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Doorstop interview about the arrival of additional Pfizer vaccines, COVID-19 vaccine rollout and aged care royal commission

Read the transcript of the doorstop interview given by Minister Hunt in Sydney on 2 March 2021 about the arrival of additional Pfizer vaccines, COVID-19 vaccine rollout and aged care royal commission.

The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Former Minister for Health and Aged Care

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Good afternoon everyone. I’m pleased to be able to give you an update on progress in relation to COVID-19 in Australia.

In particular, I’m very pleased to be able to announce another 135,000 Pfizer vaccines have arrived in Australia and are being made available to the Commonwealth. We thank the company for their work and for the consistency of their arrivals.

For the record, that makes 142,000 in the first group, 166,000 in the second group of arrivals and 135,000 in the third group. So we now have 443,000 Pfizer doses that have arrived in Australia. They will be cleared by the TGA, assessed for temperature, although the early signs are positive. And that’s in addition to the AstraZeneca 300,000 which arrived only two days ago, for a total dosage arrival in Australia of 733,000.

We’re expecting continuity of supply and then in late March, as has previously been indicated, at approximately a million doses per week, the arrival of the Australian-based CSL AstraZeneca production.

In terms of the distribution to the states, I’m very pleased to be able to announce that over the current 10-day period, we will make almost 300,000 doses available to the states and that will be the two distributions of Pfizer and one of AstraZeneca.

The total numbers, which will be provided for New South Wales, we’re able to provide a slightly higher number than we’d indicated yesterday, approximately 86,000 doses. For Victoria, 76,000 doses. Queensland, 57,000 doses. Western Australia 30,000 doses. South Australia 29,000, Tasmania just over 9000, Northern Territory 3700, and the ACT 5100 doses.

As has previously been said, that’s based on population within the 1A group. So it’s a very open and transparent process which has been agreed to by all states and territories and we thank them for their work.

In particular, we want to thank them for their work on the rollout. As we speak, as of last night, there had been 41,907 doses administered around the country. That included 13,348 Commonwealth aged care residents at 158 facilities.

There will be at least 22 facilities today which will take that to over 180 facilities around the country.

And if I were to read through the rollout across the states, as I say, the Commonwealth,

13,348 and then I’ll round it for the states. New South Wales, almost 12,500. Victoria 5000, Queensland 3000, Western Australia just over 2862. South Australia, almost 2000. Tasmania, 1165. Northern Territory, 985. And The ACT, 1173. And so that is very positive progress.

Then in relation to cases, again, another day of zero cases of community transmission Australia wide. That’s 32 days this year. That is just an extraordinary national achievement and I want to thank every Australian who has been involved.

It compares at the same time with 114 million cases worldwide, 373,000 cases in the last 24 hours and approximately 7500 lives lost to take it to well over 2.5 million lives lost around the world.

So with Australia having no lives lost during the course of 2021, we are in a very fortunate position, thanks to the work of our health workers and everybody across Australia.

Incidentally there have been almost 40,000 tests in the last 24 hours and 14.4 million tests, which just gives us an example of exactly what we can do with the vaccinations during the course of the rollout as it ramps up.

I’ll also indicate that the Governor-General has considered and approved the recommendation that the biosecurity emergency powers be extended for three months to 17 June.

That is a continuing process which is reviewed every three months, and given the scope and scale of those global pandemic numbers of over 373,000 cases, 7500 lives lost, this will not be a surprise to anybody and is part of the normal processes.

I’m happy to take any questions. If I may I’ll start in the room and then go to those that are on the telephone.


Minister, just to start with the historical rape allegations against a Federal.


If I may, I’ll begin with anything to do with the rollout or the COVID case numbers or the Biosecurity Act in Australia and then go on to other things.


On aged care, Labor has not ruled out supporting a Medicare style levy to fund reforms to the sector. Is that something that the Government is willing to adopt?


So we respectfully - and I do appreciate the question - won't pre-empt the royal commission. That was one of the areas where commissioners in good faith came to different views.

And I will address this point. When they hire most senior judges in the land, give judges in the High Court, there are often differing views. There are often differing views. And so there have been differing views presented on some of the measures presented on some of the measures by the royal commissioners.

That is absolutely fine and understandable. This is one of those areas where the commissioners have presented different views.

So yesterday we announced a $452 million response with a five year, five pillar plan for aged care. But above all else, focusing on the needs of individuals.

The full formal response to the commission will come during the course of the budget and all of those elements, in particular, what we do, at the grand scale on home care and residential care support, will be covered as part of that. An entirely reasonable question.

I will go to those that are on the phone.


Can I have a question?




Experts say based on the current rollout, we’re not going to meet the target of vaccinating all Australians by the end of October. Is that still a realistic timeframe?


That remains our objective and our timeframe.

What this is about as a ramp up. And we will see progressively, with the arrival of new doses, with the commencement of the AstraZeneca doses by the states next week, and I should say that the states and territories will begin the rollout of the AstraZeneca doses so they will be vastly expanding the array of their activities over the course of the next week to 10 days, as each is ready and willing and able to do so.

We see that increase. Then we see with what is called the Phase 1B when we move to our over 80s and our over 70s, our immunocompromised Australians and the balance of our health workers, that we will bring on board over 4000 general practice clinics and we’ll build those progressively.

So this is a progressive rollout. It’s being done that way for reasons of safety and security. And so we will continue to roll it out and these arrivals of vaccines are very good and the continued expansion of the program is good. And so I’m very thankful and I’m very confident.


So you’re still committed to the October date?


That remains our goal, so no change.

What we’ve always done, if something has changed, we’ve indicated it. For example, when there was the initial pledge of 3.8 million AstraZeneca doses arriving internationally, and then they changed their global guidance, we provided that guidance. And so there will be, from time to time, movements.

Some things may come forward. It may be possible, it may be possible to bring forward the commencement of Phase 1B for our health workers, for example.

That is one proposal which has been put forward by one of the states, given the level of AstraZeneca doses.

So we'll work with them. So that’s an interesting example of the movement that, in fact, we may be able to bring forward some of the 1B doses. I’ll just now go to the phone and come back to you, sir, for the other matters.

Tamsin from the Herald Sun?


Thanks Minister. Will the Government consider redirecting vaccine doses away from states if they’re rolling them out too slowly? And at what point will decisions like that need to be made?


Look, we’re very confident that all of the states will continue to ramp up. And I understand that there have been different paces of start and that’s been the case with different states at different times.

But all of them have good plans and what each of the ministers has done and each of the state health systems have done and territory health systems, is focus on safety and we have to respect that. This is what’s kept Australians safe.

In terms of the rollout itself, all of the reports that we have received, and I spoke just a few minutes ago with Professor Brendan Murphy, who’s heading the vaccine taskforce, and an hour ago with the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, and they’re seeing extraordinarily positive results in terms of the safety and the rollout.

There will be, every day, every week, be challenges which need to be overcome but that has been the story of the last year. So Tamsin, am I confident in the states and territories? Yes. I am.

Richard, The Australian?


Thank you very much, Minister. Premier McGowan in WA said today he is considering extending border controls post pandemic [Inaudible]


Sorry, I’m not sure on what basis he’s seeking to extend those. I haven’t heard the comments, so I have to take it on the basis of what you’ve said.

On what basis and for what purpose would he be wanting to extend border controls?


Sorry, he was suggesting that he would extend the border controls, Minister, because the current border arrangements have cut down the usage of meth in the WA community and he said he is willing to extend border controls, well, border permits in order to keep meth usage down.


So this is a question about meth- or crystal methamphetamines or other related substances. I’m not aware of the original comments other than those which have been put to me by Richard.

I think the job of controlling drug use in the individual states is surely a matter for the police, and whilst I haven’t heard of this particular proposal, our history has been of a single, united country since federation.

This year and the last 12 months – it’s pretty much 12 months now – has been about an extraordinary national emergency.

And I think we should all be aware that we belong to a country which, under its constitution, is committed to open borders.

I’m not aware of the Premier’s proposal, so I can’t address that directly, but we have friends, we have family, we have loved ones, there are weddings, there are funerals, there’s palliative care, there are births.

All of the human elements mean that families cross borders, that people visit each other, that people are part of a single unified country. That’s the principle I’d apply.

Paul from The Guardian?


Thanks very much, Minister. Professor Raina MacIntyre told the COVID Committee today that she heard people which are 1A priority category not turning up to get their vaccine, so those administering the doses were given to medical students so they don’t go to waste. And last week your department put out a statement thanking Aspen healthcare for responding resourcefully to ensure vaccine doses weren’t wasted. Can I please ask for the number of people outside the 1A category who have so far been vaccinated in Australia?


Look, it’s one that we’ll have to find. But the general principle here is life intervenes, and somebody may not be able to make an appointment, and if the vaccinators are ensuring that a vaccine doesn’t go to waste, good on them. That's the Australian principle of being resourceful.

The alternative, Paul, would be that if they had allocated enough vaccines for an exact number of people, and if somebody, because they were ill or they were taking care of a sick child or there was a traffic accident or something like that, wasn't able to arrive, and they were to be practical Australians, showing Australian innovation, that's exactly what we would encourage.

So, happy to seek advice on that. And we’ll provide that if that's been recorded by the states and territories that are carrying out those processes.


Are you able to generalise about whether that’s common?


Look, I'm not aware that it's a common practice, but it is one which has always been envisaged, and, frankly, I would applaud anybody who is taking practical steps not to waste a vaccine.

If somebody can't make an appointment at the last minute because, as I say, illness for them, caring for an elderly parent, caring for a sick child, because of a traffic incident, or some other human incident, and there’s an approach which means the vaccine is used, that's exactly something to be encouraged.

So I think that's the sort of Australian innovation and get-it-done spirit that we would want to see. But I don't have any significant numbers on that. So, to the gentleman here in the room.


Both the New South Wales and Victorian Governments, who are responsible for administering a large proportion of the vaccines, both say that they need more information from the Commonwealth about what’s coming.

Is that an area that you could improve on, is communication, communicating to the states so they can plan?


Well, I think we work within the available doses. As I’ve just indicated, I’ve read out the figures for the coming two weeks, and this, of course, is an international supply chain.

We’ve been very cautious on promising that which hasn't arrived. What we have set out for some months is that there would be a Phase 1A, beginning with Pfizer in late February – and that guidance turned out to be exactly right.

Phase 1A would then add AstraZeneca in early March, and that guidance has turned out to be exactly right. The Phase 1B will begin in late March when we have the doses from CSL, and at this stage the latest advice that I have is that's on track.

And so we continue to share that, and in fact I spoke with a number of ministers last night that were very thankful for the fact that we were able to reaffirm that guidance and, in particular, as they understood, that given the international supply chains, and we never pre-empt an arrival, both for reasons of security and for reasons of being conservative, that they can see the pathway but they know that it’s sensible that we don't make promises which depend on other people, and I've had very constructive discussions, and as I say, I’ve just listed the doses, almost 300,000 doses for each of the states and territories, over the coming period.


Minister Hunt, have you spoken to the minister at the centre of the historical rape allegation, and would you like that Minister to come forward and address publicly so as to clear the cloud that now hangs over all male Cabinet ministers?


Look, I don't have any details on the matter, and the matter is something which should be addressed by the police.


The police have addressed the matter this afternoon. New South Wales police say that they’re not investigating it anymore. Essentially, the case is closed from their perspective. So what should happen next?


Look, I don't have any details on that. I apologise. That must have happened whilst I was arriving.

So I’d want to be cautious on that, and I know, of course, that it was referred to the AFP, and so there are a number of possible police forces or agencies involved, and I think in that situation, it's far better for it to be left to the police.

I will let the police speak for themselves. And as the Australian Federal Police Commissioner affirmed to both the Parliament and to the press and to the public, that the appropriate course of action is for these matters to be considered by the police, and his clear guidance to us was to discourage commentary.


But the New South Wales police, who were the lead agency on it now say that there’s nothing else that they can do. So are you saying that that's the end of the issue?


No, I'm saying it's a matter for the police, and I know that it was also referred to the Federal Police by the Prime Minister last week; that is a matter of public record.

I certainly wouldn't want to try to pre-empt police processes, and I certainly would want to follow the advice of the Australian Federal Police Commissioner.


But regardless of where the investigation is at – and it seems as though they’re stymied by the fact that the complainant is deceased, there is a cloud now that hangs over all male Cabinet ministers, because the allegation was made at that general level.

Do you, as a person with a reputation in public, want your colleague to come forward and clarify the nature and respond to this publicly?


Look, I will simply reaffirm the guidance of the Australian Federal Police Commissioner. And I respect the questions, but I think for me to stray from the guidance of the Federal Police Commissioner would itself lead to a counter criticism.

And so those are the circumstances we are in, and I think respecting the police processes, the rule of law, the system which has protected Australians and which is the pathway the Commissioner has strongly emphasised is the right way for these matters to be dealt with, is exactly what I should be doing.


Just on that though, surely it wouldn’t interfere with the police processes if the Cabinet minister who has been accused identifies themselves.


Look, again, I respect the question, but I’ll follow the advice of the Police Commissioner, and the less commentary from those in public life was the proposal, the suggestion, and the request of the Commissioner, and so I’ll do that.

With that, I’ll finish with this comment, that the figures today in terms of the arrival of another 135,000 doses. The fact that by the end of today we’ll have 180-plus aged care facilities in a week in which we’ve focused on our most vulnerable and most frail Australians completed and vaccinated is very heartening.

The fact that there have been zero community cases, all of which, on a day where we have extended the biosecurity emergency provisions because of the global pandemic, reminds us of two things: we’re doing incredibly well as a country. We’ll continue to do well so long as we remain vigilant, but I have complete trust in Australians.

But at the same time, the global challenge is with us, will be with us for a while, but at home with our containment, Australians have been magnificent.

And as we begin the rollout and we’re in the early stages of the rollout of the vaccine, I think all of those who’ve been helping to administer, deliver, but above all else, put themselves forward to receive the vaccination of behalf of their fellow Australians.

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