PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon, everyone. I’m joined by Darren Chester, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. Before I come to the first day’s announcement, today is another major milestone. The Tasman is open. It's been six months since Australia first opened up to New Zealand and in time for Anzac Day. We've seen the Tasman open up and we welcome that, and the Prime Minister of New Zealand and I issued a statement earlier today in that spirit of trans-Tasman cooperation, and we look forward to the operational side of that arrangement continuing to be successful. It's a win-win for Australia and New Zealand and I think this is going to be very important for the tourism and travel industry on both sides of the Tasman, as well the very practical issues of families being able to reconnect. There are so many connections between ourselves and our Kiwi cousins. And so that is a welcome next development.
But as I said, it's in time for Anzac Day. As you would know, on every occasion that I come and speak before Australians, particularly when I am speaking formally, I do two things. I, of course, acknowledge, as has been our practice for some time now, to acknowledge Indigenous Australians as we should. Their elders, past present and future. But it has also been my custom to acknowledge the serving members of our Defence Forces and any veterans and to simply say on behalf of Australians thank you for your service. Every single day, the service of our veterans is something that has pressed on my mind because the very fact that we can live in a country that we can live in here in Australia is as a result of their sacrifice. It's as a result of their service. It's as a result of the decision they took to join the Defence Forces and to serve and to defend our values. To stand up for what Australia believes in and to ensure that Australians can be kept safe. Their service finds themselves in many theatres. As I announced last week, it has seen them for the last 20 years serving in Afghanistan, and so many other places. The humanitarian effort equally has been extraordinary. Most recently when it came to cyclones throughout the Pacific, including right now, supporting with COVID in places like Papua New Guinea. Our servicemen and women do an amazing job. And when we commit to major deployments, particularly as we've seen in Afghanistan and Iraq over these past two decades, when those decisions are taken, of course, we consider, as governments must on both sides of politics when we've made those decisions, we understand what the cost of those deployments can be in terms of putting those boots on the ground where we do and the planes in the air and the ships to sea.
But there is a far greater cost that is borne beyond those deployments and that is the mental toll taken on our veterans after they return. And that is something that I think governments in the future must be increasingly cognisant of at the time of making the decisions they do about the deployment of our Defence Forces. It's not just about the great risk that our Defence Force personnel are put at when they engage in those deployments. That immediate risk that is there, that is rightfully and well considered when those decisions are sensibly made and wisely made, we hope, by governments at the those times. But increasingly, we must also understand the long tail of cost, and I just don't mean the financial cost. More importantly, I mean the human cost. And that cost is most significant when we see it in the death by suicide of our veterans. We have been taking many steps as a Government, as governments before us have as well, to address this very serious issue of death by suicide of our veterans and our serving Defence Force personnel. There have been many initiatives but the problem is still with us. The grief of the families, the hardship of the comrades, as they have fought together and then have to deal with the aftermath of the fight when they return here to this country and they find it so hard to adjust. I've heard those stories directly from men and women in my own electorate. The work of 2nd Commando is without peer anywhere in the country in terms of the effort that they've put in place, particularly in relation to Afghanistan, and the toll has been great. There's no politics in this. I think that there is a genuine will and commitment from all members of the Parliament, from all sides of politics. We all want to do what is right for our veterans. We all want to assist them in the transition that they make, whether it's into civilian life, or even just transitioning back from an overseas deployment back home as they re-engage with their families, which they can find so often very, very difficult. And the hardship and stress that puts on families is extraordinary.
Earlier this year, we sought to have legislated in the Parliament a National Commissioner. Now, this was an important reform and it remains an important reform to ensure that on an ongoing, permanent basis, that we have all the powers of a standing Royal Commission legislated by our Parliament to ensure that every single time that, regrettably, there may be such a case of death by suicide of a veteran or a serving member of the Defence Forces, that every single case is acknowledged, every single case is understood, every single case ensures that learnings are made. But there is equally the task of dealing with the many, many deaths by suicides that have occurred. We've sought to do that through the National Commission and haven’t been able to see that supported in that form. So as a result, having worked through and listened carefully, worked with veterans groups, and particularly listening carefully to the veterans who serve in our Parliament, those veterans who have served overseas, we have listened carefully to them. And I do not want to see there to be any delay in moving ahead with examining these issues. But also putting in place the permanent arrangements that are necessary.
That is why, today, we are announcing that I intend to convene and recommend to the Governor-General a Royal Commission into death by suicide of veterans. We will be releasing a draft terms of reference today that we will consult on over the course of the next four weeks, in particular with the states and territories but of course with the veteran community. Such a Royal Commission will need the support of joint letters patent by the state and territory governments, because naturally, the services and supports that are provided to veterans in our community go well beyond the Federal Government and, of course, involve the work of state and territory governments. We want this to be comprehensive and I have no doubt that that will get supported. I've already informed the state and territory premiers and chief ministers today and it will be noted, I'm sure, later today at the National Cabinet meeting. But we will work as we have on other Royal Commissions where we've been able to get agreement on joint letters patent on other very serious issues that have been the subject of a Royal Commission.
The Royal Commission will have a mandate to examine the systemic issues and any common themes and past deaths by suicide of Australian Defence Force members and veterans and the experience of members and veterans who may continue to be at risk of suicide. It will examine all aspects of service in the Australian Defence Force and the experience of those transitioning from active service, the availability and quality of health and support services, the pre-service and post-service issues for members and veterans. Members and veterans, social and family contexts such as family breakdown, as well as housing and employment issues for members and veterans. The Royal Commission will have regard to and build on the valuable work already done in this space, such as the Productivity Commission's report on a better way to support veterans inquiry from 2019, matters that also continue to be addressed through the Budget context. The Government will also seek, as I said, the support of joint letters patent from the states and territories. We understand and recognise that some families and others, many, may not wish to share their experiences and the inquiry will be respectful of that. And given the sensitive and personal nature of the issues that witnesses may face, the Royal Commission will be authorised to hold private sessions. The inquiry will not be about making findings of civil or criminal wrongdoing, and it will not make findings on the manner or cause of death in relation of a particular death by suicide. The Commission will have the full range of compulsory powers available to it to summon witnesses, hold public hearings, take evidence on oath or affirmation, compel the production of documents and witness statements and receive information in evidence in private session, similar powers to what was to be established under the National Commissioner. I've asked Minister Chester to lead that consultation process, which he will do. I also note that the Government intends that the Royal Commission and the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention will be established together. That is the Government's intent and we will be bringing forward amendments to the Bill that is currently before the Parliament to ensure that these two initiatives work together, established together, to operate in a complimentary way.
The Royal Commission will look at past deaths by suicide, including suspected suicides and lived experience of suicide risks from a systemic point of view, while the National Commissioner will have a forward looking role, including overseeing the implementation of the Royal Commission's recommendations. That is, indeed, something that I have not seen before when it comes to a Royal Commission of that nature. Establishing a statutory, National Commissioner, to take up the recommendations of a Royal Commission and to ensure that is put in place in advance. The Royal Commission will be able to consider any past death, as I've said. While the Royal Commission is ongoing, the National Commissioner will retain those functions as provided for in the Government's Bills. This will be an important process for the families, I believe, to be able to come and to put their case in whatever form the royal commission provides for. I think and I hope it will be a healing process. I hope it will be a process by which veterans and families can find some comfort, but it obviously can't replace the loss. We understand that. I think this will be a process that will assist in the comfort that those families have been seeking. And I understand, from listening, that that is a key objective, a key reason why they have sought such a Commission to be established.
I'll pass you over now to the Minister to go through some further matters relating to the Royal Commission but I also want to give this commitment to veterans. The Royal Commission will not be done to replace the need for ongoing work. The ongoing work must continue. We can't stop the changes and the investments that we're making pending waiting for action some 18 months to two years from now when the Royal Commission will bring back its recommendations. We must continue to act now on death by suicide of serving members of the Defence Forces and, in particular, for veterans for whom the rate of suicide, death by suicide, is much higher. So we will continue to take those actions. $11.5 billion a year the Government commits to support veterans and their families every single year. As a Government, we've extended free mental health care, uncapped and demand-driven. In the last Budget, a further $101.7 million was dedicated to bolster mental health support for veterans. $30 million was put in place to establish six veteran wellbeing centres across the nation, in partnership with ex-service organisations. We continue to support organisations like SoldierOn and work closely with the groups like the RSL and the work they do across the veteran community. We've established the Joint Transition Authority, almost $20 million, to do that with Defence. One of the key changes that has already been made is from the day a person signs up and pulls on that uniform with our Defence Forces, that is the day our Defence Forces begin the work of assisting them for transmission for the time that comes ultimately when they leave the Defence Forces. That is not something that has happened in the past. That is something that has been put in place by our Government. Preparing our veterans for life after their service from the day they commence their service and ensuring there is a seamlessness in that support that is put in place. Of course, there's the veterans' employment program, the new veteran's family advocate that has been established, the veterans' card and there will be many further initiatives that will be put in place as we move into this next Budget. The work of supporting our veterans never ceases because their commitment to this country and the service they put in place was without reserve. With that, I will pass over to the Minister.
THE HON. DARREN CHESTER MP, MINISTER FOR VETERANS’ AFFAIRS AND DEFENCE PERSONNEL: Thank you, Prime Minister. Can I also begin by recognising any veterans in the room today but also any veterans or current serving personnel who are listening at home and say to you thank you for your service. In particular, can I acknowledge the members of the House of Reps and the Senate who have served in uniform and thank them, Prime Minister, for their often robust advice they provide to both you and me. It was very important in terms of informing our decisions in the veterans portfolio. I thank you, Prime Minister for your announcement today. This Royal Commission I believe, is an opportunity for our veterans to grab with both hands and to work together on our common aims. We’ve often said in the community that the things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us and today really is an opportunity for us and the veteran community to reset the agenda and unite the veterans community in what has been a very difficult, sensitive and incredibly complex issue for our veterans and their families. This announcement of a Royal Commission is another step in our ongoing efforts to build confidence, to build trust, but perhaps most importantly, to restore hope for those who've suffered or are still suffering today. We do understand and we do understand that some people in our veteran community and their families will not heal until we have this Royal Commission.
I need to stress, Prime Minister, and you've heard me say this many times before, that service in the Australian Defence Force for the overwhelming majority of people is a very positive experience. They develop values and skills in mateship, mission focus, problem solving, leadership, teamwork, their resilience. They're all skills that help them transition well to civilian life. But there is no question, there is a risk of physical injury but also the risk of impacts on their mental health and wellbeing. Australians can take comfort, Australian civilians can take comfort from your words today Prime Minister, that $11.5 billion of taxpayers' money is provided in what is a world-class system to support veterans. But there is room for improvement. The point of the Royal Commission is to help try and find that room for improvement. We have focused on mental health in recent years, more than $230 million per year provided directly for veterans' mental health. And so there is a lot of work that has already been undertaken by Liz Cosson and the team at the Department of Veterans' Affairs and the ex-service community, and I thank them for that work.
So the consultation which you have instructed me to undertake begins today. We're not starting from scratch. The work will continue with DVA and the work will continue in partnership with our ex-service community. I am confident that our ex-service community, ex-service organisations, volunteers, the state governments and the DVA itself, the work they're doing right now is already saving lives every day. We have to keep up that good work but we have to listen to the veteran community and their families and find room for improvement. As we approach Anzac Day, Prime Minister, I join with you in saying that our message to all Australians is it is all about respect, about respecting and recognising those who've served in the past, those who serve today, and the sacrifices they've made and the sacrifices their families have make. We have to instil in them some confidence, some hope and optimism for the future and for any veterans who are listening today or troubled by the conversation, I just urge to you to contact Open Arms on 1800 011 046. That’s Open Arms on 1800 011 046.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you've been dragged into this by the Parliament and your parliamentary colleagues haven't you, after Government MPs threatened to cross the floor over it. There was no other course of action for you?
PRIME MINISTER: I just want to get things done, Andrew. We were seeking to get that done through the National Commission, which provided the same powers that are established by a Royal Commission. So we still want to get things done. That's what's always driven me on this issue. I'm pragmatic to get the right outcomes for veterans. That's what we're doing right here. This is what's important, getting the Commission in place to address the many issues that I know families want to be able to engage with a Commission, to tell those stories, to say what happened, to share that experience. And to ensure that the Government continues to learn from each and every experience. The National Commissioner does that, the Royal Commission will do that. They will work together. That's what we're achieving here. We're combining these initiatives together. We're working together to achieve what I believe families and veterans want achieved. That's what a government should do. That's what I am doing.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister on working together, Julie-Anne Finney says she feels burnt by the Government. What lessons have you learned from this in terms of the fact that a Royal Commission is being announced now so long after the families called for one?
PRIME MINISTER: I've never been opposed to one, I should stress that. That's a matter of public record. We sought to achieve exactly the same answer through the work of a National Commissioner which would have had a very similar I'd say almost identical process, for addressing these issues. I think there is a perception in the community that a Royal Commission provides that acknowledgment that I think families are seeking and I acknowledge that. And secondly, provide that process I think, for healing. That process to share their stories and experiences, which a National Commissioner would have also done. But I think by sharing that workload respectively by the National Commissioner and by undertaking the Royal Commission, we will get all of, all of that work done. We've listened carefully. It is a highly sensitive and complex people. I think people understand that. There are deep, deep emotional scars that relate to these issues. We have listened carefully and at all times sought to do what is best for veterans and their families.
JOURNALIST: Why the announcement today? When do you think hearings will take place? When’s the earliest they can take place? I guess you don’t even have a Commissioner for us yet?
PRIME MINISTER: Well Andrew, what we have to do first is consult on the Terms of Reference. I want to make sure the Terms of Reference are addressing the need. And importantly, as I've just said, that the Royal Commission must also be supported by the states and territories with joint letters patent. That's what we've achieved in other similar Royal Commissions, and you don't impose that on states and territories. You consult with them, and that's the process we're beginning today. We anticipate that that consultation period will take the next four weeks. After that period of time, they'll be drawing those consultations together and finalising a Terms of Reference and making a recommendation to the Governor-General, and at that same time putting forward a recommendation for the Commissioner or ers that would then undertake that Royal Commission. It would take the Royal Commission I anticipate, somewhere between 18 months and two years to complete. That's based on the breadth of the Terms of Reference that are before us and our experience in dealing with other Royal Commissions. We've seen it whether in disabilities or aged care in particular, this will take some time I think, to work through the many issues that I know families and veterans will want to raise, and so we're making that, we’ll be making that time available. So I would hope that this would at the latest, be able to be up and running by the start of the next, in July, and it may well be able to be established before then. The timetable for hearings and things of that nature, well they're set by the Royal Commissioners. It’s not for me to predetermine those things. That's something that they must consider in the normal way. So this is the commencement of what will be another long journey over the next couple of years as we work through those issues. But we won't be waiting two years before taking any further action. We'll be taking further action within weeks. The Budget is within weeks, and we've already taken considerable action in all of these areas and we will continue to take that action. There are many things we have already learned. There are many things we've already put in place and we'll continue to do that in the years ahead and I think the Royal Commission work will support that.
JOURNALIST: Have you been surprised when they’ve, we‘ve been having this national debate, at the trauma and damage serving in the Australian Defence Force has done to individuals and their families?
PRIME MINISTER: Sadly no, because as a Federal Member of Parliament, in a part of Sydney that has quite a number of veterans and those who have suffered the greatest losses and rotations of any of the members that have served, sadly I know too much about this, as many Australians do, but not as much as the veterans and their families know. Not as much as those who’ve served themselves with others know, and we know all too well the deep wounds that are inflicted by these deployments. And that's why I make the point that when we make decisions about deployments, I think it's very important that we have a view to the long tail of support that will be necessary for those we ask to go and serve. And I can't, I can tell you that has not, that has not been a matter that at least at a technical level has been before governments in the past, and it's certainly one I intend to be in front of should we God forbid, ever be in a position where we’d have to consider a deployment in future, that we need to understand this. I mean over the last 20 years, our deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq have seen a whole new generation of veterans. The Department of Veterans' Affairs who I pay credit to today, the RSL, I pay credit to them also, are dealing with very different set of challenges to the previous generation. Young families, widowed families, fatherless families, a whole new generation of service is now seeking that support. Now as Darren says, those who serve in the majority of cases have their experience and do make that transition and go on to have very successful lives and making great contributions, but there are some for whom the burden has proved to be overwhelming and that's where we need to take that action to support them. And we are, and we lift our work rate on this every single year.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, National Cabinet today, this ‘war footing’ as your people have described.
PRIME MINISTER: Just before we move to vaccines, I'm keen to address the issues of veterans first. Happy to move to the other issues.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask on that, then, war’s not new. So are you going to put any programs in asking people or helping people before they join the Defence Force that this could be the outcome?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, that is exactly the process I was talking about before. One of the big changes we have now made is that everybody who now serves in the Australian Defence Forces when they join, that includes the process of joining, but particularly when they join, we begin the process then of preparing them also for their life after their service. Now, that is not something that was happening 10 years ago. It was not something that was happening 20 years ago and 30 years ago. That is a new initiative of our Government, to do that. It's recognising that people will serve for a period of time and when you serve during that period of time, you will confront things and experiences that are not things that you would normally encounter in your normal civilian life. And there will be services and supports available to you, and it will assist you transition to your life after your service. Now, just while I was up in the resources industry up in the Pilbara, I met quite a few ex-service people and who have found working in that resources industry with that team and mission environment something they felt very comfortable with. That is a fairly positive transition that they find when they, defence veterans go and work in other industries, it’s much more of a change. So I think these processes are new but I think they’re quite significant. And it is our hope by making those changes that veterans in the future will lead the service far better prepared than they ever have before. You may not know this, but prior to, I think it was 2017 I think Liz, that prior to that Departments of Veterans' Affairs were not able to know who’d served. And so actually knowing who veterans in our community are has been a challenge. In many cases there are veterans who are suffering in silence because they're not known to be veterans to the Department. They will only be known as veterans when they come forward and seek support. Now that makes it a challenge to reach out to veterans, and so we've worked with the RSLs, we’ve worked through the Veterans Employment Program, with the veterans recognition programs, and that has been a way of drawing veterans in so we can engage with them and let them know the supports and services there. All of this is new, all of this is new, so I think there are a lot of positive changes here. But I think what we're dealing with right now is we see the number of presentations increasing, the demand for veteran support increasing. Of course it’s a function of the deployments over the last 20 years and that is the challenge the Government is dealing with now and I think we're dealing with it very positively.
THE HON. DARREN CHESTER MP, MINISTER FOR VETERANS’ AFFAIRS AND DEFENCE PERSONNEL: Just two quick points just to build on your comments, Prime Minister. It’s not well understood that the average length of service in the Australian Defence Force today is about seven or eight years. So we're talking about young Australians who serve, train, perhaps deploy and then transition to civilian life. We need to make sure that transition goes as smoothly as possible because they've still got another 40 or 50 years where they’re going to be making a contribution to the Australian community. So that's an important part of the work we’re doing in terms of transition. And the other point in terms of knowing our veterans, this year for the first time in the Census we’ll include a question on, ‘Have you ever served in the Australian Defence Force?’, and we expect that will inform our decision making after this year as well.
JOURNALIST: Just on COVID-19 vaccine rollout?
PRIME MINISTER: Nothing further on veterans?
JOURNALIST: The NSW Premier’s indicated that she’d like everyone from aged 50 up to get AstraZeneca from now. Is that actually possible? Could you put a month on when that could come into place? And on mass vaccination hubs, can we just get a bit of a who, what, when, where. So who would that involve in terms of the age groups, which type of vaccine would it be and when could those be [inaudible]?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, these are the discussions we're having right now. That’s, these are discussions we'll have this afternoon, and I don't intend to pre-empt those discussions because there is a lot of work that needs to go into how those will be planned. There are strong, strong arguments for the bringing forward of over 50s with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is a safe and effective vaccine for those aged over 50 and particularly important for those aged over 70 who are already in that priority group that we need to ensure we’re getting vaccinated across Australia, protect them, because if there is an outbreak anywhere in the country, if you're aged over 70, you are at risk. We saw that with the terrible second wave in Victoria and the terrible casualties we saw of those aged over 70 in aged care facilities and that’s why that’s our priority. But, yes, the option of bringing forward over 50s is one that is being discussed but I’m going to work that through with the premiers and chief ministers about how that can be achieved in a most orderly way. I want to stress that the role being played by GPs is central to that delivery. That is the primary, primary pathway through which we're administering vaccines to the public, particularly AstraZeneca. And that would be the case as we move into potentially those groups aged over 50 and any bring forward we had there.
Your GP is the person or the GP who you can go to for administering that vaccine is best-placed to talk through any of the hesitancy you may have, talk through the health issues that are involved and to take you through that process. And that's why we're, that's why our GP rollout is the primary delivery method.
Now you asked about mass vaccination rollouts. That we have discussed particularly in the context of the fourth quarter of this year. That will be dependent very much on the stock of Pfizer and Novavax that we're expecting, at this stage, contracted to be made available in the fourth quarter of this year. That is where we're predominantly talking about those under 50 and that, for that age group, that would be more suited to that type of vaccination process. And so there's a lot of work to be done given that would be effectively, if we wished, a 12-week sprint to be able to do that safely and effectively, and there'd need to be plenty of planning to achieve that. Now states and territories currently, I know, I was with Premier Marshall on the weekend, and they're already moved on some of their GP clinics as well and their clinics, vaccination clinics. We welcome that. And we can work to ensure that the supplies available can get to the places where they need to. We are currently at 1.586 million vaccinations, as of the most recent information that will be released today. And as you'll see from that, the Commonwealth and, in particular, through the GP vaccination network, is what is really driving that process now.
JOURNALIST: Just on the supply then, just sorry, on the supply. So obviously it all comes down to supply of stock.
PRIME MINISTER: Yep.
JOURNALIST: So have you got an update on how many Pfizer vaccines are now in the country? There was talk that it was about 100,000 per week. When does that start ramping up?
PRIME MINISTER: Well that's lifting and that's where it was, and we'll be going through with those supply issues with the states and territories this afternoon, as we understand it right now. And that will obviously inform the other programs that we're working through together.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Gladys Berejiklian said this morning, she said, "We need to really crack on with it. I don't know how long I’ve been saying New South Wales is ready to step up. I don't agree with the comments last week even if vaccinated we can't travel." She is seeming to say there that the Federal Government’s been going too slow. Do you stand by your earlier comments on this that it's not a race and everything's fine?
PRIME MINISTER: We will vaccinate Australians safely and effectively. The rate of vaccination in Australia is at the same pace, at the same stage as the vaccination program in Europe and the European Union. It’s higher than New Zealand at that same stage, it’s better than Canada, it’s better than South Korea, it’s better than Japan, it’s better than France ...
JOURNALIST: If it’s so on track, why do we need twice-weekly National Cabinets?
PRIME MINISTER: Because we are very focused on ensuring that we’re maximising the supplies that we have available and getting them out in the most effective way, Andrew. That’s, that would seem to me a very sensible thing to do. We have had a particular shock to the system as a result of the medical advice that we’ve received from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisations. That has obviously had an impact, I’ve been very clear about that. We'll be getting further information on that today. The head of the AMA will be joining us this afternoon to be talking about the GP rollout and the importance of that distribution mechanism for the vaccination program. And we'll be moving as quickly as we can, with the supplies that we have available, and ensuring they're getting it to the priority populations that need it most urgently.
Our vaccination program has had some early challenges but so have the vaccination programs of almost every country in the world today. Right now in Australia, we are living in a way that the rest of the world is not. Vaccination will be an important mechanism to ensure that remains the case. But I must stress this also, the international borders are also an incredibly important protection for Australians and I'm not about to relax those restrictions lightly. I'm not going to have Australia's way of life changed by an incursion of cases into the country, and seeing lockdowns occur again and see border closures happening internally, and our international borders, provided we continue to rollout the vaccination program, provided we continue to have the effective suppression mechanisms we have in place that will enable people to continue to go to restaurants, continue to go to pubs, for businesses to remain open, for hairdressers to remain open, for all of these businesses in our domestic tourism industries to be able to reap the benefits of Australians travelling at home, the opening up of the Trans- of the Tasman is another boost to that sector. We're already over, well over half of the number of the discounted tickets that we made available through our travel program. This is great news, it’s tremendous news. So we will proceed carefully and cautiously. We will keep Australians safe, and international borders are an important part of that program, and I think Australians value that safety and what it is affording to them in the way that Australians can live here. They can see what's happening overseas, Andrew. They can see, they can see the pandemic raging. More than three million people have died as a result of this pandemic and Australians don't want to see that coming to Australia. And they can be assured that I’ll be taking decisions that keep them safe.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the vulnerability of the over 70 age group. Why are we having a conversation then at National Cabinet this afternoon about opening up to over 50s? Shouldn't we remain on the plan that you've announced and put in place of getting the most vulnerable protected first? Stage 1A and B, and not even thinking about going to stage 2A yet?
PRIME MINISTER: Well what's becoming clear is that we can actually do both. And so the priority is exactly as you say, and there'll be no lessening of effort on focusing on that most important vulnerable group, as well as the frontline health workers that are part of the 1A and 1B program. But we don't want to see one vaccine that's rolling off the line and going through the approval processes and the batch testing sitting in a fridge. We want it, if there is someone over 50 who is there and wants to take that vaccine, we'll be looking at how that can be achieved today and in what type of timeframe we might commence that process. But you're absolutely right, Chris, the top objective is to vaccinate the most vulnerable, and my gaze will not shift from that group.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, [inaudible] Wallace from A Current Affair. We’ve spoken to a man whose myGov vaccination record has updated with two jabs of the Pfizer vaccine, even though he hasn't had it and doesn’t qualify. Does that concern you?
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, it does. But with 1.586 million vaccinations which also includes registrations on the program, I'm not going to say to you that in every single, 100 per cent of cases, there’s not the opportunity for something to be misentered. And so that's why Services Australia is reviewing the case that you referred to and I’d expect them to be identifying if there are any issues there that need to be addressed, then that they should. But let's not forget, we're close to 1.6 million vaccinations. And one case, as you've stated is, that's concerning, of course it would be to me, and I'd want it thoroughly investigated, which it is.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, WA’s already indicated that they’re not convinced by the home quarantine arrangement. Is it conceivable that some states embrace the home quarantine scheme whilst others don’t?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, of course it is. I mean, when you look at how states have reacted over the course of the last year, many of them had different positions on these issues. I would seek to achieve as much national consistency as we possibly could, but you rightly point out that public health is a matter of state jurisdiction and the Commonwealth is not in a position to direct that in any way, shape or form. And that’s why, you know, while others may be jumping ahead to other decisions, there’s a fairly fundamental decision that would have to be arrived at first and as the vaccination program continues, that if Australians who are properly vaccinated have their two doses are able to travel overseas and return and have an alternative form of quarantine, it would have to be safe, it would have to go through all the medical advice to ensure that the systems are in place, to ensure we kept those protections there so we didn't see the introduction of COVID, then I would hope premiers and chief ministers would, I'm sure, respond to that medical advice and take what practical steps they could. So if at any time into the future, and look, I think, as I said yesterday, I mean that is many months away from being achieved. We still over the next few months will be working through those priority populations of vaccinations. So there was no suggestion in anything I said that that would be something that would be achieved imminently or soon. Just simply, if you want to get to that position, that can take many months and there is a lot of work that you have to do before then to ensure that if you did go down that path you could do it safely and you could do it effectively. And that's what I would hope, but let's get the work done, let's work together and see where we can get to. That's the reason I'm pulling National Cabinet together to ensure that they can work through these issues together and not in isolation because many of the decisions that will ultimately be made will be made in the states.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on international travel, what’s, what is the trigger for reopening borders? What is the threshold you want to see? What are the things that you want to see in Australia and internationally for us to be able to return to international travel?
PRIME MINISTER: Well that is the exact question we put to our medical advisers, that was the exact question I tasked them with when we last met as a National Cabinet. And I think right now I think we need to be clear that the pandemic is raging globally, it’s raging. Now we’ve got somewhere between 600,000 and 800,000 cases a day. It is raging. Here in Australia, that is not happening. And I'm quite certain Australians want to see that continue. I can assure you as Prime Minister I want to see that continue. And so I think we can't get ahead of ourselves here. I think we have to make sure that we can keep living life here in Australia in the midst of this raging pandemic, like we are right now, and if that can be done even better, great. But let's not lose what we’ve achieved, because I can tell you if there are further lockdowns, if there are further restrictions that have to be brought in or are brought in by states and territories because of the introduction of COVID into Australia, then that won't be good for the economy, it won't be good for jobs, it won't be good for people's health. And so what I'm focused on is ensuring that we maintain the trajectory we currently have, that we continue to ensure that Australians can live the life we are living in Australia right now. We are the envy of the world. And so I don't intend to do things that might get in the way of that. So we will be patient in relation to that question. We will get the evidence, we will get the answers, we will consider those and they'll be weighed up, of course, against the many other things that premiers, chief ministers and I as the Prime Minister have to contemplate. But right now, let's ensure that Australia keeps living the way it is and we continue to be successful in managing the virus here in Australia, which we've been very successful at, and we've done that and ensured the jobs have come back. We've done that and ensure our economy has grown. We've done that and ensured that Australians have been protected, and particularly our most vulnerable. That's our mission. We'll get on with it. Thanks.