Nearly $2 billion is to be poured into Australia’s COVID vaccine rollout – taking the vaccine program to $6.3 billion – to make jabs available at thousands of healthcare sites nationwide, Scott Morrison will announce on Monday.
But while admitting there is “so much more to do” in Australia’s COVID response, Mr Morrison has all but confirmed the JobKeeper and increased JobSeeker payments will shortly come to an end.
“You can’t run the Australian economy on taxpayers money forever,” the Prime Minister will say in a major speech.
Mr Morrison will address Canberra’s National Press Club on Monday, in a speech to mark the opening of parliament for 2021.
The PM will use the speech to announce an extra $1.9 billion allocation of demand-driven cash to fund healthcare facilities to administer the jabs, as well as for transport, logistics and systems to keep track of vaccine data.
“This will be one of the largest logistics exercises ever seen in Australia’s history,” Mr Morrison will say, according to an advance copy of the speech distributed by his office.
“Our aim is to offer all Australians the opportunity to be vaccinated by October 2021, commencing in just a few weeks’ time. Our guidance is that first vaccinations remain on track to be in Australia, ready for distribution to priority groups, from late February.”
It comes just a day after Health Minister Greg Hunt had announced a major uptick in the number of health facilities expected to administer the vaccines. The government had initially hoped 1000 GPs and clinics would offer jabs, but Mr Hunt said a larger-than-expected level of interest from doctors meant that number would actually be above 2000.
The health minister also said 5800 community pharmacies nationwide would also be able to apply to give jabs, potentially opening up thousands more sites. They will be “incentivised”, or paid, to deliver jabs.
“We’ll have thousands of points of presence across Australia – hospitals, GPs, Pharmacies, Respiratory Clinics, Aboriginal Health Services and a specialist surge workforce,” Mr Morrison will tell the Press Club.
“This will ensure we get the vaccine to all Australians, including people in rural, remote and very remote areas and others who are hard to reach.”
Mr Morrison reiterated vaccinations would be free for all, and that the government would “strongly encourage all Australians to get vaccinated.”
After initial priority groups like the elderly and frontline high-risk workers get the jab, the government will “extend vaccination to the balance of the population as quickly as possible”, he said.
Mr Hunt had earlier said that phase 2a of the vaccine rollout, the first part of the general population rollout after priority high-risk groups are vaccinated, is expected to begin around May.
“We are working with states and territories and will be providing guidance for employees, employers, customers and industries on the vaccine shortly,” Mr Morrison said.
However, the PM again warned that timetables may be delayed due to heightening vaccine nationalism overseas, as production of key vaccines Pfizer and AstraZeneca hits trouble and foreign governments try to put export controls on European-manufactured doses.
Mr Morrison said Australia had “wisely planned for the unexpected”, including onshore manufacturing of the AstraZeneca in Melbourne.
‘No intention to extend JobKeeper’
In his speech, the PM will announce his five major priorities for 2021. The very first one is “suppress the virus and deliver the vaccine”; others include creating jobs, guaranteeing essential services, to “secure Australia’s interests in a challenging world”, and “care for our country”.
On the second priority, Mr Morrison will crow about the falling unemployment rate, which had dropped from 7.5 per cent in July 2020 to 6.6 per cent in December. He will say that 90 per cent of jobs lost during the pandemic have already been restored, and that Australia’s performance “betters the experience of most advanced economy nations in the world.”
But despite ongoing border closures and unemployment higher than pre-pandemic, the JobKeeper wage subsidy and JobSeeker’s coronavirus supplement to end in March.
Calls to extend both support payments are growing, but Mr Morrison appeared to again dampen hopes that the government would continue to shell out for the multi-billion dollar economic bulwarks.
In the speech, Mr Morrison stressed he saw the “emergency measures” as needing to be “temporary and accompanied by a clear fiscal exit strategy.”
“The task now is to continue our economic recovery by sticking to our Economic Recovery Plan and exercising the fiscal discipline necessary to ensure that we do not overburden future generations and continue to spend taxpayers’ money wisely,” he will say.
“We are not running a blank cheque budget.”
While the speech excerpt distributed by the PM’s office does not specifically mention JobSeeker or JobKeeper, Mr Morrison seems to hint that there would be no wide-scale extension of either program.
He will say that the $251 billion in direct economic support from the government had led to a 5 per cent economic boost in 2020-21, and will have a 4.5 per cent boost in 2021-22.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has called for a JobKeeper extension for her state’s tourism operators, claiming the closure of Australia’s international border has been a bodyblow to that sector.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg called that request “cheeky” and said the QLD Premier should be “making more of a commitment” herself.
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Mr Frydenberg, speaking on the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday, said the federal government would “consider whatever future targeted assistance may be required”, but stopped short of committing to any specific change.
“There is no intention to extend JobKeeper,” he said.
“Every dollar we’ve spent through this crisis is a borrowed dollar, so that’s important to understand. So we have to be very cautious about what we spend on.”