Press Conference - Canberra, ACT

Transcript
06 Aug 2021
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon. National Cabinet has met for the 50th time today, and we’ve met at a time when so many Australians are now subject to lockdowns because of the Delta variant of this strain, which is causing a third wave all around the world. And, we met together today to further strengthen and do everything we can to support Australians as they’re going through this very difficult time. Strengthening our supports, whether they be economic, continuing to support the efficacy of the lockdowns so they can be effective. And, the sooner they're more effective and the sooner they are effective, the sooner they end. And, of course, to continue to rollout the vaccination, the national vaccination program, which today, in the most recent data, has hit another very significant mark, with over 240,000 vaccines delivered in one day. Now, that per capita matches, and in fact, betters, the peak of the seven day average per capita of the UK's vaccination program. So, as I remarked earlier this week, the national vaccination program here in Australia has certainly turned the corner. The challenges that we have had, we have been overcoming them now for months, and the rates of vaccination that we are now achieving are matching those that were achieved in many countries around the world. And, that's what's needed to get this job done. And, so, today we reflected on those issues.

Today, we fully agreed the national plan that I outlined to you last Friday. We said it was agreed in principle last week, and today it was confirmed and fully agreed. The national plan, that pathway that takes us to the position where we live with this virus, and we live with the virus where we ultimately start saying goodbye to lockdowns, once we reach 70 per cent vaccination of the population, and then ultimately move away from them in the third phase, Phase C. Of course, all public health measures are necessary when you're dealing with a global pandemic. But, these important changes, affirmed again today by all the Premiers and all the Chief Ministers fully agreeing to the national plan that I announced last Friday at The Lodge after our meeting last week.

Today, we also agreed for further work to be done by the Doherty Institute. We were joined by Professor McVernon from the Doherty Institute with further follow up work that has, that will be done, to support both the states and territories and the Commonwealth as we prepare to move into Phase B and Phase C of that national plan, further understanding the calibration of public health measures and the impact on how that follows through with the virus and how it may behave. Similarly, looking particularly at further studies into the more vulnerable populations, whether they be Indigenous populations or other vulnerable populations around the country, what the potential impact is, and understanding scenarios that could occur when we eventually start opening up borders and we have additional people coming into the country, and understanding what the scenarios might be in those circumstances. They're not predictive. They're about understanding particular scenarios and how that might play out. And, so, we can have pre-considered our responses to those issues.

We also had a very, very extensive discussion today on rapid antigen testing, and I'll ask the Chief Medical Officer to speak more to this in his remarks. Might I make it clear that it's not that it's not being used, it actually is being used, but it is an important tool to be used at the right stage of the process. It is being used now in essential workplaces. It is being used now in, for medical workers and in aged care facilities, and things of that nature. It has a very specific purpose at this point. But, when you're in the suppression phase, that is Phase A of this virus, what is very important is that we need to know who's tested positive. And, if you're doing voluntary rapid antigen testing at home and things of that nature, then the state health authorities won't know. And, so, it's important that we can know and then do contact testing and tracing to ensure that we can follow that through in the suppression phase. While you're in the suppression phase, knowing who has it, knowing who they've been with, and being able to follow that up and isolating close contacts and all of that is a very important part of the public health response to the outbreak.

So, rapid antigen testing has a very important role to play. There's no doubt about that. And, particularly when we get into Phase B and Phase C, when we're moving from managing cases and moving to managing hospitalisations, serious illness and things of that nature. So, there will be further work done preparing for those phases and how rapid antigen testing can be better used in those phases. But, for now, it will continue to be used in a very targeted way. And, we will continue to work with the Therapeutic Goods Administration to see more of those tests becoming available so they can be used for those purposes.

We also heard, and I asked for the Solicitor-General to join us today to share his advice on a number of important issues, which both Premiers, Chief Ministers and I, and our Ministers, have been dealing with, and that deals with where employers may be seeking to require employees to have vaccines. Similarly, if a business or establishment may seek to deny access to a premise or a service in relation to people who are vaccinated or are non-vaccinated. Now, it is not the intention of the Commonwealth, nor of the states and territories, to create any special laws in these areas. The only area where that has occurred to date has been public health orders around quarantine workers, and also an agreement amongst Premiers and Chief Ministers for those who are moving to put in place those public health orders for aged care workers.

But, the advice makes clear that there are matters regarding discrimination law and a reasonableness of any direction made to an employee, and that reasonableness goes over four tiers. And, all of this is explained through the Fair Work advice, which is available on the Fair Work website to assist employers. But, ultimately, employers need to consider these matters and make their own decisions. Remembering we do not have a mandatory vaccination policy in this country. We do not have that. We are not proposing to have that. That is not changing. But, an employer may wish to make a reasonable directive to staff, and if they do so, they would need to do so consistent with the law. And, that particularly would deal with a situation where an employee may be in direct contact potentially, or becoming infected, and acquiring the virus. And, so, they are workers who are working in quarantine facilities, obviously, which are covered by public health orders. Where there's a public health order, the legal position is very, very clear. But, it may include people like airline workers or others in those situations where they are coming in close contact with those who may be carrying the virus.

You have a second tier, which are those who may be working with people who are quite vulnerable. And, that's why the consideration has been given to groups like aged care workers and others who are coming in close contact with people who are vulnerable. And, it may be that a business would take a decision in that respect. A third tier are those who are in a position where they are publicly, public facing in their daily work. So, we’re talking about retail, supermarkets, things of that nature, working in essential occupations where there's a lot of contact. Now, again, these are all legal positions which have to pass that reasonableness test, and they are ultimately decided by the courts. And, employers need to obviously consider those matters very carefully if they're looking to make directions of that nature.

Now, then you have the balance, who are those who may be public servants or those who are not in often close contact with others in the course of their work. And, these basically work on a sliding scale, if you like, in terms of how the reasonableness test might be applied. That is the advice that we're receiving. And I'm sure employers who are considering these things would be also taking their own advice on those matters.

The Solicitor-General, though, did indicate that when it comes to issues of discrimination, then discrimination would relate to the discrimination laws. And, so, that would be in relation to discrimination against a person, in relation to a disability, for example, or something like that. Now, it would be unlikely that a person being vaccinated or unvaccinated would be related to whether they are of a particular gender, or whether they're of a particular disability, or of a particular race, or something like that. And, these are the matters that, as indicated to us, that would have to be considered in making that judgement. Not having a vaccine is not a disability. But, of course, if people do have particular medical conditions or issues that might prevent them from being able to be vaccinated, well, of course, that would be a different issue. So, these are not being spoken of by me as any sort of direction, but to convey to you what was conveyed to Premiers and Chief Ministers today in our understanding of the situation and and how we are seeking to simply make that information available. But, ultimately, their choices for the businesses themselves.

Then, of course, you have the right to whether people are denying access to a property or deny access to a service or something of that nature, well the property law issues kick in there, where where an occupier can deny, are subject to any positive legal requirements. So, those positive legal requirements, again, things like anti-discrimination laws. But, those anti-discrimination laws have to be tested against whether someone being vaccinated or unvaccinated relates to anything that would have to do with who they are as an individual and whether they're being any characteristic that is protected under an anti-discrimination law would be relevant. Finally, there are some privacy issues there under the privacy laws where they apply. They relate to the collection of information, not to the provision of information. And, they are two separate issues.

We also went further today to go to a very important issue, which was raised some months ago by myself and the, and the Premier of Queensland. And, we have now received all of the jurisdictions, state and territory jurisdictions, responses that go to their Women's Economic Security measures that they've been moving through their own governments, and the supports that are there. And, we agreed today that we should now put together a nationally consistent reporting framework on Women's Economic Security measures to ensure that we're always aware of where gaps may exist. And, and that can be something we can, we can review on a regular basis. And, that can inform all of our budgets and can inform all of the measures we’d seek to put in place.

As you know, our Government put in a very significant Women's Economic Security Package at the last federal Budget. And, in fact, the last several Budgets, and indeed also a very significant Women's Safety Package. All states and territories have also given their formal responses now to Respect@Work, and we are now moving forward then to work on the National Plan to End Violence Against Women, a very successful program in its previous iteration. And, those gatherings will be going ahead very soon, and all states and territories will be engaging with those.

So, a 50th meeting of the National Cabinet today, dealing not only with our ongoing response to what is a very serious situation around the country when it comes to COVID, but also continuing the work of National Cabinet, addressing the broader issues that require national cooperation, women's economic security, women's physical safety, women's safety and ending violence against women.

I should have also noted we further progressed matters on the transport code today, and we're getting close to a resolution of those issues. And, the Chief Medical Officer may wish to make mention of that.
And, of course, on economic supports, with Victoria going back into lockdown, the seven, the COVID Disaster Payments at $750 and $450 and $200, eligibility for that commences with the start of the lockdown and then the the Commonwealth hotspot, which was declared at midnight, I think it was last night, Chief Medical Officer. And so that application process kicks in after seven days. Those in Melbourne and across Victoria will be very familiar with that. And, this time around it, for those who have already registered for the previous one, they will need to go back and register again with the new lockdown. But, that process given they've done it before should be very seamless. In addition those payments are also progressing well when it comes to south east Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia.

For business support, you would have seen today our announcement that we'll be going 50-50 with an arrangement that the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was able to agree with Treasurer Pallas last night, endorsed by both Premier Andrews and I to ensure that we're going 50-50, which we’ll be providing some $200 million of support, both from the Commonwealth and from the state of Victoria, the Government of Victoria. So, $400 million to see businesses through, because we understand with the response that we have now to deal with this Delta variant which, which leaves very few tools available to us other than those that are now being employed by the states where we're seeing these cases. As we know, we have to support people through this. The COVID Disaster Payment is proving to be a highly effective and very timely way to get immediate support to people. These payments are being turned around on application in as little as half an hour, and I know that provides some real encouragement. Similarly, with the business payments, they're administered by the state governments whether it's in New South Wales or indeed in Victoria or South Australia, and in terms of Queensland, should they wish to go forward with something on that matter, then I'm sure the Queensland Treasurer will engage the Federal Treasurer, as his other state counterparts have done on those other matters. And with that I'll pass you over to the Chief Medical Officer. Thank you, Professor Kelly.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, COMMONWEALTH CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Thank you, Prime Minister. So just to give a quick summary of the situation as we see it from the epidemiology of this epidemic in Australia at the moment. Three states with ongoing local transmission. New South Wales clearly the one most affected at the moment. The current outbreak in Sydney and surrounding areas is at 4,610 cases. 14 per cent of those cases have ended up in hospital, three per cent in intensive care, and less than one per cent deaths but each of those a tragedy, of course over 20 people dying over a range of age groups.

Despite the high testing, that has been incredible really, what how many people have come forward and to be tested, and for the laboratories to keep up with that testing with very rapid turnaround in that PCR testing regime, despite the strict lockdowns, particularly in south western Sydney, but also throughout the Sydney region and as of yesterday, Newcastle and the Hunter. Despite the increasing vaccination in those areas there is still a rise in the number of cases. Pleasingly the that, that outbreak is being suppressed. We would have expected without the vaccination, without the lockdown, without the other measures that are in place, that this would have been much higher rates of illness, hospitalisation and death up to now, and that hasn't been the case.

However, there are still worrying signs in terms of unlinked cases, new chains of transmission, new exposure sites, geographic spread, and the like. There's no sense that that is heading rapidly towards zero, which is what is our, remains our national approach at the moment. There's clearly a need for a circuit breaker. I've had many discussions with my colleague in New South Wales around that. What can, what else could be done to increase the speed of people being diagnosed, the compliance with those public health measures and crucially an increase in vaccination in those areas. And so, New South Wales needs to stay the course and look for those new ways of, of increasing and improving that situation.

In the other two states, in Queensland, the current outbreak or outbreaks in south east Queensland is now 89 cases. I'm much less concerned about south east Queensland. Most of the cases are being diagnosed whilst in quarantine, not infectious in the community and that control seems to be working.

In Victoria the, the outbreak that has been going there over several weeks is now at 232 cases. That outbreak of several weeks ago is showing very strong signs of, of coming to an end. However in the last 48 hours, there's disturbingly been another two so far unconnected outbreaks, small numbers, but geographically spread and a mystery, a mystery in terms of where that's come from. So, that that's something that needs to be addressed.

There are now three Commonwealth hotspot areas in each of those states. That triggers all of the, all of the supports including the Disaster Payments, to those areas, but also importantly, assistance with, with contact tracing, assistance with personal protective equipment if required and other other measures.

The, crucially, and the PM has mentioned this already, we are not alone in this. The whole world is having a wave of illness. It's related to the Delta strain, that is by far the predominant strain around the world at the moment. We know it's more likely to be transmitted. We know that you can get large outbreaks. In the past week, there's been four million cases around the world diagnosed, 64,000 deaths. So, we're not alone in that. What we do know is that whilst there is this other wave, vaccine works. Mostly the the outbreaks in other countries, and including here and particularly in New South Wales, this is a epidemic or a pandemic of the unvaccinated. And, we know that vaccines work to decrease severe illness. It decreases transmission, it decreases death. And, it's clearly the way forward, as we've talked a lot this week after the modelling from from the Doherty. So, the clear message today is get vaccinated. And, I'm sure Lieutenant General Frewen will make that message as well. But, it's worth us all making it. Vaccination is the way out. We know where where we're going with that, and particularly in those hotspot areas, please make an appointment and talk to your GP about your vaccination options right now.

In terms of the rapid antigen test, I think the PM's mentioned, mentioned most things. I’d just say that it clearly has a role. But, at the moment, our primary way of testing is PCR. That's because it's more accurate. But, also, and crucially, the points the Prime Minister made  that it’s part of our public health response. We need to know who's positive so we can make those, those right public health responses and give the clinical care where it's required. But it's, now is exactly the time to be thinking about other ways of doing, doing testing, so that we can prepare for a time where we are accepting of, of cases in the community and, it will be a different way of dealing with those. So, on-site for essential workers, supervised testing where positives are confirmed by PCR testing, and any, any results of any of the tests collected by the public health authorities. These things are, are the way forward and are happening right now in Sydney and other places.

Just briefly on the freight code, so this is a very important component. With so many outbreaks in different areas of Australia, particularly and potentially affecting our freight distribution system, we need to consider that the virus is an important thing, but it's only part of many important things. We do need to have our distribution systems working. And so the freight code was introduced last year about frequent testing of, of freight drivers, particularly those going interstate. And we are working with with our transport colleagues to make sure that that's proportionate, it does what it needs to do to protect a state where there are no cases, for example, for freight drivers coming from a hotspot area. That it’s proportionate to that risk, that it's a national, nationally standardised and implementable, as well as clear for both industry, for drivers themselves and the people that are implementing that that task. So, so that's work we've undertaken in AHPPC with transport areas. So, I'll hand over to General Frewen.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL JJ FREWEN, COORDINATOR GENERAL OF OPERATION COVID SHIELD: Thanks, PM. Thanks, Professor. As you mentioned PM, a real momentum building in the vaccine rollout now. More than 13.3 million doses have been administered to people in Australia. We've hit record days every day over the last seven days 240,000 doses in a day yesterday. We've had more than 1.2 million doses administered across the last seven days. We've now got over 20 per cent of the Australian population fully vaccinated. And, we've now got over 80 per cent of the over 70s have had their first vaccination. We have increasing points of vaccination coming on board in addition to all of those that have already been established, GPs and other hubs. We've got almost 300 pharmacies now providing AstraZeneca. By the end of next week, we'll have almost 700. And, I'm very encouraged by the rising uptake in AstraZeneca again. As Professor Kelly mentioned, I would encourage all Australians not to wait and to get booked in for whatever vaccine you can access at the moment.

PRIME MINISTER: Ok. Happy to take questions. Yes.

JOURNALIST: Yeah, PM, you talked about the legalities of the employer situation. One of the cases that we learnt of today was about 12 staff at a KFC in Sydney being infected. You went through the, the legal arguments, but on the testing and on vaccinations for staff, first can I get you to say, look, do you think that it's actually not just a legal question, but isn't there a moral question about employers asking or requiring their staff to get vaccinated? Do you think that they should ask their staff to get vaccinated? And on the testing, with the antigen tests, do you think that there's a role for the Federal Government to play in getting more of those, bringing more of those tests into the country and just sending them out to employers so that they've all got them? I mean, they're freely available in the UK, for instance. Do you think that that is something that the Federal Government can do here?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I might get Professor Kelly to particularly address the second part of that question. But, on the first question, the national vaccination program in Australia is not a mandatory vaccination program. That is, that is not the policy of the Government. Where there are specific areas where public health orders have been put in place, and that has been done consistent with policy, I should say, a consistency of policy at both the Commonwealth and state level. But, there is the law of the land as well, and the law of the land, the rule of law does provide employers to give reasonable directions to their staff, and I've set out the advice that we've received from the Solicitor-General that provides the spectrum of, of where such directions may indeed be reasonable, where an employee may be at great risk of actually contracting the virus, the employer would be, in those circumstances, seeking to afford some protection for their staff and be upholding perhaps, in their view, their obligations regarding to the occupational health and safety of their staff. For those who are working in an area where they're taking care of very vulnerable people, that is another set of circumstances. Another is where you will have staff that are in regular contact with the public. And, there is the broader evidence, as we've seen from the vaccine and the impact on transmissibility and the operation of those premises and the risk to the business themselves. See, in our country everyone has choices, and they have choices that are supported by the rule of law, and simply making the point that those choices have to be exercised consistent with the rule of law. But, in terms of the Commonwealth Government or the state governments, making mandatory or issuing public health orders or taking some sort of statutory approach, then well, except in the areas I've already nominated in the areas of quarantine and aged care both the Commonwealth and the states are not making any moves in that area. Otherwise, the rule of law applies as it normally does. Now, on the other matter, on rapid antigen testing and their availability.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, COMMONWEALTH CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Yeah, so, so there are, there are many rapid antigen tests that are available in Australia. They are registered by the TGA for particular uses. I think the key point now, as I made earlier is, how they should be used, how they can be used in the best way to assist with, and be another arm of our.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, can employers just go and buy them? If so, where can they get them? Are they available in volume to those employers now?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, COMMONWEALTH CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: So, so we’d need to be very clear about what the registration says for the rapid antigen test. They can only be used under supervision of a medical practitioner or a health practitioner that's registered under the Australian practitioner.

JOURNALIST: Why not change that?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, COMMONWEALTH CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: We're certainly looking at that as a component of our next steps, but at the moment that's the case. So, it would need to be very carefully worked through by an employer to actually start doing massive rapid antigen tests. They're not without their issues. They're certainly part of the solution in the future. And, that's exactly, you know, we've set upon the task of building on the work we've done over the last 18 months on this, how can we use these best.

PRIME MINISTER: And, the point I made before, David, as we discussed today, it's not that they're not being used. They are being used. They're being used in essential workplaces, they've been working in distribution centres, things like this, particularly where people in New South Wales in, in hotspot areas are coming into areas of employment. Because what we know, as the, as the Premier has said publicly, the risk is people who are contracting it and taking it back to their household. And, so, where it's taking place, it's, it's taking, it's taking place in an organised setting, because when you're in the suppression phase, you need to know who's got it so you can speak to them and you can do the contact tracing and you can isolate contacts. That, in a suppression phase, is how you try and stop the spread. So, it is a tool that has great use, but its use will change as you move from one phase in the next. In the United Kingdom, well, of course they have vaccination rates there, double dose greater than 70 per cent and they're closing in on 80. So, it has its role to play in the phases that you get to.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you mentioned the Solicitor-General spoke to National Cabinet about, sorry, can you hear me?

PRIME MINISTER: I know, it’s, I can, try again.

JOURNALIST: … about the legal implications about what employers can or can’t do.

PRIME MINISTER: Yes.

JOURNALIST: There'll be a lot of employers around the country who will be confused about that. So, in the interests of transparency, are you proposing to release the Solicitor-General’s advice? And, another, if I may, given the SG was there, and given yesterday the Administrative Appeals Tribunal determined that the National Cabinet was not a sub-committee of Cabinet for the purposes of FOI Law, was there a discussion at the National Cabinet today about whether or not that decision will be appealed?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, whether it's appealed or not is a matter for the Commonwealth Government and the Commonwealth.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: No, I understand that, but if the decision will be appealed, that’s not a matter for the National Cabinet, that’s a matter for the Commonwealth Government. And, we’re considering those options as we're addressing that issue. But, what I can tell you is the National Cabinet is very, very sure that it wants to be able to operate in the environment that it has regarding the security of the documents that it works on, like any other Cabinet, their own Cabinets, our Cabinet. Fifty meetings. This Cabinet is operated highly effectively. There has been a great candour and security of our discussions and the material that we've had access to, and to be able to make important decisions. And, we think that is incredibly important to the ongoing operations of the National Cabinet. Now, when it comes to transparency, this is living proof of the transparency of the National Cabinet, after every single meeting. This doesn't happen after, with any other Cabinet, I should stress. When, when I hold a Federal Cabinet meeting or the many other Cabinet sub-committees, we don't hold a press conference after every meeting, as you’d know, you've been here for a long time. With the National Cabinet, it has been our practise to be transparent by immediately setting out what was agreed and what was discussed and and what were the matters that came up. So, I think as a National Cabinet, we have got the balance right. We've got the balance right on transparency, in terms of letting the country know the issues we're focusing on and the decisions we're taking, and the decisions we hope to take in the future. But, so we will be looking at the issue of the AAT, it’s an AAT decision. There are appeal rights, potentially the Federal Court and potentially beyond. So, we will deal with that in good course. In the meantime, we will get on with our work.

And, on the other question that you raised, as I said Fair Work and the Fair Work website is already summarising these issues to assist businesses, as they do on so many other employer issues. And I agree, I think it's important. What I'm doing today is hopefully try and ensure that there's a bit more clarity on this issue. I'm sure if it's a large employer they will already be talking to their lawyers, and I'm sure they will have got exactly the same advice. But, for those of other size, then I think this type of information is very helpful to them.

JOURNALIST: Professor Kelly said before that New South Wales clearly needed a circuit breaker of sorts. We've seen that the number of people infected while out in the community has remained fairly stable. So what sort of a circuit breaker do we need in New South Wales?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's really a question of the Chief Medical Officer at the end of the day, because it's a medical question. We have sought to provide every support we can in New South Wales. Just the other night, as you know, we announced that we're able to do the bringing forward of some 180,000 additional Pfizer vaccines. That comes on top of more than a million that can be provided of the AstraZeneca vaccines to New South Wales to support their effort. And we're very pleased to see the uptake of what is occurring with those vaccines. That, of course, comes on top of the 200,000 Pfizer vaccines already provided to New South Wales. Operation COVID Assist in the support of hundreds of our defence forces to assist with the compliance of the lockdown in Sydney. But not just that, with contact tracing and other tasks where New South Wales have sought that support. And so it really is the combination. I mean, the lockdown works when the lockdown has worked. And that's why it's important that the lockdown is effective, because that is what stops the virus moving around. But as I've also said, and the Premier has also said, the vaccines also support reducing those transmission levels. There is more of a delay in terms of there, of that, because of the weeks that it takes for the vaccines to become effective. But that's why we have supported New South Wales with additional vaccines. We have supported New South Wales to ensure that their lockdown can be as effective as it possibly can. But, Paul?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, COMMONWEALTH CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: So I think what the, the key elements here are to decrease the transmission potential. So to decrease that movement of the virus from one person to another. And that's what the lockdown is about. I think looking at ways that they can find people more quickly, make sure the compliance with those orders to stay at home are being complied with. That movement around Sydney and specifically outside of Sydney is not, is as, is enforced, all of these things are absolutely important. How do we decrease the transmission potential? It's about people not moving around whilst infectious and infecting others in workplaces. Households are more difficult than that. The extra vaccines that have been provided clearly are an important component of that. And they need to stay the course.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, listening to Martin Foley today, and he seemed to be suggesting, perhaps Professor Kelly would also be good on this one, he was suggesting that with the mass vaccination hubs, there was a potential problem for 18 to 59 year olds, or under 60s, to go without seeing a pharmacist or a doctor and get jabbed in one of their centres because informed consent was still an issue. And I note that New South Wales has got a different approach, but he was suggesting that ATAGI was going to be changing the rules when it comes to informed consent. What is going on there where Victorians who are under 60 can't get AstraZeneca if they want it and can't get in to see a GP or a pharmacist, which is very common?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'll make two points, but I think it's really a matter for the Chief Medical Officer. The government put in place the arrangement for any Australian right across the country to engage with their GP not for the vaccination, but the consultation about the vaccines and to ask their questions and to have them answered. And so if that's what they wish to do, and that's not mandatory, that is a matter for the individual. If the individual wants to do that, then we have provided financially for that Australian to go and do just that. And once they have done that, they're obviously in a position, a better position to then go and get the vaccine where they choose to go and get that vaccine. Now, the primary place where people are getting their AstraZeneca vaccine is through the GP network. That is where the heavy lifting has, not just been done, frankly, on AstraZeneca, but for the vaccination programme as a whole. The majority of vaccines delivered in this country have been delivered by GPs. So there is both of those avenues for Australians to pursue that, whether it's in Victoria, the Northern Territory, Tasmania or Western Australia or wherever they happen to be. But Paul?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, COMMONWEALTH CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: So informed consent is not an optional thing. Informed consent is a matter of discussion between whoever is delivering a medical service, in this case vaccination, and the person that’s receiving it. So that would be a matter for the Victorian Government to explain why informed consent is not being done, at their mass vaccination centres, if that's what you're suggesting.

JOURNALIST: But if you go to a mass vaccination centre in Victoria and you're under 60 and you want AstraZeneca and you can't get a GP consultation despite the offer, that you can, you can go to that vaccination hub and get one ASAP, just talking to the nurse who's going to deliver it?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, COMMONWEALTH CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Well,  they need to go through an informed consent process, but …

JOURNALIST: I’m trying to work out what informed consent is because Martin Foley clearly thinks that it's not, that you have to see a medic, be it a pharmacist or a …

PRIME MINISTER: Informed consent is up to the individual. It's their consent that they are giving.

JOURNALIST: Yeah, well, Professor …

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, COMMONWEALTH CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER:  It's a discussion between the giver of a medical service and the receiver of a medical service.

JOURNALIST: But ATAGI’s advice has been that you have to go to a doctor, talk to the doctor, and then you can go and get the vaccine with informed consent as well. And I think Victoria is saying that you have to go through that process. You can't just go and get a vaccine after having a quick chat with whoever's giving it to you.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, COMMONWEALTH CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: That's a matter for Victoria.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask a follow up on that, because is it true that you can go to a pharmacist and give them informed consent? So when you've got a lot of AstraZeneca, hopefully, at the pharmacists across the country, anybody can go to the pharmacist and give them informed consent as well and get AstraZeneca regardless of their age, as long as they're over 18. Can you clarify that? Because I think a lot of these messages are being confused.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, COMMONWEALTH CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: So if it's not clear, we can work on the messaging, but I'm not sure that I can be more clear about this. As the Chief Medical Officer of Australia, my expectation is anyone who's putting a jab in an arm will be having an informed consent conversation with the person they're jabbing, wherever that is.

JOURNALIST: PM, just going back to the question about New South Wales and Professor Kelly's comments about New South Wales needing to stay the course. Are you concerned though about the idea of New South Wales easing restrictions when they only have a 50 per cent vaccination rate at the end of the month? I mean, is that going to be a case of cases exploding?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we had a discussion about this today, and I think there's been a mixing of issues here. The national plan, 70 per cent average across Australia. That is when we can start moving into Phase B. And for a state to move into Phase B, which is when there are a different set of arrangements in place and home quarantine potentially, that's being trialled in South Australia, and a range of other issues, including exemptions that may be available to vaccinated residents and things of that nature. Once we get to 70 per cent and the State also by the residents information on the immunisation, gets to 70 per cent, then that's what that number's about. When a state chooses to impose or lift lockdown, that is a matter, that is a decision for that State. And it always has been, always has been. In the suppression phase of the virus, then the goal is to suppress the virus, to suppress the movement of that virus, and to seek to reduce those cases, as far as you practically can, especially cases that are infectious in the community. That is the goal of the suppression phase, because the lower you go in to Phase B in terms of number of cases that are present, the better everyone else is. Now, we've seen that around the world. We've seen that around the world. So it still remains our goal, particularly in the face of this rather aggressive Delta variant, to ensure that we suppress the virus while vaccination levels are where they are. But as we're hearing, I mean, the vaccination levels are growing every single day. The national plan and the process we have been through does not provide or suggest a vaccination level about when lockdowns lift and don't lift. That is a matter entirely for the State and they’d be making those judgements and assessments about when they lift their lockdowns based on the medical advice being provided to them by the Chief Health Officer in New South Wales. So it really is a question for the Chief Health Officer of New South Wales. It does not relate to the plan.

JOURNALIST: You're paying the bills for New South Wales to stay locked down. Does the Commonwealth have a view that …

PRIME MINISTER: The lockdown needs to be effective and when the lockdown is effective, the lockdown can be lifted. And the additional vaccines that we've provided to support New South Wales are assisting them in that goal. But the most effective thing is for people to stay home, to get tested, to isolate, to get vaccinated. There's no shortcuts through this and we understand that. And it is a heavy burden that is placed upon our nation at the moment, a very heavy burden. And that burden comes as a result of this third wave of the Delta strain around the world. And so as we carry it, we are seeking to assist every Australian affected by this through the significant economic supports, which you rightly say are being put in place, and they're put in place swiftly. Australia has been in a position where we have not only been able to save lives and save livelihoods, and as we go towards, even through this most difficult period, this is one of the hardest periods we've had to get through, on the other side of this, hopefully not to far away, is where we have both saved lives, we have saved livelihoods, and we have vaccinated the country. And there are very few countries that will be able to claim those three achievements. But we are very much on our path towards it and we will keep doing that. But given the lateness of the hour, and I'm sure you've got bulletins to put together, thank you very much.