Wednesday, 12 May 2021
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Finance, Senator Birmingham. When asked this morning whether references in the budget papers to vaccinating the entire population by the end of the year mean all Australians will be vaccinated by 31 December, Mr Morrison said:
No. There are assumptions that go to the rollout. They are not policy settings.
What assumptions underpin the budget?
Honourable senators interjecting—
Direct relevance: it is about the Prime Minister's statement today on vaccinations and the vaccination assumptions. It is the Prime Minister's own words. I would ask—
Senator Ruston interjecting—
Would you like me to read the question again, Senator Ruston? It was asked about vaccinations, and I would ask the minister to be directly relevant to that fact.
The minister had been speaking for seven seconds, and I think I heard more words from some interjectors than I had from the minister in those seven seconds. The preamble to the question was about vaccines. The final words I have, and I'm happy to be corrected, are: 'What assumptions underpin the budget?' If I misheard I'm happy to be corrected. I'm definitely not going to rule on direct relevance seven seconds in when the minister has referenced part of the question in his opening statement. I will listen to his answer. I'll remind the minister of the question. Senator Birmingham to continue.
Budget Paper No. 1, page 36:
The key assumptions that underpin the economic forecasts are set out below. Outcomes could be substantially different to the forecasts, depending upon the extent to which these assumptions hold.
The first phase of Australia's vaccination program commenced in late 2021, as it says, with most priority populations having been vaccinated. It is assumed that a population-wide vaccination program is likely to be in place by the end of 2021. The assumptions go on in relation to the containment of localised outbreaks of COVID-19, in relation to the management of domestic activity restrictions, in relation to the operation of state boarder restrictions, in relevance to temporary or permanent migration movements, in relation to inbound and outbound travel restrictions. Of course there are many other assumptions that do inform the budget papers, as I was saying at the outset.
In relation to vaccine availability, it is no secret that the world has faced a shock in elements of the vaccine rollout, particularly in relation to the AstraZeneca vaccine, and in Australia the advice that we've received from health authorities is to limit its application to those over 50. That has obviously had a change in the rollout schedule and expectations. Nonetheless, our government has procured around 170 million doses of vaccines that can give Australians confidence that throughout the course of this year we will receive the vaccine doses that will enable Australians to have the choice to be vaccinated, and we will urge all Australians to follow the health advice and to be vaccinated in accordance with this advice.
The policy settings that relate to the vaccine rollout are the billions of dollars that our government is investing in procuring those vaccines in the contractual arrangements that we have pursued with the states and territories, with Primary Health Networks and with GPs across the country that are providing more than 5,000 potential points of vaccination across the country now, that have achieved more than 2.7 million vaccine doses being administered to date and that will see continued distribution of vaccines across Australia throughout this year and no doubt into next year as well. We can see around the world that other countries are now taking the steps of assessing vaccine applicability to children. Those are considerations that obviously our health experts and regulators will give, which will no doubt, if they decide to approve, necessitate further changes to the vaccine program over time to come, in addition to potential for further booster doses. (Time expired)
Opposition senators interjecting—
That is not the case, and I won't accept the verballing of the Prime Minister from those opposite either. What is in the budget under the assumptions is indeed just that—assumptions. Those assumptions, though, are consistent with the government policy settings, which have entered into contracts around the world to secure around 170 million doses of vaccines for Australia, to ensure that we have that supply, that we have the distribution network that can enable, as indeed the budget assumptions say, a population-wide vaccine program to be in place by the end of 2021. They're the assumptions on which the budget is built. The policies enable that possibility to be delivered, and our focus is on delivering it. (Time expired)
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management, Senator Ruston. Can the minister please explain how the biosecurity package contained in this year's budget bolsters our commitment to protect Australian agricultural industries and regional communities?
I thank Senator Davey for her question about this really, really important issue that confronts Australia's farming sector. The government is investing $850 million in this budget as a commitment towards supporting our agricultural sector to get to $100 billion worth of farmgate value. Part of the critical pillar in this is obviously supporting biosecurity, and over $400 million will be invested in biosecurity measures to make sure that we keep Australia's agricultural sector safe from the incursion of foreign pests and diseases, because we know that agriculture continues to be one of the economic powerhouses of this country. Despite things like the impacts of drought and floods and bushfires and the COVID pandemic, we still, as a country, rely immensely on our agricultural sector. Keeping Australia free from pests and diseases is one of the most important things that we can do to make sure that we support Australian agricultural producers, because we know that biosecurity matters to them. It matters to them because the hard work they've done to gain market access could be compromised by pests and diseases. They know that they get a premium price for their products overseas because of our clean, green reputation. We know that even the small outbreaks that have happened in Australia can have devastating impacts, including, more recently, the over $2 billion that it has cost us to deal with African swine flu. We know that, for instance, if foot-and-mouth disease ever came into our country, we'd be looking at a $50 billion cost to our agricultural sector over the succeeding 10 years. So we are absolutely stepping up our resolve, our commitment, our funding to make sure that we combat, where we can, the incursion of pests and diseases into our country, because we stand side-by-side with our agricultural producers.
We're investing in lots of things, but we believe that technological solutions, such as the groundbreaking trials to screen biosecurity offshore and the development and implementation of modern, innovative detection systems like 3D X-ray machines and algorithms are much, much more likely to be able to target where risks are likely to be higher. Our announcement confirms our longstanding commitment that we will continue to invest record amounts of money to keep Australian agricultural producers doing what they do best—that is, producing fantastic clean, green Australian produce.
We know that on average every year 2.5 million shipping containers arrive in Australia, along with 19,000 commercial vessels and 60 million mail items. Supply chains are becoming more complex and biosecurity risks are challenging and spreading regionally and globally. That's why we are making the investment that delivers for import and export services to ensure the movement of goods is safe.
Our strong biosecurity system enables our agricultural sector, but it protects our way of life in Australia. Australia's biosecurity system protects the $53 billion in agriculture's fishery and forestry exports and 1.6 million Australian jobs across the entire supply chain. So the suite of biosecurity measures that is contained in this budget is just one of the initiatives that we are putting in place to boost the economic recovery and complement the reforms that we are implementing across our entire biosecurity system to make it the most modern, efficient and effective system and to make sure we keep Australia and Australians safe.
Recently, modelling from the University of Melbourne said that the net present value of what we are seeking to protect through our biosecurity systems over the coming years is $314 billion, and that means that this is about a $30 return on investment for every dollar that we invest in biosecurity. It makes absolute common sense.