Press Conference - Bribie Island, QLD

21 Dec 2021
Prime Minister

MR TERRY YOUNG, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR LONGMAN: Well, thanks everyone for coming to beautiful Bribie Island. I'm here with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health as well. And we've got members from the Cancer Council. So thank you for coming along. Can I just say that COVID has taken the limelight, but you know, skin cancer still exists and it's still out there. I think it's a very important time coming into middle of the peak season of summer to make sure that we're taking precautions. So, Prime Minister. 

PRIME MINISTER: Terry, it's great to be here with you today, and of course my great colleague, Greg Hunt, the Minister for Health and Aged Care. Well, we're here today with a very simple message as we go into this summer period, slip, slop, slap, seek and slide. That sounds like a ride at Luna Park, but it's it's not. What it is is sensible advice for all Australians to take good care of themselves over these summer months. We're all looking forward to that break. We're all looking forward to getting down the beach. We're all looking forward to getting down to the park. Whether you're playing cricket or you're in the pool or whatever you're doing. That is what we absolutely love about Australian life, and Australians are claiming this all back as we go into the summer period. But here in Australia, in the next year, 16,000 people are going to be diagnosed and over 1,300 will lose their lives as a result of melanoma and skin cancer. Now I grew up on the beach and in the Shire, I live down near the beach. It is a huge part of our lifestyle, just as it is here, Terry, on Bribie Island and all the way through the Sunshine State here in Queensland. And in the Sunshine State, we've gotta be sun smart and in the Sunshine Country, which is Australia, we need to be sun smart. And it's not just those of us who are, you know, a bit more weathered that need to do that. It's our young kids as well who are growing up in their skin is very sensitive and we need to make sure that we're looking after them and we're dousing them in the cream and the hat and all of these things, in the rashie, as parents to ensure that we can be looking after our kids health and all of our health to be sun smart here and sun safe here in Australia. 

And so today we're launching, and I'll ask Greg to go into more of the detail, but we're launching another $20 million campaign over the next two years to ensure that we're keeping Australians safe in the Sun. Keeping Australians safe is one of the three big objectives of our government.  Keep our economy strong, to keep Australians safe and to keep Australians together. And this Christmas, we're coming together. I want them to be safe. And as we're coming through this pandemic, our economy is really starting to power through into next year. So we've got a lot to, a lot to look forward to next year. But right now, we need to look forward to having that time with family and enjoying our time in our great outdoors here in Australia and being sun smart. Slip, slop, slap, seek and slide. Greg. 

THE HON. GREG HUNT MP, MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: Thanks very much for that PM, Terry Young, to Tanya, representing the Cancer Council and to Courtney, our our wonderful young patient.  Courtney, who was diagnosed with melanoma, a grade four, has been through all of the treatment. And she gave us the wonderful news that she's cleared of her condition, and she was able to access PBS medicines, magnificent medicines such as Opdivo and Yervoy, of Keytruda and others. And she's well and healthy, but unfortunately, not everybody who gets skin cancer does have such an outcome, and so the best way to protect yourself is to help prevent skin cancer. Today's launch of the sun smart campaign, a two year campaign $20 million, $10 million a year, is about awareness. It's about awareness. So parents, kids, great parents know that they should be slipping on the rashie, plopping on the sunscreen, slapping on the hat, seeking shade and sliding on the sunglasses. But what does it mean? Cover yourself. That's the simple message about being sun smart. 

And the other great preventive action that we can take as a country's vaccination. And we released this morning the childhood vaccination figures under the National Immunisation Programme. Over 95 per cent of Australian children under the National Immunisation Programme have had their five year old vaccination. Incredibly 97 per cent in Indigenous families amongst Indigenous kids. We talk about closing the gap. This time we want the rest of Australia to close the gap up to the levels of our Indigenous vaccination amongst kids. And then more broadly, today's a big day here in Queensland. Queensland has passed 85 per cent double dose for COVID vaccination. They are expected to pass 90 per cent single dose here in Queensland. Well done Queenslanders and thank you. And across Australia we are 93.9% vaccinated with a record day for boosters yesterday. We now have more than one and a half million boosters, which have been delivered. 140,000 yesterday. Record day in pharmacies, a record day for boosters and Australians are coming forward to be protected. So it's about protecting yourself in front of the sun for your kids if they're due for their vaccination and immunisation programme and for COVID.

MISS TANYA BUCHANAN, CANCER COUNCIL AUSTRALIA CEO: Thanks Minister Hunt. Thanks Prime Minister and Terry and thank you everyone for joining us today. The Cancer Council is delighted to hear this announcement today of a national skin cancer campaign. And we were also delighted last week when the National Preventative Health Strategy was released and detailed the importance of preventing cancer. One in three cancers in Australia can be prevented through lifestyle changes, and we were pleased to see that that campaign that the next distinctive campaign was included in the National Preventive Health Strategy, and we look forward to having it launched and delivered over the next, over the next two years. We know that Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, as the Prime Minister said, this year it is estimated that around 16-17,000 Australians will be diagnosed with melanoma. And we know that whilst melanoma rates are declining in under 40 year olds, we also know that skin cancer remains our most common and most costly and one of our most preventable cancers, and that two in three Australians will receive a diagnosis of skin cancer before they turn 70. Recent data that we released from Cancer Council just a couple of weeks ago showed that more than a quarter of Australians say that they don't use any sun protection during the summer as part of their daily routine, and that young Australians are less likely to use some protective behaviours, and particularly protective clothing, than older Australians. And that's why this campaign is so incredibly important. We also know that we need to educate Australians on the importance of the UV index. So we need a campaign that tells us to slip, slop, slap, seek and slide every time the UV index is three or above. And Australians can find out about UV index by checking the meteorology or the smart sun app, and so every time the UV index is three or above in the local area, we encourage all Australians to slip, slop, slap, seek and slide. We know that when we have campaigns on air, that sun protective behaviours increase, and that's why this campaign is really important. And we also encourage the federal government to continue to commit to support for the National Preventive Health Strategy over the next 10 years, so that every aspect of that strategy for prevention, be it sun smart, tobacco, physical activity, diet that they are all delivered. And so we thank you today for the launch of this campaign, and we look forward to reminding all Australians this summer and next summer to be sun smart. To slip, slop slap, seek and slide every time the UV index is three or above because the job isn't done until all Australians are safe in the sun. 

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much, Tanya. Courtney, love to hear from you Courtney and your experiences. 

MS COURTNEY MANGAN: Hi, my name is Courtney Mangan. I was diagnosed with melanoma in 2017, the mole that was on my back. And since then I've been receiving treatment and multiple surgeries. I recently got told that a week and a half ago that I'm all clear which is amazing with my stage four cancer diagnosis. But it's been a long road. And so I guess the key message is that everybody thinks it's not going to happen to them. But the truth is two in three Australians will be touched by cancer by the time they're 70. So, protect the skin you're in and cover up.

PRIME MINISTER: Great advice. Happy to take some questions. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what will you tell premiers at National Cabinet tomorrow? 

PRIME MINISTER: I'm happy to go to all the questions, but any questions on, particularly on today's announcement of skin cancer and particularly while we've got the Cancer Council here and Courtney, happy to take those first. Well, we seem to have got our message out very strongly. Tanya, thank you very, and Courtney. And OK, let's go to the other matters that media would like to talk about.

JOURNALIST: National Cabinet's tomorrow. What will you be telling premiers? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, tomorrow is an opportunity for us to compare notes to get the most recent information that we've had. When we last met last Friday week, there was a lot we still didn't know about Omicron. We know more now. But there is still more to know, and the medical expert panel has met in between these two meetings, and I've already written to the premiers and set out the advice that they're providing. There's important messages about the strong recommendation about masks use inside, things like that, and that's very sensible. But one of the key messages is, yes, we're going to need to continue to calibrate how we manage this virus and how we live with this virus in the face of Omicron. Of course that is necessary. But we're not going back to lockdowns, we're not going back to shutting down people's lives. We're going forward to live with this virus with common sense and responsibility. And there will be other variants beyond Omicron. And we have to ensure as a country and as leaders around the country, we have put in place measures that Australians can live with. And what that means is we have to move from a culture of mandates to a culture of responsibility. That's how we live with this virus into the future. Now, in my home state of New South Wales, there, people are already wearing masks and they're not being fined if they don't, because Australians know what is a common sense responsible action to look after their own health and to look after the health of those around them. But as a country, we've got to get past the heavy hand of government and we've got to treat Australians like adults, and we all have our own responsibility in our communities and for our own health. 

People should get vaccinated. If you don't get vaccinated, you're more likely to get the virus, get very serious illness from the virus and to die from the virus. That is three very good reasons why you should get vaccinated. Equally, it's important that you practise other common sense behaviours, like washing your hands and keeping appropriate distances. But you know you're not going to get the ruler out, and you don't need to get people to come around hitting you with fines. We just need to live with this virus sensibly and practically. From mandates to responsibility. And as governments around the country, because, as you know, the states have the total authority when it comes to public health measures, the Commonwealth does not have the power to direct those state and territory governments. And so what I'll be saying to them, and I know a number of premiers agree with this, is that we've got to move to the next phase of how we live with this virus. The time for that heavy hand is behind us. The time, I think, for knowing and trusting Australians who have proven themselves with one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with one of the strongest economies coming out of this pandemic, 180,000 more people in jobs today than before the pandemic. And, of course, one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID. So we need to keep listening to the advice. Be sensible. Move forward, allow Australians to live with this virus responsibly. Take the issues incredibly seriously. But let's live with this together and responsibly. 

JOURNALIST: Paul Kelly's advice is to implement a mask mandate. Do you support that? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I might ask to Greg speak on that because he's been working with the AHPPC, but that's not quite how I would describe it.

THE HON. GREG HUNT MP, MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: So Professor Kelly and the Chief Health Officers through what's called the AHPPC, the Medical Expert Panel on Public Health Measures, provide advice for the states and territories. They implement public health orders. So at the federal level, we have the national vaccination advisory body of Vaccines Advisory Body, ATAGI, the Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation. They're a long standing group. They for example, helped us get to the 95 per cent childhood immunisation rate and almost 94 per cent now across the country for COVID. At the state level, the principal advisory body for public health measures is the AHPPC, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, and that's advice for the premiers, which has been channeled through the chief health officer. So we're providing that to them and they'll make their own decisions. But there is a very important role for masks, for closed settings. There's a very important role, as the PM has said, for appropriate distancing, washing the hands. All of the things that we were talking about in February and March of 2020, they are still the basics of keeping safe.

JOURNALIST: Just on the advice. Will two jabs be fully vaccinated or will you need a third?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the advice from our immunisation experts. Let me be very clear about this. ATAGI is not a new institution, as Greg has just said, they have been around for a long time and they have been responsible over many years for steering Australia's immunisation programmes, which achieved world record levels, not just more recently on COVID, but on other childhood immunisations and other immunisation programmes. They are the experts when it comes to immunisation. Everyone else has opinions. They have responsibility and the expert responsibility for advising the government about what the vaccination programmes are, and we continue to listen to them on these issues as I've said on many occasions. What I will not do, is I will not front run their advice on that issue. They will consider these issues carefully and they will advise the government, just as they will carefully consider as they have been for some time, the interval period for booster shots. Now people should go and get boosters. We know that booster shots significantly assist in protecting people against Omicron, and we have seen those, you know, one and a half million booster shots now having been undertaken, and we urge the states and territories to to reopen the state vaccination clinics that have been wound down, more than 200 of them over the last couple of months. As I said to them last Friday week and as General Frewen has been doing, we need to get those open again. We have Greg, 8,500 points of presence with our pharmacy network and our doctors. In fact, over the last few months, the number of places that the Commonwealth is directly supporting vaccination has increased. But of course, the states have been pulling this back over the last couple of months, and it's time to switch those back on. So we want to get those booster rates up. It's important we get those clinics open again. 

JOURNALIST: Do you think the pressure from state health ministers on ATAGI to make the timeframe reduced to four months is helpful?

PRIME MINISTER: I think it's important, look, I've had views about these issues in the past when it came to matters of AstraZeneca and so on. You know, the views that I've had on those issues. But ultimately, the decision about what the interval should be is one that the immunisation experts will advise us on. Now the other important priorities, particularly over the summer, we have the five to 11s immunisation programmes, vaccine programme, which begins on the 10th of January, and that is important to get those jabs done, all those those first doses before kids go back to school. It's also very important at the moment that our booster programme is heavily focused once again on our elderly population, on the immunocompromised. It wasn't that long ago when we had advice and other countries were not going down the path of a full population booster programme. Before Omicron, before any of these issues, we decided, the Health Minister and I and the National Security COVID Committee of Cabinet decided that we were going for a full population booster programme. There are more than enough vaccines. We have five million now in fridges, is that right Greg? And we've got over 13 million in the country. By Christmas, that'll be well over 6.5 million. And so there are plenty of doses in the fridge. There are plenty of points of presence in the Commonwealth's network. And as I said, I'm looking forward as the states have been now starting to ramp back up the clinics over 200 that were closed over the last few months. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, are we in Phase D of the national reopening plan?

PRIME MINISTER: Not yet, no we're not there yet, and we'll have a discussion about that tomorrow because I commissioned some work on Phase D at the last meeting to see what thresholds were necessary to be able to move into that phase and and some states will move into that phase sooner than others. But at this point, Omicron means we're in Phase C. And that will continue. And you know that in Phase C, there remain sensible, low level public health, social measures that are in place. And yeah. 
But I want to reinforce the point I was making before, you know, we have to carry the Australian public with us and to carry them with us, we have to continue to trust them. And to trust them, that means trusting them to be responsible with their own health, as they have. To get vaccinated, to exercise a common sense, public health practices. Here's another tip. Omicron is moving substantially amongst the younger population. They're at parties, they're at nightclubs, they're at hospitality venues. I would encourage them, particularly if they're going to spend time at Christmas with older family members, you might want to give that big night out a miss. Particularly if you're going to see one of your elderly relatives over the Christmas period or exercise greater precautions around. That's what I'm talking about. Australians don't have to be told by governments how to live. Australians are responsible people who care about their own health, whether it's sun smart behaviour or COVID or any other element of their health. And they really care about those they love and they care about their communities. One of the biggest lessons that were reinforced during the COVID pandemic is you want to put a bet on the best way to deal with the crisis, you bet on Australians, and that's what we've done.

JOURNALIST: But you said there's going to be more variants down the track. We're at 90 per cent double dose. 


JOURNALIST: When are we going to move to the next phase? When are we going to start treating this as any other infectious disease? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's that's exactly the advice we're seeking at the moment, but I think I think people would sensibly understand that we're in the very early phases of the Omicron variant and we need to understand it better. And and that's why booster shots are so important to protect people from the Omicron variant. And what we do know, though, is if you're double dose vaccinated, even with Omicron, you're far better protected than if you're not vaccinated at all. And the high levels of vaccination we have in this country have set us up to deal with this challenge. But we have to do it with each of us taking our own personal responsibility. None of us want to go back to lockdowns in the southern states, there's a big amen from New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT on that. And Queensland doesn't want to go into it. And the way to avoid that, is by ensuring that people practise responsible behaviours because COVID is not going anywhere any time soon. And to live with it over time, we have to do it with a culture of responsibility, not with a culture of control and mandates. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the WHO Chief has said that at this time of year, a cancelled event is better than lives lost. Do you agree with that? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think it's important we keep our heads. I think it's important that we reassure Australians that the high level of vaccination rates are preparing Australians well. I think we want to encourage Australians to enjoy their time together, over the course of this break. Of course we take Omicron and COVID seriously, but we also value the lifestyle and the way of life we have in Australia, and  I want Australians to be able to enjoy that as much as is safely possible. 

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] Josh Frydenberg's independent challenger Monique Ryan has previously been a member of the Labor Party. How worried are you about this independent push to unseat modern Liberals?

PRIME MINISTER: Well as you just said, one of the independents was a member of the Labor Party. I said they were the voices of Labor and that's proof positive that they are. This is not some independent movement. This is a political party which is opposing the LNP, the Liberal Party, the Nationals. This is a political movement funded by big money down there in the southern states to try and turf out the government. That's what they're about. And I'll tell you what, up here in Queensland, they don't need big money from southern states telling them who their voices are. And down in Josh's electorate, and other places, I think this just exposes what this movement is all about. It's about opposing the government and pushing an agenda which is much more aligned with Labor and the Greens, and it's its Labor and the Greens that they are the voices of and are doing the bidding.

JOURNALIST: Minister Hunt, how many Omicron cases in Australia in hospitals at the moment? 

THE HON. GREG HUNT MP, MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: Ah look, we're catching up with Professor Kelly this morning, so we'll be able to provide that update after that. But at this stage just yesterday, the advice from Professor Kelly to the Prime Minister and myself, we had a briefing, is that the evidence is showing you are less likely to go to hospital with Omicron. You are less likely to go to ICU with Omicron and you are less likely to lose your life with Omicron. But having said that, the best protection is to be vaccinated. And if you are eligible and due for your booster, now's the time to come forward.

PRIME MINISTER: We are seeing only a fraction of those Omicron cases compared to Delta cases, ending up in hospital. A fraction. 

JOURNALIST: Is it because of the variant, or because of the vaccine?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's a combination of factors. It's the variant, and there is there is some evidence to suggest that the variant is less severe, and that's one of the key pieces of information we're still waiting to, I think further fall into place. It's also true that Omicron is moving most significantly amongst the younger population, which tend to more generally to have less severe reactions to COVID than the older population. But why is it the older population being more exposed? Well, a) the vaccination most significantly, but you know, it's also just sensible behaviours. When mum came over on the weekend, in New South Wales for us to go down to Carols in the Shire and see Lily sing, and she's amazing. She wore the mask and she was looking after her own health. She's had a booster. She's very careful when she goes shopping and and she's speaking about the health. Mum is doing the responsible thing, and that's how we manage this. Australians don't need to be dictated to every few minutes by governments about how they have to live. We've been living with this virus and we've been aware of this virus now for almost two years. So I think Australians understand how it works more broadly in the vast majority of cases. They know the sensible things they should be doing. And for those who are really concerned about it and feel unsafe about going out, well, then they'll take those precautions too. But we've got to let Australians make their own choices about their own health and their own lives. I think that's really important. It's a key part of what Australia is. We're learning to live with this virus. We've got a bit more to learn, and I think governments have more to learn about ensuring that they can trust Australians more to get on and do the responsible thing and not have to mandate and control. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister does does the communication have to be altered with younger Australians. You're saying that Omicron is spreading more with them. They've already been asked to give up essentially two years of their formative lives. And now you're saying maybe don't go to the pub in the middle of summer at Christmas. Does the messaging have to change to make sure that what does have to be altered to make sure that they really are run home, the fact that they have to take it seriously? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I didn't say don't go to the pub. I mean, you can go out and sit in the beer garden out in the outdoor area. If you're sitting outside, I mean, we are outside today. I mean, that's a common sense thing. If you're getting together with friends, be outside. That's immediately going to be a more practical way to avoid the variant and the virus. But if you're inside, keep at a distance, you don't need to crush into a mosh pit. You know, that's probably not a good idea if you're going to see your grandmother on the weekend. But that's common sense. That's what I'm appealing for is common sense, and that's what I think all Australians have to exercise, and I believe they have been. You know, we don't have one of the lowest death rates in the world and one of the strongest economies and one of the highest vaccination rates in the world by accident. I don't believe it's been achieved by mandates and controls. I think it's been largely achieved by the goodwill, good faith and the common sense of the Australian people. And that's what I'm banking on for Australia's future health and security and our economic recovery, which we need to secure in the new year. 

JOURNALIST: You don't think Queensland's vaccine mandate had anything to do with the sudden skyrocket towards the end there and our jab rate? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you know, my view on mandates. Mandates are essential for health workers and for aged care workers, for people who are directly working with vulnerable people. I think, you know, that is the only area at a Commonwealth level where there has been unanimous agreement amongst all the chief health officers of this country about where those mandates should be in place. Outside of that, states have taken their own decisions on their own public health orders to put those mandates in place. They cannot be overridden by the Commonwealth. And so those mandates are a decision of the Queensland Government as they are in other governments around the country. The health advice we have as a Commonwealth is those mandates have been most essential for aged care workers and for those who are working directly in vulnerable health settings. And so that's where common sense comes in. That's where common sense comes in. And there has been a need for all sorts of things over the last two years, but we're going into a new phase and that new phase is one of a culture of responsibility rather than a culture of control and a culture of mandates and letting Australians live with this virus responsibly. Thanks very much.