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Prime Minister Press Conference - Canberra, ACT

  • Written by Scott Morrison

PRIME MINISTER: Afternoon everyone. Last night, we were all Queenslanders, right across the country. The securing of the 2032 games for Australia in Brisbane and south east Queensland, taking in, of course, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast, is a great result for Australia and a great boost at a time when Australians around the country, particularly in southern states, are doing it tough as we, as we battle through this most recent episode we're going through in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. There'll be kids who are turning up at the Valley Pool in Brisbane this morning and all around the country doing their training knowing that they put those laps in, then they too might be able to compete in an Olympic Games held in Australia. And, that is just such a thrilling, thrilling idea, a thrilling notion that kids around the country, whether they're playing hockey or they’re swimmers or whatever they happen to be, that they can look forward to that. It's a great boost for Australian sport. It's a great recognition, I think, of Australia's sporting lifestyle and the commitment that we have had to the Olympic movement from that very first summer games back in 1896 when Edwin Flack went round in the 800 metres. It's very exciting news for Australians. So, to everybody up there in Queensland, it's a win for all Queenslanders, it's a win for all those in south east Queensland, and it's a great win for Australia.


Can I particularly thank all of those who have been so involved in this process over many years. Can I especially thank my own team, Ted O'Brien has been my special envoy from the Sunshine Coast there, working this now for quite a period of time, working with the Queensland Government, working with the Olympic movement and John Coates and all of that team and, of course, all the regional mayors in south east Queensland. And, to Adrian, the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, who's done a terrific job. That's really where the inspiration first came from together with Olympic movement, and we were always pleased to be on board right from the beginning, going back to those early meetings I had with Dr Bach in Osaka first, and then to Tokyo, and much engagements since then. Can I, of course, congratulate the Queensland Government and Premier Palaszczuk and all of those who participated in the presentation yesterday. I was thrilled to be able to join what was a very historic presentation from Australia here in Canberra yesterday, and to get that result I think’s absolutely tremendous.


Of course, it's going to be a big economic boost to Australia. Some $18 billion is the estimate over the course of now and to the games. Those of us who’ve, you know, from Sydney understand how big a deal it was for Sydney to, over 20 years ago. Brisbane, south east Queensland, Australians all have a lot to look forward to as we work forward to those games. So, congratulations to everybody and enjoy that moment. A lot of work to do now.


I stress that the arrangement we have with the Queensland Government is not a 50-50 funding partnership. It's a 50-50 partnership. What that means is the decisions, the planning, the scoping of venues, the procurement, the contracts, the appointments - whether it's to the organising committee, the establishment of the coordination authority - all of that is a shared exercise. It's not just one state running a games and sending us the bill. No, no. What we offered was to partner 100 per cent and work shoulder to shoulder, share in those decisions, share in that planning, share in the contracting and the procurement. And, that will be done hand in hand all the way from here to the 2032 games. Now, that was a key factor in how we were able to secure those games because of not just the level of funding, but the partnership between the Commonwealth Government and the State Government. Now, this is quite different to what occurred in the Sydney Olympics. In the Sydney Olympics, it was run by the New South Wales Government, basically pretty much paid for by the New South Wales Government. The Olympic Coordination Authority, SOCOG, all of that run by the New South Wales Government. This is a completely different model. This is a 50-50 model where the two come together. That's what the Premier and I agreed when we finally finalised our bid, and Ted O'Brien is actually sitting down with the Queensland Government this afternoon. I was talking to him earlier, and we're getting on with it right from now. So, up up Brisbane, up up Australia.


Can I move now to the fact that COVID NSC met again today. We're meeting weekly, have been for a very long time. The National Security Committee operating focused solely on managing the COVID response. And, the vaccination program today hit another historic record - 184,000 vaccines done in a day. That is the equivalent per head of population of 2.36 million doses in the United States a day, or 481,000 in the United Kingdom when you express it as per head of population. So, we are really hitting these marks now. More than a million doses being done in a seven-day period; 184,000 is a new mark for a daily record; 104,000 primary care vaccines administered. So, another record for our GPs. That primary care model is the workhorse of the vaccination program that is delivering those vaccinations and getting those jabs in arms as quickly as we possibly can. And, I note that there’s some six million AstraZeneca vaccines now that have been administered in this country, which is incredibly important, and so we continue to go from strength to strength.


Now, as I said yesterday, I take responsibility for the vaccination program. I also take responsibility for the challenges we’ve had. Obviously, some things within our control, some things that are not. And, I’m, I’m keen to ensure, as we have been over these many months, that we’ve been turning this around. I'm certainly sorry that we haven't been able to achieve the marks that we had hoped for at the beginning of this year. Of course I am. But what's more important is that we're totally focused on ensuring that we've been turning this around. And if I give you some statistics, just to give you an idea of how much things have been turned around in just the last month, if you go back to the 21st of June, until now, we have seen the double dose vaccination rates almost triple in the last month. We've gone from just over five per cent to 15 per cent double dose today. We now have 36 per cent of those over 15 years old who have received a first dose. For those who are over 50. Go back a month. We're at six per cent on double dose. We're now at 20 per cent on double dose in just one month. And for those who are over 70, double doses of just over nine per cent a month ago, and today we're at 33.9 per cent, over a third of those who are aged over 70 have received both doses of the vaccine. And of course, that figure in aged care is well north of 80 per cent. 76 per cent in total now, of those aged, over 70 have received their first dose of the vaccine. And so we will continue to press forward. 


I also note that since I made some remarks about the AZ being available right across the population for those who wish to go and see their GP, I made those comments on the 28th of June. There have been 76,595 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine administered to people under the age of 40 since that day. So if people wish to do that, they should go and see their GP. Of course, there's the informed consent process, but there is, and that's first and second doses. So just under 40,000 first doses and almost and almost 37,000 second doses of AZ. The vaccines work. That was confirmed to us again today by the Chief Medical Officer, whether it's AstraZeneca or whether it's Pfizer or indeed the Moderna vaccines that will be coming soon, later this year. These vaccines work. The vaccines mean that you're less likely to get COVID, you're less likely to transmit COVID, you're less likely to get serious illness from COVID and you're less likely to die from COVID. That's what the vaccines do. And that's what Australians need. To be less likely to get it, to be less likely to transmit it, to be less likely to get a serious illness requiring hospitalisation and less likely to die from it. It is deeply distressing and upsetting to know that the recent fatalities have involved those unvaccinated in the community, those aged over 50 and particularly aged over 70. The vaccine has been available to over 70s for many, many months, and we need to work even harder to get those vaccines, particularly in the most vulnerable in our community, particularly those aged over 70. 


Now, I spoke to the Premier of New South Wales last night at some length, and we're in regular contact, as you'd expect. Was in touch with the Victorian Premier yesterday. We're speaking later today and of course, also in constant contact with the South Australian Premier. And in New South Wales and in particularly in the Sydney area, it is very vital that all those in those vulnerable populations aged over 70 in particular, but I'd say aged over 60, please go and get your AstraZeneca vaccine as soon as you possibly can. The numbers that we're seeing coming out of New South Wales show that the lockdown is keeping a lid on this. And it's going to be some time, though, clearly, from what the Premier has been saying and and the numbers that we're seeing to see these numbers go down to where we'd like to see them go. But the risk that is there means that it is vital, absolutely vital, and I implore not just those themselves who are over 60 to go and do this, have the conversation in your family, talk to your parents, talk to your relatives who are particularly in that age group, have the discussion, offer to book it for them, take them along. It's important that you get your family, particularly the more elderly members of your family, vaccinated. If the COVID break out in New South Wales and in Sydney in particular, were to extend beyond where it is, then that will, of course, put older people in the community at great risk. So that risk is accelerating. And it's very important that you take the opportunity to go and get those AstraZeneca vaccines to ensure you're protected and that your family and your community is protected. 


Now, on the vaccine programme itself, we made some further important decisions today. We will be bringing further forward the pharmacy programme and accelerating that, which was due to be coming in in September with the Moderna vaccines and the MRNA vaccine. That will still occur for the MRNA vaccines. But pharmacy has always been an essential part of the Australian health care system. And earlier this year we did the preregistration process and was able to identify some just shy of 4,000 pharmacies found suitable to participate in the rollout. Right now, there are 118 community pharmacies currently vaccinating around the country, particularly in rural and regional areas where they're supplementing the GPs, where there's a shortage of GPs in particular areas. By the end of this month, there'll be 470. So for every, every pharmacist that's out there doing vaccinations right now, there'll be three times as many by the end of this month. Now, we also were able to identify 1,262 suitable pharmacies from regional, rural and remote areas that will be able to come into the programme and a further 2,668 in metropolitan areas. I note that particularly in the metropolitan areas affected by the latest outbreak in Sydney, in Fairfield, Canterbury, Bankstown and Liverpool, 48 pharmacies will commence offering vaccines in these areas by the start of next week. There's also the Chester Hill GP Respiratory Clinic, which has also been set up. And we've been working to establish that with local doctors there over recent weeks to get that in place. And I particularly want to thank Dr Rifi for working with us and the Commonwealth and state government on those on those initiatives. 


From next Monday, all community pharmacies across the country will be eligible to request participation in administering AstraZeneca vaccinations to the Australian population, and we expect to see them commencing their vaccinations in mid-August. There is a process of the training, the certification that you need to go through. Safety is always important for the administration of vaccines, and that's what will be happening. So from next Monday, the Department of Health will be reaching out and similarly, pharmacies reaching in to get that process going. And that follows what I've already said, which is the tripling of pharmacies by the end of this month. Now, I also want to stress that all remaining GPs who would like to participate in the programme can also do that from Monday. And that is all about increasing the many points of presence. And this is for AstraZeneca, I should stress. This increase in the pharmacy rollout for now is about AstraZeneca, and it's particularly designed to ensure that we can address those more vulnerable populations over 60. 


So it's very important in Sydney, as I said before, but we're facing challenges in Victoria where things are a lot more manageable and also in South Australia. And so far those signs are encouraging, but there's still further time to play out there. But if you're in Perth, if you're in Tassie, if you're in Darwin, if you're up in north Queensland, in Cairns or wherever you happen to be, this is important to ensure that you're protected. The Delta variant is very aggressive. The vaccines work against the Delta variant. That is confirmed to us time and again. But it is important wherever you are in the country, to please go and see that pharmacist when they're available or go and see your GP and make sure that you're getting the AstraZeneca vaccines and similarly, through the state clinics that are providing those AstraZeneca vaccines. And we, of course, encouraging them to do that, that you can go and access them. 


Now, just a couple of final points on payments. Good news from yesterday is that Services Australia, are processing more claims than they're receiving. They processed some just shy of 70,000 claims yesterday on the disaster payment and received some just under 65,000. They're making great progress. I want to thank all the people at Services Australia for the work that they're doing, those both on the phones and those working the online systems, which are proving to be very effective in standing up. In total, $257,238,500 has already gone out the door in New South Wales in response to some 518,399 claims. This is obviously a big demand on the system, but the system is meeting that demand and people are getting access to those payments. [Inaudible] Those call times are coming down. 


And also I'd note that from Friday tomorrow, that's that's when Victorians can go online and I encourage them to go online first. You have a CRN number with myGov, that's the easiest way to do it. That's the fastest way to do it and encourage you to use the online channels. For those who have particular needs, those in CALD communities, things like that, or need to discuss other elements of their support, then the online phone number telephony offer is there for you as well. But please go online. So far, there's been 172,885 calls answered at Services Australia. And yesterday there was around 17 and a half thousand. So I'll keep getting on with that job, we'll keep getting on and our job and happy to take questions. Mark.


JOURNALIST: You're saying people aged under 60 should talk to their GPs about getting AstraZeneca. Is this announcement mean, does it mean, that pharmacists will only be giving the AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged over 60? Or can they now have that conversation with a pharmacist? 


PRIME MINISTER: Well, if they wish to talk to a doctor, they should talk to the doctor. They should talk to their doctor to get that, that information that they need. But that's always up to the individual. Pharmacists will be able to give vaccines right across the population because the AstraZeneca vaccine is approved by the TGA for people above the age of 18. But there is an informed consent process and pharmacists will follow the same informed consent process as a GP would follow. But we have provided, as you know, under Medicare, if people want to go and have a consultation with their GP, they may wish to go and do that, but then they may choose to go and see their pharmacist and get their vaccination that way. Or they may choose to go back to the same GP. It really is up to the individual as to how they wish to do that. Bringing in the pharmacists earlier than, than we'd planned, midyear was always an opportunity for us, means that we can get more more horsepower behind the AstraZeneca vaccines. But particularly, as I think you've probably picked up, I'm concerned about ensuring that we get those, those over 70 in particular getting vaccinated. Now, remember, you've got three quarters have already had their first dose. So by particularly focusing on them, that means we can get to high levels of second dose vaccination amongst our over 70s population. That is also important about how we can get to the next step, because our most vulnerable populations' vaccination rates are very important in that process as well.


JOURNALIST: WA is not making the AstraZeneca vaccine available to under 60s in state run clinics. Just to be clear, is it your preference that under 60s be offered AstraZeneca in the state run clinics or not? 


PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's a decision for the state governments about what they're offering. I want to get AstraZeneca vaccines in people's arms to protect them, their families and their communities. That's what I want. I'm trying to lift the vaccination rate. And the states that have been leaning into vaccination using AstraZeneca have much higher vaccination rates than those who haven't. 


JOURNALIST: Just coming back on that question, just to clarify, can you get informed consent by simply seeing your pharmacist as opposed to seeing the GP? And secondly, can you, can you talk about the two people who sadly died taking AstraZeneca? And would you be worried if one of those people, as I understand it, had, or the family claims, didn't get or wasn't fully informed of the symptoms to look out for. 


PRIME MINISTER: Well, we're all responsible for our own health. And, when it comes to informed consent and getting consent to whatever treatment or procedure you may have or I may have, then I'm ultimately responsible for what people do in their health treatment to me. And, and there has been the opportunity for people to visit their GP to have that consultation. The Government has provided that and funded that, and the informed consent process provides the decision to the individual. That's the sort of country we live in. People make their own decisions about their own health and their own bodies. That's why we don't have mandatory vaccination in relation to the general population here, because people make their own decisions and we encourage people to make those decisions. We make as much information available to them as is possible. The vaccines, like any vaccine, with any vaccine, there are there are risks associated, and I won't go into each of the individual ones because I don't want to particularly draw attention to anyone. But, we all understand that with any vaccine there are risk factors and they’re enumerated and they're made available to people, and people make decisions about that.


JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]


PRIME MINISTER: I’ll let the Chief Medical Officer and others speak to those because they have the details. I've been informed of those cases and there have been other cases and, and they're terribly tragic cases, like all of these are. And, I feel for their families in those situations. And, this is, this is the terrible impact that pandemics have, when you're responding to pandemics. But, I do know that if vaccination rates, as we, as we see, particularly for those who are older, are not where we want them to be, then people's lives are at risk.


JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you said you take responsibility for the vaccine rollout. Are you sorry for the way, I guess, that you haven't reached the mark that you originally hoped for?




JOURNALIST: You were asked a number of times to say sorry yesterday. Why couldn't you say that then? And, can you understand your reluctance in saying that, why people might think that perhaps you aren't taking accountability?


PRIME MINISTER: I think I've been very clear that as Prime Minister I'm responsible for the vaccination program. And, I've also been very clear that that responsibility means fixing and dealing with the problems that we've had. And, that's what we've been doing. And, the vaccination program has turned a, has turned the corner. The numbers that I've relayed to you, I think, are the proof points of that. It demonstrates that. So, I take responsibility for the things that haven't gone as well as we'd liked, and I take responsibility for the things that have worked, as well. And, no country gets everything right. No Prime Minister gets everything right, as well. And, so my job is to keep getting on with the job.


JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can you clarify, just with AstraZeneca - sorry I know this is terrible …


PRIME MINISTER: I know, I’m listening hard.


JOURNALIST: I’m not a shouter, I’m going as hard as I can. Can you clarify with AstraZeneca, the Commonwealth has indemnified GPs?


PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, they've indemnified, the same applies to pharmacists, the indemnity.


JOURNALIST: So, pharmacists?




JOURNALIST: What about the state vaccination clinics? Because, nurses give those injections in those …


PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, that's, that's covered by states.


JOURNALIST: Sorry, sorry …


PRIME MINISTER: That’s covered by the states.


JOURNALIST: By the states?




JOURNALIST: So, they have their own scheme?


PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, you have to address that to the states.


JOURNALIST: Just on the movement on the ATAGI board, does the removal of Chris Blythe and Allen Cheng have anything to do with this changing advice on AstraZeneca? And, are you happy with their performance?


PRIME MINISTER: Oh, look, I completely respect the advice of ATAGI. That's why we’ve followed the advice of ATAGI. It's my job as Prime Minister not just to simply accept advice uncritically. Whether it's sitting in Cabinet meetings or, or in other forums, of course, I challenge the advice that I receive. I ask questions. I drill into it. You would expect me to do that. I think Australians would not expect me to just take this advice simply on the face of it. We must interrogate it. Leaders should do that. Ministers should do that. That has always been my approach, whether as a Minister and as a Prime Minister, and there are plenty of officials who work in this town who know that very, very well. But, I respect them all. I respect the job they do and I respect the way they engage with me on it. And, what I'm simply have been raising in relation to the ATAGI advice is that when it was provided initially and subsequently, in relation to those over 60, is that when that advice was provided they said it was based on the balance of risk of people getting COVID. Now, my simple point is that the balance of risk has shifted and therefore, based on the balance of that risk shifting, what, if any, is the change in the advice that ATAGI would provide. Because, I'm very concerned, very concerned that, of course, the advice that had come previously has caused some hesitation amongst people, particularly older people. Those people are now at risk, in south western Sydney in particular, but more broadly across Sydney, and I need AstraZeneca vaccines in their arms to protect them and their lives. And, no, it had nothing to do with any of those things, they’re completely unrelated. And, I thank them very much for their service and for their professionalism and, but asking questions of advisers is not disrespecting them. It's my job.


JOURNALIST: Just clarifying where you’re at now on this advice then, because the ATAGI advice was to consult a GP. Now, people can skip that and go to a pharmacist. Is this you saying you're no longer totally following that advice? 




JOURNALIST: And, will pharmacists be able to refuse simply on the basis they think it's not safe for under 60s, as a lot of GPs have been doing to people, or will people be able to say, ‘No, I want the vaccine,’ to a pharmacist?


PRIME MINISTER: No one is forced to do anything in this country when it comes to this, and nor am I seeking to. And, I'm acting completely in accordance with the medical advice that has been provided. And, and there should be no suggestion that the Government is doing otherwise. People will make their own decisions. If they are legally able to go and get a vaccine and someone is legally able to provide that vaccine, and they can provide informed consent to that end, well, that is a matter between that pharmacist and that individual. What the Government has done is to support that ATAGI advice by making available, through the Medicare system, by paying for them to be able to go and have that consultant consultation with a GP. But, what we each do with our own health is our responsibility. And, how we seek to look after our own health is about decisions that we individually have to make. And, we've facilitated people being able to get the information and advice that they need in order to make their own decisions.


JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on the Delta strain in New South Wales, New South Wales Health have hit every contact tracing target according to the national guidelines, in terms of the time between testing, they’re exceeding testing that, across the country. Yet, the Delta strain is still escaping them. They're not able to suppress it.




JOURNALIST: The transmission is occurring in places like supermarkets and pharmacies where people obviously have to continue to go to.




JOURNALIST: Do we need to rethink how we deal with this Delta strain, if you have the gold standard contact tracers not being able to bring those numbers down?


PRIME MINISTER: Well, that was exactly the point I was making yesterday, exactly the point. The Delta strain is proving a much tougher combatant than the Alpha strain and other strains of COVID-19. And, that's why right now, whether it's what they're doing in South Australia or in Victoria or what's been done in New South Wales, each of those jurisdictions - and I'm in constant contact with all of them, and we'll discuss this more tomorrow at National Cabinet - are looking to ways that we can be most effective in combating the Delta strain. Can I tell you, there's not a country in the world that’s cracked it, not a country in the world that has been able to be successful so far in suppressing the Delta strain. And, so, it's a big challenge for all of us around the world. And, that's the challenge that we have now and to work together to find the most effective ways to be able to suppress this while we remain in this suppression phase. And, so, that's why it's important, because of the risks that you highlight. That's why it's so important that people, particularly older people, go and get that AstraZeneca vaccine. 


JOURNALIST: On the economic impact, the Treasurer said this morning, probably a contracted quarter for September. And, he said it’s costing the economy now $300 million a day, the current situation. A couple of questions. How long is that sort of drain sustainable? And, have you as a Government given any thought to producing a Budget Statement between now and MYEFO, just to update, you know, the impacts that this is obviously going to have?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, no, there's no suggestion at this point from Treasury that that would be required between now and MYEFO. It is our sincere hope that we would see the lockdowns in, particularly in Victoria and in South Australia, be brief ones. And, I'm sure that's the view of all Victorians and South Australians as well. And, that the, the events in Sydney, in particular, but as we now see, has moved into some regional locations. That's obviously far more serious. New South Wales is our biggest economy and, of the state economies. And, we know that last year, the fact that New South Wales didn't descend into those lockdowns that we saw in other places, that was a, that carried in many respects the national economy, that New South Wales didn't fall victim to this last year. And, that is a great credit to the work that was done in New South Wales last year, that they were able to avoid those outcomes, both for people who live in New South Wales and indeed the national economy. That was a very positive outcome. So, yep, the Treasurer set out what those, what those current impacts are. I made it very clear yesterday that that's going to have a significant impact on the, on the September quarter results. But, all of the, all of the economic advice and all of the business advice that I'm getting is that lockdowns come off, the businesses come back, people go back to work, as we demonstrated - a million people back into work, a million people back into work as the economy roared back last time. And, so, that gives me every confidence that we just hold these businesses through over the course of this lockdown and we’ll be able to do that again. And, I think that's very important. But, saving those lives - 30,000 lives saved in this country. If we'd experienced the same rate of fatality in countries just like Australia that we've seen in Europe and overseas, 30,000 more Australians would be dead right now. Now, we've avoided that and we're going to keep doing everything we can to avoid that. But, COVID is a tough customer. It keeps changing. We've got to keep changing with it. And, and these results that we've seen today of another record day of vaccinations, I think, just gives us hope going forward. But, it was really great to see that result in Queensland last night. Thanks very much.


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