Anthony Albanese says the government should give fully vaccinated Australians $300, saying further encouragement is crucial to hitting jab targets of 80 per cent.
As federal Parliament resumes on Tuesday after a five-week break, Labor has instantly turned the torch on Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s reopening roadmap, saying it will be hard to reach the targets without new ideas.
“Vaccinations are a race Australians can no longer afford to lose. The Morrison government must make vaccines easily accessible to meet their target to vaccinate 80 per cent of adults,” Mr Albanese said.
“Federal Labor is calling on the Morrison government to roll up its sleeves in the race to vaccinate the nation and provide a one-off $300 payment to every fully vaccinated Australian.”
Mr Albanese and Labor’s health spokesman Mark Butler said their proposed payment would be a “further incentive” to get vaccinated, but also painted it as an economic boost.
The pair said providing $300 payments to vaccinated Australians would be a “significant cash stimulus” and a “much-needed shot in the arm for businesses and workers struggling from lockdowns”.
Under Labor’s proposal, people would get $300 after their second jab – including those who have already been vaccinated.
Australia needs to fully vaccinate about 16.5 million people to get to 80 per cent vaccination coverage. Offering $300 to each of them means the plan would cost nearly $5 billion.
Labor claims it would inject about $6 billion into the economy.
The four-phase plan for reopening, outlined in greater depth by Mr Morrison last week, noted that Phase B – which could be hit with 70 per cent of Australia’s adults fully vaccinated – would include “encouraging uptake through incentives and other measures”.
Mr Albanese said he thought that “should be a priority”, and that Labor would “continue to propose constructive solutions” for dealing with the pandemic.
“The faster this is achieved, the faster the recovery as we emerge from the lockdowns that are bleeding hundreds of millions of dollars a day from the nation’s finances,” he said.
The federal government has been reluctant to detail plans for vaccination incentives, like those seen in nations like the US and through Asia.
Americans have been offered free beer, doughnuts and even marijuana as sweeteners to roll up their sleeves.
US President Joe Biden recently announced his government would offer $100 incentives for Americans to get vaccinated.
But head of the Therapeutic Goods Administration Professor John Skerritt said in June he didn’t think it was wise to offer cash payments.
“We don’t want to go down the slippery slope of paying people to have a medicine,” Professor Skerritt said.
Vaccine rollout co-ordinator Lieutenant-General John Frewen said large Australian businesses were keen to give vaccine incentives, but that the government wouldn’t be looking to take up those offers yet.
“I’ll be having a conversation with them around incentives maybe later in the program when we’re trying to move portions of the population towards getting vaccinated,” he said in July.
Airlines like Virgin have offered frequent flyer points for those who get the jab.
Health Minister Greg Hunt and the federal health department have previously told The New Daily they weren’t considering similar carrots, but chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly hinted it could be on the cards at some stage.
When asked by TND at a Canberra press conference in May if vaccine incentives could include cash, lotteries or discounted goods, Professor Kelly responded: “I think all of these things are potentially on the table.”
“But I think the main incentive is … about protecting your own health, not sitting there, waiting for an outbreak,” he said.
On Tuesday, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham quashed Labor’s idea, describing it as insulting to millions of Australians who had already received a shot.
“The evidence says that it’s unnecessary and unlikely to work,” he told the ABC.
Senator Birmingham said schemes in Canada and Britain, where vaccination rates are high, were a better option.
“They used some targeted incentives in careful, targeted ways to help get people over the line, but not this type of broad-brush scattergun approach,” he said.
Senator Birmingham said research by the government’s behavioural economics team found financial incentives weren’t the solution.