Prime Minister: Good afternoon, I’m joined by Professor Kelly as usual and I’m also joined by our Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel. Today’s meeting of National Cabinet the 31st this year occured on a day where once again, no deaths, there was no community transmission occurring in Australia and there were seven international cases and as Doctor Finkel reminds me and as Professor Kelly when you are identifying and securing these cases when in quarantine on return of Australians back to Australia, that is a sign of the system working and we welcome that. It has been another positive and very practical meeting of the National Cabinet. There will be a statement issued later that will go into much more detail but we note the key items that were discussed today and I will ask both Professor Kelly as is your usual to run through the key items from an epidemiological point of view and was briefed in the National Cabinet today but I will also ask Doctor Finkel to speak on one of the key matters that was dealt with today and that was the national contact tracing review, which we received today from Doctor Finkel and I want to thank Doctor Finkel as well as Leigh Jasper, our digital technology and delivery expert, a very successful professional in that area commercially and Doctor Tarun Weeramanthri, a public health expert and for many years and was the WA Chief Medical Officer. The three of them have worked together to do an exhaustive review of the contact tracing system in each state and territory and making recommendations and observing the improvements that have been made there and there’s a set of recommendations all of which have been adopted by the National Cabinet today to take forward. So I thank Dr Finkel for that and he can take you through those recommendations in more detail.
Also today, the national vaccination policy of the Commonwealth was endorsed by the National Cabinet today, not just noted they were keen to endorse it as well and it’s another sign that together as a country, we are working to prepare ourselves to be able to disseminate and administer those vaccines all around the country when they’re ready and when they have passed the necessary TGA approvals to ensure that they are safe. Once we have cleared those important benchmarks, then we must be in a position to be able to disseminate and administer those all around the country and of course, that requires the usual support of states and territories and how that’s done and Professor Kelly who is the Deputy Chair of the advisory group to the Commonwealth on our national vaccination policy and strategy will be able to update you on that policy and that will also be released today together with this with this document as well. The framework for national reopening when we met last time, we were able to adopt that in principle but we had two jurisdictions that were still in caretaker mode. So the plan that I outlined at our last meeting and that we spoke of here after the last meeting has now been agreed with the one exception of Western Australia, which I’ve already flagged. That is a plan to have Australia open by Christmas, with the exception of Western Australia. It also is a plan that importantly imbeds public health metrics in ensuring that when Australia opens safely that it remains open safely and that’s incredibly important. The things that need to happen and importantly the work of Dr Finkel’s contact tracing review which also identifies additional metrics that are needed to make sure that we are always aware that we are staying on track and have the protections in place to keep Australia open.
Other matters dealt with today of course, is getting Australians home. This remains a very, very significant challenge and while we will see some 25,000 odd Australians returned to Australia since I first spoke of this some some weeks ago, if not months the number of Australians coming onto that list as you know has been growing every day, every week, including the number of vulnerable Australians. We’re getting vulnerable Australians home. We’re getting thousands of Australians home. We’ve today increased 150 additional places coming out of Queensland. We thank them for that. We have additional capacity, as I announced last week when I was in Tasmania and we’ve got additional capacity we were signed up to in ACT and the Northern Territory but the challenge is still greater than the capacity to receive people back into quarantine. Now obviously Australia is going to maintain its quarantine arrangements for people returning overseas. National Cabinet and the Commonwealth Government is very committed to that. This has been one of Australia’s great successes and as I was discussing yesterday with President-elect Biden was one of the reasons why Australia has been so successful as we’ve put these strong measures in place and I should have mentioned that a copy of this national contact tracing review, as a result of discussion I had with President Biden yesterday, I’ll be forwarding to their team because it tells the story of why Australia is being successful and will continue to be successful. We will of course, copy that to the US administration as well but given President-elect Biden’s interest in this issue and the people he’s bringing together there, he was very keen to know what we were doing and I’m sure while not able to get on a plane and go there, Dr Finkel and his colleagues would be available to assist whoever, wherever they are in whatever country to learn from Australia’s experience.
But in terms of getting Australians home there’s greater flexibility that will be applied to the caps. The caps have been done on a daily basis and that would mean on some occasions a cap might be fully utilised on any given day. So by doing them over a week, that means we can get greater utilisation of the caps which will increase our ability to get more Australians home and wherever possible we are looking for additional capacity. I’ll be meeting with the Victorian Premier when I go to Melbourne next week and there will be the opportunity for us to talk about that. I know they’re progressing on those issues and he gave us a bit of an update on that this morning but they’re not yet in a position to make an announcement yet, but that’s because they’re preparing to be able to do it and we welcome that from Victoria and when Victorian opens up to receive those flights again that will help us get many more Australians back and the figures I talked to you about before of around about the mid 20,000, 25,000, that wasn’t assuming a Victorian participation. So that will add we believe to our capability to get more Australians home. But the challenges we have in getting Australians home means that the ability to move and take international students back at this time through quarantine arrangements does not present itself. It’s Australians coming home first. That is the Commonwealth policy. That is our policy and that is the policy that is also being followed by the National Cabinet. We need to use every available space that we have in quarantine and it’s not just simply a matter of are there rooms in hotels to do it. There is also the police support that is needed to properly run quarantine and the health support that is needed in addition to that. So it is a function of all of these and the quarantine system has been working effectively and we want it to keep working effectively. What we’re seeing around the world which Professor Kelly will speak to is heartbreaking. I had another meeting with the European leaders this week, which is that group I’ve been meeting with for many many months and the situation there is very serious, as it is in the United States and that means here in Australia we need to continue to be careful and we will be. So sadly that will delay any ability to be bringing international students to Australia soon because we must use every available place to get Australians home.
Just finally, the natural disaster arrangements that were subject to the Royal Commission I tabled with my colleagues today the Commonwealth’s response to that Royal Commission. Minister Littleproud he’ll be standing up on that separately this afternoon. Our response will be released on that today. What was important in the discussion we had today though was there are very good practical operating arrangements between the states and territories and the Commonwealth when it comes to dealing on the ground with these natural disasters. Whether it’s combating the fires or dealing with the cyclones or the floods, there are very good operating arrangements and the Royal Commission points to how they can be improved and particularly around some of the governance issues that sit above that but the last thing we want to do as Premiers, Chief Ministers and Prime Minister is interrupt operational arrangements that are working well in how people are moved between jurisdictions, how equipment is shared, how the equipment that is needed is identified by fire chiefs that is what we respond to and we’ll continue to do that. But there I’ll leave it to Minister Littleproud to deal with the many other aspects of that later today.
And the National Federation Reform Council will meet on the 11th of December and my suggestion, and it was warmly received, a key focus of that meeting will be on mental health. We will have the Productivity Commission report out at that time. We will also have the national suicide prevention adviser’s report available and out at that time. There is the interim report of the Royal Commission in Victoria and we all agree that particularly after a year where Australians have been so tested and our mental health systems and support have been boosted at a state and territory level and at a Commonwealth level at unprecedented levels, then it really is about how we maintain our effective supports and improve them into the future. That will be addressed along with the other items that are standing items on its agenda, women’s safety, Indigenous Closing the Gap measures and other measures will be added to the agenda as necessary between now and then. So with that, I’ll pass you on to Professor Kelly and then I’ll pass you on to Dr Finkel.
Professor Paul Kelly, Acting Chielf Medical Officer: Thank you, PM. So, as the PM has mentioned, another excellent day for Australia, no deaths and no locally acquired cases. So we do have seven overseas acquired cases, five in the NT. That’s related to the recent arrivals on those assisted flights from the UK and from India that are- and people are currently in quarantine in Howard Springs and then one each in New South Wales and Queensland, again in quarantine. And as the PM mentioned, this is a sign of success for our measures there.
In terms of the total numbers since the start of the epidemic in January, 27,698 with 907 deaths. The current situation in Australia, we have, over the last week 77 active cases, 22 in hospital and no one, not a single person in intensive care. So over the past week, we’ve had 58 cases in Australia across Australia, of which 56 are overseas arrivals in quarantine. So only two cases in the entire week. I just need to really stress the contrast of that with most other countries in the world. If we take the UK, for example, just in the past week, they’ve had 157,000 people have been diagnosed and they have now over 50,000 people have died from this virus. In the US in the last week, 731,000 cases. They have 65,000 people in hospital. Their hospitals are overstretched as is the case in many other countries around the world. It really just reinforces the importance of keeping our borders secure.
The other element that the PM mentioned was the vaccine policy. So that will be released publicly today. And so, we, Professor Murphy actually gave an update in relation to that to the premiers. So we now have our advance purchase agreements for four different types of vaccine, 134 million doses. Plus, they are signing up to the COVAX initiative, which would guarantee 50 per cent of our population will be covered through that process. So we have many possible vaccines available. The question remains about their stage three trials. Are they effective? Are they safe? We had very good information on the Pfizer vaccine, which we are signed up to, this week, and we expect other advice from those trials in coming days for the other vaccine. So the AstraZeneca vaccine, which will be and is currently being manufactured in Australia, as soon as that has regulatory approval, it will be available. The Novavax vaccine and the Pfizer vaccines will come from overseas, but they are guaranteed to get some supplies there. The University of Queensland vaccine, Minister Hunt’s been up there today talking about that. And they’ve made major advances as well. But they will be later in the year when we get those available. The key question is, will they protect against transmission or severe disease or both? And that will be the fundamental driver of the prioritisation of the vaccine to various parts of the population. And that’s outlined in general terms in the policy. But it will be absolutely the medical advice from the ATAGI group, our advisory group on immunisation, which advises the Minister for Health on these matters. And that will be what guides the prioritisation. The general principles there, though, those that are caring for vulnerable people, vulnerable people themselves, and those at highest risk of transmission will be the ones on the priority list. At the national level in the Australian Department of- Government Department of Health, we are forming a vaccine division which will be driving this from the Commonwealth point of view. But the states and territories, of course, will be involved and engaged very much on the distribution and logistics of the vaccination programme, as they always are. So we’re not duplicating there.
The final point was made very clearly by the PM, as he’s done previously, is that this vaccine will be free for all and, all Australians for anyone who wants to take that vaccine.
I’ll pass it over to the chief scientist now to talk about his excellent report.
Dr Alan Finkel, Chief Scientist: Thank you, Paul, and thank you, Prime Minister. So, as the Prime Minister said, we’ve just submitted to National Cabinet today the National Contact Tracing and Outbreak Management Review that was commissioned two months ago. I can tell you it was a very thorough review, even though time was short, we had the opportunity to visit personally the majority of the jurisdictions, the states and territories, and the others we did by video and we were warmly welcomed. And the states shared all the details of their public health and contact tracing and outbreak management systems. And I do extend my thanks to all the people we met in all the states and territories. We consulted with experts. We had an opportunity to go back into a second round with all the states and territories and the Commonwealth, of course, the Commonwealth Department of Health. And I’m therefore confident that our report has had the opportunity to cover all of the issues.
Speaking of confidence, the – perhaps the overriding conclusion from our report is that there is good reason to be confident in the contact tracing and outbreak management systems in Australia. But as was pointed out to me again and again and again, that is the second line of defence. Critically important is the preventative measures which start from the responsibility of the individual through hygiene practises and staying home if unwell, through physical distancing and other measures at a more macroscopic level, such as limiting appropriately access to high risk facilities such as aged care facilities. One of the things that we saw and encouraged through our report is a process of continuous improvement. The COVID-19 disease, the underlying virus is difficult to understand and it has caused havoc, as you know, around the world. And so we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. And the states and territories and the Commonwealth do recognise that. How do you know, in the absence of cases in the field, how do you know that the systems in place are capable of performing if and when there is a problem in terms of outbreaks? Well, you have to do desktop simulations. You have to do functional simulations. The states and territories and the Commonwealth understand that. And we’ve recommended ways that they can do that even more and more efficiently. We also recommended some simpler and I would say tighter, metrics that will enable the public and the other states and territories to evaluate the performance of each state and territory. And they’re listed in the in the review, of course.
Going forward a couple of things to keep in mind. One is that we’ve recommended that there be a means of digitally exchanging information between the states and territories, because you must keep in mind that under the Constitution, each state and territory is responsible for public health in their borders and they do it and do it very, very well. But as we go to a more mobile society and a fully active economy, they need to be confident that they can share information about people who are travelling from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. At the moment the problem is not manifest. We don’t have a serious issue, but we need to be preparing. So we’ve recommended a very light touch digital exchange mechanism that will respect all of the legislative and privacy requirements to enable states and territories to talk, to swap contact tracing information with each other and access contact tracing information from government agency databases. The second thing to keep in mind going forward is the importance of learning from each other. And one of the things that I would draw your attention to in this report is the listing of what we call the characteristics of an optimal contact tracing and outbreak management system, which is not a checklist that the states have to go through one by one and check themselves again. But it is a list that we’ve recommended that each state and territory evaluate themselves on from time to time.
I’m confident what’s there at the moment, Australia is doing well. We can’t be complacent, if we do undertake the recommendations in this report, which was adopted by the National Cabinet today I guess the way I would like to put it is we will go from good to great. Thank you.
Prime Minister: Thank you very much Alan. I’m happy to take questions. Let’s stay on National Cabinet first. And I’m sure you’ll want to go to other matters.
Journalist: The issue with the international students. When do you anticipate they may be able to go back – come back into the country? We had the situation, I think, where there were plans for the pilots that’s-
Prime Minister: The pilots will still go ahead. Because they’re being done above caps.
Journalist: Okay. And when do you think that the international students will be able to come back? And given that the universities are particularly reliant on international students as a source of income? Are you going to have to revisit maybe providing support to universities if there is a sort of a delay in coming back?
Prime Minister: Well, there’s been significant support provided to the universities, the $1 billion dollar additional and on research funding included, as well as the guarantee of their funding as we set out in the Budget. But that said, I mean, this is a question of priorities and our priorities must be to look after Australian citizens and residents first. Now, because of the deteriorating situation in other parts of the world, we have, we are seeing more Australians than ever, even than a couple of months ago seeking to come back. More Australians who may be finishing off work contracts or studies or or other arrangements they’ve had over the course of the year are now registering and looking to come back. And so they are difficult choices. Of course, we would like to see so many parts of our economy return to normal, but we must ensure that we put Australians first in that task, it is constrained by the amount of quarantine that exists at a state and territory level. And that’s a fact that we have to contend with and where we can expand that we are. But if there’s a suggestion – I’m not saying you’re making that suggestion, that somehow the quarantine can be waived in order to get through this. Well, that is not an option that either the Commonwealth or indeed the premiers and chief ministers are prepared to contemplate because of the inherent risks are there. I wish it were not so, but it is so. And that means it’s very difficult to say when we’ll be in a position for more of those students to come in the future. Now, many of them are already here, we know that. But for those who would be seeking to come back, well, there is a queue and Australians are in the front of the queue.
Journalist: Given this, do you have any strategy to try and retain this market in the longer term, for example, to work nationally with universities, to promote online courses, to give some approximate date when you think that we will be back in more full operation?
Prime Minister: The short answer to that is yes. And that strategy has been working out this year on the very things that you’ve just suggested, that’s already happening. And the education minister is continuing to work with states and territories and the university sector to get plans in place for when they can be activated. The frustration at the moment is, we’d hoped to be further ahead on this now. But the fact is there are many Australians in vulnerable situations and they’re seeking to get home and that that must take priority. And I’m sure I’m sure the university sector would understand that. But, yes, we have those strategies, including the visa-. We will do everything that we need to do and in order to ensure that we can maintain the viability of those operations. But at the end of the day, our universities are there to ensure that they’re providing quality university education to Australians and where there’s the opportunity to do that for international students as part of that business model, that’s fine. But we’re guaranteeing their funding. So Australian students continue to get additional places at universities, 30,000 additional places next year, 30,000 additional places in universities next year for Australian students to be able to go and take up that opportunity. And I think that’s fantastic. And that’s particularly the case in regional areas.
Journalist: on the vaccination programme. There will be a lot of people who’ll be reluctant to be vaccinated. There’s a lot of anti vaccination material circulating on the Internet. I’m just wondering what measures the government might have in mind to regulate that, if any, what sort of encouragement you would give people to be vaccinated and what sort of restrictions there might be for people who don’t vaccinate?
Prime Minister: Well, I’ll ask Professor Kelly to speak more to the vaccination strategy. But as you know, it won’t be a mandatory vaccination that is not the government’s policy and has never been the government’s policy. And there is a lot of misinformation that’s out there. Yeah. You know, you don’t go to Dr Google, you go to the doctor when it comes to these things and seek medical advice from your GP or your other medically trained professionals who are there and available to assist you, and so that that doesn’t change. And, of course, we would encourage people to take up the opportunity, but they will make their own choices and we will be seeking to provide the necessary assurances about the safety of the vaccine. That’s why it has to pass the TGA standards. There are no shortcuts here. There are no lower benchmarks that apply to this vaccine. It’s a very important vaccine for the country and for everybody’s health. But we will be applying the legal requirements that are there for people’s protection.
But Professor Kelly, did you want to add to that?
Professor Paul Kelly, Acting Chielf Medical Officer: Thanks, PM So firstly, we are an excellent immunisation nation. Most people agree with immunisation being an important component of our preventive strategy for ensuring the health of the nation. So this is not the first time we’ve had an immunisation programme. We roll out new immunisation programmes often. But I would say this has particular challenges as to the newness of it and so forth. And so we’re very aware that there will be people that are not wanting to have this vaccination, or to spread information which is not true. So we have, as part of the strategy, a very strong component of communication that’s already starting putting out information about the types of vaccines, their advantages and so forth. As the PM said, absolutely there are no shortcuts to this. It’s going fast. That’s true. But all of the processes for regulation will be there, all of the systems to make sure that we have, we’re certain about safety. And if anything happened, that would be we would know about it and be able to deal with it quickly. And people will be very much encouraged. And I’m sure there’ll be a lot of people that will be queuing up for this vaccine through next year.
Journalist: Is there growing frustration about the stand off between New South Wales and Queensland and the fact that the relationship between those two premiers appears to have really broken down now. Do you think there’s a role for yourself to kind of broker some sort of deal between them? Or are you hands off and just leaving it to them?
Prime Minister: Well, I have an agreement with both of them that we will be open by Christmas. That’s what the National Cabinet has brought them to. Now, the timing of that is has always been up to the individual premiers within their jurisdictions. The federation is still the federation. That hasn’t changed, the Constitution, is still the Constitution. They both joined the meeting today very productively and very positively. So, you know, sometimes these disagreements, I suppose, and what are written up as conflicts are maybe a little more dramatised than the reality actually is.
Journalist: Just on the, you mentioned that you’re going to pass on a copy of the National Contact Tracing Review to the Biden team, on a day where the-
Prime Minister: And the U.S. current administration.
Journalist: On a date where the US has recorded 150,000 new cases in a day. Do you think that the Trump administration can also take a leaf out of that book as well? And are you hopeful that the situation in the US will improve under a new approach from Biden?
Prime Minister: Well, look, I wouldn’t comment on that other than to say that we are sharing our learnings both with the administration and the incoming administration. The reason for that is I was invited to do so by President-Elect Biden yesterday, in our conversation he was very interested in Australia’s success. And it’s obviously the top of his priority list as as he’s been saying himself. And I wish him all the best. I wish President Trump all the best in dealing with what is just an awful an awful situation there. But, you know, the situation in Europe is the same. The situation in Europe is just terrible. I mean, the number of deaths, 50,000 didn’t you say Paul in the United Kingdom, I mean, the death toll from the Blitz was less. I mean, that is- that puts some perspective on what’s occurring. Now of course, the Blitz had many, many, many, many thousands, tens of thousands who were injured and maimed and that was obviously a calamity during war time of extraordinary proportions. But when you think about that and the population at the time was much lower than it is today. But, you know, the situation that is happening overseas, we can’t ignore. And the comparison to what’s happening here in Australia by the great work that’s being done right around the country is a tremendous credit to this country and it’s being noticed around the world. I mean, how we do things here – the question just on immunisation, Paul’s absolutely right. No one does this better than us. No one does it better than us. We’re really good at this stuff. And Australians can take some confidence about that I think.
Journalist: Prime Minister on state borders, just on state borders, obviously WA is set to reopen to most states tomorrow. But the health minister has said they’ll slap restrictions back up, hard border right back up should the risks come back, have you encouraged them not to be so hasty, especially with potentially some of the sharing of contact tracing, digital information that might not be necessary? What’s your response to this kind of position?
Prime Minister: I was pleased, and Dr Finkel you might want to comment on this because you spent a lot of time looking at the West Australian situation and the former chief WA health officer was on your panel. But what today’s said and what Dr Finkel’s report demonstrates and the work is that Australia’s system is good, it’s strong, and we can have confidence in it. That doesn’t mean there aren’t risks. I mean, there is no world without risks. Of course there are risks, you can’t manage to zero risk. And that’s not the National Cabinet’s policy. It is, it is suppression. And the systems that support a suppression strategy are contact tracing, are testing, are the COVIDSafe behaviours and in particular the registration systems, whether it’s the COVIDSafe app or indeed the other technologies which are becoming so much more commonplace and need to become ubiquitous. I mean, here in the ACT and New South Wales, the whole process for registration with quick population of your registration, using the codes and so on, this is becoming quite normal for people. And I notice young people are used to it very, very quickly. When I was in Tassie the other day, doing the same thing, as Jenny and I went out to a restaurant and we did it. And then we went for quiet little drink afterwards at a pub and did it as well. This becomes normal, but these systems must become ubiquitous across the country, whether it’s in Western Australia or in Tasmania and in particularly in states that are opening up. This is even more important. New South Wales is battle hardened on this. They’ve been doing this for some time now. And so their confidence, I think, is rightly strong. But in other states opening up, I’d encourage them to push through like New South Wales did, because the target is, the task is, to reopen safely and then to stay safely open by staying safely open you are giving confidence to businesses, to people in jobs, to people that make decisions about their future and what they’re going to do. Stop, start, stop, start does not provide that. So I have no doubt that that would be the intention of the Western Australian government to actually to open safely and to stay safely open, because that’s what’s in the national interest and that’s what’s in Western Australia’s interests. But Professor Finkel?
Dr Alan Finkel, Chief Scientist: So Prime Minister, I would add that the states will open their borders if they’re confident in the other states and their own ability to deal with any outbreaks or cases that occur. As we travelled and we looked at the systems, we saw fabulous evidence of well established, enduring public health systems in many of the states and territories and progress towards that in the ones that started a little bit behind at the beginning of the year. The other thing that has been impressive to note is the way the states have converged on consistent public health advice to the citizenry in terms of their personal actions and behaviours, the things that they’re responsible for, and also the covid safety plans that are now required of every single enterprise, whether it’s a government workplace or university or an aged care facility or a sports venue, it takes time to bring these kinds of things on board and to learn from experience and know what will be effective. But they’ve been through that and the preventative measures in place are effective and I think really quite well communicated to the citizenry. And the third thing is perhaps still evolving, but it’s doing well. And that’s the increased use of technology, because if numbers are high, when numbers are low, everything’s easy. But if numbers are high, there’s a finite workforce to deal with the numbers that are there. Every state and territory has been thinking about where it will get its surge workforce by training other members of public- of public servants from other departments or seconding people from other agencies. But ultimately, the efficiency of every single one of those people can be significantly multiplied by having technology to support them. Technology starts, starts from the moment that you go to have a sample, a specimen collected. That information can be and is increasingly digitised. So there’s efficiency all the way through from taking the sample through the pathology lab to informing the patients who had a sample taken, a test done through to informing the health departments of those positive test results, the allocation of those positive cases to a case interview officer can be done digitally so that never again should a case interview fall through the cracks, etc., etc., etc., so the combination of those three things – public health expertise, good preventative health measures in place that are well communicated and the increasing use of technology, I think, should give states, whether it’s the leadership or the population, confidence that Australia certainly in comparison to the rest of the world, but also in an absolute sense, is in a good place, not perfect, but a good place, somewhere I’m certainly happy to be.
Journalist: [Inaudible]…obviously overseas and the devastating figures that you’ve drawn attention to, doesn’t logic suggest that we’re not going to get international students back in Australia in large numbers until we’ve got a vaccine? To Professor Murphy- Sorry, Professor Kelly, I’m sorry. Forgive me if I’m wrong about this, but the Pfizer vaccine, I gather, has to be stored at very, you’ve got to freeze it basically or keep it at very low temperatures. Right. If that’s the model vaccine that ends up being rolled out first, do we have the infrastructure in the country in order to roll that out? To Dr. Finkel, you’ve said in your contact tracing review, which we’ve only just got so I haven’t read it, but you’ve referred to digitisation to refer data between states. Does that require legislative change, given the constitutional arrangements? And what exactly are you talking about in terms of transferring information? Sorry.
Prime Minister: Well, why don’t you gentlemen start?
Professor Paul Kelly, Acting Chielf Medical Officer: Some of the- of the last first.
Dr Alan Finkel, Chief Scientist: Okay we’ll start with the last one, so the mechanism we recommended, which we’ve just called the data exchange, is a very light touch, but highly efficient approach. So all it does is open up a communication pathway between the digital system in one state or territory and the digital system in another, and also, where appropriate, a Commonwealth government databases just for contact tracing information. So the recommendation is that a request goes out for some contact tracing information. It gets responded to, but the data never gets stored in the data exchange. So there’s no need to reconcile two disparate databases. There’s no large target for cyber attack. So it’s intrinsically and certainly if done properly, should be very, very secure. No, it’s unlikely to require legislative changes. But until the final design is done, it’s not clear. But we’ve certainly recommended that it be built consistent with the legislative requirements at the state, territory and Commonwealth levels for privacy.
Professor Paul Kelly, Acting Chielf Medical Officer: So just to add to that and the concept is to start with a pilot programme between New South Wales, Victoria, and ACT. They’re the ones that have expressed a particular interest in this and we will be working with them from the commonwealth level on the data exchange. Just on the vaccine. So the Pfizer vaccine, you are correct. It’s a type of vaccine known as messenger RNA vaccine, at the moment – it’s a brand new technology at the moment for stability. It needs to be kept at minus 80, which is dry ice, essentially. So that is a challenge. It’s one of the many challenges in relation to this vaccine rollout, but it’s only one of the four types of vaccine that four vaccines that we’ve signed up to, if it’s the first, Pfizer as part of their agreement with us, is that they guarantee that they will deal with the distribution issues from the place of manufacture to the place of immunisation. So that’s that’s part of the contract.
Prime Minister: And on the other matter. No, I don’t know if night follows day in that way, Katharine. I mean, the key constraint at the moment in people coming in is the capacity of quarantine. If there are ways we can boost that, then that’s great. And that’s what we’re working on at the moment. But the rush of those additional seeking to come back is obviously exhausted that resource, and that’s why we keep adding to it. But I’ve got to say, the fact that we no longer have New Zealanders coming through that process, that’s freed up some additional capacity. Equally as domestic borders go down, then we won’t have Australians from each other’s states sitting in hotel quarantine and that will enable more Australians to come home and that will be helpful without accessing one additional room and having or one additional police officer or health worker to be able to support that capacity. So as Australia opens, we will get more. All we said today was as right now as we’re looking towards Christmas, I can’t give a commitment to the states that we’d be in a position to allow any broader entry of international students at this time. But we’ll look at it again in several weeks. And I hope if we’re able to establish some additional capacity and how things may change in terms of those seeking to come back, it’s understandable that many are looking to get back before the end of the year around Christmas and so on. But we’ll keep a close eye on it and we’ll keep working closely with the sector.
Journalist: Prime Minister, on your three step opening plan, you said earlier that it’s the timing of each of the steps and that measures is up to each Premier in their own jurisdiction. Business has said that it can be, it’s quite confusing the sort of piecemeal manner. Was there any discussion or commitment to, I guess doing a kind of report card, something that’s combined that shows what all the states are doing when? And just on the international arrivals. Can you give us an update on the net figures? How many people on the list now? How many have actually come back of that 26,500 from a couple of months ago?
Prime Minister: To be honest, it changes very regularly and I’d be happy to distribute those accurate numbers through my office about the number as we have it right now and I suspect it will be different again tomorrow. I would note though, that over the course of this pandemic more than 400,000 Australians have come back from overseas. 400,000 that’s a lot and I’d add that we have already, since the 13th of March, helped over 30,800 Australian citizens and permanent residents return home directly and that includes over 10,000 on 358 flights of which 67 were directly facilitated by the Government and we have many additional flights now that we’re doing now. So this has been an ongoing process for many, many, many months and we’ve been getting through it as best as we can. I can tell you the figure I have here is that we there’s some 35,600 still registered abroad who’ve indicated an interest in returning to Australia and now it’s more than, it’s around about 10,000 more than we were talking about and that includes people already having got back out of that caseload and so it is a cup that keeps filling up every time we get someone home and so that will continue to be a challenge. I think I missed the second part of your question.
Journalist: The first part was around the reopening plan, is there any…
Prime Minister: We do have a system across all the states and territories, and I can understand the need for that. I mean, it’s a big exercise to get seven states and territories to agree to get this done by Christmas all of it and the states are always very adamant, extremely adamant about the decisions that they take, which of what happens within their jurisdictions and that’s the Constitution, and that’s how the system works and so the Commonwealth obviously has no ability to change that timetable through I suppose the force of national interest we’ve been able to get to the agreement that we have and I welcome that. But we’re moving quickly as I said, the many jurisdictions now have announced and more will, I know, when they’re opening up to Victoria. We’ve got Victoria opening up as well and people moving around and accepting international flights, which is not too far away. So there is a frustrating patience that is necessary as we move through this but when you compare that to the uncertainty of those in other places this is the best place to be in the world.
Don’t worry, I won’t leave you out, I’ll come here.
Journalist: A number of your state and territory counterparts want to see the practical action on the Natural Disaster Royal Commission extend to carbon emissions policy of commitment to net zero by 2050. What’s your reaction to them? What’s your message to them? And very separately, you are planning to travel to Papua New Guinea. We’re seeing media reports that there is a political challenge on the Prime Minister. If he is ousted, will you still go there?
Prime Minister: Well, I’m not going to speculate on those events, but it’s my intention to be with Prime Minister Marape next Wednesday as planned and I’ll be heading up to Japan, obviously, before that for the important meeting with Prime Minister Suga and we have the ASEAN meetings virtually over the course of this weekend and Dr Finkel may want to comment on this as well. One of the key findings or conclusions of the Royal Commission was that the locked in impacts of climate change already that are there largely set an elevated risk for the next 20 years and the report actually says that regardless of what might happen in terms of emissions reduction that is a known quantity and as a result, a key part of dealing with climate change in this country is dealing with the resilience to what is already there and that is a big part of what the Royal Commission recommends and I’ve been advocating some of you may recall from my first speech at the National Press Club at the start of this year, I said this agenda has to be about resilience as well. Of course it’s about emissions reduction. Of course it is. No argument about that from the Government, but it also must be to protect Australians and keep them safe. It is about resilience measures and that’s what our response will certainly address and in subsequent announcements that we will make, that is what in some respects the National Bushfire Recovery Fund in part is addressing. Our commitment is we would like to achieve the outcome you’ve indicated as soon as we can, but we will get there with a technology roadmap which achieves that result, not through taxation. See, if you can’t get there by technology, you get there by taxes and we are not going to get there by taxes. If other countries choose to get there by taxes, that’s a matter for them but Australia will set our response and we’ll meet our commitments based on our national interests and the policies we set here in Australia and that’s why our technology roadmap is so important because if we’re talking about reducing global emissions, not just Australia’s emissions or indeed other developing countries emissions, then we must have technology in developing countries implemented, affordable, scalable, commercial that will transform their economies as they grow because all the increase in emissions is going to occur in developing countries. That is what is going to continue to see emissions rise into the future. Developed countries, we’re reducing our emissions. We are signatories to Paris and we will meet those commitments as we have been to Kyoto and we’ve had great success there and we believe we’ll have great success in the future and so I’ve been really clear with Australians and that unless I can tell you what it’s going to cost you, unless I can set out that plan for how it’s going to be achieved then I think we are leaving Australia in a position that is vulnerable to a situation that would see higher costs imposed on Australian families when I believe that the path to it is in better technology and that has been a view that we’ve developed, closely informed by the work of the Chief Scientist. So I’ll invite him to make comment.
Dr Alan Finkel, Chief Scientist: So earlier this year at the National Press Club Prime Minister, you did talk about the impact of climate and the need to have resilient responses, as well as the long term mitigation and you asked the CSIRO to do a report specifically on climate and disaster resilience, working with an expert advisory panel chaired by myself and we did that and submitted it mid-year and it became one of the significant inputs to the Royal Commission, which has been presented to National Cabinet today and there are many, many things that we can do to improve our resilience but the first is to acknowledge that this is a serious problem there that has to be dealt with. The first four words, the first sentence in the Terms of Reference from the Prime Minister to the expert advisory panel and the CSIRO was ‘Australia’s climate is changing’. You have to acknowledge that and then work hard to deal with adapting to the problems that are there but at the same time, we absolutely have to be doing our piece to mitigate, to avoid emissions, to reduce emissions into the future and there are many things that are actually underway. You know, if you go back a longer time there’s the renewable energy target, which drove a pretty good amount of solar and wind at large scale into the market. There is the integrated system plan that AEMO is operating with at the moment, which actually came out of the review that I chaired back in 2017 and that imposes sensible connection requirements on large scale solar and wind so that they don’t destabilise the grid and through the integrated system plan allowing long distance interconnectors to bring electrons from where they generated to where you need them. We can now bring in solar and wind electricity at a much faster rate than we could have contemplated. The Government adopted the National Hydrogen Strategy last year and that is actually recognised around the world as a thoughtful and significant approach to realising the potential of hydrogen to contribute to emissions reduction. And the low emissions technology statement that the Prime Minister just mentioned, which was released in September this year is actually outlining how one can use technology to overcome the problems that are fundamentally wrought by the technology that we’ve been using increasingly for the last 200 years and those technologies, the purpose of the low emissions technology strategy, is to see how Government intervention and encouragement and signalling can lead to the most rapid decrease in price of those low and zero emissions technologies so that ultimately they will replace the higher emissions incumbent. They cover hydrogen again but also batteries and pumped hydro to help to firm up more and more solar and wind. They look at zero emissions steel as a future export potential for Australia. They look at Low emissions aluminium as a major export potential for Australia and then the Low Emissions Technology Statement recognises that it doesn’t matter what you do, there will be sources of emissions that you can’t zero out and you have to offset that by some kind of geosequestration or by sequestration and that’s also covered in the Low Emissions Technology Statement. So I think that there are several things in place at the moment that are moving us in the right direction.
Journalist: Scientifically would you like to see Dr Finkel, therefore, net zero by 2050 from a scientific perspective?
Dr Alan Finkel, Chief Scientist: I would like to see us proceed towards net zero as fast as we can do so with economic efficiency and I think that the measures that I just mentioned to you are the kinds of things that you would be putting in place if you were trying to move as quickly as possible towards net zero.
Journalist: Prime Minister, what progress has been made in standing up alternatives to hotel quarantine like on campus or at home quarantine? And how far off of those alternatives?
Prime Minister: Well, Paul might want to comment on that as well. These matters have been looked at by the AHPPC, they were discussed again today and they are not considered options that we can safely take on.
Professor Paul Kelly, Acting Chielf Medical Officer: So there are some pilots in relation to, to on farm quarantine for example, for the seasonal workers that have come from very low risk countries in Queensland for example that’s that’s one that’s ongoing at the moment. So there are some bespoke arrangements currently operating in the states, they’ve made those decisions to to to try those pilots. But in terms – I think your question really goes to, is there large scale alternatives to hotel quarantine and the answer is no and I think the reason has been outlined already about how dangerous the rest of the world is and how important our border arrangements are.
Prime Minister: We’ve taken a good look at it and those options aren’t presenting and we’ll keep looking but I’m not going to raise an expectation that you could expect to see them.
Journalist: You’re ruling them out. They’re not safe enough. You’re ruling them out. They’re not safe enough.
Prime Minister: Calm down. That’s not what we’re doing. We’re going to keep looking at what the options are as we always have and if we can find viable options then we’ll implement them but we haven’t been able to find any viable options that are safe at this time.
Journalist: Was there any preliminary discussions today about next year opening up international travel from low virus countries such as Singapore, Japan, parts of China, Taiwan that you sort of flagged earlier in the week?
Prime Minister: Well, we have a greenlight process with New Zealand. We have a process where we’re investigating other countries that could potentially be considered low risk and Paul might want to comment on that but the decision then for that to translate into some new access we have not made that decision at this point and we’re, I couldn’t say we would be in that position before the end of the year, we would obviously like to be if that were possible but we’re not going to compromise on the safety side. So what is important at the moment is that we’re doing the proper assessments and we are working with those countries. That’s one of the things I’m looking forward to speaking to Prime Minister Suga about when we’re up there, it’s something I’ll indeed no doubt, talk to Prime Minister Marape about next week as well but we want to be able to work out well what are the what are the assessments? What do they look like? What sort of assurances would you need? And they’re the sort of things you want to work out country to country and you also need to do that upfront with the states and territories because ultimately they are responsible for public health within their jurisdictions and of course we would consult them. It’s a Commonwealth decision which is respected by the states and territories, but we’d prefer to do that on the way in, in getting their views about that and how that can work. It’s working well with New Zealand at the moment. There may be small small countries where there are zero cases and very low risk where that at the margin can be achieved but I think, again, the point you made Paul, in terms of scaled change that is not in our immediate future that that’s a reality of of a COVID world that at the moment as we see overseas is is incredibly dangerous. Paul, did you want to add anything to that?
Journalist: I just, PM we were last time requested, the National Cabinet requested the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, the AHPPC to do further work on this and we have done looking at very at a general way of looking at risk of different countries and then a very detailed country risk assessment for specific countries of interest so the ones that have been mentioned are the ones that are of interest. So it’s those that those ones we have close ties with a couple of which the PM is visiting next week but also the Pacific where you know they’ve had a very different experience of the pandemic to other countries around the world. So it remains in our sights and so we’re not ruling anything out into the into the far future but at the moment, the decision is the the the world is red, which means 14 days hotel quarantine unless they are very specifically detailed as green in which case these alternatives might be available.
Prime Minister: Thank you Professor Kelly. I might have to leave it there. Just on that issue?
Journalist: On contact tracing report.
Prime Minister: Sure, sure.
Journalist: Did it actually identify deficiencies specifically in the Victorian system of contact tracing and do you believe they’ve been fixed since?
Dr Alan Finkel, Chief Scientist: So the contact tracing review is not the result of a enquiry it’s not a scorecard it’s truly looking at the characteristics shared across the states. I can tell you that the Victorian system is really working quite well now. It’s obviously, was under incredible stress and not working well three four months ago, but it’s actually dramatically improved.
Prime Minister: Thanks everyone, thank you.