Press Conference

  • Transcript
Subjects: National Plan, Vaccination certificate scheme, Taliban female sport ban, travel bubbles, TRIPS waiver, Pfizer vaccine deal.

Minister Tehan: So yesterday we hit the 21 million mark when it comes to vaccines, and as the vaccination rollout continues to ramp up we want to make sure that we can implement our plan, the national plan, for opening up our economy. Now, a key part of that is making sure that we can resume international travel, and to do that we'll have to make that we can put in place a system which enables recognition of your vaccination, so a vaccination certification scheme, a vaccination certificate. And we are in the process of planning that so that in the coming weeks we will have a system up and ready so that when we hit that 70 per cent vaccination mark and we hit that 80 per cent vaccination mark Australians will be able to travel overseas again and also Australians will be able to return home in greater numbers and we'll also be able to start welcoming international students, those who want to come here to work and, ultimately, tourists again.

We're developing that QR code, which will be used under that system, with the International Civil Aviation Organisation, so it will be recognised across the globe. But we also want to put in place a system which will enable Australians also to freely travel within Australia and do so in a very safe manner. So, we'll be looking at developing a QR code which works with state and territory apps so that where you're required to prove that you've got a vaccination certificate you'll be able to do so in a very simple way. That will make it easier for Australians to be able to travel, to meet up at Christmas, for sporting events like the Ashes it will mean that people will be able to travel, and hopefully see us do what the Indians have done to the English and beat the English during the Ashes series.

It will also mean when you're going to other events, whether it be concerts, whether it's the theatre, that you'll be able to demonstrate quite clearly your vaccination certification. This is all part of our plan to make sure that we can open the economy and open our country safely. And that is exactly what we want to do. We're going to be working with the states and territories to do that. We want a system whereby that national plan will enable us safely to be reunited with our loved ones and also to attend those events and those concerts and those theatre events that we want to.

Happy to take any questions.

Journalist: Minister, does the government trust the word of the Taliban, and will Australia recognise the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan?

Dan Tehan: Well, ultimately, they're decisions that will be taken in conjunction with other countries and with other like-minded governments. But I will say this: the news that the Taliban won't be recognising or won't be allowing female sport is incredibly, incredibly disappointing. As a matter of fact, I think most Australians would be absolutely appalled at the idea that girls and women wouldn't be allowed to play sport. And I think this is something that our sporting codes will have to think about and look at very closely because as a father I know the idea that my daughters wouldn't be able to play sport is something that I just can't even imagine. The joy that they get out of playing sport, the joy that I get out of watching them playing sport is just immense. And the idea that you would stop females playing sport is just something that would go against what every Australian would think is the right thing to do.

Journalist: Minister, how soon would you imagine that international travel will reopen, and will there be a system of differentiating between countries [indistinct]?

Dan Tehan: Look, the national plan makes very clear that once we hit that 80 per cent mark then outbound travel – travel by Australians overseas – will take place and also that we can put in place arrangements for inbound travel as well, broadening our bubbles that we've got in place. We've got one with New Zealand at the moment. Obviously, we've been in talks with certain Pacific islands, with Singapore, about expanding bubbles. So, the hope is that we'll be able to build up on those bubbles so we'll see travel taking place. Hopefully we might see some occurring before Christmas but definitely next year, especially with the way the ramp up with the vaccination is going.

Journalist: Mr Tehan, church groups have told the ABC that they met you yesterday and that you gave them a commitment that Australia would support the TRIPS waiver when it comes to intellectual property on COVID-19 vaccines. Is this true, and will you express Australia's support for this at the WTO?

Dan Tehan: Well, we've always said that we will support a TRIPS waiver when it came to COVID-19. When the US came out and said this the Prime Minister welcomed that news. And we continue to work constructively in Geneva to do everything we can to expand the production of vaccines globally because we need everyone across the globe to be able to get access to a vaccine ultimately if we are to be safe.

Journalist: So will you express that support at the WTO on September 14?

Dan Tehan: So, we've already expressed that support. We've been working with countries to make sure that we can get a resolution to this issue. I've spoken to the Indian and the South African ministers about this. I've spoken to the US Ambassador Katherine Tai, who is the US trade representative. I've spoken about this with Valdis Dombvrovskis, the EU trade representative. So this is an issue that we are trying to play a very constructive role on.

Journalist: Minister, given you said that QR codes will be used for international travel but also the states, and given New South Wales is going to be launching an app towards the of the month, will it be ready in the next couple of weeks?

Dan Tehan: Well, we're working the states and territories in making sure that it is ready as soon as it possibly can be. We, obviously, have to make sure that the QR code will work in the way that we want it to work, in a way that, obviously, it recognises the right certificates that need to be recognised and also that when it comes to ensuring that if you want to travel from New South Wales to Victoria that we've got systems in place. So, there's a lot of work that needs to be done, but we're working at speed to make sure that we've got it developed as soon as we possibly can.

Journalist: Have you landed on the QR code as a way of maintaining privacy in a way that you can share it with DFAT and other organisations like that?

Dan Tehan: So, when it comes to an international certification system, we've been working with the International Civil Aviation Organisation to make sure that it will work with other countries and will seamlessly join up with other countries. So, that's been key part of what we're doing. Obviously when it comes to domestic use of a vaccination certificate we're working the states and territories and their apps to make sure it works interoperably.

Journalist: Minister, why would the Health Minister decline an invitation from Pfizer to meet with senior global executives in July last year at a time when other countries were securing deals for millions of doses of that vaccine and then why did it take more than five months from that point to sign a deal with Pfizer?

Dan Tehan: So, I've seen a statement that the Health Minister has put out. He obviously has said that this is false, that the Labor Party only got access to a certain amount of the emails, and there is a lot more to this story than what the Labor Party have put out.

Journalist: So, what is the more to the story?

Dan Tehan: Well, obviously that's all set out in the Minister for Health's statement which he's put out.

Journalist: It's quite clear in the emails, however, that two weeks after the UK and the US signed a deal with Pfizer – two weeks – that was the first time that anyone from Greg Hunt's office saw Pfizer. Why?

Dan Tehan: So, these are selective emails that have been put out by the Labor Party. The Minister for Health has put out a full statement. There is a lot more to this –

Journalist: He doesn't deny it in any way.

Dan Tehan: And it's set out in his statement.

Journalist: Why don't you release the rest of the correspondence, though, if there's more to it?

Dan Tehan: So, the ALP put in an FOI request. The information was provided to the ALP as part of that FOI request. It's now selectively released part of that. The Health Minister has been very clear in saying that this is false, and there is a lot more to this story.

Journalist: Is the lieutenant general put in charge of the rollout because the Minister wasn't up to the job?

Dan Tehan: Lieutenant General John Frewen is doing an outstanding job when it comes to rolling out our vaccination program. And he's working very, very cooperatively and closely with Minister Greg Hunt, who has also done an outstanding job as Minister for Health throughout this pandemic. I don't think there's anyone who has been more in the spotlight, who has had a greater workload outside the Prime Minister, than the Minister for Health dealing with this pandemic. And he has done an outstanding job.

Journalist: He's not in the spotlight today, Minister. You must be pretty peeved about being pushed out to take these questions. Why isn't the Health Minister – we normally see the Health Minister or the Prime Minister on a daily basis. Why aren't either of those out today taking these questions on such a serious issue about our vaccine supply? Are they ducking for cover?

Dan Tehan: No, they're not ducking for cover. We've had a national cabinet – sorry, we've had a cabinet meeting today and there are other cabinet meetings going on this afternoon. And can I tell you, it's a great joy to be out here talking with all of you this afternoon, and I'm happy to do it any day of the week.

Journalist: How do you explain the discrepancy, though, between the US and the UK signing on July 20 their deal with Pfizer and Australia signing on November 5th?

Dan Tehan: So, the Health Minister has put out a statement on this and he's been very clear–

Journalist: But he's not here to take questions – you are. So answer the question.

Dan Tehan: So I am answering the question. He put out a statement. The statement's very clear. This was a select – this is a selective use of emails. It doesn't tell the full story.

Journalist: What's the full story?

Dan Tehan: And his statement is very, very clear that this is false.

Dan Tehan: I'll take one more question, thank you.

Journalist: What's the full story?

Journalist: Which bit's false?

Dan Tehan: If you look at Minister Hunt's statement –

Journalist: I've looked at it. I'm asking –

Dan Tehan: Yeah, okay. And he set it out all very clearly there. It is a select use of emails under an FOI request which only ended up with a select group of emails. Thanks very much.

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