIST: Yeah just Janet Yellen. So, she’s pushing for a minimum corporate tax rate for the G20. Is this something you’d consider supporting, and are you concerned Australia has been at the losing end on an international bidding war for lower business tax rates?

PRIME MINISTER: Well in Australia, not only have we reduced the corporate tax rate and it’s on that path to 25 percent for businesses of less than 50 million in turnover, but I’d also add this. In the most recent Budgets we have introduced some of the most effective investment allowances and instant expensive initiatives that has, as well as research and development, taxation concessions, and a whole range of other measures that effectively lowers the corporate tax rate for Australian companies. And so the like-for-like assessment, I think you will find, would see Australia in a lot more competitive position than you would give Australia credit for. And we’re seeing that through the work that is being done currently in Australia’s efforts to attract more companies to Australia, and particularly when you take into account in key sectors, like in the space sector or the technology sector, or the minerals resource processing, or agrifood, or any of these key medical, biomedical industries where our manufacturing strategy is also being supported by grant programs and others to boost that, then Australia’s overall system is proving to be incredibly competitive and a lot more competitive than that analysis would suggest. And Australia does have  an opportunity right now, and we are seeking right now to realise that opportunity. Companies from around the world, the best and brightest minds from all around the world, are working out that this is where they want to be. And they want to be here and be part of what’s happening here in Australia. And our success in managing COVID compared to other countries is a great endorsement of what Australia is putting forward to them, so I will have a bit more to say about that in the weeks ahead, but what I can tell you is Australia is leading the world out of the COVID-19 pandemic and recession. Today’s job vacancy numbers, they demonstrate that. Our vaccination program continues to upscale and continues to rollout, unlike in many other countries where they have had to move at a great pace, it has been because of the dire situation they are in. Australia is not experiencing the dire, fatal consequences that so many other countries are experiencing, and neither is New Zealand, whose vaccination program is, I’d say, at a lower level than Australia’s is now. It’s not a criticism, it’s just they don’t have access to a domestic vaccine production. Australia does, and that enables us going forward in the weeks and months ahead to scale all that up. So I’m very pleased about those job numbers. I’m very pleased that the Trans-Tasman route is opened up again. It’s another big step in our way back. Thanks very much.