Barnaby Joyce has claimed that the PM’s “four-phase” plan to end lockdowns, which did not include any thresholds or targets, actually does have a key number.
The Deputy Prime Minister appeared on Seven’s Sunrise on Monday morning to defend Scott Morrison’s plan announced on Friday, which drew criticism for lacking concrete metrics 18 months into the pandemic, and failing to set out clear timelines on when the country’s international borders can reopen.
The plan notably failed to address Australia’s vaccine shortage, despite wide-scale vaccination a requirement to move past “phase one”.
“It’s not much of a plan, is it?” Labor backbencher Joel Fitzgibbon told the program.
“You don’t get steps two, three and four before you have completed step one. You can’t return to any form of normality, we can’t get over these ridiculous lockdowns, can’t get the economy pumping again, until you get broad-scale vaccination.”
Sunrise host Natalie Barr asked Mr Joyce why there were “no numbers, no dates” in the plan.
“The numbers are there in what we’re doing,” the Deputy PM replied.
“The numbers are in excess of eight million … by the end of this week we will be well over nine million, and that is the metric you work for,” he continued, referring to the number of vaccine doses administered.
Mr Joyce said the vaccine rollout was accelerating with the AstraZeneca shot now being offered to younger Australians as well, despite concerns over rare blood clots.
“More and more people have had one shot and are heading towards getting the second shot,” he said.
“You see it in your own community and your workplace, so many people (have) had a shot now, it is rolling out.”
According to the latest federal government figures as of Sunday, nearly 31 per cent of over-16s in Australia – 6.3 million people – have received their first dose, but fewer than 1.9 million people, or 9 per cent of the population, are fully vaccinated.
Mr Joyce said the issue was there was “not enough” Pfizer to go around.
“We’re not the only country in the world having to deal with this, other countries such as Canada and Mexico are having to draw on the Pfizer vaccine as well, so this idea that the Pfizer vaccine issue is a unique problem is not correct,” he said.
“There is supply of AstraZeneca vaccine, as I said, we’re trying to grab Pfizer just like Canada and Mexico.”
Pressed on why the government had not included targets in the four-phase plan, the Deputy PM said he “can’t speak into the mind of other people as to why”.
“But I would suggest I wouldn’t do it because what you want to make sure is you work to a plan that says we are going to have to live with this virus, we are not going to be getting rid of it,” he said.
“Even if everybody is vaccinated or you get 90 per cent vaccination, you will still have the virus in the community. So you have got to make sure that you condition people to the idea that our job is to keep you alive, and to stop you from getting sick, we’re not going to be able to eradicate Covid-19, it’s just not going to happen.”
Mr Joyce said Australia had to learn to live with the virus like the flu or measles and mumps.
“We don’t want them but we don’t close down the economy because of them,” he said.
“And that’s precisely what we’re doing and I think the states are now coming on board with that idea. That sets the nation up in a much stronger place.”
Former PM Malcolm Turnbull last week described the vaccine rollout as a “phenomenal failure”, saying it was “hugely disappointing” more Australians were not fully vaccinated.
“We are way behind where we need to be and really it’s inexcusable,” Mr Turnbull told ABC New 24 on Thursday.
“The other developed countries are so far ahead of us the reason we’re so far behind is because the government last year didn’t buy enough vaccines. They didn’t buy nearly enough Pfizer, they didn’t buy any Moderna, it’s a comprehensive failure of administration I’m afraid, you can’t put a gloss on it, it’s not a philosophical issue or a policy issue … this is just a failure to do the one single most important job the Commonwealth government had which was to get the country vaccinated. It’s hugely disappointing.”
Former PM Kevin Rudd today called on Health Minister Greg Hunt to resign, describing the vaccine rollout as his “greatest failure”.
“At virtually every stage, bad decisions have sabotaged the rollout of safe, effective vaccines for the Australian people,” Mr Rudd wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald.
“Hunt’s vaccine targets were clear – four million jabs by April, the nation ‘fully vaccinated’ by October, and ‘widespread international travel’ by the New Year. Those targets have all now slipped from view.”
Mr Rudd said while it wasn’t the Health Minister’s fault that “AstraZeneca proved too dangerous for younger people”, it was his “responsibility to invest in a broader portfolio of vaccines”.
“British citizens will start receiving their third ‘booster’ jabs in September, while many Australians are left waiting for their first,” he wrote.
“Over many months, Morrison and Hunt have unveiled a series of new ‘plans’ to reset the rollout, each of which promised much but delivered little. Last Friday’s announcement by Morrison – a ‘four-phase plan’ with hazy targets and no timeline – is part of the same. If you remove the wrapping paper it’s just another political mirage designed to project an image of competence after yet another week of chaos.”
Speaking on the ABC’s Insiders on Sunday, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said under-40s could expect to get the Pfizer vaccine soon but would not give a firm date.
“We will see a marked step-up in terms of availability of the Pfizer vaccine – from around 300,000 doses a week up to an average of 600,000 doses a week – and a further increased forecast in September,” he said.
“So, young Australians should have confidence they will see a full opening up (of the vaccine rollout) in the months to come, and that may even be sooner than months. But we do have to continue just to make sure we work through the different priority stages of the rollout.”
He was pressed by host David Speers.
“But for someone under 40 watching this today, when will they be able to get a Pfizer jab?” Speers said. “Is it August, September, October? They’ve got to weigh up what to do through winter.”
Mr Birmingham replied, “We will make those decisions working with the health authorities in terms of when to open up in that regard.”
Speers asked, “Just to be clear, there is no (date) for them at the moment?”
“There is not a fixed date that I can give you now,” Mr Birmingham conceded.