Press Conference - Canberra, ACT

13 Aug 2021
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon, everyone. I am joined by the Chief Medical Officer Professor Kelly and General Frewen, who heads up Operation COVID Shield. We all know how challenging the situation is that we’re facing across the country today, whether it’s here in the ACT which is in lockdown, or indeed in New South Wales where the challenge continues to be great, in Victoria, but frankly elsewhere around the country where the impacts of these lockdowns also have an impact well beyond the places where they’re occurring, whether that be down in Tasmania or up in North Queensland, or other parts of the country. Where this is occurring is having a ripple effect across the country, and this was a key factor that we discussed today when we were at the National Cabinet.

It’s also important that we often bear in mind, as the Chief Medical Officer reminds us, that Australia is not alone in facing the challenge of the Delta strain. We, as a globe now, around the world are in, many countries, into their fifth and sixth wave of the COVID-19. Here in Australia, we are now in our third wave, after the Victorian wave last year and the New South Wales wave this year. We have prevented, throughout the course of 2021 up until more recently, those waves coming earlier. You’ll recall the challenges we had in terms of the outbreak of the Delta strain in India earlier in the year and we took those precautionary actions there, but Delta is a very determined strain of this virus.

So, we must continue to suppress it, and we must continue to vaccinate. Suppress and vaccinate. That’s what Phase A of the national plan is all about. And, Phase B of that plan, hitting 70 per cent, we need to achieve those rates in order to move to that next stage. And, what’s encouraging is, is the vaccination program is continuing to escalate. It’s continuing to get higher and higher marks every day and I think that gives all Australians great hope about the path ahead. Australians are charting that course. Australians are making that path ahead for our nation out of COVID-19 with every step they take into those vaccination clinics, and as they arm themselves with that vaccination. That is what is clearing the path ahead for all Australians. And, now, one in four eligible Australians - one in four - are now fully vaccinated in this country. It was 11.6 per cent just a month ago. That just demonstrates how quickly this vaccination program is gathering pace all around the country.

In Tasmania and the ACT, we already knew that first dose vaccinations had gone above 50 per cent. But, by now, by now, New South Wales will be more than 50 per cent of their eligible population first dose vaccinated, and other states will soon follow. Yesterday, 270,687 vaccinations in one day. Over 270,000 vaccinations in one day. That is equivalent in per capita terms to the fourth best day they had in the UK ever for their program. So, the vaccination rates now being achieved under Operation COVID Shield, right across the country, is now hitting those world-class marks that is necessary to get Australia where we want to get to. One million doses in just four days. That is an extraordinary effort, Australia. I want to thank all Australians for what you’ve been doing to clear this path for us to go forward, and I want to encourage you to keep doing it. You’re doing a great job Australia, keep going. This is the way that we need to go to get where we need to go.

Now, I just want to show you a few of those charts, and I want to thank General Frewen for these. We are updating - no, if you can go back to the first one, please - you can see there, these are the, we’ll be upgrading again from Monday the information packs that are going out, and you’ll see this every day, very similar to what you’re already seeing. So, you can see we’re just shy of 15 million when it comes to the overall number of doses delivered around Australia; 46.7 per cent on first dose, and you can see it right there, one in four Australians now having been fully dosed for the vaccines. Next one thanks.

And, you can see how it’s really ramped up. This just looks at the last seven days. And, you can see in the last seven days, 1.34 million doses delivered in the past week. And, what I really want to notice here, and I want to thank those particularly in the primary care network, where you can see that those doses, which is the light blue line there, you can see how the light blue line has really escalated in those last few weeks, as we’ve been taking the vaccination program forward. So, thank you GPs, thank you pharmacists, thank you Australians going in and supporting that effort.

I said in Question Time this week, we’ve got pharmacists now running 24 operations, 24-hour operations to be able to be making those vaccinations available to shift workers, and particularly those in the construction industry in New South Wales, which are subject to those new requirements in order to keep working in New South Wales. You can see there the state clinics also increasing, but it really has been the GPs through the primary care network that has been carrying that, those large increases across the country. Next slide thanks.

When you look around the country, and this is what really matters, because for the national plan, for us to move to 70 per cent, the whole country needs to get to that 70 per cent mark, and then each and every state needs to move into that. And, as you can see, Tasmania is really leading the charge. They are now at 52.5 per cent on their first vaccines and they’re at over 30 per cent now in Tasmania in 
double dose full vaccinations in that state. New South Wales, on today's figures, 50 per cent on that first dose, which is a great result for New South Wales, and I want to thank everyone, particularly across greater Sydney in those lockdown areas that have been turning out, not just to get tested but to go and get vaccinated. Victoria also has been performing well - they’re just shy of 25 per cent on second dose vaccinations. But, they have been having a very strong performance in their state-based clinics, and particularly when it comes to the administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine through those state-based clinics in Victoria. So, right across the country you’re seeing those results. For over 50s, we now 
have 70 per cent who have achieved those first doses, and over 80 per cent now for people aged over 70. On double dose vaccinations, more than half of those aged over 70 in Australia, more than half of those aged over 70 have received both doses of the vaccine. Now, that’s particularly most important for our most vulnerable Australians. Thank you. Next, next slide.

This is a chart you'll be familiar with, which shows the age pyramid across New South Wales. This is provided every single day for all states and territories, and you’ll continue to see that. I’ve already talked about the New South Wales results. And, the next slide please.

We will also be providing that information on a, last seven days, and you can see the overall vaccination cube sitting in the top right hand corner. And, again, you can see here in New South Wales, particularly these light blue bars, which are showing the great turn out of GPs and pharmacists in the vaccination program. Thanks very much.

Also, today, there were a number of other issues, of course, that we addressed. It was an opportunity amongst premiers and chief ministers and myself to be able to review the situation in each state and territory, particularly in New South Wales, but also, I’ve got to say, with the most recent decisions that have been made here in the ACT, and I want to thank all those across the ACT for the way they’ve been responding in the last 24 hours, including those working here in this building.

In addition to that, we monitor the ongoing work. Last week we tasked further work from the Doherty Institute across a range of areas. That work is underway now. It’ll be some weeks before we start to see the results of that work, looking at vulnerable populations, looking at the impact of potential school-based outbreaks, things like that, to ensure that we can be adjusting our vaccination programs and where we’re targeting particular efforts in the future. And, that work is, will be informing General Frewen’s activities.

We also got a bit of an update on the work today being done out of Victoria, the Commonwealth, Tasmania and the Northern Territory, which is looking at those exemption arrangements for vaccinated persons in Australia. This is being done on the basis of the public health knowledge that, if you’re vaccinated, then you present less of a public health risk to yourself and to others around you, your work colleagues, your community. And, so, if people present less of a health risk, then it only stands to 
reason that you would have different arrangements. Now, we’re continuing to work through that. There are no decisions taken on that yet. As you know, they will take place when we reach those 70 per cent marks, and we’re making great progress towards that, but that work will continue to be done, including the tools that will be necessary to support those arrangements by states and territories.

And, the freight code - we're getting very close to a final agreement there, which will mean that it should be a lot more simple for our transport sector moving across borders and testing arrangements and the like.

Economics supports - because we’re in a suppress and vaccinate phase, and we understand that under the Delta strain, unlike previously, when we have to do those lockdowns - hopefully they’re short, they’re certainly sharp - and they put a lot of stress, particularly on businesses and others and kids unable to go to school - that is fully understood. We all understand how difficult that is. If there was another way to suppress the Delta strain, I can assure you, that’s what we’d be doing. In earlier phases, there was an ability to constrain and suppress the virus without having to resort to those sorts of situations. And, we saw that in New South Wales plenty of times. But, now, under the Delta strain, sadly, that is the most effective way to try and bring it under control as we continue to vaccinate the population and move towards that 70 per cent target in the first instance, and 80 per cent. So, that means that in the meantime we must continue to provide the economic supports - both in direct income support to people who have been affected with lost hours, but also business supports.

Now, let me give you a quick update on the direct income supports. Under the full program, now, some $2.256 billion has been paid by the Commonwealth Government, by the Federal Government, to people who have lost hours because of restrictions that have been put in place as a result of the lockdowns. In New South Wales, that figure is $1.9 billion, and that has been paid to 762,879 people. In Victoria, some $260 million has been paid 250,000, 252,843 people. In Queensland, $98.7 million has been paid to 140,735 people. And, in South Australia, $45 million was paid to 80,669 people. Now, that was put in place to supplement the social security system, welfare system, in Australia. In places where there are lockdowns, people do not have the alternative of being able to go and find other employment and hours in other places. It is necessarily locked down. And, that's why the COVID Disaster Payments are paid in those areas, and they will continue to be when lockdowns come into effect, and people are eligible from that first day and you make your claim after seven days, which more and more people are becoming familiar with.

Business support - there is not an automatic stabiliser business support program that operates in this country. There is for individuals. We've had a social security system for a very, very long time. But, because of these lockdowns, we do need that business support put in place, and we agree that the most effective way to do that is state by state, because they all are coming at this from a different place. They have different challenges that we need to address. The challenge in Tasmania is different to the challenge in Queensland, and, of course, in New South Wales. And, so, what we agreed to do, over a month ago now, well over a month ago, is that the Commonwealth would provide the direct income support payments, the states would pay the business payments. And, what we have been doing now for some time is sharing the cost of those business payments. So, they’re a shared 50/50 costs in New South Wales, in Victoria, in the ACT, which was announced yesterday, Tasmania, which was announced today, and in Tasmania, recognising that these lockdowns in New South Wales and Victoria have further impacts on states other than those in lockdown, on their businesses, on their hospitality business. So, we've been working with Premier Gutwein there and his team to deliver that support, which was announced earlier today. And, while we were meeting today, the Premier Palaszczuk and I and our treasurers were able to complete an agreement for support into Queensland, which is a $600 million one off package. And, in addition, there was arrangements put in place for South Australia, when they were going through lockdowns.

The final point I'll make before I throw to the Chief Medical Officer, who has a presentation to make, is on the issue of businesses and mandatory instructions to employees. I updated you last week on the Solicitor-General's advice. You can go to the Fair Work site and you'll see a very clear explanation of what the legal position on those matters are. But, what we discussed today was that the challenge faced by a business who fears that they may be subject to an action from an employee who may become ill as a result of COVID and may seek to bring an action against that employer on the basis that they did not put a mandatory requirement on that workplace. Now, what this relates to is workplace health and safety laws that exist at a state level, and I was able to advise that the advice I have received is that workplace health and safety regulators in the states can provide a statement of regulation intent that a business that does not mandate is not in breach of workplace health and safety laws. So, a protection can be provided to businesses through that process that may be concerned that by not putting in a mandatory requirement that they might otherwise be liable for any action that might be brought against them. Now, that's an understandable point that business is making.

We don't have a mandatory vaccination program. It's free and it's not mandatory. Businesses are encouraging their employees all around the country to get vaccinated, as they should, as the Government is, as all governments are. But, the issue of mandatory vaccinations have been put in place in a, in a very select group of sectors - the quarantine workers; I can update you today that we've had the public health orders in both South Australia and Western Australia for aged care workers. All other states and territories gave us an update on that, and they're proceeding with their public health orders in relation to aged care workers. That's a very specific group within the community that is dealing with very vulnerable Australians. That's understandable. And, and that's where the public health orders have been applied. In New South Wales right now, the Premier advises that there is that public health order that relates to construction workers in those most affected areas, and that's entirely reasonable and sensible in the circumstances. But, outside of that, we're not running a mandatory vaccination program, and it's also not reasonable that an employer may feel they have to put some sort of mandate in place to protect themselves potentially from some state-based workplace health and safety laws. So, I think that's a very practical way to deal with this issue. And, so, premiers and chief ministers will, of course, consult with their own regulators. But, the issue is with those state-based laws. And, so, that's where the remedy can be provided. And, on that, I'll pass you over to Paul.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, COMMONWEALTH CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Thank you, Prime Minister. So, I’ve just got a few slides. Might get the first one. Back one. Yes. Thank you. So, just to summarise the situation in Australia at the moment, make a couple of brief comments about what's the same, what's different compared with last year, and also to put it in context with the rest of the world. So, firstly, as of today, with today's figures that were announced by by all jurisdictions and collated at the Commonwealth level, as we do each day at around midday, we can see that we're now up to 38,165 cases since the beginning of last year, and, sadly, 948 deaths. In in this year, we've seen we're closing in on 10,000 cases now for the whole country, and, sadly, 39 deaths. Most of those cases and most of those deaths have been associated with the New South Wales outbreak, which is which is continuing to be a concern, particularly in Sydney, but also in other areas of the state.

What do we know about this outbreak? This is clearly our third wave in Australia. The first wave, you'll remember right back in the beginning of the pandemic, was mostly related to people coming from overseas, so overseas acquired cases and some local cases. Almost exactly at this time last year, we were faced with the terrible situation in Victoria and that that wave, which was mostly locally acquired cases in in Melbourne. And, now we're in this wave, which is, which is not entirely, but mostly in New South Wales. In fact, we have ongoing, we have active outbreaks at the moment in four of our eight jurisdictions. In order of of concern, I would say in Queensland, they they are still seeing some cases related to the, to the outbreak in south east Queensland. But, they are, that is definitely under control. They, most of those cases, in fact almost all of them, are in quarantine for their entire infectious period, and that is not a concern at the moment. Continue to be watched. In Victoria, of course Melbourne is still in a lockdown phase in relation to that latest outbreak in in Victoria. But, again, almost all of the cases that are being diagnosed are already in quarantine before, during their infectious period. So, again, that is coming under control. In the ACT, we have very few cases at the moment. But, but this is the first time in the ACT we've had locally acquired cases for more than a year. And, this is new to the ACT. We're continuing to give support to them, and they're learning, of course, and being given support from all the other jurisdictions that have been in their situation. A complex group of, group of exposure sites, and that will play out in the next few days. I'd just like to give a shout out to all people in the ACT that are experiencing lockdown right now, particularly those thousands of people that are lining up to, to get their tests as, as they've been asked to do so. And, then finally to New South Wales, we continue to see large numbers of cases, increasing numbers of people in hospital, and and some spread through the state, including to to some regional areas. And, this, these are the the main areas that we're assisting New South Wales with at the moment. Just go to the next slide now.

This is looking at hospitalisation, including ICU, of course, in hospitals. The blue line is representing 2020, and the orange line this year. And, so, in 2020, we had those two waves again of cases we saw at the previous graph. This is related to hospitalisations. Quite a large peak in hospitalisations at the beginning of last year, a larger peak in relation to the Victorian wave at almost exactly the same time a year ago. Contrast that to what we've seen throughout the whole of 2021, until very recently, very few people in hospital. And, now that that number in mostly in New South Wales, which is following a very similar trajectory to the situation in Victoria last year. Just go to the next slide, please.

The contrast, and this is a really important point and absolutely goes to the, goes to why we are, we are asking people to get vaccinated. Vaccination is protecting Australians. We saw last year, and people will remember those hospitalisation, the hospitalised people, a lot of them, most of them, in fact, in aged care, coming from aged care settings, residential aged care. Because of the success of the aged care rollout in terms of vaccination, that that terrible death rate that we saw last year is not being replicated this year at the moment in terms of of deaths. That is mostly because our oldest population, including those in aged care, are largely protected by vaccination. So, very important point. Just go to the next slide, please.

This is another way of looking at that same issue. So, just to quickly explain the bars here - the larger bars are related to Victoria last year, the smaller ones this year - the current outbreak in New South Wales - the red colour at the top is the, are deaths, then intensive care is the, is the yellow, and and sorry, there's a smaller - ICU - you might not be able to see there on that, on that bar. The yellow is hospitalised and the blue is cases non, non-severe, non-hospitalised cases. So, of course many more cases last year compared with this year. That hospitalisation rate in relation to all ages on this side and the and the and the less than 60 on this slide. So, on, sorry, just go back. So, in terms of that, it again demonstrates the protective effect of vaccination in that older age group. The people aged aged less than 60, we're still seeing some severe cases, mostly not. But, in terms of last year versus this year, a big difference in terms of that over 60 age group - much slower death rate and lower ICU rate.

I just wanted to spend, the next two slides actually talk to the international situation. Last night, I was privileged to talk to the with our Chief Scientist, Dr Foley. Professor Foley and myself spoke to our counterparts in the UK, and just contrasting and comparing what they're finding in terms of their vaccination rollout and their waves that they've seen in terms of cases, hospitalisations and deaths. In the UK, we know they have a very high rate of vaccination, particularly in the older age groups, but throughout, almost 70 per cent vaccination rate - our target for, to moving to Phase B here in Australia. In their older age groups, over 90 per cent of vaccination coverage in their over 70s. And, that's, of course, what we're also aspiring to. What they found is they've had their fifth wave, wave really in the UK, and that's similar to most of the rest of the world. A few, about a month ago, they started to really increase their, those numbers of cases. But, if you look at the orange line here, in contrast to previous waves, their death rate has remained extremely low. That's similar with hospitalisation. It's similar with ICU. They have seen some pockets where vaccination locally has been lower than the rest of the country, and that's where they have seen hospitals and ICU rates increase. But, that death rate has remained extremely low. This is what we're aiming for here in Australia. Just go to the next slide, please.

Just another example closer to our, in our region. So, this is Singapore. They've had, been very successful most of the time. They had those waves related to their migrant hostels late, in the middle of last year. They've had a subsequent wave recently. Again, very high vaccination rate right throughout their population of over 70 per cent. Death rate has remained very low despite the increase in the case, in the case numbers. So, I'll leave it there, PM.

PRIME MINISTER: General Frewen.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL JJ FREWEN, COORDINATOR GENERAL OF OPERATION COVID SHIELD: Thanks Prime Minister. Look, the numbers in the roll out very encouraging, the real sense of momentum is clear. The Prime Minister's mentioned we're closing on almost 50 per cent of the nation having received their first dose now. And one in four Australians are now fully vaccinated. A million doses delivered in four days, 270,000 doses in a single day yesterday. That's 30,000 more than the previous best Thursday, which was only a week before. Now, this is only possible for two reasons. All of the great work that is being done by GPs, pharmacists, state hubs and clinics, other Commonwealth vaccine clinics, our Aboriginal health services and our commercial vaccine providers as well. And I want to thank them for all of the tremendous work and effort they've put in so far. But note, we've got a long way to go. 

It's also about people in Australia being prepared to step forward to get vaccinated. Recent survey indicates to us that 79 per cent of Australians are prepared to get vaccinated and another 14 per cent are still deciding whether they will. So those are also really encouraging numbers. And I want to thank all of those Australians who have already come forward and encourage everybody else who hasn't done so to get a booking in and to and to get that first job done. I also want to thank community leaders, cultural leaders, faith leaders and youth leaders who have also played tremendous roles in encouraging their communities to step forward as well. And I do greatly appreciate their efforts and look forward to continuing to work closely with them. 

JOURNALIST: Heading into National Cabinet today, the Queensland Premier was demanding New South Wales provide a containment plan for COVID. Inside National Cabinet today, are you satisfied that she has provided that containment plan? And if I can. Professor Kelly, last week you said there needed to be a circuit breaker in New South Wales. We had a record day of cases today. What more do they need to do from your perspective? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, in relation to National Cabinet today, it was again it was just a very positive and collegiate meeting. I mean, no other way to describe it than that. I mean, these are challenging times and these are very difficult issues. And the New South Wales Premier was able to respond to issues that were raised in the meeting today, and they were raised in a good spirit. And I think they were addressed in a good spirit, particularly on issues that were further north closer to the Queensland border. The Premier of New South Wales was able to draw attention to the isolated number, nature of that particular case, particularly up north. That was that that one male individual who breached the rules. But many of the other outbreaks in other parts of the state were not towards Queensland. But equally, the Premier was able to go through the steps that were being taken in New South Wales to address the outbreak. And that's what these meetings do. They do provide the opportunity for those matters to be directly raised and addressed. But I've got to say, they were raised in a good spirit and in a good faith way. And the Premiers were seeking to work together to best support each other to get through what is a very difficult time. Same situation here in the ACT and indeed in Victoria, where they're not being complacent. Of course, the case numbers down there, are not like we're seeing in New South Wales and certainly not like we were seeing last year. But I don't detect any sense of complacency amongst any of the premiers and chief ministers. We know how rapid the Delta strain can inflict its impact on, on our populations. And so everyone is very attentive to that and quick to move. Paul. 

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, COMMONWEALTH CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: So there are two main keys to getting control in New South Wales. It is suppression of the virus and all of the things that we saw and we saw from the graph I showed you what happened last year in Victoria. It got to a peak and then it went down. All of those things that were done in Victoria last year are being done in New South Wales this year, and they will work. That requires people to listen and to take heed of what is being said every day by Premier Berejiklian and her public health staff. And all of those things need to be taken into account. The thing we do have this year that we didn't have last year is the vaccination rollout. And in terms of circuit breakers, Premier Berejiklian has mentioned already in her press conferences over the last couple of days as has Dr Chant and her colleagues about their vaccination strategy in south west Sydney, in particular targeted vaccination, vaccinating the Year 12s, vaccinating apprentices and so on. And that's going ahead. Those things will work. People need to have hope and patience. 

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask on WA, do you support WA's requirement for travellers from New South Wales to show proof of vaccination now, should other states consider this? And just secondly, Mark McGowan said National Cabinet would today discuss vaccination requirements for interstate truck drivers. Was there an outcome on that? 

PRIME MINISTER: We hope to conclude the second matter within a matter of days between both transport ministers, but of course, the premiers and myself. A number of states have already agreed to the upgrades on the freight code, this is just seeking to simplify these testing arrangements. And yes, I do welcome the requirement for vaccination. This is for people who are otherwise getting an exemption to come into Western Australia. And the Premier has added that. Now, that's not unlike, not unlike the sorts of things we've been talking about for some time, that where people are vaccinated and an exemption is being granted that the vaccination aides that exemption being given on public health grounds. And so I think that's very consistent with what the national plan is seeking to achieve. And as I said last week, all premiers and chief ministers are strongly committed to and agreed to that, to the National Plan. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just to stay with that issue,  do you see a future where you say that vaccines aren't mandatory, but do you see a future in which you cannot leave your state, you cannot travel domestically unless you can provide evidence that you have been vaccinated?

PRIME MINISTER: That's making an assumption that once we get past 70 per cent and the country is vaccinated in that way, that such border restrictions would even be necessary. And the whole point of getting to higher and higher levels of vaccination, and particularly once you go past 80 per cent, is that's when we're saying goodbye to lockdowns and where there are no lockdowns, there should be no borders. That's where the National Plan is driving. So what we're talking about is a situation right now where we have lockdowns and we have states closed off from one another, necessarily for obvious reasons, because of the very aggressive nature of the Delta strain. Now, in those circumstances, vaccine does provide some greater protection and some public health support. And so people who would be getting an exemption, so this is not this is not available to everybody, this is those who the state were looking to give an exemption to, that that exemption would be strengthened on the basis of someone being vaccinated. So it's a decision for now because borders exist now. But in the future, the whole point of getting to 70 per cent and 80 per cent is to say ultimately goodbye to those arrangements as well.

JOURNALIST: Premier Berejiklian said publicly today she thinks she can ease a few restrictions here and there when she gets to 50 percent without worsening the infection rate. Was she able to convince her colleagues and yourself of that in the meeting today? And did anyone again ask for her to put a ring of steel around Sydney, given Daniel Andrews warnings about it spreading to the region seem to have come to pass? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, again, what the Premier is referring to is not moving into Phase B. 

JOURNALIST: I know that. 

PRIME MINISTER: I know you know that. But I just want to be very clear. That is not what the Premier is referring to. The Premier is seeking to manage the lockdown in New South Wales. And I've spoken to the Premier about this, this week as well. And they are doing the necessary work to understand what the easing of some restrictions might mean in the New South Wales context. And she certainly doesn't want to see an escalation of cases or the virus not being suppressed and the efforts to actually take those case numbers down. And I'm quite certain and I would certainly hope that they would not be seeking to ease restrictions that could give rise to that. And I'm sure that would absolutely be the view of all other premiers and chief ministers. And I don't believe that's what the Premier of New South Wales would be seeking to do. So she's taking good advice on, on what can be done to ensure that the lockdown that's in New South Wales, that people will be able to sustain themselves through that lockdown because the lockdown is important. The lockdown is lifted when the lockdown works. And that's why it's so important for people right across Sydney to be complying with that lockdown. You know, we saw the cases up in northern New South Wales where someone just doesn't comply and look at, the look at the damage that causes. We've got to do the right thing by each other. We've got to do the right thing by our neighbours, by our communities, by our cities, by our country. And you can do that by following the rules, staying at home and getting vaccinated and getting tested. That's what's being asked of Australians. And that's how you get through. There isn't an alternative way. There's not some alternative world where you don't have to have these restrictions and somehow the virus doesn't kill large numbers of people. That world doesn't exist.

JOURNALIST: We're seeing a minority aren't doing what they're asked. And we've seen the consequences of that. 


JOURNALIST: Was it again pressed on New South Wales to at least try and ring-fence Sydney to catch these sorts of individuals or at least act as a deterrent? 

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, I think it's been a fairly consistent position that all premiers, myself as well, want to ensure that we constrain and suppress the outbreak of New South Wales as effectively as we can. And and those issues raised today, I'm not mentioning any specifically, including the one you've raised, but there was a good opportunity, again, for the Premier to be able to just address those issues directly with her colleagues. And I thank her for doing so and I thank the other premiers for raising it in the good faith spirit they did.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said a royal commission would be a very useful tool, particularly in planning for future pandemics. Do you agree with him? Is that something that we really should lock in once we get through this? 

PRIME MINISTER: To be honest, we're managing the pandemic right now, and this pandemic still has quite a long way to go. So I'm sure at some time in the future there'll be a time to talk about those reviews or whatever form they might take. But, you know, right now I'm just focused on the response we need to make now, and I'm not going to be drawn into those things. There will be a time and a place to have those discussions. It's not now. 

JOURNALIST: Have you had any luck getting surplus vaccines from say, the United States or other countries in Europe or vaccines that are close to expiring? 

PRIME MINISTER: We've been working night and day on these tasks. And I can assure you, if we're in a position to make any announcements in that way, then we certainly will.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on business support. 80,000 businesses in Sydney are yet to receive a single cent from either Commonwealth or state levels. Is that acceptable, given the immense pain that they are going through, eight weeks into a lockdown? And secondly, one of your own MPs Andrew Laming has been caught breaching guidelines on mask-use in Queensland. Is that acceptable from one of your own? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm not aware of that circumstance, so I'm not aware of, of the details or facts of that, but if that were indeed the case, I would be expecting all members of parliament to comply with the restrictions that are in place right around the country like any other Australian. There aren't two rules, there's just one. And we all need to comply with it. And that would be my instruction to everybody, regardless of where they work, what their occupation is. And that would, I'm sure, be the community's expectation as well. I'm not familiar with the case or the report that you've highlighted, but that would be my position in principle, regardless. 

On the other matter. Well, as you know, the Commonwealth are not making the payments to businesses. The state governments are making the payments to businesses. The Commonwealth is making the more than $2 billion in payments directly to individuals. Last time we delivered income support through JobKeeper. So we made a payment to the business and the business made the payment to the individual and they were those $750 payments. On this occasion, we're cutting out the middle person and we're making those $750 payments directly to the individual. And that's, as I said, well over $2 billion in payments have already been made. And even as some of your colleagues have, have put on social media, family members getting those within about 30 to 40 minutes of each of those applications being made. So the Commonwealth system of COVID disaster support to those employees who are losing hours, and we previously made those payments through businesses, we're now doing it direct and that is proving to be very effective, particularly in the way that lockdowns come on and come off. It's proving to be far more flexible, far more flexible and far more targeted. And it's helping casuals. It's helping people in all sectors, all industries, regardless of what their form of work is. Now for the states, we are supporting them and meeting the cost 50/50 of a series of business support programmes. And they are being delivered by the states directly. And we will support them as we indeed are in many states through the Australian Taxation Office to assist them in ensuring the appropriate way of handling those payments. It is the right thing for the states to want to do those payments. We were also very supportive of them making those payments, whether in New South Wales, Victoria or anywhere else. Different states have had different success rates in making those payments and they should be made promptly, as was outlined to us, that they would be. 

JOURNALIST: Just to General Frewen, could I please ask about vaccination rates amongst indigenous Australians? Do you accept that they're lagging vaccination rates amongst non-Indigenous Australians?  And what more can the Commonwealth do to help catch them up? 

LIEUTENANT GENERAL JJ FREWEN, COORDINATOR GENERAL OF OPERATION COVID SHIELD: Yes, so look they're at first dose 28 per cent and fully vaccinated around 14 per cent. That's across the nation. Now, we, of course, look at these numbers both in remote and regional areas and in urban areas as well. They are behind the national averages at the moment. And that is, of course, something we are focused on. Some communities are well ahead of others, but we're working with the states and territories and we're looking very systematically at all of the communities and how we can best help bring them along. 

PRIME MINISTER: Can I just add those …

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] to get more vaccines out to indigenous areas? 

LIEUTENANT GENERAL JJ FREWEN, COORDINATOR GENERAL OF OPERATION COVID SHIELD: That's a matter for the jurisdictions as to whether they wish to seek that sort of support. 

PRIME MINISTER: This comes up in most meetings. And just to draw your attention that there are 103 Aboriginal community controlled health services. We had Pat here just over a week ago, we were talking about that issue. Across 158 delivery sites participating in the programme. 120 of those sites are administering Pfizer run programmes by those Aboriginal community controlled health services. And there are 18 Commonwealth vaccination clinics operated by those ACHH services in the rollout. The Royal Flying Doctor Service, great heroes, has delivered over 9,221 vaccine administrations in 88 rural, remote and very remote communities in Australia. And we're assessing a range of other further requests where we might be able to support them in that work. Australia is a very big country and our indigenous populations live in some of the remotest parts of our country. It was always going to be the most challenging elements of all the vaccine rollout and not unlike, I'm sure, what has been experienced by other countries. But I stress again the fact that these Aboriginal community controlled health services have been so successful working with those local communities to prevent wherever possible seeing COVID getting into those communities has been absolutely extraordinary. It genuinely was at the outset in, I believe, our first meeting that we had as premiers and chief minister and I. We were most concerned about those communities. It's a difficult area to get as many of those vaccines as we can. I want to thank our church leaders and others who've been supporting those efforts in indigenous communities, particularly where you have to address sometimes with hesitancy in getting information into those communities. So it's quite a coordinated effort. It's a difficult job, but very caring people are getting about the job of meeting that need. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister just on the issue of vaccines and businesses mandating them. It seems that on the one hand, you've told businesses that they can mandate vaccines and on the other hand, you're saying they'll be protected if they don't mandate vaccines for their staff. How is, for instance, the owner of a small construction business or a cafe supposed to work out what they should be doing? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we're not suggesting that businesses should be mandating vaccines to their employees. We're not suggesting that. We're not making that a point of policy at all. If a business feels that they think they need to do it to protect themselves, potentially about an employee who might have, bring an action against them, if there was a, they will become ill, then what I'm saying is that that would happen because a state workplace health and safety law might provide for that. Now, what I've advised the state and territories today is through their workplace health and safety regulators, they can take action to prevent that situation. So the small business owner may feel under no compulsion to put a mandatory vaccination programme in place. And so there are two issues here. There is the employee who's worried that they might have an action brought against them, they have no intention to want to put a mandatory requirement on their employees, but their concerned an action could be brought against them. That has a remedy there. In terms of others who may be wanting to do that, well, the Commonwealth Government and the state government are not asking them to put those mandatory requirements on at all because it's not a mandatory programme. By all means encourage them, of course. But a requirement for them to do it is only being done in very specific circumstances. Quarantine workers, those who work in the aged care sector, they are the only areas where we've taken those steps and in the right quite specific circumstances of New South Wales presently, there is also an order that has been put in place there.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, there about 200 ADF personnel due to go into New South Wales on Monday. What will they be doing and will they be going to regional areas? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they'll be working right across the range of supports that are provided in logistics and distribution, in supporting contact tracing work that is occurring in New South Wales, because the volume of cases and they need further supports there. They're accompanying police officers and others with compliance works, basic support operations. General Frewen might want to add to that list, but they pretty much do everything that is being asked of them and they provide great support to the states and territories. We saw it last year in Melbourne. We're seeing it again in New South Wales. Commissioner Fuller is directing what they'll be doing. He's the lawful commander of all of those operations in New South Wales and and our ADF personnel working under that command and support that broader effort. 


JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on that issue of mandating though, just a hypothetical, right. Say you're a parent and you have to send your child into a school. Your child is not old enough to be vaccinated, right. Wouldn't it make sense for the teachers to be vaccinated? Why would you be like, you know, like if you actually sort of leave, the logic is a little topsy turvy that you're giving employers the right not to mandate. Why shouldn't teachers have to get a jab to teach students that have no protection? 

PRIME MINISTER: We think everybody should get vaccinated. That's the public health advice. Whether you're a teacher, whether you're a construction worker, whether you're a journalist, whether you're a politician, whether you drive a bus. We think Australians should get vaccinated, but we don't think we should make it mandatory in Australia. If there is a very specific workforce that for public health reasons that our medical advisers say to us, it's very important that we put a mandatory requirement in this specific area, then, of course, we would take that action. And we have in relation to aged care workers and quarantine workers. But that has not been the medical advice on other occupations, because the general level of vaccination, you know, we're seeking to achieve those 70 and 80 per cent targets. And I would hope that teachers, of course, would go and get vaccinated. Of course I would. But I would hope you would and I would and anyone else would. We're not running a mandatory vaccination programme. We're not running one. In specific cases, we might seek to do that for public health reasons. But otherwise, that's just not how we do things in Australia.

JOURNALIST: Professor Kelly was there any advice on teachers to the National Cabinet?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, COMMONWEALTH CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: So at last week's National Cabinet, there was a request when we were looking at the Doherty modelling project to specifically look at the issue of school children. I think one of the things we have learnt from the Delta outbreaks here in Australia as well as around the world is that there is transmission amongst children. They don't generally get severe disease, but there is transmission and people and children are getting the virus. It's mostly coming from adults and so and not amongst children as such. So that was the request from National Cabinet to do further modelling on, in relation to child based vaccination, which may happen in the future, but also other ways of dealing with safety in school based areas and that will be work I'll lead also in the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee. 

PRIME MINISTER: Okay, Greg. And then I'll have to leave it there. 

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned about the the Taliban's ascendancy in Afghanistan? And we've got reports of the US, the UK and Canada are sending in fresh troops to evacuate their citizens and Afghan staff. What is your plan to evacuate Aussies and Afghan interpreters and other staff that have helped Australians through the conflict? Are you considering sending in troops? Or will you rely on our allies? What's the plan? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, first of all, yes, of course, we're concerned about the Taliban's battlefield gains in Afghanistan. That is, it's not surprising, but it is concerning. And it is very upsetting. We closed our embassy in Kabul on the 28th of May and returned non-resident diplomatic accreditation to Afghanistan. And we've been moving those who have been working with us there now for some time. Some 400 people granted visas under our locally engaged employee programme have already arrived and settled in Australia since April of this year. And we're continuing to process those other visas and ensure that we're in a position to be able to get them out of Afghanistan and get them to Australia, as we have done for those prior over many, many years now some [inaudible] been given to locally engaged employees and their families at risk of harm. We have made a lot of ground on this issue in the last few months. We'll continue to do that. We're liaising very closely with particularly the United States and others who are engaged in that area and will be working closely with them, including where necessary, using Australian Defence Force personnel to assist in in securing that outcome, both for the safe passage of people who we are taking out of Afghanistan to Australia, and also the remaining people who may still be there under the conditions that we've had them still there on. So it is a very serious issue. It's one the government has been progressing very carefully now for many, many months. It has been a regular issue on our agenda to ensure we're making progress on that. I thank particularly the Minister for Immigration, the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who have ensured that we're able to accredit those who have been getting access to those visas and then arranging the flights to ensure we can get them out of Afghanistan and bring them safely to Australia. Over 400 already here, them and their families. And we've been doing this for many years now very successfully. And we will continue to implement that programme with a great sense of urgency, in partnership with those who also are engaged in similar activities in that region. Thanks very much. 

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] the Taliban will take over  Afghanistan and if so, Australians, what's your message to Australians who have spent two decades in that war? What's your message to Australians who would be wondering whether it was all worth it? 

PRIME MINISTER: Fighting for what you believe in is always worth it. Thank you.