Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt today announced a $1.7 billion agreement for the supply and production of more than 80 million vaccine doses.
“Australia needs some hope today,” Morrison said when announcing the agreement at a Canberra press conference.
Morrison described as “crushing news” yesterday’s announcement in Victoria of an extension to the Stage 4 lockdown and curfew. “The plan that was outlined yesterday, I hope, is a worst-case scenario,” he said. “The mental health of Victorians will be sorely tested.”
Morrison and Hunt called for improvement to Victoria’s testing and tracing procedures.
Watch Morrison’s press conference (45m):
Listen to the the press conference (45m):
Transcript of press conference with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Health Minister Greg Hunt and Health Department Secretary Brendan Murphy.
PRIME MINISTER SCOTT MORRISON: Good morning, everyone. We’re about to be joined also by the Minister for Health, who was under different travel restrictions in order to be here today which, as usual, were approved by the relevant authorities here. I’m also joined by Professor Murphy, who you all know well. He’s here today not just in his capacity as the Secretary of the Department of Health, but he is also here as the Chair of the expert panel that has been advising the Australian government on vaccines, which is the principal reason for me being here this morning.
Australia needs some hope today. Particularly in Victoria, they need some hope today. And so that is what we’re here to deliver today. Today, we take another significant step to protect the health of Australians against the coronavirus pandemic. A $1.7 billion agreement for the supply and production of more than 80 million vaccine doses. This builds on the announcements that the Health Minister and I made several weeks ago. Even more important about this agreement, though, is not just that it puts Australia right up front in getting access to these important medicines, it’s a sovereign vaccine plan. Because this vaccine plan, and the agreements that are supporting it, which I want to particularly thank Minister Andrews for doing, working together with the Minister for Health, is giving us the capacity to not just produce the vaccine here in Australia, and that is the AstraZeneca vaccine through CSL, but also to develop and produce the University of Queensland vaccine. So to both develop and produce that vaccine here in Australia and produce the AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia. So that is giving us a sovereign capacity to get Australians what they will need should both of those vaccines prove successful as they go through their trials. Now, of course, the AstraZeneca vaccine is in a more advanced stage. The University of Queensland still has some work to go, but we’re backing it in. I’ll allow the Minister of Health to go through the details of those arrangements.
So a home-grown sovereign plan for vaccines is the hope I bring to Australians today. The decision was endorsed by Cabinet last week not long after I left you here last Friday. And it follows recommendations by the medical expert panel, which I indicated is led by Professor Murphy. We don’t expect this will be the last decision we make in this area, but these are the two best prospects, and we have acted on the advice that they have brought forward and Professor Murphy can speak to that process.
Having a sovereign vaccine strategy is an important part of our plan for how we live with COVID-19. Ultimately, a vaccine provides that opportunity. But even under the timing of what we have for the development of these vaccines, it’ll be some time yet before we can be living in a potential vaccine environment in Australia. Hopefully that is next year. Hopefully that is in the early part of next year. Well, it certainly can under this arrangement be from the start of next year, with what we’ve been able to put in place should the trials and other arrangements be successful. But it’s not the only thing we need to do. Lockdowns and borders are not signs of success in dealing with COVID-19. They’re not signs of success. And so it’s important that we put ourselves in a position where they do not feature in how Australia is dealing with COVID-19 on a sustainable basis. And as I reminded you on Friday, at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, what we set about was boosting our hospital capacity. The Minister for Health and then-chief medical officer were integrally involved as I said in getting the respirators, getting the ICU capacity to ensure that should the virus reach those high levels of community transmission, then our hospital system would not be overrun, and that we would not have those devastating scenes we saw in hospitals overseas with people gasping for their last breath and not being able to have a respirator. We have been able to protect Australia from those outcomes by ensuring that we move quickly to build that capability and provide that health protection across Australia. And that enabled us to move forward with the 3-step plan which would have had – should we have been able to fully implement it, seen Australia open again in July of this year. Now, that wasn’t achieved for the reasons we all know. But now, we are returning to those objectives. And I welcome the fact that we are doing all that we can to see that Australia is open by the end of this year.
To ensure, though, that we achieve that, it’s not just about the rules for how you run cafes and restaurants. They’re important. They’re part of the plan. But the most important thing is, is ensuring that we build an integrated tracing capability right across the country that enables a country to remain open despite the threat of outbreaks. That is the difference between being open and closed. A capable, integrated tracing capability. And, as I’ve noted, New South Wales is the gold standard. That is where we have to get everybody to to ensure that Australia can be open. And the plan that we will work on with the states and territories is to get ourselves to that standard so Australia can be open.
Now, Victoria’s announcement yesterday by the Premier, as I said, it was crushing news. Of course it was. The announcement that Victorians would continue to live under curfew and be under these restrictions for many months, if not just weeks in the most harsh of those restrictions, of course is crushing news. And I know Victorians, as, and Greg has just joined us today directly from Victoria, the feeling out there today is hard. They’re frustrated. The mental health of Victorians will be sorely tested. The plan that was outlined yesterday, I hope, is a worst-case scenario. I see it as a starting point in terms of how this issue will be managed in the weeks and months ahead in Victoria. We will continue to carefully review this plan. We’re yet still to receive the detailed modelling. We’ve seen the high-level modelling and the other assumptions that have gone into the plan. But what I can’t help but be struck by is that, under the thresholds that have been set in that plan, Sydney would be under curfew now. Sydney doesn’t need to be under curfew now. They have a tracing capability that can deal with outbreaks. That’s why I say it’s important that we work on building that tracing capability in Victoria to get it at a level that enables it to move in a more confident way than I think the plan that was announced yesterday set out. It was a very detailed plan. And it is based on a set of scientific modelling. And that is what I know will be interrogated. Not just by the Commonwealth government, but many others in the scientific community will look at that, and the decisions that have been drawn from that modelling have very profound effects for people living in Victoria. And so it’s right, and I’m sure the Victorian government would welcome that interrogation of that. We will be providing constructive feedback on that plan. We will be sitting down with industry. We will be sitting down with business through our National Coordinating Mechanism which is run out of the Department of Home Affairs, and we’ll listen carefully, and we’ll faithfully convey all of that feedback.
As I said, I hope it’s a starting point. I hope we can move more quickly than that. Obviously the legal authority for all of these matters, of course, rests with the Victorian government. It’s not for the Commonwealth government, we do not have that authority to step in and tell the Victorian government they have to follow another plan. That is not how Australia’s federation works. And so it is incumbent upon us to work constructively with the Victorian government to raise these issues as we will with them in the days and, I imagine, the weeks ahead, and remain always responsive to the most recent information. And so building that tracing capability is incredibly important.
The other thing that I’d be looking forward to seeing soon is the announcement by the Victorian government about what the economic support plan they will be delivering to Victoria to mitigate the economic consequences of the plan that they’ve outlined. It is right that the Victorian government make the first response to set out what the economic supports are they will put in place to deal with the measures that they have put in place. The Commonwealth government is already providing significant assistance to Victorians through the many programs we’ve had in place now for many months. And particularly the extension of JobKeeper and JobSeeker, Victoria will draw down on that more than any other state or territory. Victorians are being supported more by the federal government than any other state and territory is drawing on that support, and we will continue to do that. So what is required, over and above the support that the Commonwealth government is providing to Victorians, we first want to see what the Victorian government will be doing to address that. And then we’ll consider, the Treasurer and I, and the senior members of the Expenditure Review Committee, what further measures may be required.
But let me finish on this, Australia is in the leading pack of countries in the world today for how we are protecting Australians’ health and protecting their livelihoods. That is the clear objective assessment of countries all around the world, and I refer particularly to the Deloitte analysis that was released over the last few days, which shows clearly that Australia sits in the right part of that chart with countries like South Korea, economies like Taiwan and others, who are managing this best in the world today. And we can take some encouragement from that. And we can take some hope from that. And the other thing that Australians can take hope from today is that their government – their Australian government, their federal government – is providing hope through a sovereign vaccine plan which will keep Australia right up the front.
GREG HUNT, MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks very much, Prime Minister, Professor Murphy. Today is about real hope for Victorians and all Australians. It’s about ensuring that there is a free, sovereign, voluntary vaccine program for every Australian. And this, ultimately, means saving lives, protecting lives, and allowing Australians to return to the lives and the lifestyles that they’ve known and they’ve loved, and which has been the hallmark of our country and our society and our community.
In particular, to turn to the vaccine arrangements in a world with almost 27 million cases, in a world where over 881,000 people, tragically, have lost their lives on the official count, with no doubt numerous more that have never been recorded or counted, we’ve been able to secure for Australia 84.8 million vaccine doses through two agreements. 33.8 million vaccine doses through the AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine, and 51 million doses through the University of Queensland molecular clamp in conjunction with CSL. Of those, 81 million units will be produced in Australia through our sovereign vaccine program. With regards to the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, this is a virus vector vaccine, 3.8 million units will be imported in the first quarter of next year, potentially as early as January and February and made available. 30 million units will be produced in Australia by CSL as we foreshadowed some weeks ago under a manufacturing agreement.
The early-phase results from my discussions with Professor Sarah Gilbert, who heads the Oxford program, show strong antibody responses, strong T-cell responses, outstanding safety outcomes. They’re currently underway with their Phase 3 program which will ultimately see, in the Phase 3 clinical trial, up to 50,000 people enrolled across a variety of different nations. This is one of the world’s most prospective vaccines, and one of the world’s most advanced vaccines. And we’ve been very fortunate because of our sovereign manufacturing capability to have early access and to have broad access here in Australia.
In relation to the University of Queensland molecular clamp which is being developed in partnership with CSL, and for which Australia has already funded $5 million, this is a recombinant protein vaccine. 51 million units will be made here in Australia and provided to the Australian people. It’s likely that both vaccines will require what’s called a double shot, or an initial vaccination and a booster approximately a month later. Phase 1 trials are underway. A further group of people in the Phase 1 trials, over 55s are being enrolled as of today, on the advice of Professor Paul Young, who’s heading this program. Again, I spoke with him over the weekend. A Phase 3 trial is expected with 40,000 patients and participants, and TGA approval would be fundamental for both vaccines.
But both are leading vaccines globally, and we are fortunate to have, as a nation, secured them and be able to produce them here in Australia. The best advice that we have – and it’s not determined yet – is that there is likely to be multiyear protection. Nobody can say whether it will be lifetime. I asked both professors who head the programs as to whether they regarded it as an annual vaccination shot that would be required, and they said, we can’t say finally, but our best belief is that it’s likely to be multiyear protection. So, yesterday was a difficult day for Victorians and for every Australian who cares about the situation in Victoria. Today is a day of real hope for Victorians, real hope for Australians, and a pathway out to an Australia that sees us recover the very best of what we are and who we are.
MORRISON: Thank you. If I can ask Professor Murphy if he just wants to speak to the processes involved. Minister Andrews would of course have been here today, but she’s caught in isolation in Queensland.
PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: I will be very brief thanks, PM.
So the PM and Minister have alluded to the scientific and technical advisory group that I chair, which is working together with an extraordinary team in the Department of Health on our vaccine strategy, which is a diversified strategy. We have to look at a range of potential vaccines, a range of different types of vaccines, how well advanced they are, critically, as the Minister and Prime Minister have said, how well they are able to be made in Australia, because that gives us an extremely important lead time. So we are engaging widely with a range of the potential vaccine candidates at the moment. There are detailed discussions, but these two are very exciting. The AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine is clearly the most advanced in terms of its scientific evidence, and it is looking pretty good. We’re still waiting for the Phase 3 trials, but this gives us very quick access to an onshore production, and the UQ CSL vaccine is also- it’s a different type of vaccine, it’s one of the most exciting protein sub-unit vaccines. It’s earlier, it’s in its pathway but, again, because of its unique partnership with CSL, we’re able to get this produced onshore should it be successful in Phase 3 trials very early on. But it doesn’t stop there. We’re also part of the COVAX multicountry vaccine buying club. That’s been announced previously. And we’re also specifically looking at a range of other potential candidates. Government has committed an enormous amount of energy and resources to this, and we’ll be able to keep you up to date with future developments in the future.
JOURNALIST: You’ve got more than 1 million Melburnians, Victorians, who rely on JobKeeper now. They will still be locked up in their homes when you start cutting the payments at the end of September. Obviously JobSeeker – that applies to as well. I know your perception is that you’re extending it, but how can you justify slashing the JobKeeper payment from $1,500 to $1,200 for people that are still banned from the state government from actually going to work?
MORRISON: Well Sam, it’s not my perception. It’s a fact. We are extending the JobKeeper payment, we are extending that out to the end of March, we are extending the JobSeeker payment out to the end of December, and as I’ve indicated we will also, I think, lean heavily forward into what we would do post-December. And you’re right, there are a million Victorians who’ve been supported by those payments up until now, and they will continue to be, just like there are those who’ve received some $6.4 billion in cashflow to Victorian businesses. Some 130 million payments to support 21,847 apprentices, and some 13,352 employers. The Commonwealth government has been stepping up each and every day over this COVID-19 pandemic not just to support Victorians, but all Australians. JobKeeper is a national program. JobKeeper is a program that is as important in Cairns as it is in Cronulla or, indeed, in anywhere else in Melbourne, or Western Australia. Different states will draw on that in heavier amounts as Victoria is now. And they will be drawing heavily on this over the balance of this year and, I would think, into next year. What I’m simply saying today, Sam, is that the situation we have in Victoria is very specific to Victoria, and I’m seeking to see what the Victorian government will be doing in taking actions to mitigate the economic impact of the decisions the Victorian government has made regarding the restrictions and the plan that they have set out. Once I see what the Victorian government is proposing to do – and I’m not talking about infrastructure here – I mean, of course they’ll do that. I expect Victoria and many other states will announce further programs in these areas as, indeed, the Commonwealth will to support their economies. But when it comes to specific economic support – income support or other forms of support that they consider is appropriate to deal with the consequences of the decisions the Victorian government is taking, I’ll be looking to see what they’ll be doing first before the Commonwealth considers any responses that we’ll be making.
JOURNALIST: You said in your opening remarks about the contact tracing in Victoria, and perhaps Dr Murphy might- what are the deficiencies as you see them, and what can the Commonwealth do? What are you intending to do to try and bring them up to what you say is the gold standard?
MORRISON: Well, I think – and Brendan may want to add to this, and so may Greg. Look, I’m only going off what’s in front of me. And what I’m seeing in front of me is a plan which says that Sydney would be in curfew now if it was going on the same plan as Victoria. Now, New South Wales has a stronger capability when it comes to tracing. And we want to provide support – as we already have – to the Victorian government through the ADF support that was put in to assist the Victorian government build their systems and their information systems, which I think has greatly improved the situation in Victoria. I think one of the questions that has been raised in relation to the Victorian plan is what assumption is being made about the efficacy of contact-tracing with the measures they’ve set out. To what extent would those restrictions be otherwise lessened if a higher capacity and functionality of contact tracing were present? So it really is not so much a question to me. We will do whatever – if they need extra Services Australia support, we’ve already had ADF support in there, but I think if there is extra support that is needed to lift whether it’s in Victoria or, indeed, in Queensland or Western Australia or Tasmania – if this is what is preventing the easing of restrictions, then I think it is about matching the level of capacity against what is happening in New South Wales. And I should stress, it’s just not about how many people you’ve got on the phone. Information systems are critical to this. The way work is structured and organised is critical to this. And it’s, I said, an integrated tracing capability. In New South Wales, their special emergency operations centre is an integrated operation which involves Health, it’s actually led by the police in New South Wales. It certainly has Health central to its operations, but there are many parts of government when you’re dealing with a crisis of this nature, which needs to be brought together. Indeed, the call I have every morning involves everyone from Home Affairs to Health, to the ADF, to Treasury to a whole range of different parts of government which you have to bring together. Health is vital, and the way I think New South Wales has integrated the health response with all of these others is proving to be very successful. So that is an exhortation. That is the standard. And if we can assist any state approach that and achieve that New South Wales standard, then I think many of the restrictions that we’re seeing around the country wouldn’t be necessary.
Sorry Greg, did you want to add to that?
HUNT: I will add, briefly. And I think probably the best thing to do is actually refer to some of the comments from the nation’s leading epidemiologists in the last 24 hours. Professor Tony Blakely, from the University of Melbourne, one of the authors of the modelling, subsequently said, “If we do our contact tracing better than we did three months ago, the contact tracers may be able to hold the case count without it going up again as badly as our model suggests.” Professor Peter Collignon from the Australian National University here in Canberra: “A lot hinges on very good contact tracing. And so far, Victoria has not been able to do that as well as other states.” and he goes on to say, “I think actually a more nuanced approach like New South Wales is doing where very good contact tracing is more likely to be sustainable over the long-term.” Similarly, the comments of Jodie McVernon, one of the leading modellers in the country, from the Doherty Institute, noted that she was, that there’s very little detail of the modelling that was presented, “I do think it’s disappointing that there’s not more nuance provided around the plan.” So, amongst the modellers, what they’re saying is that contact tracing can make a real difference, and so we’ve helped. There has been progress. And I think it’s very important that we acknowledge that progress – real progress through the ADF, Professor Alan Finkel, and the Victorian authorities. But there’s more to go. And that progress can make the difference on the time frames, the freedoms, the ability of Victorians to go back to work, and the mental health challenges which have been put to every Victorian MP with profound and deeply concerning emotions from so many Victorians in the last 24 hours. That’s why contact tracing matters.
JOURNALIST: Are you saying this because you’re worried that different parts of the Victorian government agencies and departments are not actually integrated and not talking to each other? And do you think that we’re now at a point where we’ve actually got to have integrated contact tracing across state borders? Are the states talking to each other on this?
MORRISON: Well, one of the welcome elements about the support to Victoria has been that there has been interstate assistance with contact tracing. And building a broader reserve capability at a Commonwealth level harnessing the capacity of other states. So you also want your contact-tracing capability to remain match-fit. When you don’t have many cases, well there’s not a lot to trace. And that would be the case in Western Australia at the moment, and many other states and territories. But if there were to be an outbreak in one of those states, you’d want to be confident of two things – that your testing regime was strong enough, and I note that the testing levels in Western Australia are – well, on the last common operating picture report, were the lowest in the country. They’ve come up a bit from the report two weeks prior to that, and I welcome that. But also that the tracing capability will be able to move quickly. My observation is more a positive one about what I know is occurring in New South Wales. I know that that integration is hard-wired into their structure and their system. I have no doubt, of course, the Premier – as I would – would be talking to every element of their government every single day and all the time. But I think there is a lot to learn from what’s happening in New South Wales, because they have, frankly, had the largest risks to deal with, and they have demonstrated the best capacity to deal with them and keep their state open at the same time. They are the direction I’m strongly urging the country to go in. Because Australia being shut is not success. Australia being open is success. And you’re only going to achieve that, in our view, ultimately and over time, if you have a strong, integrated tracing capability and, ultimately, you set Australia up with the sovereign capability to deliver a vaccine.
JOURNALIST: You seem to have a very good idea of how the New South Wales contact-tracing system works, and I ask you and everybody else here – do you have a clear idea of how the Victorian contact-tracing system works, right down to how many people there might be on the phones on any given day so that you can see the differences between the two? Do you have a clear idea of what’s going on in Victoria?
MORRISON: I mean, Brendan might want to comment on this as well. When Commodore Hill became part of the ADF support to Victoria, there was an enormous amount of work done to build up their information systems. So you can have a lot of people who are ready to be on the phones but, if the workflow is not managed and the data systems don’t support that, well, you can have a lot of resource that’s sitting there idle. And so I think the Victorian government has done a lot of work over the last four weeks – of necessity, clearly as well – to ensure that those systems have been significantly improved. And of course they have. And so it isn’t just about how many people for instance, just not about the resource that’s thrown at it. It’s how it’s tasked and how it’s integrated with its information systems, and then how that sits as part of the broader emergency management function of the government. Now, that’s why I hold the New South Wales system out as a standard, and I have seen real improvements in the Victorian situation. But equally, this isn’t just a message for states other than New South Wales to the south, and whether it be in Victoria or Tasmania – it’s wherever you’ve got restrictions. Because the way to get rid of restrictions on your economy and on people’s lives and their livelihoods – and to do that in a way that protects their health – is to have the protection of an integrated and very effective tracing regime.
MURPHY: Yeah so just briefly – New South Wales is the exemplar. They’ve had a proud history of many, many years of advanced investment in public health. They’ve had good systems. They’ve had embedded public health units in all their local health districts. They’ve had very good outbreak response teams. They’ve got a large group of people. It’s not just about tracing. It’s about the outbreak response. It’s about the epidemiologist expertise. It’s about that clinical leadership. And I would agree with the PM that Victoria has invested hugely over the last few months with large numbers of people, very welcome to taking in advice and expertise. And I think they are in a stronger position – a much, much stronger position now. And I hope that they can feel confident with the strength of their position to take a somewhat less conservative approach to their restrictions.
JOURNALIST: …How can you assert Australia is ahead of the pack, given some 18 countries already have about 51 deals? The US first signed in March, the UK, May. Aren’t we just playing catch-up on it?
HUNT: No. And the reason is what we’ve always known is we have the sovereign manufacturing capability. If a country doesn’t have full manufacturing capability, then it has to make decisions early on before there is evidence. We’re in the fortunate position – because we have the manufacturing capability – to have been able to examine around the world to have what I think is the finest medical expert panel in the world for vaccines assess and then to provide their advice, and then for us to be able to choose the most prospective and the most available. And so that’s the strength that Australia has, because of our investment in CSL and their investment in their manufacturing capability. And that’s what’s put us in the fortunate position of being able to choose the best-in-class, but to get it at the earliest possible time.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, business groups in Victoria have condemned the roadmap, saying it’s a roadmap to ruin, it’s lacking clarity, it’s lacking hope for them. What more do you want to see from the Victorian government for businesses and for clarity around the roadmap? And what kind of impact are these restrictions going to have on the national economy?
MORRISON: Well, there’s no doubt that the further restrictions that are in Victoria will have a requirement as we go into budget about a month away from now, just under that, to – or thereabouts – Treasury will obviously have to take that into account as they finalise their projections once again. As they had to do for the recent economic statement. So I think that is fairly obvious. It’s certainly not going to have a positive impact. It’s going to have a negative impact. It’s actually going to impact on employment and on incomes, on revenues, and all of these things. Of course that is going to be the case. And Treasury will make those assessments, as will others, informing their view about how things go forward. The first step is – ’cause we received this plan yesterday – we will be now in a position to sit down with industry and businesses, particularly obviously in Victoria, but let’s not forget that there are domino impacts because of the role that Victoria plays in our national economy through supply chains about how that can flow on into other states and territories. So, sure, the impact zone of what has been announced yesterday in Victoria is very much obviously – and terribly sadly, in Melbourne and Victoria more broadly. But there will be ripple effects of this announcement yesterday that will impact other parts of the country. So we will sit down with those industry partners and businesses and get a clear understanding of the issues that they see as most urgent. I’ve had meetings to that effect this morning with our team, and they’ve been tasked along those lines, and they’ll be doing that over the course of this week, and they’ll continue to do it. See, things constantly change, and we need to continue to provide that feedback to ensure that they can get their plans as close as to where we hope they can be. So we’ll provide that constructive feedback, and we’ll listen carefully to what business has been outlining.
JOURNALIST: I think the Health Minister said that both these vaccines will require two doses? Then, why have we contracted 51 million from UQ, which would seem to be two doses, and only 33 million from the University of Oxford- Oxford University? And can you also explain, the contract seems to say taxpayers will pay for a capital improvement at CSL to give them the manufacturing capability to do this. How much of the contract is for those capital works?
HUNT: Sure. So all up, what we’ve done is look at a portfolio of vaccinations, and these may not be the last, as Professor Murphy said. By contracting just over 85 million doses, if you think of it as 42.5 million members of the population are covered, and so we’ve worked on the basis of what we think is the best available and the best balance for Australia. In particular, we’ve also contributed funds towards CSL doing the start-up capability. We’re investing $300 million into research capabilities and the development capabilities of CSL through the University of Queensland process.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, officials told the Senate inquiry…
MORRISON: I think we’re going to stay with the health of Victorians today.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe that Victoria’s roadmap in its current form will mean Australia is in recession for longer? And have you, or will you, appeal directly to Dan Andrews to open up sooner?
MORRISON: We’ll be providing the constructive feedback to the Victorian government once we’ve had the opportunity to fully look at the assumptions that sit behind this plan. One of those key assumptions, which not only are we asking about, is the assumptions that have been made about the efficacy of contact tracing. And whether improvements in contact tracing would enable that plan to be bettered and to see Victorians having their livelihoods and their lives restored sooner. I have no doubt that everybody would want to see us get back to as normal as you possibly can in a COVID world in Victoria as soon as we can. I have no doubt that’s what Premier Andrews wants to achieve. I understand that we also want to avoid a relapse on the entry out in Victoria. That’s understood too, let me be clear about that. That is very important. But this plan has some very severe impacts. Very severe impacts. And we also have to manage the ability to take people with these plans, and we cannot create a burden that is too great to bear, because that would see all the plans fail, if that were the case. And so this is calling on the Victorian public in a way that has never, I think, been done before, certainly for something like this. And also, I don’t restrict that comment to those who live in Melbourne. To those right across regional Victoria as well. And the one-size-fits-all that the plan suggests right across regional Victoria is obviously an issue that’s already been raised. And this only highlights the point I was making last week about the hot spot strategy. The hot spot strategy does not treat south-eastern regional Victoria the same as north-western regional Victoria. It doesn’t. It actually treats the virus where it is and doesn’t spread it through an assumption across all parts of Victoria. If you want to get the borders down between Victoria and New South Wales, if things are going really well up in the north-west corner of Victoria, well, we agreed last Friday that Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia would be working together straight away to see how that can get down. Now, it’s important that the hot spot strategy is part of that because it enables different parts of the state to be treated appropriately and not carry a burden that may only exist in another part of the country.
Andrew, and then I’ll come here.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, thanks. I want to direct my question to Brendan Murphy. One of the trigger points for the lifting of restrictions is that there’s 14 days of, I think, zero community transmission. Is that consistent with an elimination strategy or a suppression strategy, as James Merlino was saying this morning?
MURPHY: I think Victoria’s pretty clear that they are not pursuing an elimination strategy. The current strategy that AHPPC has endorsed is no community transmission and I think that is what they’re aiming for. This does seem a very conservative approach. Some of the triggers seem, you know, 5 cases rather than 10, no cases rather than a few. There’s no rule book for this virus but I think some of us feel that, if there were more confidence in the public health response capability, you could take some slightly more generous triggers. But I don’t think they are genuinely pursuing an elimination strategy. They’re still pursuing aggressive suppression.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, as it stands now, do you believe that Victoria’s contact-tracing system can prevent a relapse? Maybe for Minister Hunt and Professor Murphy as well. Given that the Premier said yesterday at five cases a day, that’s where Victoria thinks it can contain the virus, but the Premier also said he believes his contact-tracing system is better than New South Wales?
MORRISON: Well, New South Wales can cope with much higher levels and have. So, look, that’s, I think, just a matter of record. I think those things speak for themselves. That’s why I have highlighted the issue of how can we work together to boost the efficacy of contact tracing and integrate it into the overall response to the pandemic? Clearly, what New South Wales is doing is working better than other places because they have the biggest threats to their system and have had the best results in response to those threats. So that clearly indicates that that is the standard which we should be seeking to move towards. I mean, New South Wales is happy to drop borders because they’re confident in their ability to contain the virus. Now, obviously where there are hot spots as we’ve seen in Melbourne, well, those borders become necessary in those acute circumstances. But no-one wants to get rid of those quicker than the New South Wales Premier, I can assure you, because she understands that with those comes further restrictions which impedes the economy and causes real disruption to people’s lives and their livelihoods, and she wants to see that go. And I have no doubt the Victorian Premier and the South Australian Premier want the same thing. That’s why they agreed to work together on this. So I think the plan and what it assumes and what is being achieved in New South Wales and the fact that New South Wales and Sydney is not in curfew and Victoria would plan to be, even if they were to achieve the same outcomes that New South Wales has right now, then I think that is just night following day in terms of the analysis and the assessment that you make.
Now, I missed – there was another question that was asked about in terms of the length of the economic impact. I just note again that Treasury will make its estimates about what the impact of this is, and those numbers will be and those forecasts and projections will be released in the Budget.
Now, very patient over here from the West.
JOURNALIST: We’ve seen a campaign from Facebook and Google against the Government’s news bargaining code. Facebook most recently is threatening to remove articles from legitimate news sites from its feed. What do you make of this, particularly given the rise in misinformation relating to the pandemic we’ve seen on Facebook?
MORRISON: I’ve been supporting, obviously, the work that has been done by the ACCC to come up with the mandatory code. I have had engagement with very senior-level executives. I spoke to the CEO of Google just last week and continue to invite them to participate in that process. I remember Amazon said to me once, “Well, we’re not going to pay this tax when it comes to the low value threshold.” And they threatened to pull Amazon, and they did, and they were back three months later. So, look, I think people from these companies understand that when I say something, I mean it, and that I intend to follow through with it. Therefore I would encourage them, very strongly, to work constructively and cooperatively with the process that is underway. And I’m quite certain we’ll come to a sensible outcome on this and it won’t need coercion, wherever it comes from, it’s not something I respond very well to.
I can’t hear, you’re all yelling at once. So we’ll come over here to SBS. SBS thank you.
JOURNALIST: Thank you, Prime Minister. Just to Minister Hunt, we’ve seen some religious leaders express apprehension at the prospect of a vaccine. Given it won’t be mandatory, would this be complemented with some kind of national campaign, particularly focusing on some sort of multicultural areas that would perhaps be more prone to these views against a vaccine?
HUNT: Two things – firstly, we will certainly be encouraging Australians through an education campaign to take up the offer and the opportunity of vaccination and that will be widespread and it will cover both English language ad non-English speaking backgrounds. Secondly, in relation to religious concerns, I deeply and we profoundly respect those. Importantly, within the two vaccines today and this perhaps goes to an earlier question, the University of Oxford vaccine, to be honest, does come from I believe it was a 1970s foetal line cell culture which has been maintained over the course of more than four decades. But it is the basis for a series of current vaccines used both in Australia and around the world. But that is over four decades ago and there is some theology which is beyond my role to address but I know there are differing views within the theological community and they are moving on that. But I am also meeting with some of the church leaders this week. But also the University of Queensland molecular clamp does not have that basis, it doesn’t have that origin, and so any concerns at all which have been raised are completely dealt with from the very basis of the University of Queensland molecular clamp and that also deals with some of the other issues.
JOURNALIST: You have spoken about the effect the restrictions in Victoria are going to continue having on the nation’s economy. You have previously indicated there was going to be further announcements in aged care in the upcoming Budget. Would you consider raising the Medicare levy even by 1 percent to improve the sector?
MORRISON: The Budget is in October and I don’t engage in speculation on these measures. The Aged Care Royal Commission will bring out their recommendations next year. I understand they have made some comments around this issue today. I will await their recommendations but the Australian Government, particularly in the middle of a pandemic, particularly when we are seeking to rebuild our economy, whether it is in what is the quite ravaged area of Victoria at the moment or in other parts of the country which have been able to remain largely COVID free, the one way you build your economy back is you don’t hit it with higher taxes. And that is not our plan, it has never been our plan. Our plan to grow our economy has always been about getting people’s backs, not getting on them. Thank you very much.