Press Conference - Kirribilli, NSW

16 Jul 2021
Kirribilli, NSW
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: A windy afternoon here in Sydney. The National Cabinet met this afternoon from two till three. It was an important opportunity to come together, as we are meeting every week, particularly during the course of these current events, both here in New South Wales and, of course, more recently in Victoria. But also today, I note that we have had a record day of vaccinations. Some 175,000 vaccine doses were administered yesterday. That is a new record and it means in the space of just three days, half a million doses of the vaccine have been administered across the country. That means that already this month there have been just shy of 2 million vaccines, just shy of 2 million vaccines already in the month of July. And each month, each month, we are seeing the rate of vaccinations increase as we move towards our goal of ensuring that by the end of the year that we can have everyone who's seeking to have a vaccination is able to do that.

It was important today to get an update on the four step plan that I announced around a month ago, working together with the states and territories. We are on track to get the advice back from the Secretaries and Directors-General of all the Premiers and Prime Minister's departments across the country that pulls in the Doherty Institute advice that will inform each of those steps of the plan, the vaccination rates that sit against each of those steps of those plans and being able to get an understanding of how we're tracking against those. So I want to assure people that the path out of this and the four step plan that National Cabinet agreed some weeks ago is very much on our agenda, despite the challenges we're currently facing in New South Wales and Victoria. And the work continues to chart that way out and the vaccination rates we will need to achieve over the course of the rest of this year and next year.

In addition, it was an opportunity to review the status of the situation in New South Wales, in Victoria. Those numbers and those issues, I think are well known from both Premiers' press conferences earlier today. So I won't repeat those. But I do note that both Premiers have made it clear and this is the focus of National Cabinet that the cases, the target here is to reduce as far as possible to zero the cases that are infectious in the community. This is the challenge both in New South Wales and Victoria, that we reduce those cases that are out there and infections in the community. We've seen that rising and we need to see those come down. And so encouraging people to stay home, to get tested and get vaccinated are the core messages behind that.

It was also very pleasing to hear from the New South Wales Premier today, the extraordinary improvement that we've seen in compliance in south west Sydney. And I want to thank all of those out in south west Sydney. Can I particularly thank the multicultural community leaders in south western Sydney, you've done a sterling job working with your communities, religious and faith leaders and so many others. The compliance in south western Sydney has really turned around. So thank you to all those in south western Sydney. And let's keep doing it to ensure that the lockdown can be only as long as it has to be and hopefully as short as possible. And to all of those in Victoria, of course, going into the lockdown now. And I'll come back to this in just a moment. Those economic supports are being provided, as the Treasurer said earlier today, and we released by statement late last night.

On vaccines, it was a good opportunity for the Premiers and Chief Ministers to talk about what's working, the initiatives, whether it's down in Tasmania with being at shopping centres, which are enabling people to ask questions and make bookings. In particular, we noted that those states that have been taking on additional AstraZeneca vaccines and putting them in to their state based clinics are achieving higher rates of vaccination. And so the decisions to put more AstraZeneca into those clinics is proving very effective in lifting those vaccination rates. And we've especially seen that outcome in Victoria. And so we would encourage states and territories to continue to do that. I'd also note the progress that has been made on aged care workers and appreciate the cooperation from states and territories and also working with aged care providers on that programme and General Frewen gave an update on those issues.

We will be seeking over the weeks ahead to bring more pharmacists into the metropolitan programme in a limited way at first. Currently, pharmacists are working with us to supplement GPs in rural and regional areas where there aren't sufficient numbers of GPs to support getting those vaccinations to those communities. Already, pharmacists are being used in places like south western Sydney, where there is that demand for greater points of presence. We will see pharmacists play an increasing role in the months ahead as the supply increases. There's no point having more points of presence with the static amounts of supply, that just increases the logistical difficulty. So as the supply increases, we can have more pharmacists come online, we can have more points of presence out there in the community.
The other thing we discussed was how we might each both at the Commonwealth level and at the state level, work to increase our vaccination rates on the weekends. Had a record day 175,000, but on the weekends that drops right down. Obviously, you don't have as many GPs offices and clinics open on the weekend. The state clinics are open in many places, but both the states and the Commonwealth are going to be looking at ways in which we can increase the rate, availability and points of presence for people to get their vaccines on the weekend.

Now on the payments, all states and territories noted the new arrangements that we've announced over the course of this week. I thank particularly the New South Wales and Victorian governments, for working with us to get the balance right on how these payments work. And these are very important principles. The first one is the Commonwealth payments are triggered by the medical advice provided by the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer. Just like states will act on and listen and be guided to the advice and by the advice of their Chief Health Officers. Commonwealth decisions are guided by the medical advice of the Chief Medical Officer, which has seen the hotspot declared last night for those areas in Melbourne and a range of other areas around towards Geelong. Equally, you've seen the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer declare hotspots across Greater Sydney. That is what triggers the Commonwealth's engagement in payments in any lockdowns that may occur.

Secondly, that there is a shared effort and I welcome the announcement today by the Premier of Victoria, which is seeing them invest some $200 million in their five day lockdown. We hope that's what it is. And that will coincide with those in Melbourne being able to access for those five days. Let's hope it's only that. If you lose more than 20 hours during that period of time, then you're eligible for that $600 payment. And if you lose between eight and 20 hours during those five days, then you're eligible for $375 payment. No liquid assets means test that applies to those payments. And at the end of the week, on day eight, you'd go to to apply and those payments will then follow. Can I encourage everyone who was seeking to apply for those payments again to go to to make your application. That's the fastest way to do it. It's also the most helpful way to do it for those at Services Australia. It reduces the amount of processing time and makes sure that we can get to more people more quickly. Ringing the number 180 22 66 is available, but it's for those who might need additional support or help in completing their application.

Finally, I note that in the same way that we were able to put a package together to support the mental health of people affected by the lockdown here across New South Wales with those additional supports to the many excellent organisations that I've already referred to, the Health Minister, Greg Hunt has also been finalising an arrangement with the Victorian Government, obviously on a different scale given what's occurring there to what's occurring here in New South Wales to provide additional mental health support there. And he'll have more to say about that over the next few days. So with that, I'm happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER: Well the arrangement that the New South Wales Government has is that they declare what the head count is and they need to keep that head count. But there is no I believe, there are businesses in this state in particular. It wasn't that long ago, it was only a few weeks ago, who needed more staff. And they know how important it is to keep their staff and to be there on the other side of this lockdown to ensure that they are able to fully take advantage of the increase in spending that will always occur after these lockdowns. So businesses, employers know they need their staff and they need good staff and it's in their interest to do just that.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: That's not part of the arrangement. No.

JOURNALIST: Anthony Albanese says that we shouldn't be open to the world until we have the capacity to manufacture mRNA vaccines here. That could be two years. Surely Australia can be opened before that?

PRIME MINISTER: Of course. Of course. I mean, Anthony Albanese is plan to open Australia up in 2023. I don't think it's something that Australians would welcome. It's either an absurd plan or he doesn't understand how long it takes to implement that element of what he's talking about. And so look, I'll leave his ideas to him. We'll get on with the programme that we're running and I'll leave him to his plans.

JOURNALIST: Do you agree short, sharp and early lockdowns are the better solution than what you've previously called the gold standard?

PRIME MINISTER: I believe that states need to take the best possible health advice and do what's right for the interests of their citizens and the broader Australian population. And I believe all states and territories are always trying to do that.

JOURNALIST: Do you think New South Wales should further tighten restrictions, given we still have a high number of cases?

PRIME MINISTER: I think the Premier has already indicated what she's prepared to do there.

JOURNALIST: The origin of this virus, if we go back, you would have heard overnight the Director General of the World Health Organisation said it was premature to rule out a link from a Wuhan Lab. What's your reaction to that? And do you think there has been a thorough enough investigation?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, Australia has always just simply wanted to know for the sake of world health, there's no politics in this, what happened. How can we prevent it from happening again? That is just an honest Australian question asked in good faith and seeking the good faith of working with everyone we have to, to get to those answers. Now, we don't know about the lab or whether that was the initiation of this or not. It may well have been. It might not have been. I don't have a view either way. I'm not in a position to make that judgement. But what Australia has always sought to have achieved is that we get to a point where we do understand these things, so we can do better to protect the world against a pandemic that has destroyed the lives of millions and destroyed the livelihoods of even more and has devastated the world. This has just been such an awful pandemic and it continues to rage. We learn of over 40,000 cases a day still in the United Kingdom, 47,000 cases a day up in Indonesia and Fiji, where we've got a medical team right now. And they've been providing a different additional doses right now to support them. Terrible, terrible pandemic. The world needs answers to this and the world deserves answers to this. And those who have lost their lives and lost their livelihoods they deserve answers. And Australia will continue to ask the questions to get those answers.

JOURNALIST: If the Commonwealth provided more income support in the first week of Sydney's lockdown, do you think that would have helped stop the spread we're seeing now?

PRIME MINISTER: No, it had no bearing on the New South Wales Government's decision whatsoever.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister were there any discussions today at National Cabinet about extending disaster payments to people on JobSeeker who work part time that have lost hours?

PRIME MINISTER: Where people are already receiving Social Security support, then they're not entitled to those payments.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] a bit of a gap?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, if they're earning less income, then they're actually able to adjust how their payments work as well on Social Security, because there's also rental assistance and a range of other payments in addition to what people get on a JobSeeker payment. And I note that in the last budget we increased the JobSeeker payment above indexation for the first time in more than 30 years at a cost of $8 billion over the forward estimates, the single largest increase in the JobSeeker payment that we've seen in 30 years. So the Commonwealth has more than leant in to ensuring the people get the support they need.

JOURNALIST: Going into the weekend, you've got Australia's two biggest cities in lockdown. You've got parents struggling with home-schooling their children. You've got people whose businesses are folding. You've got queues for vaccines [inaudible]. What do you say to people who say this is a stuff-up?

PRIME MINISTER: This is a tough time for Australia. We're in the middle of a global pandemic. And over the course of the last 18 months, Australians have saved more than 30,000 lives. A million people are back in work as a result of the sacrifices and the efforts of so many Australians. We're a tough generation of Australians, just like the generations before us. And we'll deal with these troubles and we'll deal with these challenges. And we'll come through. We'll get through. And on the other side, Australia will be even stronger. Thank you very much.