Press Conference - Kirribilli, NSW

09 Jul 2021
Kirribilli, NSW
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon. National Cabinet met again this afternoon. We're going to continue to meet together on a weekly basis as we have been now for the past few weeks. As we particularly deal with the issues that are arising from the very serious situation with us here in Sydney. I want to start particularly by extending my thoughts to all fellow Sydneysiders who go into even firmer restrictions as of this evening and just simply say that we will get through it together. This is a very necessary set of restrictions that have been put in place by the New South Wales Government. I strongly support them and the Commonwealth Government will continue to provide the support necessary to give effect to those restrictions and to ensure that the New South Wales economy and the people of Sydney in particular are supported through what is this very difficult time. Many other cities, particularly down in Victoria and Melbourne, have gone through this before, and Sydneysiders, I have no doubt, will continue to push through. I know it's tiring. I know it's exasperating. I know it's frustrating. But we need to keep pushing through. And so my thoughts are with all of my fellow Sydneysiders today.

The meeting of the National Cabinet today considered a wide range of issues, most of which was following through on decisions we'd taken previously and updating on those actions in particular, in addition to getting updates from the New South Wales Premier on the situation here in New South Wales and other premiers were very fulsome in extending their support to New South Wales, just as New South Wales has done in so many other cases when other states have found themselves in difficulty. One of the pleasing elements of the report, we heard today was the the flow on from the Tanami Mine issue, where we had a worker who'd been through Queensland and into the mine. That outbreak has been able to be contained. That was one that was very seriously concerning us over the last couple of weeks. And so the practises put in place by the mine operators there proved to be very effective and very helpful. And we thank them for the way they did that. And it's a reminder that across so many workplaces in Australia, over the course of the pandemic, very good COVIDSafe practises have been put in place and that is enabled, particularly our heavy industry, to keep operating and keep operating safely. And on this occasion, where there had been a breach, still because of the practises and processes they had in place, it meant that they could be tracked down very, very quickly.

We're also noted today that in our own region, not only here in Australia and here in Sydney, but not far from Australia, particularly in Indonesia and of course in Fiji, they are facing even more serious circumstances. And in both cases, the Commonwealth Government, the Australian Government has been reaching out to provide that support to both Fiji and to Indonesia. And I was in contact earlier this week with the Indonesian President, President Widodo, only this week to that end.

We noted that the Doherty Institute would be coming back to us over the course of this month. The First Secretaries Group, which is the heads of the director-generals of the Premier's Departments and the Secretary of my own Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, will be pulling that work together of the Doherty Institute. That will actually set out what the spectrum of risk is across various levels of vaccination in the population and what the levels of vaccination in high risk vulnerable groups are and what the risk is then associated with COVID being in the community. That information will be combined together with the passage of the health system and the advice of Treasury and Treasury Secretaries around the country to ensure we get the best assessment of what the thresholds are to move from phase one to phase two to phase three and ultimately phase four, which I outlined to you last Friday. So that work is in process. The Doherty Institute are continuing that work.

On the vaccine rollout today, the Lieutenant General Frewen was able to update the National Cabinet on the arrangements that have been put in place, as with Pfizer, which is bringing forward those vaccines out of our vaccine purchases, which were to be in place over the course of the year. And the new horizons, as their defined by Lieutenant General Frewen, had been advised to the team leads in each of the states and territories on the projected distribution from those new brought forward supplies that have been, will come available this month that will see us rise to a million a week. That will see us move from 2.8 to over 4.5 million doses coming in from Pfizer in August. This is going to greatly assist the further rollout of the vaccine programme.

And today we have again seen very strong numbers when it comes to the vaccine programme. The vaccine numbers that have been released today show the second highest day yesterday that we have seen some 164,773 doses administered. That gets us to 8.8 or rather 8.9 million doses as present. That would likely see us hit 9 million doses by the end of this week, most likely by the time we report again tomorrow. And so we will then be hitting that very important mark of a million doses every week. You hit your marks there, you hit your straps on those sort of a vaccination roll out as we are now achieving. And that puts us in a very strong place to be able to get this job done as we move towards the end of the year and indeed, perhaps sooner than that, to ensure that everyone who was seeking to have a vaccine would be able to have one.

We also reported today and importantly did a stock take and that will continue over the course of the next week in terms of our health system capacity. Now, what I'm referring to there is you'll recall at the start of the pandemic that one of our key issues was ensuring that we had sufficient respirators and all of that equipment in place in the event of a very serious outbreak. Now, what we was able to report today, was the ICU capacity currently has Australia with 2,020 spare ventilators nationally with an expansion capacity of some 7,500 ventilated ICU beds to treat hospitalised COVID-19 patients. Now states and territories, this will be a continued standing item on our National Cabinet agenda to ensure that we have been able to maintain that health system capability to deal with any potential outbreaks. And there were no concerns expressed today by premiers or chief ministers in terms of their preparedness of their hospital networks to deal with any potential outbreaks. And the hospital capacity here in New South Wales, in Sydney in particular, is proving to be more than up to the task of what is currently presenting.

Also note this Sunday, and Lieutenant General Frewen, will have more to say about that on Sunday, there will be a new campaign launched in relation to the vaccination programme. This is the next phase of those communication campaigns. It coincides neatly with the additional supply that has been brought forward to support the vaccination programme.

On aged care, today, we received the final presentations to Lieutenant General Frewen in terms of the inreach and hub systems being put in place to support vaccination of aged care workers. We also discussed an incentive system today that was suggested by Premier McGowan, which I think is an excellent idea, we'll be engaging with the corporate sector as to how that can be put in place to incentivise aged care workers as another way of ensuring that if those levels of vaccination amongst aged care workers. I had confirmation from all states and territories, except Victoria, today that they would be introducing public health orders to mandate the vaccine for aged care workers. I stress, though, that in Victoria that is not a decision of the Premier or the Minister. Under their legislation that is an independent, statutorily independent decision of the Chief Health Officer of Victoria. So that person is the only one who is authorised to decide whether to put in place a public health order. And so I would have to refer you to the Chief Health Officer in Victoria as to what his intentions are regarding the mandating of vaccines for aged care workers.

There was also papers received from the medical expert panel that dealt with the vaccination of disability care workers. And while they're not at this point recommending mandating of the vaccinations for disability care workers, they are strongly recommending it. And so with that corporate programme that can be used to incentivise vaccinations for aged care workers, we would look to extend that to disability care workers as well. We also considered for what are called mobility workers, those working in the air transport sector and other transport sectors as to whether there was a requirement for mandatory vaccinations there. That is not being recommended at this stage. But, of course, across all the community where you're able to get those vaccinations, then of course, we strongly encourage, particularly when you're working in an area which would bring you into contact with more people.

We also agreed today that a National Cabinet pilot would be established for home quarantine. That would be done in a lead jurisdiction. And South Australia has indicated their intention to go forward as the host jurisdiction for that home quarantine trial, which would be a two week quarantine period based on the advice received from the medical expert panel. And we'll be working with South Australia to put that pilot in place as soon as possible. That will be a transparent project with all the other states and territories. It will be run, of course, by South Australia, but with the active engagement and visibility of all the other states and territories, so they are in a position to pick up that project on the completion of a successful pilot programme.

In relation to inbound and outbound travel. On inbound, since the announcement made last week, we have 29 now scheduled facilitated commercial flights that will be going into Darwin. That should see us taking in around 4,000 people a month into Howard Springs and fully utilising, ultimately the quarantine capacity at the National Resilience Facility at Howard Springs and I thank the Northern Territory Government for their close cooperation in getting those arrangements in place. We also have the Australian Travel Declaration, which will be from the 16th of July, we'll be including information on inbound arrivals vaccination status. That will be done through what is called attestation. This is not linked up to other international databases at this stage. This would be requiring people to attest, whether they have received a vaccination, the vaccination that they have received, the date of that vaccination and the jurisdiction in which they receive that vaccination. That will provide information, particularly to the states who will be in a position then, potentially to look at how they're managing quarantine operations in their state, as the Commonwealth can with the Northern Territory Government at Howard Springs to look at ways that vaccinated and non-vaccinated travellers can be treated in the quarantine programme. Obviously, those who are vaccinated have a much lower risk of infection than those who are not vaccinated.

And finally, on outbound, it will be our strong preference for those who are who are given an exemption. And there are very clear and limited reasons why people are able to travel outbound presently. And that is our strong preference that people will be vaccinated if they're travelling overseas. That reduces the risk posed to them personally, because as we know, COVID is riddled through many countries around the world and many of the places Australians would be travelling to. And that also, of course, reduces the risk of when they return to Australia. Now, for those who are unable for medical reasons to receive a vaccination or at this point in the cycle, they may not have access to that vaccination, well they are obviously issues that will be taken into account by the Border Force Commissioner in considering those arrangements. Now, those last points that I make about outbound travel, facilitated commercial flights, the Australian Travel Declaration, they are all decisions that the Commonwealth Government and they were noted today by the National Cabinet. So happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, now that the Pfizer supplies are being brought forward, will under 40s be able to be vaccinated in August?

PRIME MINISTER: I couldn't quite hear the last part of that question.

JOURNALIST: Will under 40s be able to be vaccinated in August?

PRIME MINISTER: Those decisions at present haven't changed in terms of the age eligibility, and they will be considered further based on this supply by Lieutenant General Frewen, in concert with the medical advice that he receives, because right now our focus remains on getting people who are aged over 70 vaccinated. Now, we are over that 70 per cent mark, 72 per cent it was yesterday, of those over 70 who received that first dose. Older Australians are still the most vulnerable, and that's why we would implore people who have eligibility for those vaccines now to go and get them. And, particularly if you're waiting on your second dose and it's on AstraZeneca, well as I said yesterday, the health advice I've received from Professor Kelly as well as Professor Murphy is that the balance of risk is that you should seek to have that at least at eight weeks.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Labor's tried very hard today to make out that this Pfizer news isn't really anything new or particularly noteworthy. What's your response to that?

PRIME MINISTER: Labor's always hoping for the worst. In the middle of a pandemic, this is very disappointing and they're wrong. We've been able to bring forward these important doses out of our contracted programme, which means they're available now, in July. It's real. I don't understand why Labor always hopes for the worst. I mean they hope that 100,000, 150,000 people have lost their job at the end of JobKeeper. They were wrong. And they're wrong about this, too. They should just get behind the programme and stop trying to play politics.

JOURNALIST: On the Pfizer changes, the delivery dates and the numbers that they're talking about today do appear pretty similar to what's been announced previously. Even Pfizer felt the need to issue a statement clarifying there were no additional doses coming this year. So …

PRIME MINISTER: I never said there were additional doses. They're bringing forward doses.

JOURNALIST: So, I know, but Pfizer felt the need to clarify that. And, so, are we really talking about, you know, changes here that are a game changer for our vaccination rollout, and if it is a game changer then what does that say about the situation so far?

PRIME MINISTER: What it says is that we will have more doses being distributed this month than we had planned to distribute this month and quite significantly more, and more next month, as well.

JOURNALIST: So, are these changes a game changer?

PRIME MINISTER? We've been bringing forward the doses, which is what we've been seeking to do. And the reason we've had to bring forward those doses is because of the ATAGI advice on AstraZeneca, which has limited the use of that vaccine to be the workhorse of the vaccination programme. And so since we've had that advice, and so that since that impact has been made on the vaccination programme, it has been our priority to work with Pfizer to bring forward the doses that we've contracted and we've been successful in doing that.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, does the Government have to pay an extra price to bring forward these doses of Pfizer? And, sorry if you've addressed this it's hard to hear back here.


JOURNALIST: What is the difference, how long will it be when those vaccines actually land and then they end up in people's arms?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, on the first point, I mean, the commercial arrangements between us and Pfizer are not matters that we can go into for commercial in confidence reasons. And so don't draw any conclusion from that. That's been our practice from the outset, and that will continue. In relation to the availability of those doses well, we've gone from 300 to 350,000, that ramps up further to a million, and and even more so or thereabouts when we get into August, because we'll have around about four and a half million doses next month. It takes around about a week to 10 days or thereabouts from arrival, up to, and it can be less than that for those distributions once they come in to go through the process and and for them to be making their way out to the GP surgeries or to the state-based vaccination clinics or which ever the point of presence is through which those vaccines are being distributed. We've got 1,300, 1,300 extra GP's on the job this month to be supporting the rollout of these additional Pfizer vaccines. But the workhorse still remains the job that needs to be done, with the AstraZeneca vaccines as well, particularly for those who are aged over 70, but also for those who are aged over 60 and who are going through their second doses, encouraging them to do just that. It's incredibly important. But, we're now, this time tomorrow we'll be talking about a million doses a week. Now that's what you need to hit in order to get this job done. And we've worked hard to get over the challenges that we've had in the vaccination programme over the course of the last four months. It's been a tough job. We've got on top of that. We're now hitting those a million a week as of tomorrow we believe that will see us really be able to get this job done in the months ahead.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, is Sydney in the position that it's in because your vaccine rollout has been so slow?

PRIME MINISTER: No, absolutely not. There's not.

JOURNALIST: We're facing the prospect of a very long lockdown compared to Melbourne.

PRIME MINISTER: There's not a country in the world other than Israel that has a vaccination rate of two doses more than 65 per cent. Israel is the only country in the world that has that. Now in Australia, in Australia the number of cases we have had in our community means that say, compared to the United Kingdom, which had as many cases in one day this week as we've had in 18 months. So there's far more antibodies that exist say in the UK in the general population than in Australia. And that's thankfully so, because we've saved over 30,000 lives in this country by ensuring that we didn't lose that battle again, in the first round against the coronavirus. And, so, it was always known at this time of the year, in July of this year, that we would still be in the suppression phase. And, that means that in the suppression phase you need to keep the systems as tight as possible. We've had breaches here, there have been breaches in other places. And when there are breaches it's about trying to contain it as quickly as possible and move as quickly as possible to get us in that situation which is what the New South Wales Government is doing.

JOURNALIST: Can you tell us the month when under 40s will now be eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, and also ...

PRIME MINISTER: I'll leave that to Lieutenant General Frewen and that will be based on the medical advice and the supplies as he's rolling those out to meet the priorities of the vaccination programme, which, as I said, is the most vulnerable of the population, which is those who are over seventy.

JOURNALIST: Will any of those Pfizer vaccines be diverted to Sydney to help with the current outbreak?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, as I announced yesterday, we've provided an additional 150,000, brought forward an 150,000 vaccines for New South Wales from the Pfizer distributions, and 150,000 of AstraZeneca. So, New South Wales is receiving 300,000 additional vaccines next week, and that is not at the expense of what were the planned distributions of vaccines to other states prior to that announcement.

JOURNALIST: With the Pfizer vaccine, have we considered pushing out the interval between doses so that the supplies we do have can be used, say in Sydney during the current outbreak, to get more first doses in arms quicker?

PRIME MINISTER: This is why we just put an additional 300,000 doses into New South Wales next week.

JOURNALIST: Is there a possibility that you might extend JobKeeper, and do you agree with Philip Lowe who said that migration had been suppressing wages?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we're not bringing back JobKeeper. What we put in place is the COVID Disaster Payment, which is set at the level that JobKeeper was at when JobKeeper ended at the end of March. We're in the position now where we have a very targeted need here in the Sydney metropolitan area. It's not a national, JobKeeper was a nationwide programme. This enables us to directly make payments to people who need that help, and those payments, as we eased the restrictions on those payments yesterday by waving liquid assets just yesterday, means that those payments will be available to more people in the Sydney metropolitan area that are, that need that additional support. So, we will keep working with the New South Wales Government. I was talking to their Treasurer today, again, obviously had the Premier on the National Cabinet call today also, on what may be required pending what further decisions the New South Wales Government may have to make to suppress this latest outbreak. So, we'll work specifically in a partnered way on that and we'll do the design and the targeting in a way that's appropriate to that problem. In relation to the debate about migration and wages, I mean, we're in a quite an extraordinary, an extraordinary situation at the moment. It's not common to have net migration which is negative in this country, and for it certainly to be at zero. So, that is an extraordinary set of circumstances. That's obviously put some constrictions on the labour market. But, at the same time, we're seeing job rate, jobs picked up very, very quickly. I mean, here, particularly here in New South Wales, as I was discussing with the Treasury Secretary and the Treasurer today and yesterday, New South Wales comes into this most recent outbreak after some very strong performances. The significant levels that we're seeing on the savings ratios for the most recent national accounts, which is elevated still to the levels of the global financial crisis and higher. So, a lot of Australians have been building up their balance sheets over the course of the last 12 months, which is giving them a bit of a buffer at the moment, it's not big, I'm not pretending it's big, but that means that they're in a position for short periods of time to be able to deal with this in a way that perhaps they weren't able to do before. And, the labour market is incredibly strong. When we introduced JobKeeper, we were looking at a million people losing their jobs. Now, the labour market nationally, and even still here in New South Wales, is strong. And, so, so long as we can get on top of this in a reasonable period of time, then we anticipate that the economic impacts of this can be [inaudible].

JOURNALIST: What do you think of the pub in Melbourne that's been asked by the TGA not to give free beers with vaccines?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the Health Minister and I noticed this yesterday evening, and the Health Minister I asked to have a chat with the TGA. I mean, the rule is that which they, they're just doing their job, the TGA, and the rule is that companies shouldn't be able to provide incentives of alcohol or cigarettes to get people to buy prescription medicines. Now, that's a common sense regulation. But, this is a national interest vaccine programme and we'll be making some changes to ensure that these good hearted, good natured sort of initiatives that people may take on of their own volition, which is the case of the PA in Victoria, or indeed of the type of thing that I've just indicated where we're seeking to incentivise through the corporate sector vaccination of aged care workers or other important employment groups, and we just want to make sure that the rules are common sense. I think it was done in good faith and in good spirit by the public and down at the PA in Melbourne. But I think, also, to be fair to the TGA, they're just doing their job and they've got to follow the letter of the law there. So, we'll tidy that up. Common sense will reign once again, and cheers to the PA.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what's the earliest date that the home quarantine trial will begin in South Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they'll be working that through now …

JOURNALIST: Can you give us a month of when that could be…

PRIME MINISTER: I can't at this point. South Australia only indicated sort of formally today at today's meeting that they'll, they intend to host that pilot. And, so we will work with them now to set up the timeframes and how they will put together transparency arrangements with the other states and territories. I think this is an important development. I think it's trialling out these new quarantine arrangements, which will take significant pressure off - if it's successful, of course - the quarantine, the formal quarantine system. If you're able to make this work, it means in phases, particularly phase three, but even potentially in phase two, you have a greater opportunity for Australians who are vaccinated to be able to leave Australia and come back and put no pressure on the hotel quarantine system. And, that can see some of these restrictions ease with very low risk. The programme will focus on countries, low risk countries. That's the advice that's come through. And, so, South Australia will be very mindful of that as well. And it'll, and the advice is also principally at first to focus on Australian vaccinations, as well. So, thank you very much, everyone.