Press Conference - Canberra, ACT

07 Oct 2021
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Afternoon, everyone. Australia has cleared a very important hurdle in our fight against COVID-19. With New South Wales passing the 70 per cent double vaccination rate threshold, as set out in the National Plan, we have passed the first major milestone for Australians to start getting their lives back. We have worked so hard to save lives. We have worked so hard to save livelihoods. Indeed, in New South Wales, just over the course of this latest lockdown, more than $10 billion of support provided by the Commonwealth Government to see those in New South Wales through, just as we're doing right now in Victoria and as we're doing here in the ACT, and as we've done even in those states and territories that haven't had lockdowns but their businesses have been affected. We've been able to provide that economic support. Saving lives, saving livelihoods, and now Australians are beginning to get their lives back.

The things that have been taken from them because of this awful pandemic, the ability of Australians to come together, Australians to spend time with one another, to do business, to be together with family, to go to weddings, to go to funerals. All of these times so precious, and these times now being restored, because of the vaccination rates hitting the levels that we've needed them to, as has been set out in the scientific work that has been done by the Doherty Institute.

I particularly want to say to all those doctors and pharmacists in New South Wales, and indeed, right across the country, that that 70 per cent double vaccination rate would not have been achieved without their fine work. Two-thirds of the vaccinations that have been delivered in New South Wales has been delivered under that program by the Commonwealth, through the pharmacists, and through, in particular, the GPs, who really did that heavy lifting with AstraZeneca over the many months that ensured that New South Wales can see the day they're seeing today, and, importantly, can see the day that they will see on Monday.

On Monday, New South Wales will be able to begin the process of opening safely, and stay safely open. That's what’s different this time. That's what the National Plan is about. When you hit those vaccination rates, you can open with certainty again, and you can open safely with certainty again, and you can stay open. So, you can make your plans, you can make your bookings, you can go back to having that certainty about what's happening weeks and months from now.

And I want this to be a sign of hope to the rest of the country, particularly those in Victoria who I'm mindful of today, and here in the ACT, where the lockdowns continue. But, what it does show is that those vaccinations have enabled New South Wales to now get to that point where the light at the end of that tunnel is now very, very close. And that will be true for Victoria, it will be true for the ACT as well, as they go towards these marks.

I commend, of course, the governments in New South Wales and Victoria and ACT for setting out their road map, for setting out the specifics of what people can expect, and I want to encourage them more down that path. The deal that we had with Australians, if they roll up their sleeves, then we will roll up ours, in ensuring that they can reclaim the things that are so important to them, and that’s what we’re now seeing as a result of that vaccination program.

I also want to thank the Polish Government, the UK Government, for the incredibly important role, and the Government of Singapore, that they played, particularly in this last month. Those additional doses that we were able to secure and accelerate those vaccination rates, particularly those Polish doses early, that enabled New South Wales to target those areas most affected by the outbreak, and indeed, ensures that they can see the day that they will now see on Monday. And I thank all of those who were involved in that important work.

But, it is hope for the other states and territories. It does show that there is a path ahead. It does provide them with encouragement. And I also want to say to those states that haven't had the same COVID experience as New South Wales and Victoria and the ACT, that you don't need to have that experience if we can continue to see those vaccination rates rising. That's the motive. That's the incentive. Sure, in many states around the country they are not living under the harsh and strict conditions that we've seen in New South Wales and Victoria and the ACT. But, they can avoid those outcomes, because COVID will certainly come. There's no avoiding that. And everybody understands that. There's no part of the world where people don't understand, that under the Delta strain, is it eventually comes. We're seeing that in New Zealand, we’ve seen it here in, in the eastern states. And it will come. But, when that day comes, when your vaccination rates are at those 70 and particularly 80 per cent levels, that means you'll be able to withstand it. And those vaccinations not only give you an inoculation against serious disease and illness, but they also can give you an inoculation as a state against the need for those harsh lockdowns.

And, so, I would encourage those right around the country to go and get vaccinated. Let's hit those marks. It's great to see now that in other states, particularly in WA and in Queensland, they are now over 50 per cent double vaccination rates. That's very, very good news. And it's a lot harder in those states, because there isn't the immediate urgency that we're seeing in the eastern states, because of the lockdowns. Of course, that's going to provide a greater motivation and incentive for people to get vaccinated. But, in those other states, they're continuing to press on, and that's why I continue to be impressed with what’s happening in Tasmania, where their vaccination rates are high, but yet their COVID rates are very, very low.

So, now, 81 per cent of over 16s, right around the country, are now first dose vaccinated, just under 60 per cent second dose. Ninety-five per cent of over 70s first dose, 81 per cent second dose. And for over 50s, 90 per cent first dose, just under 75 per cent second dose. We will hit 30 million doses of the vaccine being administered this week. And we'll do that now in what is essentially the first week of October. What that shows is the problems and challenges that we've had, we've addressed, we’ve fixed. And we’ve turned it around and we're in the home stretch, and we're moving towards that line, and then we need to keep going beyond it. Because I believe Australia can achieve much higher vaccination rates than the 70 and 80 per cent that we've set out in the National Plan, and that will only give us greater confidence and enable us to move even more quickly as we open the country up.

I want to see Australians all reunited once again. I'm sure we all want that. I have no doubt that all premiers and chief ministers around the country want to see that as well. So, we need to keep setting out that path ahead, moving forward with confidence, and giving people that hope that the vaccine program is giving them. We can't be complacent. We need to move in a safe way. And the National Plan does set out a safe path, based on the best possible medical and health advice and the best scientific research, as has been done by the Doherty Institute.

To all those still in lockdown, you can look at this day and say, we'll be there soon, and I know you will be. It won't be long. And as the days get warmer, then I think Australia's prospects will continue to get brighter.

And, so, I want to thank all of Australians for the tremendous work that you’ve done in getting us to this point. There's more to do, there's a lot of hope ahead, and I want us to keep pressing towards that. But, to everybody in New South Wales, enjoy, enjoy the moment on Monday, but be careful, continue to remain safe, and COVID safe, and we'll continue to press forward, and I have no doubt the rest of the country will follow. Phil.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, a couple of questions. First on COVID, with Dominic Perrottet, you know, accelerating the reopening in New South Wales, do you have any concerns they may get a little ahead of themselves, and as we’ve seen in Singapore and places, may have to, you know, row back again in future weeks? And, separately and secondly on on climate change. That the concerns Keith Pitt’s raised about the need to keep financing the resources sector during the transition. Do you have any views on how that should be done, and what do you think of his view that the Government should step in as a last resort lender?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let me speak to the first point, and that is, I've, you know, been in pretty regular contact with the new Premier, just as I used to be with Premier Berejiklian. And Dom and I were discussing this just the other night. And they are acting as they always have in New South Wales, consistent with the health advice that has been provided to them. I mean, we're still at 70 per cent. I think the measures that have been taken still remain cautious. I mean, you still can't go to church and sing and all of these sorts of things. There's still the, what I’d call, the low to medium level public health safety, social measures, I should say, that are in place. Their test, trace, isolate and quarantine measures, they're still in place. And, all of that combined, I think provides the protection, which the Doherty modelling says is necessary. So, I think they're moving in step with that advice, and that's clearly what they're receiving from the Chief Health Officer in New South Wales. But, you know, people are right to say, look, it's great to have these, but let's be careful with them. Let's not get too excited too quick. There's still a long way to go. And I have no doubt that the New South Wales Government will proceed safely and cautiously. But, they won't be holding back, at the same time, the important freedoms that I think people have worked hard to achieve.

On the other issue, look, we're working through those issues as the Government at the moment, and we'll do that, you know, within our Cabinet process, and that's the right place to have those discussions. But, I will say this, you know, I've been very clear about our position when it comes to transitioning to the new energy economy. I believe Australia can do this, and ensure that the regions excel, that the regions actually exceed their current prospects. And that is done by embracing a new energy economy and the technology that is needed to support that. And that's what our plan’s about. And, so, I’ll be working that through as a Government over the next few weeks, obviously in the lead-up to COP26, and I'm looking forward to what has already been, I think, a very good faith process. We want the best for Australia. We want the best for our regions. We want the best for our environment, and we want to do the right thing by the world, as we always have. Australia meets and beats its commitments. We meet and beat. That’s what we do on climate. We're 20 per cent more down on our 2005 emissions. That is a record that many countries aspire to. We’ve already achieved it and, of course, we’ve got a lot more to do.

JOURNALIST: PM, just on climate change. The UK High Commissioner has said that the global benchmark that she would like to see Australia meet, for the 2030 target, between 40 to 50 per cent. You say that we're going to meet and beat. Can you go to COP with a target like that? And, secondly, Keith Pitt has said that that sort of comment, those sorts of comments from the High Commissioner is gratuitous. Do you believe, do you agree with that?

PRIME MINISTER: Australian will set our commitments in accordance with Australia’s national interests and our, our responsibilities. We always have. And they’ll be set by Australians, they’ll be set by the Australian Cabinet, for Australian needs, and we'll make our Australian way. I don't propose to make any suggestions as to what other countries should be doing. What I understand is this is a global challenge, and that unless we're all working together on this, unless we're seeing the technological change that is needed, particularly in developing countries, as former Senator Kerry and former Secretary Kerry said quite plainly, when he first went into the role of Special Envoy, the United States could reduce their emissions to zero. But, if China continued on the direction they're on, it would make no difference. And, so, what’s important, as I outlined at the Quad meeting, is that we achieve this new energy economy, new energy technology transformation. That's what will change the world. When we see in places like Australia, but also in Indonesia, in Malaysia, in Vietnam, in India, when we see the technology transformation, and hydrogen has such a huge role to play in that, that's why we’re so focused on it, then that’s when you'll see the global issues of climate change addressed. We can all go to meetings. But, the thing that will actually change it is the transformation delivered by new technologies. And that's what Australia is focused on.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] People are still doing it tough. The RBA says the economic rebound won't be as quick as last time. So, what sort of financial, additional financial support will you provide businesses and workers to smooth the transition from lockdown to reopening?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, sure, as you know, the COVID Disaster Payment, that continues now, on Monday that continues, while we're at 70 per cent and up to 80 per cent levels. And the only thing that changes is, following this Sunday, you just need to reapply each week, because as the weeks go on, and as the businesses open up again in New South Wales, then people will get back to work, and people want to be working, not getting COVID Disaster Payments. They want to be at work where they'll earn even more. And so, they’ll reapply over the next few weeks, and that support will be maintained at its existing level in the weeks ahead in New South Wales. Those payments, once we hit 80 per cent, the following week after that occurs, then they will require people to reapply again. It’ll fall to $450 and in the first week, and then [inaudible] after that, and I'll get to business in a second. So, that is a pretty, we're talking about a clear path there that people can understand. It isn’t immediate, it happens over time. And, so, I think people can have some confidence. And if they're in the position where they have to move to some other form of support, such as JobSeeker, then there is time for them to make that translation across into that level of support as well, if they need that on an ongoing basis.

Now, for businesses, when the state's vaccination rate reaches 70 per cent, JobSaver payments, as they're called in New South Wales, will taper from the current payment, equivalent to around 40 per cent of weekly payroll, to 30 per cent of weekly payroll. We anticipate that to occur on the 10th of October, that's my advice, until the 23rd of October, and then the minimum and maximum weekly payments for businesses will be reduced by 25 per cent to $1,125, and 70, and up to $75,000 weekly, and grants to be around 30 per cent of the payroll. And that grant for sole traders will reduce to $750.

Now, when you get to 80 per cent, the Commonwealth's contribution to the JobSaver program, that will cease, in line with the National Plan and the arrangements we've entered into with the New South Wales Government. We anticipate that probably by the end of this month, and then the New South Wales Government will make further decisions about its ongoing support.

I remind you, though, on business supports, the National Cabinet agreement was that the Commonwealth would do the individual payments, and the states would cover all business payments. That was the agreement. Now, we went further than that. We went further to cover 50 per cent of the costs of bespoke programs that were put in place in New South Wales and Victoria, here in the ACT, and, indeed, in other states that that haven't had lockdowns, but where they've been impacted by the significant lockdowns in the south-eastern states. So, the Commonwealth has done the big, heavy lifting on economic supports to see Australians and Australian businesses through, and that's why we want to see Australians now not be reliant on the economic supports of Government, but on the economic efforts of their own businesses and their own enterprise. That's what the future looks like with living with COVID, to move away from a dependence on Government to the self-dependence of the success of their own businesses and their own enterprises. David.

JOURNALIST: On hospitals, Prime Minister. The AMA has raised concerns that hospitals will be overwhelmed from higher case numbers, higher admissions. First of all, are you seeing any advice that there is that kind of prospect of hospitals being overwhelmed and related to that, the policies in some regions and some states are for COVID, people with COVID to go first to hospitals. Others are taking a approach of creating them at home and community care. Do you think it's time for the approach to change across all states so that people don't go first to hospital?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we've been working with the states and territories for months and months and months on this, and there's been great work done together with Doherty, which is understanding the peak pressures on hospitals at a state wide level. When things you get down to a regional level, obviously there's going to be differences beyond that which states are better placed to understand. But what we've seen in New South Wales is the modelling where they were basing decisions on surge needs in New South Wales hospitals, those worst case scenarios were not realised, and in fact, the demand is pitched below that. Now it's better to be prepared for what might be worse and hope for the best. And in New South Wales, I think we've seen more of that outcome and the work that needs to be done, and frankly, should have been done for the last 18 months, in many cases, I believe it has. I mean, Victoria has a strong plan for dealing with the surge in their hospitals, and they're working to that plan and that's working well. That doesn't mean there won't be stresses on the system. Of course there will, but that the plans that we've seen put in place and the information that we've received from the health departments around the country through the process that we have under Professor Murphy is demonstrating that to date then that planning is well in place. Now we're seeing stresses on hospital systems in other states, in the territories, which have nothing to do with COVID. I mean, New South Wales and Victoria have been able to plan for the COVID surge, they're in the middle of it. They have the same funding arrangements as any other state and territory, but they're dealing with it. So this isn't about funding. This is about management of hospital systems. States must run their hospital systems well. They must prepare for them. And I want to commend the way that New South Wales and Victoria and to be fair, the ACT, has been working through those challenges and ensuring that they can prepare for what's coming. But you've got to prepare for what's coming and they are doing that and all states and territories should be. The pandemic has been running a long time now, and but I say this. On the vaccines, that's why it's so important for those states that have not yet been hit by large COVID outbreaks, the higher your vaccination rate is, then the less of an impact there's going to be on your hospital system. And that is probably the single most important thing that anyone can do in any state and territory to ensure there is lesser impact on their hospital system from COVID. And that is to get vaccinated. Where there's no cases, or whether there's 500 cases, or indeed 1,500 cases a day. The best thing you can do to support nurses and all those working in hospitals is to get vaccinated.  

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister [inaudible], deal with Australians, when you have Tasmania saying it won't reopen till 90 per cent, WA saying a similar thing, Queensland not putting a number on it, even here in the ACT, where the vaccination rate is comparable to New South Wales, the reopening is much slower. Have those states and territory leaders broken that deal with Australians by not sticking  to the national plan at 70 and 80 per cent vaccination?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let's see. Let's just see what happens. Let's just see what happens on all of that. I give New South Wales the credit for honouring the deal that they've had with their, with their citizens. It's been a long lockdown. My family's been in it. I've been back and forwards into lockdown and quarantine, and I'm still in quarantine now. So I have some sense, not the same sense as how others are dealing with. I don't pretend to that, but it's been a long road, a very long road. And you know, people expect that when they put that effort in, that the government will keep its side of the deal. Now, you have to open safely and you have to remain safely open. There's no doubt about that. All states are starting from a different place, and I respect that. Now, Western Australia in particular, I'd say, is in a quite a different situation to the rest of the country. It always is. That's the nature of its geography and the nature of its economy, and I understand that. But that said, you know, in what will be probably about a month's time, we will see people in Sydney travelling again overseas. We will see the amount of time, I believe that you have to spend in quarantine, fall. I welcome the fact that Queensland is now moving towards home quarantine. That's great. Things are moving fast. So I note what's being said. But at the same time, I think Australians will want their lives back and I think they'll make that pretty clear.

JOURNALIST: France. The French are going to be sending back their Ambassador. Now, the French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that to get out of this crisis, as he describes it, there will have to be strong acts instead of just words. Are you planning any joint activity with France in the region to kind of heal wounds? And on Taiwan, what message did Tony Abbott take to the Taiwanese Government, if any, on behalf of your Government?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, Tony is in Taiwan as a private citizen, and I didn't have any conversation with him before that. Tony has served as my envoy to India, and so when he went to India, we obviously spoke. But Tony is there as a private citizen. So what he said and what messages he passed on, he passed on in that capacity. In relation to the other matter that you raise, I welcome the fact that the ambassador will be returning to Australia. I think that's a good thing and I think that was always going to happen after the consultations that were had and look forward to taking the relationship forward. It's not a matter, frankly, of what additional things we're putting on our cooperation. We already have cooperation. See, the Australia-France relationship is bigger than a contract. And France's presence and significance and influence in the Indo-Pacific isn't about a contract. It's about the fact that they have an actual presence here in the Indo-Pacific, that they have a long standing commitment and work with Australia across a whole range of different issues. I mean, we have other defence contracts with France. We have $32 billion worth of contracts with French, not just French, but European contractors. So France already has a significant and long standing role and future here, and we welcome that. So it's a matter of basically picking up on all the things we were working on and continuing on with them because they're very significant. They're wide ranging. They're very much in our interests and France's interests and we look forward to just getting on with that job.  

JOURNALIST: Dominic Perrottet, has he spoken to you about what he calls an unacceptable GST distribution? He wants to launch a big debate over it. Given you've unequivocally ruled out any GST changes, do you think this ongoing commentary is unhelpful given it's prompting a battle between states? We should be focusing on COVID, do you reckon he should pipe down? What are your thoughts?  

PRIME MINISTER: The GST is not changing.

JOURNALIST: And do you think these comments are unhelpful?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, he can make, he's at liberty to make whatever comments he likes as the New South Wales Premier. But the Commonwealth's position is rock solid. Very clear. I authored the deal, I inked the deal, I'll keep the deal. 

JOURNALIST: The Government has a very long to do list for the remaining sitting weeks of Parliament. You've got the National Integrity Commission, you've got religious discrimination laws. Barnaby Joyce added to the to do list this morning by calling for a crackdown on misinformation on social media. Which of these will you guarantee that the Government will deliver before the next election?  

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we've made great progress, particularly on the first two you've mentioned, but that all depends on, you know, the support we're able to secure. I would like to see things like that pursued, progressed with support right across the parliament, but we'll just wait and see what that is. You know, I'm not one to go and waste the parliament's time on issues if they're not interested in pursuing these things. But we'll certainly do the work on our side and make the Government's position very clear on these things. Whether that has support will determine how we progress with it. On the latter matter, I'll pick up and add my voice to Barnaby's. And indeed, as the Attorney General has indicated, you know, cowards who go anonymously on to social media and vilify people and harass them and bully them and engage in defamatory statements. They need to be responsible for what they're saying. I mean, I can't come out here and you can't come here and start doing things like that. We all know who each of us are. We're responsible for the things that we say and that we do. But yet social media has become a coward's palace where people can just go on there, not say who they are, destroy people's lives and say the most foul and offensive things to people and do so with impunity. Now that's not a free country where that happens. That's not right. They should have to identify who they are and you know, the companies, if they're not going to say who they are, well, they're not a platform anymore. They're a publisher. They're a publisher. And you know what the implications of that means in terms of those issues. So people should be responsible for what they say, in a country that believes in free speech, I think that's very important. And I think that issue is and the technology that enables it and the lack of accountability that sits around it is just not on. And you can expect us to be leaning even further into this. You know that Minister Fletcher has already taken frankly, Australia has a world leading stance when it comes to cracking down on cyber bullying and harassment. And Erin Molan's bill, as I like to call it, did a great job and we work closely with her and so many others. I mean, Australia has been more forward thinking and advanced when it comes to holding big social media companies to account whether it's paying their taxes, doing the right thing in terms of competition, so they don't shut down private media around and free media around the world and indeed in stopping bullying and harassment. We have been a world leader on this and we intend to set the pace because we value our free society and in a free society, you can't be a coward and attack people and expect not to be held accountable for it. Got time for one more. I'm sorry, Kat. I'll give you one too. 

JOURNALIST: In the interests of transparency, can you be clear? Will the Liberal Party, you, countenance a deal with the National Party over net zero that transfers the the risks of the transition onto taxpayers, either through a loan guarantee, a jobs guarantee, an insurance guarantee?

PRIME MINISTER: Sorry, I thought you were talking about a carbon tax then when you're talking about transferring the burden onto Australians. That's what a carbon tax does. We will work through this issue within the Government and will settle the Government's position. And we'll be advising that before we go to COP26 and we will do that within the cabinet and the government process. That's the appropriate way to run a country.

JOURNALIST: On the French sub deal, the French Foreign Minister has indicated that Australia has to remain in that contract for another two years. Do you know yet how much this deal is going to cost us in the end? 

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, we have a very good understanding of how we're going to proceed with that matter and we'll be working within the contract as it is set out. Let me just be really clear. Australia makes decisions in our national interest. We understand very well the many sensitivities and stability issues within the Indo-Pacific and the responsibility of my Government is to put Australia's national interests first. We respect all of our partners we will work closely with them all. I think one of the misunderstandings has been that in going down this path, there was some suggestion by others that this was to the exclusion of the participation of so many other friends and like mindeds in the Indo-Pacific. Quite the contrary. And I welcome the opportunity, particularly when I was in New York, to make that point very clearly. And even in these last few days, while I've been here in quarantine, I've spoken to the Prime Minister of Slovenia, Justin Trudeau again after his re-election. Again, speaking to the Prime Minister of the Netherlands and many others just working through all these issues. 

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: That time will come. I have no doubt. I look forward to our first meeting again, our first phone call again. We've worked together very closely and I'm looking forward to getting through what is a difficult period. I acknowledge it's a difficult period. Of course it is. There was no way that we could have taken this decision without it having and causing deep disappointment and hurt to France. There's no way we could have avoided that. But you know, that's the thing about difficult decisions. To take difficult decisions, you need to be conscious of what the implications of those are. But understand what the greater benefit is to Australia's national interests. That's what I did on the subs. That's what I've done on AUKUS. I've put Australia's national security interests first, and now I will work to ensure that we deal with the other issues that flow from that. Otherwise, you know, you don't just get anything done. And that's what I sought to do was the right decision for Australia. And I look forward to ensuring that we work closely with our French partners here in our region, where I know they have great passion, great commitment and will continue to play a massive role because they always have. Thanks very much for your time.