Press Conference - Canberra, ACT

28 Oct 2021
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, everyone. I’m joined by the Minister for Health and Aged Care and the Chief Medical Officer. Australians are taking their lives back from what COVID took from them. And this is positive news. And as we go into the weeks ahead, we will continue to see positive changes happening all around our country. We’re beating COVID and we’re taking our lives back. And we're doing this as we see the vaccination levels in our country rise and rise. We are beating the models, the models that have instructed us along the way and set out the path that may occur, whether it's on the impact on our hospital system and the way that things are playing out - we’ve prepared for the worst but we always plan also for the best, and we’re seeing more of the latter than the former.

But, that said, that does not mean that difficult days are still not before us. And that is particularly true for the family and friends of loved ones, particularly in Victoria today, where we've had 25 deaths, and two in Sydney. And, once again, we extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to all the families and friends of those who’ve fallen victim to COVID. It is a sobering reminder of the terrible reality of this pandemic. And that that reality is still visited upon us here in Australia, despite the progress we’re making.

But our best defence against all of that has been the vaccination program, and today, three quarters of Australians have now been double dosed vaccinated. That is an extraordinary achievement by Australians all around the country, led particularly in New South Wales and Victoria and the ACT where those rates now, particularly on first doses, as I said yesterday, is higher for Australia than now even the United Kingdom. So Australians are doing what their part of the deal was, and we’re keeping our part of the deal, because from Monday, fully vaxxed Australians, we will see them being able to travel overseas from next Monday. In New South Wales and Victoria and the ACT, they will be open. Australia is connecting together again.

And I can tell you, no one is happier about that than me as Prime Minister to see that occurring, and we're going to continue to see that occurring in the months ahead, and substantially before Christmas, as all states and territories have been outlining that plan, obviously with the exception of WA, before 
the end of this year. So, I welcome that.

Regional travel returns, interstate travel returns and international travel returns, happening across all of those jurisdictions. That means families reuniting together. It means business travellers being able to get on planes and connecting again and getting our economy moving, as our economy is one of- been one of the best performing around the world when it comes to COVID-19. Not only have we had the lowest fatality rates in the world, amongst those of the lowest in the world, but we’ve had the strongest economy - one of them, advanced economies coming through this COVID pandemic - and now we are on track to have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, which means that we are able to open up Australia, in accordance with the National Plan.

Now, an important part of that is moving forward with the booster program. And that booster program will commence on November 8. And I’ll ask the Minister for Health and Aged Care and the CMO to take you through a few more of those details, but they’re on November the eighth, that process will begin again. Jane Malysiak and I and the CMO will be heading off soon thereafter to be able to ensure that we have those boosters.

Those booster programs will obviously, will have a focus, especially on aged care and health workers, but it is an all of, whole of population booster program. And there are enough vaccines to do it. In fact, as JJ Frewen, General Frewen, announced only the other day, there is enough vaccines right now here in Australia to ensure that everybody who wants one, to get both single and double vaxxed, can have one.

So, it’s over to the rest of Australia. Wherever you are, there are enough vaccines here to ensure that we can be hitting those 80 per cent marks, which we expect to achieve next week, and to ensure that in Queensland and WA, in particular, there are enough doses there for those 80 per cent and 70 per cent marks to be achieved right now. So, I encourage people to take up that challenge and go out and get those doses.

I’d make one other point before I pass over to Greg, and that is, obviously tonight I’ll be heading off to the G20 Leaders’ Summit, as well as the COP26 in Glasgow. The world is reaching what I think is a critical point in our health and economic recovery from COVID, and that will be a key focus of the discussions that I know we'll be having there. The multilateralism of vaccines and the 60 million doses that Australia has already committed, and I was speaking about these last night as part of the East Asia Summit which I participated in.

I also note that yesterday, in our meeting of the first ever Australia-ASEAN ongoing annual dialogue, that we achieved a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership - that is an elevation to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership level relationship with ASEAN. Now, that is the first such partnership ASEAN has entered into with any country in the world. Such is the closeness of our relationship with our friends and partners here in South East Asia that ASEAN has selected Australia to be their first Comprehensive Strategic Partner. And no doubt, there will be others. But our longstanding relationship with our ASEAN partners, I think, has been recognised in that being able to be achieved yesterday, and I thank particularly Minister Payne for all the tremendous work that she has done on that task.

And, so, whether it's in summits like that or others, this issue of reaching that critical point on our health and economic recovery from COVID will be a keen focus for discussion amongst G20 leaders, and ensuring there’s equitable and safe access to effective vaccines.

Another key issue that I'll be raising, though, will be that we need to fully harness the benefits of digitalisation. But, in doing that, making sure the rules that apply in the real world apply in the digital world. I will continue to press, as Australia always has, and show the leadership on this issue globally that we must hold social media platforms to account. They’re publishers, not just platforms, and particularly when they allow people to anonymously go on their platforms and publish their vile rubbish, whether that is to bully a young girl or target people online or to push defamatory statements out against people, and to do so anonymously with impunity - that’s not freedom of speech, that’s just cowardice, and we cannot have that thrown up on our social media platforms to Australians in this country.

It's not just a problem here in Australia, it's a problem all around the world. We led the charge, together with New Zealand and France, after the Christchurch massacre, and I took that to the G20 in Osaka and we achieved a Global Leaders' Statement that has followed through with real action to ensure that the Internet, and particular social media platforms, are not used as a weapon by terrorists. But, they’re still being used as a weapon right now, destroying the mental health of our young people, destroying lives, and it's just not on in this country.

The online privacy draft legislation that we've already released, and people are aware of that today, that builds on so many of the other things we've already done to, on take down powers, the eSafety Commissioner. Australia is leading in this area and we’ll, I'll be raising that with other G20 leaders when I’m there because we have to go further than we are now.

Of course, at COP26, I’ll have the privilege of being able to confirm Australia's commitment to have a target of net zero by 2050, and of course to update our projections as part of our Nationally Determined Contributions, that our 26 to 28 per cent target, we anticipate, will be exceeded with a 35 per cent reduction in our emissions by 2030. And on that, I’ll pass you to the Minister for Health.

THE HON. GREG HUNT MP, MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: Thank you very much, Prime Minister and to Professor Kelly. Australia already has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. We have one of the most recently vaccinated populations, and now we are set to have, after Israel, one of the earliest whole of nation booster programs.

Yesterday, we set out the fact that the TGA had approved the Pfizer vaccine for booster. Today, I'm really pleased and privileged to be able to announce that ATAGI has recommended that we commence the booster program for the whole of nation, with the Pfizer vaccine. Other vaccines are likely to put forward applications - Moderna, we are expecting to do that.

I'm very pleased to be able to say that I’ve spoken with the country representative for Novavax today, and we are expecting Novavax to submit their application for their vaccine to the Australian regulator in the coming weeks, if not earlier. And what this means is that commencing November the 8th for the full national program, the boosters will be available on the basis of six months plus from your vaccination. Early priority will be a focus on aged care and disability, but, by definition, we have enough vaccine in the country to vaccinate everybody who comes due. And so as your six months has passed, then you will be eligible to come forward.

Indeed, the first aged care vaccinations are occurring today, literally as we speak, in four minutes from now, I think, they’re due to commence in the Geelong area, where TLC is commencing their program, and others will be carried out over the coming days before November 8, and if any GPs wish to commence, then they’re in a position to do that, but we're setting this program to commence more generally across the country.

I'm also pleased that we will be offering Pfizer to all pharmacies in Australia and they can use that for primary and secondary doses or to complete the, complete the booster program for people. And it will be up to individual pharmacies whether they take that up, and the first of those will be rolled out from the week of the 8th of November.

Finally, just in terms of the rollout itself, we've had another 221,000 vaccinations in the last 24 hours. We've now passed the 35 million mark - 35,049,000 vaccinations. And as the PM said, we’re over 75 per cent double dose. We’re 75.5 per cent for the 16 plus population and 87.6 per cent of 16 plus Australians have now had a first vaccination. And just to put this in context, perhaps, most importantly, 98.8 per cent, 98.8 per cent of our over 70s have had a first dose, and 99.8 per cent of our aged care workers have had a, have had at least a first dose, and here in the ACT, you’ve passed 99 per cent. So, thank you and congratulations.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, COMMONWEALTH CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Thank you PM and thank you Minister. So, it's a very important day after a lot of discussions with ATAGI to get that final advice on the booster programme. A couple of points I just want to make to add to what the Minister has said. This is a boost. Two doses, the primary course of the vaccination will be fully vaccinated and seen as fully vaccinated in any way that that works through to, for example, for the overseas travel and so forth. So two doses is fully vaccinated. The booster, I've said this before, it gives you a boost, and it's important for those that have got to that six month time to consider their booster. It definitely gives extra protection against severe disease, particularly for older Australians and those that are in that vulnerable group. You'll remember last year with that 1a and 1b, we're not prioritising this time around, but they will be the ones that will be first to get to that six month period, so they should come forward. Health care workers can come forward. Anyone can come forward if they've, if they've got to that six month time to have the boost. So that's important that's been seen in the ATAGI statement will be published later today. It demonstrates the safety of that approach, demonstrates the effectiveness of that approach based on what we know from international experience. It's where we will be one of the first countries in the world to offer a booster to the whole of the population based on that six month mark once people are due.

The other, the other one thing I would like to say has been some a lot of excitement, of course, about the opening up of the international border on next Monday. There's been a challenge for those that are travelling as families, for children of a of an age, particularly between the age of 12 and 17 in some countries they haven't started that programme for vaccinations for that age group. In the UK, for example, they take one dose of vaccine as being fully vaccinated. So I've been working very closely with my colleagues in the ACT, Victoria and New South Wales in the last couple of days just to get certainty for that. And so that will be that will be resolved today, later today. But just in general terms, we're not going to be splitting up families. Those children will travel above the cap and they will be required to have a seven day home quarantine and a couple of tests just to give that extra safety buffer because they are not fully vaccinated. But we're not splitting up families and we've got agreement, as the PM has said across those three jurisdictions, very good cooperation. I thank my colleagues for working through that. There will be further to say in detail about that later today.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] The Nationals secured a regional infrastructure fund as part of the net zero deal. Can you be transparent with the public and tell us how big this fund is? Who's going to run it and what is the investment mandate?

PRIME MINISTER: All of the policies that we'll be announcing to invest in rural and regional Australia will be included in the usual budget updates and that'll be done between here and the next election.

JOURNALIST: You said earlier this week that your net zero target by 2050 was an economy wide target. Mr Joyce this morning indicated that agriculture has been carved out, that methane emissions won't be included. Can you clarify?

PRIME MINISTER: It's a whole-of-economy emissions reduction target. What we've said very clearly, though, is we're not signing up to the 2030 methane request, and that's actually a bipartisan position, and we made that very clear and that's been reported today. We've also said very clearly that under our plan, we won't be putting any mandates on farmers. We won't be targeting them in any way as part of our emissions reduction plan. They're the clear assurances that we've made. We won't be doing things that will have a net negative impact on our agricultural sector. What we want is the agricultural sector to be able to participate in this. We don't want them to be excluded from the revenue streams and income sources that will flow from their participation in this programme. To exclude them from that would be a great disadvantage to them, and I don't want them to be cut off from that. The other point I'd make, though, is on the safeguard mechanism, which you'd be familiar with, which came from the King Review, he, ah, that mechanism currently doesn't include any feedlots or any farmers or anyone in that situation, and nor will it because of the way that it's designed, and we have no plans to change that. And so that's the nature of the things that we've discussed. I mean, the agricultural sector is going to be better off under our plan and they’re better off being part of the plan, and they have a lot to contribute to the plan as they have already. They've played a huge role in the 20 per cent reduction in emissions that we've already been able to achieve, and they'll continue to play a positive role, a role that benefits them, that boosts their productivity and their opportunities and lift the incomes and the economies of our rural and regional areas.

JOURNALIST: Can I just clarify on that? Was it the Australian Government's position before negotiations started with The Nationals that the country would make a pledge to cut emissions methane emissions by 2030? And the negotiations, with the negotiation with Barnaby Joyce on that matter did not try ...

PRIME MINISTER: We never had any plans to sign up to that.

JOURNALIST: The COP President, Boris Johnson's COP President, Alok Sharma, has welcomed your 2050 commitment, but he's called for a more ambitious 2030 NDC. What will you say to him when you get to Glasgow and second question with the G20, will you be looking to mend some bridges when you meet with the French leader and also the Chinese delegate, I think that's the foreign minister at the G20?

PRIME MINISTER: I'll take up all of those opportunities and looking forward to wherever we have those opportunities, I mean we'll be conscious, particularly of I know the deep disappointment in France about the decision we took in Australia's national interests regarding the submarine contract. We've been working those issues through. I welcomed back the Ambassador to Australia. I'm pleased he's here, there's been good engagement with him over the course of this past week, which has been great and and we'll take that forward in a spirit of cooperation in particularly for France, because, you know, we're both here in the Indo-Pacific, we are like-minded, we share values and we share the objectives and aspirations for the Indo-Pacific region, of which France isn't just an observer of, they're a participant. They're here as part of the French territories. So we have an obvious partnership here in the Indo-Pacific, and I know that's understood in France. There is some deep disappointment on those contractual issues on a bipartisan basis, but we'll work through those and I'm very confident about that. You'll have to remind me about the first part of your question.

JOURNALIST: ... the COP President ...

PRIME MINISTER: We've got a plan for Australia. They've got a plan for the UK. And I welcomed Boris's comments the other day because Boris actually has a pretty good understanding of the Australian economy. But let's just talk about how well the Australian economy has gone with our emissions reductions to date. I mean, when you compare them to our good friends in Canada and New Zealand, which haven't even cracked double digits yet on emissions reduction and then of course, the United States or Japan, we're outperforming all of them on our emissions reduction. And that is at the same time that we've had one of the biggest increases in our LNG industry in our history. And so that tells you something about our ability to manage the sort of economy we have to achieve emissions reduction completely different to what the UK is doing and be able to say exactly what we're going to say. We've always taken the view that we intend to meet and beat. We've always taken the view that performance means more than aspiration on these things. And we have set out, I think, very responsible targets. We will meet them and we will beat them, but particularly on the issue of 2050 v 2030. This is a very important point and that is that the technology that you need, much of which was some of which at the very least, is yet to be realised, that has long lead times and you need to put the resources in now for things that could take 10 or even 20 years. And if you divert your resources away from those types of things that has the, that 2050 pay off, you actually put the 2050 payoff at risk. We want to achieve the 2050 outcome and we want to achieve it with the technology that delivers it. Now, I know there's been a lot of feedback on our plan, which doesn't express the same confidence in technology to achieve this outcome that we have. And I can tell Australians very clearly that if you don't think technology can do this and you're not confident about that, and it seems the Labor Party is not, they have two other options. They'll tax you and they'll regulate you and force your decisions. Now, that's not our plan. That's not the Australian way. That clearly seems to be the path they're heading down. That's a matter for them. Other countries will make their decisions. We'll make Australian decisions, in Australia for Australia's interests, and that's what I'll be saying in Glasgow.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce says agriculture has been carved out of the net zero deal. You're saying it hasn't. Has there been some sort of misunderstanding here?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I have no misunderstanding. It's a whole-of-economy emissions reduction plan.

JOURNALIST: Did Barnaby Joyce misunderstand?

PRIME MINISTER: That's the policy. That's the policy agreed by Cabinet.

JOURNALIST: On the forthcoming legislation on the Integrity Commission. Have you given any thought to strengthening that legislation, given comments from your own backbench about the need for that? And secondly, do you regret the comment you made about "we would not follow a New South Wales ICAC's style model", given what we've heard from Gladys Berejiklian's own former colleagues in the last couple of weeks about her, how she should have disclosed the relationship with Daryl Maguire?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, on the second one, no, I don't have any regrets about that in terms of the statements I've made previously and on the other matter, we've been setting out our model, if that model is not accepted by others in this parliament, well, that's a matter for them. But that's the model that we would seek to proceed with and will seek to finalise that, that final legislation. We think that's the best way to go ahead. I think there are differences between state governments and federal governments when it comes to these matters. I mean, we have a lot of other institutions here at the federal level that I think are being ignored by others who do a very, have a very important role. I'm not about to let or support a system that, you know, takes us down the path where it's it's trial outside of proper processes. That's not something that I think is consistent with our values.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] the voter ID legislation introduced this morning to be in place for the next election and what do you make of the criticism that it is a very large response to a very small problem?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you know, this has been the, I used to be, one of my first jobs in this place, I was the deputy chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. That was one of the first jobs I had. And, you know, at the ‘13, ‘16 and 2019 elections, the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has been recommending these types of changes. It's not an earth shattering proposal that when you go to the vote that you should be able to say you are who you are and provide some form of identification to support that, that's an important protection for our democracy. In fact, it's so important that countries like Canada, France, Sweden, Belgium, at least 14 states in the United States, the United Kingdom has this year introduced voter ID laws to the House of Commons just this year. I mean, this is a standard practise that is in liberal democracies. The Declaration Vote process provides the safeguard for those who may be vulnerable and for whom this might prove a challenge, but not one vote will be lost that is a formal vote and a real vote from a real person, and those safeguards are built into the Bill. But I think it's fair enough in a democracy. If I turn up at the ballot box, there in Lilli Pilli and say, my name's Scott Morrison and give them my address, that I should be able to say, and here's a form of identification that we all have these days to be able to to be able to substantiate that. And if I don't have that, well, you do a declaration vote and that's sorted out during the normal process.

And on the answer to the other one is yes, of course. I think this is an important change, and I think it's good for our democracy. So if the Labor Party doesn't want to support people actually telling people who they are and backing that up, well, you'd have to wonder why.

JOURNALIST: Is there a goal for the optimal coverage of booster shots? And if not, why not given it's a population wide programme? Do we need to get that 70-80 per cent target again?

PRIME MINISTER: I'll ask Paul to address that.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, COMMONWEALTH CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: The short answer is no, Clare. There's no target for this one. It's a boost. Just to reiterate the first two doses that primary course is the full vaccination, after that is is an extra bonus, which I would very much encourage people to take up. As the PM has said, we have plenty of vaccine all over the country, multiple places that people can get this, get their dose for their booster. And in the meantime, those that haven't had their first and second doses, please go ahead and get that done today.

PRIME MINISTER: Plenty of vaccines. There's enough vaccines out there for everybody who wants one to get one. So please, if you haven't done it yet, go out there and get vaccinated. I'll see those of you on the plane, a little later. Thank you.