Press Conference - Macquarie Park, NSW

Transcript
19 Aug 2020
Prime Minister
E&OE

JOHN ALEXANDER MP, MEMBER FOR BENNELONG: ...And so, without further ado, I'd like to, I don’t why you’d introduce the Prime Minister, everybody knows who he is, welcome Scott.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you, JA. It's good to be here in North Ryde. It’s good to be here at AstraZeneca. Liz, and to Bill, some $200 million invested announced earlier this year in these facilities, which I think further goes to demonstrate the wonderful precinct we have up here JA. Medical technology, it's one of the key sectors for Australia going forward and we have great expertise, great skill, great reputation and an ability to venture into markets from this platform here in the Indo-Pacific and the Asia-Pacific and it's tremendous to be here partnering with AstraZeneca today.

We're here today to announce that we've signed a letter of intent with AstraZeneca, which will enable Australia to access - should it be successful - the vaccine for COVID-19 here in Australia, manufactured here in Australia, distributed free to 25 million Australians, in the event that those trials prove successful. There are around 160 different vaccine projects around the world today, some of those are well advanced like the AstraZeneca proposal and they're teaming up with the University of Oxford. Others are still on their way and looking good too like in the University of Queensland. There are many others, Professor Brendan Murphy is heading up an expert panel, which is advising the government on the other programs and the other projects that we can take positions on to ensure that Australia is incredibly well placed to ensure that Australians can emerge quickly in the event that a vaccine is developed. This would have to be - as I'm sure Paul Kelly will tell you, who will speak after me - this would have to be one of the biggest worldwide efforts to find a vaccine that we've ever seen in a concentrated period of time. And that concentrated effort fills me with greater hope and what we've been able to reach today to put Australia in the leading pack when it comes to vaccines being made available to our citizens, also gives me hope.

In Victoria and Melbourne at the moment, they're doing it the toughest of all, businesses and people who have been laid off and having their livelihoods disrupted and those who have lost loved ones - over 430 Australians, also hoping that others won't fall victim to this terrible virus, and so the search for the vaccine is one thing but its rapid deployment, should one be found, has also been a key focus of the government and will continue to be. At the same time, we'll continue to do everything in every area of activity, working with our state and territory partners to ensure that we are combatting this virus each and every day and keeping Australians as safe as we possibly can to save lives and to save livelihoods, has always been our approach. The next step in these arrangements is to see how those trials go, to complete the manufacturing agreements, and they're well advanced and I feel positive about those and then to identify as I said, other potential vaccine prospects that Australia can partner with. I also want to note that of all the issues I've discussed with Prime Ministers and Presidents around the world, the vaccine has been the most constant of those discussions. Of course, we talk about how we're dealing with the virus in our own country - our testing, our tracing, our outbreak containment, swapping notes, sharing experiences - but the other discussion that happens in parallel is finding this vaccine and ensuring we can mobilise to produce the vaccine and so while what we're announcing today is important for Australia. Australia will also play an important role in supporting our Pacific family. We've had those discussions with the Prime Ministers of Papua New Guinea and Fiji most recently, but also when I last spoke to President Widodo, this was also an important topic of discussion. We have a regional role to play here as well as a domestic role to play here and we will be living up to all of those responsibilities as we progress this day.

But today is a day of hope, and Australia needs hope, the world needs hope, when it comes to this coronavirus. And should we be in a position for the trials to be successful, we would hope that this would be made available early next year. If it can be done sooner than that, great. But we are very much in the hands of people wearing white coats, and there's plenty around here today, and they've been doing tremendous work, not just here but all around the world and we're putting our hope in their science, in their work, and to ensure that they can bring these trials to a conclusion.

The vaccine will need to satisfy all the same standards that all vaccines are expected to live up to here in Australia before they're made available to the public. There won't be any cutting corners, there won't be undue haste here. There will be the appropriate controls and protections that are put in place. I'm advised that we'll need about a 95% vaccination rate across the country, that is the normal target range for when you're having a vaccination program and we'll be seeking to ensure that that is widely implemented with our partners around the country to ensure that should the vaccine be available then we will be able to move quickly, get it out across Australia and that we can get Australia back to normal as quickly as we possibly can. But there's a lot of work to do yet and the people who are doing that work are with me here today.

I'll hand you over to Professor Kelly the Acting Chief Medical Officer and then Liz will have a few words to say. And then we'll come and take questions then. Let's keep those questions first to the announcements today and then of course very happy to cover other issues, as I'm sure you would like to.

Paul?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Thank you, PM. It certainly is a fantastic day and great news that we are now partnering with AstraZeneca for the Oxford vaccine. It's one of the several vaccines that are in development. As the PM said, over 160 different types, different vaccine candidates are currently in development and in trials and almost 30 of those in trials in humans now.

So this particular vaccine it is an unproven technology so far, but the initial results are very positive in terms of both efficacy, so the effectiveness of the vaccine will be trialled in larger groups of human trials over the coming months, but the efficacy in terms of developing antibodies against coronavirus has been shown to be true, as well as the safety in the phase 1 and phase 2 trials. So they've been published in peer review journals. They've been checked by other scientists and they have been found to be valid. So, that amongst a number of other vaccines that are being developed by other companies and research groups around the world are showing great promise.

So this is an important step. It's the first step in terms of this particular company and this particular vaccine but there will be others in the coming weeks and months. We have a strategy to work through this. These so-called pre-purchase agreements, as well as looking at funding our own research and development here in Australia, particularly in the University of Queensland vaccine candidate, but also others, partnering with other vaccine potential throughout the world. That's part of our strategy. Other components of course is being prepared for the vaccine rollout and the work that has been guided by our expert committee as the PM has mentioned, chaired by Professor Murphy. I'm the deputy chair of that committee. The Australian Health Protection Committee are also having regular discussions about this particular issue of vaccines and our other advisory groups we have on vaccines. We're used to rolling out large vaccine programs here in Australia. This will be an extremely important one and will be, I'm sure, welcomed by all Australians when that is available.

I'll leave it there, PM.

LIZ CHATWIN, COUNTRY PRESIDENT OF ASTRAZENECA: Hello everybody. I'm Liz Chatwin, a formal welcome to AstraZeneca manufacturing facility. On behalf of all our team, welcome, Prime Minister, welcome, Professor Kelly. A couple of words about our site, this is our, this is the largest manufacturing facility in Australia, but we don't make vaccines here. We make a product called Pulmicort Respules which is exported to Asia-Pacific and predominantly to China, $1.2 billion of exports last year. As a company, we've been partnering with Oxford University, one of the leading vaccine candidates and our ambition is to provide broad and equitable access to this vaccine around the globe at no profit during the pandemic. We're delighted that we've signed this letter of intent with the Australian Government. It's the first step, as the Prime Minister and Professor Kelly have said, to secure the Australian people with a vaccine. The next steps, of course, are getting down into the details of contractual agreements, the numbers, the timelines, the doses, the pricing, and securing an agreement with our selected Australian manufacturers so we can manufacture the vaccine here locally, should it prove successful. There's no guarantee that this vaccine will protect against COVID-19. We don't even know whether, how long that protection may last or at what dosage. So the science and the data is the priority, is the priority for us over the next few months.

So I'll hand back to the PM for any questions.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. Let's deal with the vaccine announcement today and then we can deal with the other matters. So on the vaccine?

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, how will you go about making this mandatory? How exactly will that work?

PRIME MINISTER: I'll ask Paul to comment on this as well. This is like any vaccine and, as you know, I have a pretty strong view on vaccines, being the Social Services Minister that introduced ‘no jab, no play’. What is important to understand with any of these vaccines is it does protect you, it does protect your family, but it also protects the community and, as is the case with any vaccine, there will be some individuals who, for quite precise medical reasons, there can be issues with a particular vaccine. They and their safety and their health depends on the vaccine's take-up more broadly in the community. That's how they get protected. And this is an important part of our vaccine strategy, not just on COVID-19, but more broadly. So we will be seeking its most widespread application, as we do with all important vaccines. But Paul you may want to talk about how those practices are followed and we'll be doing that of course in partnership with states and territories.

PROFESSOR KELLY: Thank you PM. So of course, the first will be a voluntary call for people and I'm sure there will be long queues - socially distanced, of course - for this vaccine. It will be incredibly welcomed by many. It will be the absolute ticket to get back to some sort of normal society and the things we all love and enjoy. So I think there will be a very strong take-up of this vaccine. Of course there will be some who, for medical reasons, as the PM said, may not be able to take the vaccine, but there will be very strong campaigns to encourage people and we've had experience before of linking vaccination with other programs and all of those things will be looked at over time. The first thing we have to have is a vaccine that works, that is safe, and can be rolled out in large numbers. That's the key point.

JOURNALIST: Obviously ‘no jab, no pay’ was about childhood vaccines and you had a very specific incentive there. What will you do with adults?

PRIME MINISTER: We are going to take this one step at a time, I don't think offering jelly beans is going to be the way you do that as you do with kids. But we'll take those issues as they present and consider what steps are necessary at that time. But I would, in the first instance I’d be encouraging people to take it on. I'll certainly be taking it on, my family will be taking it on. And I’d be encouraging all others to do the responsible thing, for the sake of not only their own health but the community’s health. Particularly for the most vulnerable. Now the rollout of this will depend on the clinical advice as well. We have to wait for the clinical trials to identify whether there are any potential side effects, but particularly vulnerable communities. That is not known yet. But the obvious priority is around health workers and people like that. I think is fairly apparent. But we'll be guided, of course, by Professor Kelly and our other specialists to roll out that program. But I'm, I'm open to all options. I want to be very clear about that, I’m open to all options to ensure we get the strongest possible take-up. Paul?

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister is this the silver bullet the country needs?

PRIME MINISTER: I would like to say there is a silver bullet when it comes to the pandemic and a vaccine is about as close as you can get to one. I think that’s recognised around the world. But it isn’t something that takes immediate effect. I mean you have to get up to those levels of vaccination. You also have to consider how far the vaccine is spread around the world and what that means for other countries, particularly I talked about Indonesia and the South Pacific, but also other countries in our region. And how quickly a vaccine might spread into those countries will depend how much interaction we have. So I wouldn't want to suggest that it's an overnight silver bullet, no I would not want suggest that at all. It will need a concerted rollout not just in Australia, in our own region, but globally to have its full effect.

JOURNALIST: What was the reason that we’re stockpiling the Oxford vaccine first rather than for example the UQ one?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there are different stages and I might let Paul speak further to that. And we are taking advice on what should be at the front of the queue for us and certainly UQ, we’re very involved in that, we provide funds to that. And the strategy, which is being pursued by the expert panel, which Professor Murphy is leading, Professor Kelly sits on that as well, will be identifying the others of the 160 that are out there and the positions we'll take on others as well. We're certainly not putting all our eggs in one basket here. It's part of a more diversified approach. But this one is well advanced. And as Professor Kelly said its early progress is very encouraging and we want to be here on the ground floor. But Paul did you want to add to that?

PROFESSOR KELLY: Thanks PM. So this is one of a range of vaccines that we're looking at, the Oxford vaccine and they've partnered with AstraZeneca, is one of the ones that published their early results. And as I said, they're looking very positive. But this is at an early stage. I think we should recognise that we're doing many things in parallel here. We're looking at a range of different products, different types of vaccine. There are at least four very hopeful, completely different ways of creating the immune response. A vaccine is in development right now right around the world, and almost 100, over 160 different candidates. So we're looking at all of those. We're looking at the ones that are most most positive, where we're talking to our international partners and seeing who, what what they're finding, we have our regulators talking as well to make sure that there's no barriers to that. But we're also not rushing the process. So that this is absolutely safe and effective. And we're doing that all in parallel. It's normally a one after the other. And so we're looking at all of these things.

JOURNALIST: We’ve never manufactured this type of [inaudible] virus vaccine before, is it an easy manufacturing process and what does it actually involve in the manufacture, do you have to use different types of technologies?

PROFESSOR KELLY: Ah yes, there will be different technology, so the adenovirus vaccines, also the mRNA and the DNA vaccines they are our first in human vaccines. So this is really sort of groundbreaking stuff that we're involved with here. Some of the other vaccine candidates are much more traditional in their processes. And we're familiar with those things. Wholesale vaccines, for example, and protein vaccines like the UQ candidate. So there are some we're very familiar with. Others are new types of vaccine technology. And so, again, when we think about these things that we usually do in series, we're doing it all in parallel. We're doing the first test to see whether it's safe and effective. We're doing the large clinical trials to look at what that looks like on a population basis. We're looking at manufacturing facilities. We're making these types of pre-purchase agreements all at the same time as, whilst looking at those regulatory hurdles and making sure that that's all lined up. Plus, also pre-purchasing the syringes, needles and so forth that we would need to roll out such a large new vaccine programme.

JOURNALIST: Professor Kelly, a couple of weeks ago after a National Cabinet meeting you were saying there's been no vaccine ever to treat Coronavirus. Isn’t it the case, or are you, have you become more optimistic in two weeks that there might not be a vaccine?

PROFESSOR KELLY: Well, two weeks ago, I said I was cautiously optimistic and I remain cautiously optimistic. There are so many candidates, so many of the best minds in this type of science involved with this and going so quickly that every day, at least every week, is a new component to this. So I'm cautiously optimistic. You're quite right that as of now, we've not had a successful vaccine against the coronavirus, but there are, the Oxford AstraZeneca is one is one that's showing great promise, in that two week period there've been other papers in very high ranking journals, In Nature, and so forth, looking at trials in non-human primates. Again, very positive. So things are developing every day.

JOURNALIST: Professor Kelly, is there a particular number of vaccine programmes the government will support, and how many are we supporting currently, besides AstraZeneca?

PROFESSOR KELLY: So this is the first. But we’ve of course, as the PM has said, given funding to the UQ vaccine directly for their development, $5 million dollars. And that's been matched by the U- the Queensland government as well as philanthropy. And so we're looking at a range, this is really about diversifying the portfolio, I think would be the way to look at it if we were thinking of it as a, as a future investment, which in fact, this is, it's an investment in our future, not only of our health, but also in the recovery of the economy and going back to a normal society. So we're taking best advice on that, but we're certainly picking the best candidates first. And the Oxford AstraZeneca one is the, is the first of others that we'll be announcing.

JOURNALIST: This is probably more of a question for the Prime Minister, is the pre-purchase agreement, iron clad? There's no way for anyone to kind of wriggle out of it?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, at this stage, we are at a letter of intent with AstraZeneca and that will proceed to an agreement that also goes to supply and pricing all the things as Liz has said, and Minister Hunt is progressing those discussions very well. And I particularly want to acknowledge the tremendous work that Greg Hunt has been playing in preparing for this day and getting us to this day. And indeed, we'll be driving the process to get us to the next day, which goes to the issues you're talking about. These would be, you know, contracts that we will be entering into. And so they'll have the effect of contracts.

JOURNALIST: Other countries have several agreements, they're further than the letter of intent stage aren’t they?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, that's right.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask on another issue?

PRIME MINISTER: I just want to be sure before, Liz and Bill here with us and so while there still with us, happy to go to those other issues, but,

JOURNALIST: How much does this deal cost us?

PRIME MINISTER: At this stage that's something that's commercial in confidence.

JOURNALIST: Has money changed hands at this point?

PRIME MINISTER: Again, these are commercial in confidence issues.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, is there a risk that we pay more because we’re kind of coming out publicly now before it’s all completely finalised and saying we’re all in so the company that we are doing business with has us where they want us?

PRIME MINISTER: These are good faith discussions, and I'm not concerned about that. As you heard from AstraZeneca themselves, they're not not looking to profiteer here. And this has been a point that I've made at many international fora. History will judge those who find the cure here, find the vaccine here very, very poorly if they don't take the approach which we’ve seen from AstraZeneca here. And we've seen from the UK and Sweden and other countries that have been involved in all of this. And this is, this is certainly an issue that I raise regularly on those international calls. And I've only had anything but support for that proposition. Certainly if UQ cracks it, then what a wonderful day that would be. And the whole world would rejoice. See this isn't about, frankly, who wins the prize of getting there first. We just need to get there. And whoever is going to get there, we need to help them to get to that point and to make it as widely available as possible, not just in developed countries like Australia, but importantly in the developing nations of the world. And that is also a key item of discussion that is held amongst international leaders.

Sorry? I can't quite hear you?

JOURNALIST: What commitment have we given to those Pacific nations that you’ve been discussing like Indonesia?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, as I indicated in my statement today that we would be looking through our development assistance agreements to be able to roll these, this sort of support out certainly to our Pacific neighbours, and we would, should they wish, we'd be engaging also with countries like Indonesia. I have had discussions with both President Widodo and a number of prime ministers in the region about this. And look, to be honest, in the Pacific that's expected. It’s a vuvale, our partnership with our family in the Pacific and we and the rest of the world really does look on Australia as providing that support to those developing countries in our own region. And that is specifically in relation to the Pacific countries. I had a very good interaction with the Prime Minister of Norway the other day, and she was very interested to know how the Pacific nations were doing and they had some involvement as well as many European countries do. But they recognised that Australia, together with New Zealand, has the primary role in managing that support and those relationships.

JOURNALIST: In terms of access to syringes and needles, where are we getting those supplies from?

PRIME MINISTER: Becton Dickinson is the company we’ve engaged with on those, and that is a public arrangement, that's about 25 million.

JOURNALIST: Is that an Australian company?

PRIME MINISTER: I haven’t heard, Becton Dickinson, is it? No.

JOURNALIST: Is it possible to ask you Liz a question please?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, sure.

JOURNALIST: Just about the manufacturing of this vaccine, I know with protein-based vaccines, they are kind of grown in eggs. Can you talk us through the nitty gritty of the manufacturing? Are you going to do that and is a vaccine that is easy to scale up?

LIZ CHATWIN, PRESIDENT ASTRAZENECA: So thanks for the question. And I'm probably not the expert here to talk to you about it. But as the PM and Professor Kelly said, this is an adenovirus vector vaccine, so it hasn't ever been produced in Australia. We're talking to selected a Australian manufacturing partner on the feasibility and technical details of that right now. We have a technical team globally that are talking them through the process steps. And as we've said before, this is a massive scale-up activity. We haven't done it before. We're entering into a number of parallel supply agreements around the world with vaccine manufacturers and we're doing this at no profit during the pandemic. As you can imagine, this is a huge effort from us as a global company.

PRIME MINISTER: I think we might have covered, unless there are other questions of people. Yeah.

JOURNALIST: With the Pacific stuff, do you see our supply of that through the development being free to those Pacific nations?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, everything we provide through development assistance, that that's how it's done. And so I would see that. I mean, what we've done with our development assistance in the Pacific and in Southeast Asia, because COVID has largely disrupted many of the other programmes that we've running, for months now we've repurposed those development budgets throughout those countries we most directly assist to support the COVID effort in each of those countries and this would be part of that process. And it is pleasing, although the situation in Papua New Guinea is getting more challenging. But to have come this far, I think in the Pacific, I think the Pacific family nations have done incredibly well to protect their citizens and their populations to date. But the risk continues. And I had a great chat with my friend, Frank Bainimarama the other day, and they're very appreciative of the support they get. But they're doing their best. Their tourism industry is struggling like ours is. And so there's a lot of hardship there. But their health situation is doing a lot better than many other developed countries around the world today.

JOURNALIST: PM, just one more if I can.

PRIME MINISTER: Yep.

JOURNALIST: There’s been some reporting that there might be an expectation for the need for a yearly top-up of it. Would you anticipate that being likely to be free as well? I know that’s a fair way off, but.

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, look, we'll do what needs to be done. I mean, we all know the cost of this, frankly, is not my primary consideration. It's the cost of it not being present now, that is devastating our economy and jobs across the country. And so I think what Australians rightly would expect is that we just do what is necessary to get this done and to get it available and that is definitely what we have been doing. And Minister Hunt has been doing a tremendous job leading that effort, and there's still a long way to go.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you said this morning, we regulate aged care, but when there is a public health…

PRIME MINISTER: Liz and others, if you want to stay, or…

JOURNALIST: When there is a public health pandemic, if it gets into aged care, then they are things that are for Victoria. Just excuse my confusion on this one. We've got a national Royal Commission into aged care. It's viewed as a federal responsibility. Daniel Andrews keeps saying it's a federal responsibility. Is there an element here of you being happy to own the successes when it comes to dealing with the pandemic, but not the failures?

PRIME MINISTER: I think that's an unkind assessment, Andrew, and doesn't bear out the facts. There is a combination of challenges we have with the pandemic. There is a public health issue and there is a specific aged care issue and that's where responsibilities merge. And when you have a community outbreak like we've had in Victoria, that's where those responsibilities do overlap. Certainly, we have had to lead the response and in responding to the community outbreak in Victoria. But I think the best demonstration that this as a shared responsibility is the formation of the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre. It is a combined effort of both Victorian and Commonwealth officials. We understand what our responsibilities are and we will be responsible for those. But when you have a community pandemic, then the virus will find its way into many places. It can find its way into shopping centres. It can find its way into workplaces. It can find its way, potentially, into schools. But thankfully, that hasn't been a significant issue here in Australia and many other places. And so it's the overlapping of public health responsibilities, which would sit with states, and federal aged care regulation responsibilities which sit with the federal government. So, yes, it is a complex set of responsibilities and they are shared and that's why we're working together. I've kept stressing - working together, not against each other, is the way we manage these impacts. And so all I said this morning, I think, to take a very binary approach to this I think is overly simplistic and really doesn't let Australians know the complexity of responsibilities that are here.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you believe, in terms of Victoria’s second wave, do you think that could have been prevented if Daniel Andrews had taken up the offer of ADF personnel back in March?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm focused on what needs to happen now, what needs to happen tomorrow. There will be plenty, including the media appropriately and Parliamentary enquiries and others that will go into those issues of causation, issues around quarantine and tracing are well known. And there's no profit in me going over those and raking over those issues. My job, the Premier's job today, is just to keep working together to deal with what is in front of us, what the needs are right now, and to keep focusing on that task. That's what National Cabinet will focus again on this Friday. The Premier and I are in regular contact. We are not getting caught up in those issues. We're just focused on; what do we need to agree today? What do we need to do today to mitigate the risk and the impact, particularly on Victorians and Melburnians? But I would say with the numbers that we're seeing out of Melbourne and Victoria, that I am encouraged. I think the sacrifice that has had to be made by Melburnians and Victorians and more broadly is paying off. And we are seeing, we have seen, I think, that corner turn and that I hope is of some great encouragement to Victorians. There is still a way to go yet, and there is still some difficult news as we continue to see the most vulnerable in our community fall victim to that virus and there will still be more of that needs to come, as we've warned. But I am encouraged by the progress that's being made and the partnership efforts that are in place, whether it's the ADF, whether it's Emergency Management Australia, whether it's nurses from Townsville and Western Australia and South Australia, contact tracers and testing equipment in Tasmania. The national resources, state and federal, have been turned to support Victoria and that's our approach.

JOURNALIST: Do you feel like Victoria has let down the rest of the country?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm just focused on what we need to do to ensure that we get on top of this thing every day.

JOURNALIST: Just back on the topic of aged care, so would you say now that you’re confident that the aged care centres are in the best possible position should they be exposed to COVID-19?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there are two things that are happening here. The first one is what's happening in Victoria and in Victoria, particularly in Melbourne, which are the most exposed facilities. There are over 340 in Melbourne. We've got less than half a dozen that are on our acute watch list. There's around 20 or so that sit on the next Category Two list and these change regularly. We review them each and every day and the response that's needed. Through the ADF and the training that has been provided there we expect to be, by the end of this month, having visited every single one of the non-COVID affected aged care facilities to ensure that they've had further reinforcement of their PPE training and in the state of readiness and preparedness. A lot of those 61 facilities have already had ADF and AUSMAT visits to shore up what's occurring in those places. It's a challenging environment and there's a mixture of issues in each and every facility and they have to be treated on a case-by-case basis. The situation that has been explained to me each and every day for weeks now is increasingly stabilised, but still fragile in particular a handful of facilities. And that remains the case. So we continue to work through those practical issues every day from how waste is managed and stored and removed from facilities and ensuring we had another incinerator come up online recently in Victoria. That's helping dispose of what you can understand is a large volume of PPE material that's being used in Victoria. Staffing issues continue to be a daily challenge for the centre and Joe Buffone and the great work he's doing there. The leadership and management facilities often needs reinforcement, and that's when you see Defence and AUSMAT teams providing that specialist support. In many cases, that has meant a complete takeover of the management of those facilities based on the advice of the aged care regulator. The transfers that are taking place have been an important part of the response. I think about 750, I think that number was this morning, Paul, of transfers there has been from residential aged care facilities predominantly over, in the majority case to private hospitals, using the private hospital agreement that Minister Hunt was able to put in place many months ago. That has been important. I mean, every case is different. The answer is just not to line up a team of ambulances out of an aged care, aged care facility. That's not always the answer. In fact, in that way, it isn't the answer. It is a case-by-case response and to work together with the Victorian health officials because as I said in my answer to Andrew, there is a shared responsibility between managing public health and the specifics in those facilities.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister on another topic,

PRIME MINISTER: Sure.

JOURNALIST: Can you give us a bit of an explainer on the reasoning behind the aged pension and other pension being frozen in September?

PRIME MINISTER: That goes to how they're indexed. And this is one of those issues that comes in a pandemic, you don't expect those indexes to go negative. And as a result, budgets and others haven't been prepared on the basis of them going negative. This is new information that has come through yesterday. You'll know that some $1,500 dollars in additional payments have been made to pensioners this year on top of their base pension as part of the pandemic response. And that was done in July and in April. So already pensioners have received two bonus payments so far this year. But the Treasurer and I will work through those issues. But that wasn't, it was not intended and nor will it be the case that you'd see those payments reduced. And we'll work out the exact response to the circumstances and will announce that when a decision has been made.

JOURNALIST: Given your statements rejecting the assertion of the counsel assisting the Royal Commission. Do you still have faith in that Royal Commission? And after this answer, can I just ask a quick one on the Northern Territory election?

PRIME MINISTER: Sure. Look, I do have faith in the Aged Care Royal Commission. I called it. I called it, and I called it because I wasn't happy with what was happening in aged care. And I wasn't getting the answers that I needed to get as a Prime Minister so I could look Australians in the eye about what was happening in aged care facilities, and the Aged Care Royal Commission is a key element of how we're responding. Now, it's not the only thing that is occurring and we won't wait to the final report with the actions that we're taking. Already we’ve announced significant funding, particularly for in-home aged care support places. We've been doing that for many years now. The budget will do that again, on top of that issues about how medications are administered in aged care facilities, there's been responses that have been provided to that. And equally, that has become very relevant in the management of the pandemic response as well. And so actions will continue to be taken to address issues. But the broader structural issues, I would hope the Aged Care Royal Commission will be able to give us some important insight into that. And that Aged Care Royal Commission will be handed down before next year's budget, which will give us the opportunity, I think, to provide a comprehensive response at that time. So, yes, I do. But, you know, the royal commission, people will appear before it, people will make assertions before it, before people will tell stories, their own stories. And those stories will be heartbreaking. And they'll be hard for Australians to accept and hard for Prime Ministers to accept as well. Both current and former.

JOURNALIST: But that was the Royal Commissioner though who said that about there not being a plan, not a witness or someone like that?

PRIME MINISTER: It was the counsel assisting, and what we will continue to is provide the facts to the royal commission about these issues. Of course there was a plan, a plan that had been refreshed and there is no complacency on the government's part. And I think the fact that we increase funding for aged care every year by a billion dollars and in fact more now every single year goes to our acknowledgement of the real needs here. Solving the issues in aged care is a very difficult problem, because as I've said to you many times, the challenges have changed, when people are going into aged care facilities now, I know this from personal experience. Families are making a decision about pre-palliative care. That wasn't the case really 10 years ago. There was a much longer period of time that people would be in those facilities before they suffered acute needs. And so the clinical support that is provided in aged care facilities has changed quite a lot. And that goes to the, the sort of staffing that's required and it goes to the models that are put in place for how facilities can operate, both in the not for profit sector, the public sector, the private sector. But I'd make this point, public, private, non-profit they have all had their very significant problems in aged care. All of them have. And that's why I think it's not the time to be getting into some sort of ideological debate about aged care. It's about what the residents need and how government can better support the needs of our elderly residents, residents and to ensure they are treated with a culture of respect. They need our respect and that respect needs to be shown in the way that we care for them in those facilities.

Now, the Northern Territory?

JOURNALIST: Yes, the Chief Minister he says in a Sky News debate that will air this afternoon,

PRIME MINISTER: Sorry, a debate he’s in this afternoon?

JOURNALIST: Well, it was on this morning, a pre-recorded,

PRIME MINISTER: You have many talents Andrew but I didn’t know prophecy was one of them.

JOURNALIST: Yeah, if you open borders, so he’s saying it to his counterpart right, he’s saying if you open borders on June 22, like Canberra wanted you to. You would have brought the virus in the Top End. How do you react to that statement and the fact that in a number of state and territory elections now, what the leaders are promising seems to indicate the longer the state border closures?

PRIME MINISTER: Well look, on borders, of course, there's the international borders and the position there is uncontroversial, the position on the border between New South Wales and Victoria and indeed South Australia and Victoria is fairly obvious. I mean, the approach the Commonwealth has always taken is you contain where the outbreaks are. What Premiers want to do with their borders, which are further removed from that, they've made unilateral decisions on those issues. What I continue to ask is when they do that, that they seek to work with their neighbouring states, that they work with the Commonwealth and the communities that are impacted to ensure that; a) the medical advice they're basing on that is transparent, and secondly, the practical issues are in place to ensure that people who are living along borders and that can be as much as 100 kilometres away, in areas that are substantially almost virus - if not completely virus free - are able to get agricultural machinery serviced or that kids can get medical treatment, or that parents can go with their kids when they're receiving medical treatment. I've been raising a number of these issues. We will be raising more today. 
I'm finding dealing directly with states, because their border arrangements are different, is proving to be a more practical way to get outcomes. I acknowledge particularly Premiers Marshall and Berejiklian, who just most recently I've been working with on those issues. The New South Wales government has issued a new public health directive on agricultural workers, which is far more practical than the one that was in place before. We welcome that. But when you put a border in place, it's going to raise a lot of issues. It's going to impose a lot of costs. It's going to impose a lot of disruption. And as Premiers put those things in place, obviously those things need to be thought through and arrangements need to be put in place to mitigate the damage that is done by that. Clearly, we understand why people are doing it and getting the balance right on that is, is the explanation I think that Premiers obviously need to provide.

JOURNALIST: In the context of the election though, weaponising you, in a sense, against the CLP on that. What do you think of that?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm not interested in the politics of the pandemic. I'll leave that for others. We're here to get people vaccinated and to get people through this pandemic,

Yep? Yeah, okay.

JOURNALIST:  Just on China, they’ve taken action against barley, beef, now wine. Why is this happening and do you think it’s politically motivated?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, Australia has not changed its position towards China on all of the issues that are so important to our sovereignty, whether it's our national security issues, whether it's the integrity of our telecommunications networks, the sovereignty of our foreign investment arrangements. These have been all clear and consistent positions that the Australian government has taken, and there's been no change to that. And indeed, the relationship we have with China is a mutually beneficial one. It's not a one-way street. It's not Australia benefits only, China benefits from the high quality products and services that we provide. And equally, Australia benefits in return. And we have the best wine in the world. In fact, it's the second highest priced wine in China and it's the best quality in our view. And we totally don't accept any suggestion that there's been any dumping of Australian wine in China, whatsoever. And we don't believe there's any evidence to support that. So we will engage that process, that will take we’re advised and the public statements have been, about 18 months. So there's no initial impact that flows from that. I do acknowledge that there was some activity on the share market yesterday with Treasury [Wine Estates]. But that said, that is a process that’ll work through. I applaud the Australian wine industry for the diversification that they've put in place. And you can't put all your eggs in one basket, but you've always got to provide a top quality product and look after your customers. And that's what our wine industry does. And that's why I believe they have every right to be confident that there's absolutely no basis to the claims that are being made against the Australian wine industry, with regard to subsidies or anything of that nature. So, you know, we will never trade away our sovereignty in Australia on any issue. We will be consistent. We will be clear. We will be respectful and we will get on with the business. Thank you all very much.