PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon everyone. Well, it's another V Day for Australia - another vaccination day. The AstraZeneca vaccine has been administered in South Australia. It will be rolling out amongst other states over the course of the next few days. The vaccination program is critical, absolutely critical, to the way that Australia continues to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and, indeed, the COVID-19 recession.
As I said yesterday, Australia is leading the world out of the COVID-19 pandemic and out of the COVID-19 recession. We saw that with the national accounts figures that were released earlier this week, which puts Australia in the top group of nations. In fact, of advanced economies, right at the top in terms of how we're coming out of the COVID-19 recession. But, equally as we've known for many months, Australia has also, from a health perspective, been very successful in suppressing the virus here in Australia, particularly when compared to other countries around the world. Australia is in a very unique position, it's a position all Australians have worked hard to achieve, to ensure that we are in the situation we are in today.
National Cabinet has played a key role in all of these achievements, in all of these successes. And National Cabinet met again today, and for what was once again a very constructive meeting. At all times in the National Cabinet, what we've sought to do is to chart the way forward. Of course, we come up against obstacles, we come up against issues that we have to deal with. There's been plenty of surprises too along the way, which have required responses at the time. But at all times what we seek to try and do is ensure we're doing this on as nationally a consistent basis as possible - not always achieved - but we also understand the principles that should drive how we open up. Now, the good news is that we are opening up. We are far more open than we were. We want to stay open, though. That's the key to the confidence and the economic recovery that we're seeing coming out of the COVID-19 recession. And so today it was agreed, on the work that we commenced a month ago, that the Director-Generals of all the Premiers' departments and the Secretaries of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet will continue to do the work to inform National Cabinet on how the risks are changing and the data that is needed to be provided to Premiers and myself, and Chief Ministers, to ensure the decisions we're making about whatever future further opening-up and removing of restrictions is done in a consistent way that looks not just at the health issues that are relevant but, of course, the impacts that are had more widespread on the economy. Now, the reason there is more opportunity to do that now, particularly when it comes to the economy, is because of the improvements we're seeing with the rollout of the vaccine, the improvements we're seeing in terms of the health outcomes right across the country. That gives us further opportunity to give greater certainty and greater confidence to business, and Australians all around the country, so they can return to as much of the normal life as they possibly can.
We also received an update on the vaccination rollout today. And I'm going to ask Professor Murphy, who's joining us today, to give us his update on those programs. You would have already heard today from Minister Hunt about the issues that were raised earlier today. That program is on track. It's a significant program of a scale that we have not seen in this country before. And everybody is working together to ensure that we can deliver those vaccines all around the country. Four distribution plans for the vaccines, the progress that we're making with aged care. The enabling regulation, which is important to support pharmacists to be able to play their role in the vaccination program - all addressed today.
Of course, the Chief Medical Officer has always updated us on the health situation around the country, and some of the current issues. On Pacific workers, we have been able to put in place a pre-travel quarantine pilot. Now, only South Australia at this point has indicated they're keen to join in with that program, but other states are considering it. This is the situation where other countries, such as Vanuatu and Fiji, where they do actually run quarantine programs, that there will be an opportunity to quarantine post-travellers as part of the seasonal worker program. And that is something that's been particularly worked through with the Chief Medical Officer, and I want to thank him and also DFAT for the work they've done working with those jurisdictions.
Today I can also announce that the Commonwealth is entering into an agreement with the Northern Territory Government to further expand our Howard Springs national resilience quarantine facility to 2,000, up from 850. And that will be done over the next few months, and that is an important addition to the capacity of those quarantine facilities, to receive those return chartered flights that Australia has been putting in place now for many, many months. That is where people will quarantine.
The other arrival caps remain as we had them before. I want to thank New South Wales in particular, who are taking more than 3,000 a week. Both Western Australia and Queensland are also now back over a thousand per week, and South Australia at 530. And I'm looking forward soon to a decision from the Victorian Government, once they're in a position to advise us of when they'll be also in a position to take flights again.
So, all in all, a rather routine meeting of the National Cabinet today. Considering the information before us, setting the chart, charting the way forward in terms of how we can keep Australia open and seek to do that on a far more consistent and predictable basis, because that lies at the heart of our economic recovery as well.
So, with that, I'll hand you over to the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Kelly, and then I'll hand you over to Professor Murphy. Thank you.
PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Thank you, PM. So, a couple of slides up on the screen. Maybe go through to the next slide. So, we have a visual representation of where we're at in terms of the epidemic here in Australia. And so we're used to hearing the total numbers since the beginning of the pandemic, when we had our first cases at the end of January last year. So, we're up over 29,000 cases, 909 Australians have lost their lives. But I think it's time now, as we go into 2021, and as the PM has mentioned, looking at the way we chart our way out of this pandemic, both from the health and the economic perspective, that we should start thinking about what's happened this year rather than the whole of the pandemic.
So, since the 1st of January, there's been 600 cases of COVID-19 in Australia, and only 104 of those have been locally acquired. So, the vast majority are overseas cases. In fact, in the last week, of the 60 cases we've had, they've all been overseas-acquired cases, similar to at the very start of the pandemic. We've had less, throughout the whole of this year to date, we've had less than 20 people in hospital. Less than- one or less people in ICU, and zero deaths. Contrast that with the rest of the world, let's go to the next slide, thanks.
There is increasing cases still in many parts of the world. There are some very encouraging signs in some - in Europe and North America, where cases have started to decrease. Hospitalisations have started to decrease. And deaths have started to decrease. But, even so, year to date - so, from 1 January to today - over 33 million cases in the world. And over 765,000 deaths. My sister lives in Italy. They're at the moment having 18,000 cases a day. And around 300 deaths in Italy.
So, of course, we're in an excellent place here in Australia. We continue to look at the rest of the world, particularly the emergence of variants of concern, and also what is happening in the vaccine rollout and what effect that's having on hospitalisations. And Professor Murphy will talk about that shortly. But that's something we need to keep in mind as we go through this year. What is it about the vaccine rollout, when we get to certain levels of vaccination around the country, that we can start to look at our public health baselines and also reactions to outbreaks as they occur - and they may well occur as we go through, particularly into winter. And that's the information that myself and my colleagues on the Australian Health Protection Committee will be giving in to that process that the Prime Minister has outlined already.
So, I'll pass over to Dr Murphy now to talk about the vaccine rollout.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Brendan.
PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: Thanks, PM. So, this huge once-in-a-generation logistical challenge of the vaccine rollout is going well. We're just coming to the end of Week 2. We're ramping up. We started carefully and progressively across Australia, as we can do because we are in such a good place, as my colleague has already outlined. We don't have a burning platform. We have time to do this properly and carefully.
Just to remind you, we have two very, very good vaccines. A year ago, we wouldn't have dreamt that we could have two vaccines that are so good. And it's important to emphasise that all of the data, particularly coming out of the UK and other places, is showing that these two vaccines are both equally excellent, particularly in all age groups. So, we know we've got two vaccines, we've got the Pfizer vaccine - which we've now had two weeks of experience with - and we've had our first AstraZeneca vaccinations today. We've got 300,000 doses of AstraZeneca from international sources - that is being rolled out now and will start up in every state next week. And we'll also be starting up vaccinating some aged care workers. But the really, really exciting thing is that in the week beginning the 22nd of March we will start to release the onshore supply of AstraZeneca vaccine. A million doses-plus a week, which gives us the capacity to really ramp up and broadly vaccinate our population as quickly as possible.
The value of having onshore production cannot be underestimated. Every country in the world is depending on international supplies. They're seeing them come slowly. We have been very lucky with Pfizer. They have kept their supply going. But it's relatively small volumes, and that will keep going throughout the rest of this year, and that will be a very valuable vaccine. But we'll get a lot more of the AstraZeneca vaccine. That's the one I'm going to have, and I'm really looking forward to it. Next slide.
This is the sort of reporting that we discussed at National Cabinet today, that we will start to put out, initially weekly and then progressively daily. The data on this slide still have to be verified, but they're pretty indicative of our situation as of the end of the day yesterday. We've seen well over 70,000 vaccinations. 241 residential aged care facilities and disability care facilities have been vaccinated. With well over 20,000 residents. They're protected with their first dose now - that is a fantastic thing. And the states and territories have all been ramping up progressively with their Pfizer clinics. Many of them have nearly completed, or have completed, those quarantine and border workers who are protecting us in the quarantine hubs. They're the people at highest risk because they're the ones who are in contact with the only people in Australia at the moment who have COVID - the returned travellers. Also in phase 1A, as you all know the phases now, we have been vaccinating those front-line healthcare workers, emergency department workers, ICU staff, and the like. With the AstraZeneca doses being rolled out by the states and territories and by the Commonwealth next week, we will be starting to vaccinate a broader range of healthcare workers. And then, in that week beginning 22 March, between 22-29 March, we will start to vaccinate the more vulnerable people in our general population - the older Australians, the over-80s and the over-70s. And that is when we will be rolling out to general practices, progressively over the course of a month we'll be rolling out to over 4,600 general practices in Australia, where people can go to get their vaccines as close to their home as possible.
This is again a huge logistical exercise and I want to pay absolute credit to the medical bodies who have worked with us closely, the states and territories who have worked with us, our logistics providers who will be delivering vaccines to so many sites across the country.
This is a very exciting time. We're on track, we're doing well, and we're going to keep ramping up and get this community vaccinated as soon as we can. Thanks, PM.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. Now, because I'm joined by Professors Murphy and Kelly today, I would be grateful if we can deal with matters that relate to their responsibilities and the National Cabinet, then happy to move to other matters. And at that time I will ask Professors Kelly and Murphy to leave us.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you blame the Italian authorities, blocking the supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia? Given obviously what’s just been laid out in terms of how bad the situation is there?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, they're certainly responsible for exercising the veto right they had through the EU process about those supplies coming to Australia. But the point about that is that we'd always anticipated that these sorts of problems could arise. And that's why we've done a number of things, the most significant of which is to ensure that we have our own domestically produced vaccine. And we're one of few countries that have done that. That means that has given us sovereignty over our vaccination program, which I think is incredibly important. I mean, I'm in regular contact with European leaders. As Professor Kelly said, in Italy people are dying at the rate of 300 a day. And so I can certainly understand the high level of anxiety that would exist in Italy and in many countries across Europe, as is regularly conveyed to me. And so they have some real difficulties there. They are in an unbridled crisis situation. That is not the situation in Australia. But, nevertheless, we have been able to secure our supplies, and additional supplies for importation, both with Pfizer and AstraZeneca, which means we can continue the rollout of our program. So, I want to assure Australians that we've been able to secure those vaccines. This particular shipment was not one we'd counted on for the rollout, and so we will continue unabated.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, did you ask Daniel Andrews to resume hotel quarantine, and do you think Victoria's policy is putting an unfair burden on other states?
PRIME MINISTER: Yes, I did. And we have regularly made that request and the Premier advised me today that he hopes to soon be able to provide a response to that. He wasn't in a position to be able to do that today. Jane Halton, who did the work at our request for the quarantine review for the National Cabinet, who has recently been in Victoria and observed the practices they have firsthand. And she's given a positive report about that. And so we look forward to Victoria resuming that as soon as possible, because that will obviously add to the ability to bring Australians home. I mean, the second-highest number of Australians on that list are from Victoria, over 10,000 Victorians are wanting to come home. So, I'm sure they would welcome their home state receiving those flights as soon as possible.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister [inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER: I'll go here, then there.
JOURNALIST: When will we see that increase in capacity at Howard Springs go up?
PRIME MINISTER: Look, we anticipate - we're currently at around 850. And there are wet season issues that we're currently dealing with. And so we would expect that to occur around April/May.
JOURNALIST: Is there any reason for the delay, why that's taking between now and April and May?
PRIME MINISTER: It's a ramp-up of workforce - that's a critical issue. But there's also wet season issues as well.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, given the Northern Territory are more than willing to double their capacity at that Howard Springs facility, was there any thought given to other states increasing their capacity? Or changing where their locations will be, I know Queensland’s previously spoken about going regional?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, no, the hotel quarantine arrangements have always worked most effectively where they're close to the major airports where the flights are coming. And I think this is a very important point. The flights go to where they're designated to go. Australia can't just redirect flights, commercial flights, of airlines to go to other ports where they don't have the ground crew and the other supports that go to supporting the aviation industry. Often times that includes the freight and other things that are in the belly of the plane itself. And so it's not just a matter of a plane flying somewhere else. The Howard Springs facility was set up on the recommendation of Jane Halton's review, and we acted on that recommendation, and that was to support the supplementary quarantine capacity that was needed by our charter flights, which the Australian Government is putting on, where we can direct those things. And so that gives us greater capacity to respond to that. We're happy to look at other issues, but we need firm, costed proposals for that, and I have no such firm, costed proposals.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, earlier this week, in New South Wales, the Health Minister and also the Premier criticised the Federal Government for not releasing data fast enough in relation to the aged care facilities that were getting vaccinated. Are you in talks with New South Wales about increasing that flow of information?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we have. I stress, though, this - the aged care vaccinations are run by the Federal Government. They're not run by the state government. But we're happy to share the information about how the federal program is rolling out into those aged care facilities. And today not only did all the states and territories receive a full list of all the facilities that have been visited, but they also received an indicative planning list for next week's as well. So, look, that's part of the flow of information in the early stages of the vaccine rollout. I mean, one of the points that Professor Murphy was just saying, you've seen up there the indicative weekly report that we've provided. We agreed that that should be done on a Monday, with the data to the seven days to the end of the Sunday, of the previous day. And we want to take that to a daily level, ultimately. But at this stage, while the data flows are still being confirmed between the states and the territories and the Commonwealth, then we're confident about that weekly picture. And we hope to move fairly quickly to daily. I think those daily reports will give Australians a lot of confidence about the success of the rollout.
JOURNALIST: The network of 4,600 GPs, is that sufficient? Will you need state health authorities to shoulder some burden of which the Premier here obviously is very keen to offer those services?
PRIME MINISTER: Brendan?
PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: Sure. So, the Premier here is obviously very keen to roll out as many GP practices as possible. We have planned around the 4,600 on the basis of the availability of sufficient dose to be able to give them at least 50 doses a week to deliver. You really can't run a vaccination service with less than that. If we get more vaccine supplies, which we are working with, working with CSL to see whether we can get more production, we still, as the Prime Minister said, are working to get more international supplies, we may well be having additional vaccination sites. And in Phase 2 some community pharmacies will also come on board. But the states and territories are running AstraZeneca vaccination clinics. They'll focus mainly on their healthcare workers, the broader range initially. But they will also provide some community vaccination. It's a partnership between the Commonwealth and the states. We're all in this together.
PRIME MINISTER: And I should stress too, the blocks it moves in, I mean, in the early phases, you're dealing with hotel quarantine workers, and they're working through those. You're dealing with vulnerable people in aged care. Aged care workers. When you get to the balance of the population, which is, you know, people sitting in this room, for example, then there will be, in a completely different phase where others will be involved in that process and can support it. But one of the issues that I've raised is this is not the same as doing flu vaccinations, and there's often a comparison made, I think, in the analysis of this. It's not the same thing. It is a very different exercise. And that's why the Commonwealth has taken such a direct role in this. And the strategy that was formulated for the rollout and agreed last year is the one that we're proceeding with.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, have you talked to your EU counterparts about getting that shipment that’s been block released? Or have you had any luck on that front?
PRIME MINISTER: I've had quite a few conversations, as has the Foreign Minister and Health Minister and others in engaging with our EU counterparts on these matters over some time.
JOURNALIST: There’s been a handful of new cases diagnosed in Cairns overnight in hotel quarantine. They've all been linked back to a copper mine in PNG, are you confident with the border situation between PNG and the Torres Strait?
PRIME MINISTER: We discussed this today. And Border Force, in particular, has a very significant presence in that part of Australia. As you'd expect them to. It's actually the closest border we have to land of anywhere around Australia. That particular case, I might ask Professor Kelly to comment on, because he's close to the details of it. But can I assure you, as we were able to do with the Premier today, that our focus on those border controls is very strong.
JOURNALIST: So, there's no plan to up those border measures or change them?
PRIME MINISTER: If that is necessary, then that will be done.
JOURNALIST: Premier Berejiklian-
PRIME MINISTER: Sorry, I will just go to Brendan.
PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: Just on that matter, so I had a very detailed discussion with Jeannette Young, my counterpart in Queensland, yesterday, about the Torres Strait. It's been a point of concern for quite some time throughout this pandemic, and what's happening in PNG. So, we're of course assisting PNG on the ground through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in terms of the Torres Strait itself that's a partnership with the Queensland Government in relation to vaccination for example, and the ABF presence there, as the Prime Minister has said has been upgraded over time. But that would be a key component of their AstraZeneca rollout to the Torres Strait, and we're working through with the elders of those areas to make sure that happens.
JOURNALIST: On international borders generally, it was Premier Berejiklian's intention to raise that today, in terms of moving to discussions around reopening. Did she do so? And is there any agreement with her position?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, there's no disagreement amongst any of the Premiers or the Chief Ministers about the closure of international borders and the current arrangements we have for that, which extends out to the end of June. That is a unanimous position. The discussion we had today about how we get open, stay open, is really about how we inform those choices in response to any events that may occur along the way. What I want to see - and I know the New South Wales Premier wants to see - is that we fully realise the capability of our national economy, reconnecting all of our states and territories. And there's been a lot of progress done on that in the last few months. We've seen more of the Commonwealth open up over these last few months, and we want to see that stay that way, and not fall back. And there is every reason to have the confidence of that as the vaccination program continues, as the success right across the country of the quarantine program continues. I mean, even in the very serious cases that you've just mentioned up in, involving the mine, I mean, that's been contained within the quarantine. And that has largely been the experience of Australia throughout the entire pandemic. And when you think about the hundreds of thousands of people who have gone through hotel quarantine, and the very small number of cases that it's failed to contain, that is a success rate that any other country in the world would swap places for in a heartbeat. So, we share that view about wanting to open up. But at this stage, opening up to international arrivals at that scale is not considered safe or wise.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can we ask some questions now on other matters?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm happy to get to those. But I'm going to deal with the issues of the National Cabinet first.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, is there any update on the Toowoomba quarantine proposal?
PRIME MINISTER: No, I still don't have one. That's the update I have. I need a detailed, costed proposal that the Commonwealth could consider. There's been a lot of going backwards and forwards, but as yet the Commonwealth doesn't have a costed proposal that we could actually consider.
JOURNALIST: Just on the overseas shipments, we're meant to be getting more than 3 million doses from overseas. Are we still relying on those at all? Or are we completely not needing them?
PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: So, we have those 300,000, which will really take us through at our current rate. We plan to use them until the CSL local production comes. We are still working, and still expect to get those other 3.8 million, and we may yet get more in coming weeks. And if we get some more in coming weeks, we will obviously ramp up the pre-local production release phase of the AstraZeneca. So, we can scale our vaccination program according to what we have at the moment. At the moment, we've deployed 200,000 doses right throughout the country to states and territories, and they're about to stand up clinic next week. If we get more, they can do more. So, it's all scalable and we've got the time to do it.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the ripping-up of hotel quarantine invoices by some states - Queensland, Western Australia - what do you make of that in terms of [inaudible]?
PRIME MINISTER: It's a matter for them. That's what I make of that. It's not a matter for the Commonwealth, it's a matter for the states to resolve those matters between themselves.
JOURNALIST: We're all in this together, aren't we?
PRIME MINISTER: If they've got outstanding invoices between states, I'm sure they can work that out. I don’t think they need my help to do that.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister just on international borders, is there any update on foreign students? Is that something that we’re any closer to seeing?
PRIME MINISTER: No, there's no change on that front. It would be good if we could get to that point, but at this stage we're not at that point. The opening of international borders, we don't think is wise at this time, and for the period that we've suggested, and that's totally consistent with the medical advice. And we've always been happy to work with the international education sector if they want to put in place supplementary self-funded quarantine arrangements and flight arrangements. That has always been there for the international education industry, the large universities and others to go down that path. They haven't chosen to go down that path. Our focus has remained on the responsibilities we have as a Commonwealth.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, notwithstanding our onshore vaccine capacity, are you worried about vaccine nationalism going forward? And is the incident in Italy overnight an example of vaccine nationalism?
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, look, vaccination nationalism or protectionism is a matter that has been regularly raised in international forums that I have been involved with. It's a matter I discussed with Ursula Von der Leyen when I discussed this particular matter. It's fair to say the European Union has seen a large amount of vaccines leave the European Union, so it would be unfair to suggest that they've engaged in a universal practice of that nature. But, obviously, you know, it's important that contracts are honoured. It's important that the vaccines not only reach across Europe and North America, but particularly in the developed world as well. I have been so impressed by the way that the Pacific Islands nations have performed during this pandemic, keeping their citizens safe. Up in Papua New Guinea now, it's a more distressing situation. It has deteriorated somewhat. But, frankly the fact they have been able to maintain the position they have for so long is a great credit to Prime Minister Marape and the work that they've done there. So, yes, it is a real issue. It is a matter that I think particularly advanced countries have to be quite vigilant about, and it's certainly a matter that I've raised very consistently, particularly for access for vaccines to those in the Pacific Islands family, and South-East Asia.
JOURNALIST: Professor Murphy, can you give an outline of what role specifically has it been finalised, what role the military will play in the vaccine rollout, and how many medical professionals or nurses they have on hand to assist in that role?
PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: So, it's a relatively minor role. There's a team of about 60 ADF personnel who are clinically trained, mostly nurses and paramedic-style-trained people. They were standing up teams anyway to vaccinate the Defence Forces, and what we've done is ask them to stand up a bit earlier to help with the aged care rollout, as you've obviously been aware. Aged care rollout has been a bit more complex than we thought, and we need to supplement it, particularly in those parts of the country where sending a contracted team might be difficult. The ADF have the capacity to get anywhere and do anything, so it's a relatively small contribution, it's not taking any health professionals away from any state and territory health service. It's not using Reservists. It's just the Defence Force, as they have done throughout this pandemic, stepping up to help.
PRIME MINISTER: Okay. Well, on that note, thank you, Brendan, and thank you, Paul. Happy to deal with other matters.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, now that the family of the woman in Adelaide that made very serious allegations against the Attorney-General has called for what they described as any inquiry, whether that's a coronial inquest or some form of independent inquiry, will you support them in that?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, let's be clear. Yesterday, when I responded to this question, I was referring to an inquiry that I was being asked to put in place. The issue as to whether there is a coronial inquiry in South Australia is entirely a matter for the South Australian Coroner. And if they chose to go ahead with that, of course, I would welcome that. But it would be highly inappropriate for me as Prime Minister, or any other politician, to interfere or intervene in a decision that a coroner should properly make about those issues.
JOURNALIST: And if they do hold a coronial inquest in South Australia, do you think that the Attorney-General should be given the opportunity to give evidence in person, sworn evidence, to be able to help put his record on the official agenda and, you know, to defend his own good name?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, the coronial inquiry would be into the rather terrible events with the death by suicide of the woman at the centre of the inquest. And if the coroner sought that, then I have no doubt that the Attorney-General would cooperate with any coronial process.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you a question about the rule of law, which is obviously very important. There's lots of statistics on sex assault that tell us, that say, in New South Wales, 15,000 women will report to the police with an allegation of sexual assault, a handful of those get to court. And 3% of those actually end in conviction. Now, are 97% of those 15,000 women liars or fabulists, or is there something else going on?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's an important question, Sam, and it's one that just doesn't affect Commonwealth jurisdictions. In fact, it is predominantly a responsibility of state jurisdictions for the administration of law and order in relation to criminal matters, particularly criminal matters such as this. But the rule of law is the essential process by which all Australians are subject to. And there is an equality before the law as well. Yesterday, I spoke about the presumption of innocence, the rules of evidence, the process of courts. The equality of the law is also important. You and I face the same law. We're subject to the same processes under that law. There's not one set of processes for one Australian and another set of processes for another. So, we're all subject to that. And those laws need to be administered as effectively and as professionally and competently as possible, and that's what we would hope in all of our jurisdictions. And I have to say in Australia - in Australia - I think our rule of law stands up to the assessment of many other countries. And that's an important thing for us to preserve. And we must preserve it now. We must preserve it now.
JOURNALIST: And in relation to the Defence Minister calling Brittany Higgins - I understand she called Brittany Higgins - perhaps you can explain what she's referring to - a "lying cow", why are there no consequences ever for your Ministers? If you can get away with saying that without any consequences, is there anything that you would ask a Minister to resign over? And she said in a statement today that "our lawyers are looking after it". Are taxpayers paying for her lawyers? Are taxpayers going to fund any potential recompense to Brittany Higgins?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'll come back to you on the latter matter. But in relation to the former, Minister Reynolds has offered an apology, as she should and as I said yesterday. And I didn't find that acceptable, the comments that were made within her office at that time. They weren't public statements, of course. These were comments made in a, not in a public space - that doesn't excuse them.
JOURNALIST: But they were about Brittany Higgins weren’t they?
PRIME MINISTER: And it was relating- as I referred in my answers yesterday, Sam, you'll be familiar with those - about what they related to.
JOURNALIST: So was she talking about Brittany Higgins or someone else?
PRIME MINISTER: She was not talking about the allegations of sexual assault, no, she wasn't talking about that.
JOURNALIST: But she was talking about Brittany Higgins?
PRIME MINISTER: Look, I've already addressed that matter, Sam.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister can you guarantee that Linda Reynolds will still be the Defence Minister when you call the next election?
PRIME MINISTER: Linda Reynolds is returning. She's currently on leave and will return to her duties when her leave is finished.
JOURNALIST: Will she still be the Minister?
PRIME MINISTER: She maintains my confidence.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on that, I guess you've made comparisons between the, you know, what happens in Parliament and what happens in the private sector. If someone in the private sector called a former employee a "lying cow", they would be fired?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, you must have worked in a lot of different places to me in the private sector. I don't know how that comment would…
JOURNALIST: To Sam's point...
PRIME MINISTER: I mean I can only reflect on some of the things I hear about media rooms and the way they talk about people in those places. And if that were the case, you'd have to clear the whole place, I suspect.
JOURNALIST: But to Sam's point, what would someone need to do to get...?
PRIME MINISTER: This was a comment made not in a public place. This was a comment made during a period which was very traumatic and very stressful. The Minister deeply regrets saying these things and has offered an apology, as she should.
JOURNALIST: Does it concern you, then, that there's leaks coming out of the Defence Minister's office?
PRIME MINISTER: No. I think on this matter it was a very traumatic week. These events are very unfortunate. And the Minister has apologised, as she should.
JOURNALIST: Have you asked the Minister to apologise to Brittany Higgins?
PRIME MINISTER: I think she understood from my comments yesterday and my discussions yesterday that I did not support those comments in any way, shape or form. And I'm pleased that she's taken her decision to apologise.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you ruled out an independent inquiry into historic sexual assault allegations against Christian Porter. But how can you move on as a leader and a Government when these allegations remain untested and unresolved? Don't you need a circuit breaker?
PRIME MINISTER: No, I don't accept this proposition that any Australian should be subject to a rule of law that is different to anyone else. There is the presumption of innocence. I believe in the presumption of innocence. That process, as the police have said, has concluded. And given that process has concluded, the presumption of innocence stands. And so we should be able to move on from that. There is no alternative process. There is no alternative rule of law that should apply to one Australian and not to another. And the suggestion that there should be, I think, can go to undermining the very principles of the rule of law in this country. We are governed by that rule, not the rule of the mob or anybody else.
JOURNALIST: On foreign policy, there's reports in the United States that President Biden has called for a meeting of leaders of the Quad. Have you received that invite? How important is that alliance, given the circumstances globally at the moment?
PRIME MINISTER: This is one of the first things President Biden and I discussed when we spoke some weeks ago. And I spoke to Vice-President Harris just this past week. The Quad is very central to the United States and our thinking about the region, and looking at the Indo-Pacific also through the prism of our ASEAN partners and their vision of the Indo-Pacific. So, yes, the Quad is very central, I think, to our ongoing arrangements. The President and indeed, the Secretary of State, have made clear that their re-engagement in multilateral organisations, particularly in the Indo-Pacific, is key to building stability and peace in the Indo-Pacific. We share that view. We encourage that view. And we strongly welcome that view. And so I am looking forward to that first gathering of the Quad leaders. It will be the first ever such gathering. I have already had bilateral discussions about this with Narendra Modi and Yoshihide Suga, the Prime Minister of Japan, and of course the Prime Minister of India. And of course we’re looking forward to those discussions and follow-up face-to-face meetings as well. This will become a feature of Indo-Pacific engagement. But it's not going to be a big bureaucracy with a big secretariat and those sorts of things. It will be four leaders, four countries, working together constructively for the peace, prosperity and stability of the Indo-Pacific, which is good for everyone in the Indo-Pacific. It's particularly good for our ASEAN friends, and those throughout the South-West Pacific, to ensure that they can continue with their own sovereignty and their own certainty for their own futures.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, how confident are you that Christian Porter and Linda Reynolds will return from sick leave into your Cabinet?
PRIME MINISTER: I'm very confident. Thank you.