PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon. I’m joined by the Minister for Health and the Chief Medical Officer. I’m also joined by the Minister for Indigenous Australians, and I’ll be making some remarks on the COVID situation very shortly.
But, before I also do that, can I make a couple of remarks regarding the situation in Afghanistan. The situation in Afghanistan is extremely disturbing, very concerning I know to all Australians, and none more so than our veterans community right across the country, and in a moment I want to make some very specific remarks to our veterans. What I can assure you is that the National Security Committee of the Cabinet has been meeting every day, we met again this morning for several hours, as we continue to finalise the operational plans that are already being swung into place, not just here, but of course in the Middle East and overseas, and in preparations for what we are hoping to do over the course of this week. As I said earlier, on Sunday, I don’t propose to go into any of the details of those plans at this point. But, I do intend, at the appropriate moment, to stand before you again and update you on the progress of those operations.
I want to thank all of those who have been working tirelessly to ensure that we can put these plans safely in place, to make sure that we can follow through, not just on the care that we provide to citizens in these situations, but, of course, the many Afghan nationals who will be making Australia their home. Already, 430 Afghan nationals who’ve worked with Australia are already here in Australia with their families, and they’ve come here since April. Over the course of these many years, some 1,800, 1,800 have come to Australia and are living here amongst us, and we’re thankful for their support to us. And, we are very pleased that they are making their home now here in Australia. There will be more that will be added to this number. There will be more that will be added to this number, not just through the locally engaged program that we have been running with a great sense of urgency, particularly this year. But, in addition, through our humanitarian program more broadly, which has the capacity to ensure that we can also take people through those channels in a, in a very torrid situation like we have in Afghanistan at the moment.
It is, it is changing by the day, and we have to be also very mindful of those who are part of these operations for Australia. We need to be mindful of the environment they’re entering. What we have seen, and of course in the last 24 hours, is in the city of Kabul itself, while there may have been some stability – it’s all relative when you’re talking about a place like Kabul at the moment – some stability, the situation at the airport still remains a very difficult and challenging environment. But, our Defence Forces, as well as DFAT, our Home Affairs officials and others, our Health officials, are working closely together, not just for what needs to be done in the Middle East, but what will need to be done back here in Australia. And, I also want to thank states and territories with whom we’ve been engaging to ensure that when we’re able to have people returning to Australia, that we have the quarantine facilities and the places ready to go for that to be supported. I’ve been in touch with some Premiers about that, but in most cases I haven’t had to be. The arrangements are already there. This is a national effort. This is a call right across the country to support these operations, and I want to thank everybody for the important work they’ve been doing.
Can I, though, say a few quite specific words to our veterans community, who I know will be feeling these events incredibly, incredibly sensitively. To the men and women of our ADF and Australia’s veterans, I know today is a day of sadness and reflection for our Afghanistan veterans. It’s a time of deep and uncomfortable questioning. And, that is only right. We shouldn’t hide from it. The scenes from Kabul have been absolutely heartbreaking. It’s a sobering day for everyone, and particularly those who have given so much over the past 20 years, and most notably those 41 who were lost. I know the overriding concern of the veterans I’ve spoken to has been for us to protect those who worked alongside us in Afghanistan, that worked alongside you. 1,800 have already been brought to Australia, 430 just since April of this year, and more will come. I want you to know that we will continue to do everything we can for those who have stood with us, as we have to this day. But, I want to talk openly to veterans that despite our best efforts, I know that support won’t reach all that it should. On the ground, events have overtaken many efforts. We wish it were different. Today, we remember the tens of thousands of Australians and their families made extraordinary sacrifices for our mission in Afghanistan. Those who went didn’t get to decide where they went, or the cause that they were asked to serve. They went because they’d signed on to serve their country. They’d signed on to be the professionals, soldiers, passionate about their country, to serve under their flag and in the name of Australia. Sacrifices that will always be honoured and always remembered. It was a mission that was about stopping a murderous ideology being exported around the world. For two decades, that ideology has been contained, as have the mass casualty attacks of those times. A generation of Taliban leadership was wiped out because of that violence. And, time will tell if the lesson of that history has been learnt.
I know some veterans of the conflict are questioning these efforts. I understand that. I truly do. My answer though, is, the uniform you wear, and have worn, has always been about keeping Australia and Australians safe, serving under our flag, serving our values. There is no more decent and good purpose than being willing to serve the country that you love. It doesn’t mean history’s currents always run our way. I wish it did, but sadly it doesn’t. But, it doesn’t matter which battle, which conflict in where our uniform has been worn, we honour all who step up in our name. We honour the men and women, who in Andrew Hastie’s words, ‘Run to the sound of the guns, because that is what we ask of them.’ To them, I say, you can be as proud as I am of you today as at any other time you put that uniform on, and the very first time you pulled that uniform on. You have served our country, and in so many cases continue to. And, I’m going to ask you to do one more thing for us and ourselves and yourself, and that is to please talk with people each and every day, in the weeks and months ahead. To your comrades, to your fellow veterans, to your friends, to your families and to your counsellors. There are services that are available, with people there who understand the circumstances of veterans and their families, including Open Arms, on 1800 011 046. Talk to someone, take up those services. It’ll help you see through the fog of these very, very difficult times. The confusion, the uncertainty, the anger, it will make a difference, because all Australians want you to know, not just your Prime Minister, that you are not alone.
Tomorrow is Vietnam Veterans’ Day, and I want our Vietnam veterans, who had their own difficulties in their times, as well as all of our veterans through all of our conflicts also, as you, I know you do, reach out to your fellow Afghanistan veterans. And, to all Australians I say, if you know a veteran, tell them, as I take every opportunity to do, to thank them for their service. Let them know that we’re all grateful, let them know that we’re all proud, and we always will be.
On to other matters, I want to say thank you to Australia, as we continue to battle the most difficult phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. I want to thank every single person who is pushing through. We are not going to give up. We are not going to give in. I know, as each day as you are there, particularly those who are at home, and you hear the news each day and you hear the numbers and you, and you hear the challenges. I understand that that can be very disheartening, that it can get you down. Let’s not give up, that’s not our nature. Let’s not give in to that, let’s continue to look forward. Sometimes you can only see the tunnel and not the light. But, I want to tell you, the light is there, and every single day you’re helping us achieve that. Whether you’re staying at home where you need to, or you’re getting vaccinated, you’re getting on the phone and ringing your friend and encouraging them over the course of the day, or whatever you’re doing to help Australia get through this, you are creating that light at the end of this tunnel. And, it’s very important we focus on that, Australia. It’s very easy to become overcome by the criticisms and the negativity and the, and the numbers. But, we must push through, and we shall. And, there’s good reason to believe that, because even though our challenges are great – and I’ve asked the Health Minister and CMO and Minister for Indigenous Australians to join us today to talk about a particular challenge we’re having in western New South Wales – we will overcome it.
We’ve just had another near record day of over 270,000 doses delivered in a single day. It’s almost 200 doses every single minute. Just think about that. In the brief time I’ve been speaking here, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of doses, going through, getting us one step closer, with every single dose. In the past seven days here in Australia, as a share of our population, it beats any seven day period in the United Kingdom over their entire vaccination program. That’s what you are achieving right now, Australia. That’s what you’re achieving, and taking us forward to the next phase, as we look forward to those 70 per cent and 80 per cent vaccination rates being achieved. And, the quiet achievers of this are the 8,000 and more GPs and pharmacists, the silent success that they’re engaged in every single day. They are doing the overwhelming majority of the vaccine doses across the country. You’ll see the images, no doubt, as you can, of the big clinics where people are coming in, but even more, quietly walking into suburban main street GPs, rural towns around the country, people going in quietly getting their jab from their GP and their pharmacists, and getting this job done for Australia.
Right now, around the country, every state and territory has gone above 25 per cent double dose, except Western Australia, and we look forward to them achieving that in the time ahead. This week, one in two Australians will have received their first dose of that vaccine. And, that’s getting us closer and closer to that 70 per cent and 80 per cent every single day. So, I want to encourage Australians. I know that the news can sometimes get you down, but don’t let it. We’re never going to give in to this thing. We’re never going to give up in fighting it. We will overcome the challenges. We will continue to stand with you.
$3 billion has already been made available, $3 billion just most recently, to the 1.3 million Australians who have access to that COVID Disaster Payment. We are standing with you today, just as we were last year, just as we brought back Australia from that COVID-19 recession, and the terrible first and second waves, and we came back then and we are going to come back again after this, as we vaccinate the rest of the nation. Greg.
THE HON. GREG HUNT MP, MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: Thanks very much to the PM, to Ken, to Paul Kelly, the Chief Medical Officer. So, firstly, to echo the Prime Minister, thank you to all of the Australians who are stepping forward to arm themselves, to be vaccinated, to protect themselves, their friends, their families, their communities. This is happening, as the PM says, in record numbers. Yesterday, 279,465 Australians were vaccinated. We believe that’s the highest number, not just during the COVID vaccination program, but at any point in Australia’s history for vaccinations in a single day. That’s now over 15.6 million vaccines that have been delivered in total. And, importantly, we’ve passed the milestone of over 10 million eligible Australians that have had their first dose. And, that’s the number that’s immensely important because it overwhelmingly leads to people having their second dose. And, that’s very heartening. And, so, to see that is a cause of thanks, but it’s also a point to continue to urge Australians to come forward.
But, this week, we know that there are over two million vaccines in the field, and then there’s the additional million from Europe. And, I can give a brief update on that. The TGA has batch tested the first of the arrivals and approved it, and that’s been released, and that’s going to be distributed over the coming hours and days. And, I think that will provide additional hope and help and support for people right around Australia, but particularly in New South Wales, particularly in Sydney, particularly in western and south western Sydney. In addition to to that, the second of those flights from Europe is over Australia and due to land this afternoon with the additional 450,000 doses, Prime Minister. So, that’s all, I think, real cause for hope.
Now, in terms of other elements, with regards to the response to the outbreak in western New South Wales – and Ken and Professor Kelly will give additional detail – the Commonwealth is working very closely with New South Wales. I particularly want to thank New South Wales Health. There’s a joint operations team led by Health at Commonwealth with the support of Emergency Management Australia, and led by New South Wales Health. As a consequence of that, we will be dispatching five ADF vaccination teams. They will comprise up to 14 members. The first of those teams will arrive in western New South Wales tomorrow, and others will arrive over the coming days. These teams will be made of up to 14 members, as I’ve mentioned, which will include medics, nurses, logisticians, a clinical lead, and they’ll be hubbed out of Dubbo and they will work across the area. They’ll support vaccination, but where swabbing or other activities are required, they’re highly mobile, highly flexible, highly trained.
In addition to that, the first AUSMAT team is expected to be dispatched within 48 hours. Professor Len Notaras, the head of the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre, is pulling those teams together from around the country. And, the first of those teams will be dispatched in the next 48 hours, and that will be up to five teams over the course of the coming week. They will carry out a similar role, but in particular provide clinical support. So, if there are any hospitals, any areas where the health services are in some way, shape or form impaired by furloughed workers or stressed, they’re ready to step up. These are some of the absolute heroes and most extraordinary people in the Australian medical system, and they’ve helped us throughout the course of the last 18 months, and they’ll continue to help us.
The Royal Flying Doctor Service is providing additional services right across Walgett, Dubbo, Bourke. They’re providing vaccine support in small communities. Supplies have included an additional 9,480 vaccines, but if more is required, more will be provided. Testing equipment is in place. Additional point of care testing across Walgett and Bourke, across general practice respiratory clinics right through the course of western New South Wales. And, then, finally, there’s masks which have been made available, in conjunction with New South Wales – 10,000 masks have been provided in these areas. If more is needed, more will be provided. But, I do want to thank the Indigenous community. They have been extraordinary. There are challenges, but they’ve shown an immense amount of spirit, but nobody’s better placed to talk about that than Ken.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Ken.
THE HON. KEN WYATT AM MP, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Thank you very much, Greg, thank you, PM. Can I say I’m really pleased with the vaccination rates – at 30 per cent, that’s 169,000 Indigenous Australians who’ve had their first vaccine, another 15 per cent have had both their doses, 69,000. But, what is coming out and becoming very evident is our communities know the challenges, and already leadership is stepping up and we’re seeing straight talking happening, what it means. They’re cutting through what they’re seeing through media, and they’re saying stay at home, wash your hands. Whilst we have cultural considerations, they’re making sure that they distance. And, whilst the numbers are increasing, they remain optimistic that they will arrest it. And, I was impressed with some of the local messages that are coming out from elders and leaders at the community level. You would have seen Riverbank Frank or Frank Doolan do a superb message about why it’s important that you look after each other, why it’s important that you take care and lean in and give the support.
But, the community controlled health sector, in working with all of the coordinating structures that we’ve put in place, are making inroads into protecting people, giving key messages, but making sure that the vaccines are available, and the Commonwealth, the state and the community are working hand in hand. Pat Turner and I both committed to working very closely together to make sure that we protect people. In the Northern Territory, the Land Councils have put into place the permit system and nobody is allowed into those communities. Our leadership has been very strong at every level where there is a concern, and they’ve not waited for governments to tell them. They have, of their own initiative, said that we want to protect our elders. The young ones also are joining in by saying we need to keep our knowledge keepers. So, the strength of our community in all of these initiatives has been tremendous. It’ll continue to be there, even though we may face challenges in some areas, they will make sure that we have the level of impact to reduce the spread of COVID within our communities. But, they’ve risen to the challenge and they are doing a superb job. And, can I congratulate Pat Turner and Lieutenant General Frewen and Paul for the letter that they’ve sent to every GP in this country asking that they give their attention to the needs of Indigenous Australians who require to be vaccinated so that we protect them and protect them into the future, so that they can live long lives, and we continue with our culture and our history and our place in Australian society.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. Paul.
PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, COMMONWEALTH CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Thank you, PM and ministers. So, I’d just like to join the other speakers today talking about a message of hope. There is hope and that hope comes from the collaboration that Minister Wyatt has just talked about. I’ve learnt over many years from Aboriginal Australians and the Aboriginal community controlled sector about that importance of listening to each other, of that trust that can build through collaboration. And I’ve seen that right throughout the pandemic in relation to our work with Indigenous Australia and most importantly, in the last couple of days. There’s no question about who’s in charge of what, who’s responsible for what. Everyone is getting together and helping that emerging situation in western New South Wales, which is very, very concerning. And so there is hope there. And the two ministers and the PM have already talked to that about how that’s working. That collaborative spirit has been a key component all the way through, not only throughout the medical profession, in the public health profession, in the Australian Health Protection Committee that I chair that has met every single day for the last three months to talk through these things, to see how we can work together. My great appreciation to them.
But the key part of the hope is the vaccination programme. I know we’ve talked about that many times before. There are many other things we need to do, but vaccine can be part of the solution, and mask wearing. I just remembered I’m still wearing my mask. I’ll take that off. I’ve become used to it.
So I just want to just very, very briefly mention the data from from New South Wales. We had a look just in the last 24 hours about the vaccination status of the current outbreak in New South Wales. So this is based on information we have for not all of the cases, but from almost 6,000 of them. So we have information for 74 per cent of the cases, which is just under 6,000. So where it’s known, only one per cent of cases were fully vaccinated, that is 99 per cent of the cases we’ve seen have not been vaccinated. Vaccination is the key. That’s our hope. Three per cent were partially vaccinated and four per cent were diagnosed within three weeks of receiving a single vaccination. The key message here is go and get vaccinated, particularly if you’re in the older age group, as Minister Wyatt has mentioned. But everyone. Vaccination is available right now in many places very close to you. As importantly, no fully vaccinated cases have required admission to ICU. So that severe end of the spectrum, we’ve talked about the protection that vaccination gives against severe illness. Not a single person that has been admitted to ICU has been vaccinated and there’s only been one death. Unfortunately, that gentleman aged 91 years was fully vaccinated. I believe it might be two now, but there’s very few of the cases that have been diagnosed, have been fully vaccinated and died. And so it is a protection. It is hope. It’s our way out of this crisis. And so please do not hesitate and go and get vaccinated. Make that appointment today.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on Sunday, you said, as a matter of principle, Australia will always fight for freedom. With the Taliban in control of Kabul, at least one of them boasting about being a former inhabitant of Guantanamo Bay. How do you tell a young girl in Afghanistan today, maybe a girl as young as your daughters, that this is what freedom looks like?
PRIME MINISTER: Australians have been there for 20 years. And for 20 years we’ve been able to seek to protect a generation. Australia doesn’t act alone in these efforts. And the sad truth is that with the decisions that have been taken, that is not something that Australia can continue to do. Australia has exerted every effort to help the people of Afghanistan over these last 20 years. We have lost 41 of our own in that great cause. And I can say that Australia has done it all within its power, all within her power to provide safety for the people of Afghanistan. And what we see now is heartbreaking.
JOURNALIST: You’ve admitted that support won’t reach all that it should. You said you wish it were different. Could the situation not have been different? We’ve had former soldiers warning for weeks now that military evacuation was needed. Why weren’t those calls heeded to back then when we were getting those warnings?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, 430 people have been resettled and they’re in Australia right now. Now, that process did not happen overnight. That’s just since April. There are many months involved in both going through the appropriate processes of identifying people, looking at what they’ve been able to do with us, going through medical checks, doing all of those necessary things that Australians would expect of their government to do in any such programme. 1,800 have gone through that process over the course of our government. Living here in Australia now.
Our embassy was closed in May of this year. I remember some were critical of the government for doing that. We were getting people out from May, from May. So I would say that our government has been moving steadily now over quite a period of time to bring as many people out as we possibly can. And the job is not yet done. The job is not yet done. Now, in any circumstance, it’s impossible to give 100 per cent guarantees. That’s all I was referring to.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask a question on visas and in particular, temporary visas. Marise Payne was very careful on radio this morning to say no Afghan visa holder will be asked to return to Afghanistan, at this stage. Alex Hawke has also just issued a statement to say no Afghan visa holder currently in Australia will be asked to return to Afghanistan while the security situation remains so dire. It’s very clear the situation in Afghanistan isn’t going to improve. So why don’t we allow those on temporary visas in Australia to apply for permanent residency and finally become Australian?
PRIME MINISTER: We have no plans to be returning people back to those places where there’s such terrible, where there is such terrible unrest and they’ll be able to remain here under those circumstances, under the visas they’re currently on.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, your predecessor, or one of your predecessors, there’s been a very few, Tony Abbott in 2015 issued 12,000 [inaudible] for Syrian refugees. Will you do the same, given that one of the elements of the last pandemic budget was that you actually reduced the humanitarian intake by 5,000 from 18,750 to 13,750? You’ve got plenty of space to offer a special intake for the people that Australia have a particular responsibility for.
PRIME MINISTER: One of the things we have been doing now for some time is there are those who have been able to come out under the locally engaged employees programme. As I said, 1,800 people and their families have already come out, some 430 just since April of this year. And the pace of that programme has been running at a very high level. The only other time it ran as high as that, I remember it well. I was Immigration Minister at the time. It was back in 2013 and well over 500 visas were issued while I was Immigration Minister, getting Afghan interpreters and others who are working with our forces to Australia to safety. So we’ve done it before and we are doing it again. What we are- and then there are others who haven’t been involved with Australia’s operations like that. And what we have done is ensure that we can basically hand over case files that have been looked at in that context and they are being processed through the humanitarian programme.
We do have a very strong humanitarian programme. Indeed, only Canada’s on a per capita basis is higher than Australia’s. And the rates that we have had, I think Australia can look very favourably on. I mean, our communities have people right across the country who have come out under our humanitarian programme. Indeed, they were celebrated as champions at the most recent Olympics. People have come through that. People have come through that programme. And so what I’m suggesting is we are considering all of these issues, all of these issues.
But I’ll tell you what I’m focused on right now. Right now, I’m focussed on the very desperate situation that exists in Kabul right now and making sure that the operations that we are mounting are successful, that those Australians who are involved in those operations are doing it in a way which is both protective of their safety, but also getting the mission done. And so the government is very focused on that right now. That is the operational priority right at this moment. That is why the National Security Committee I’m chairing every single day as we oversight these operations and make sure that job gets done. There are many other issues. Andrew, you’re right, that need to be then considered as we go forward. And they indeed will be. But right now we’re looking to make sure those operations are a success.
Chris. We don’t have time for a lot of questions today, but I’m happy to take a couple of more.
JOURNALIST: What optimism do you have that you’ll be able to get any planes in and get anyone out?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, you know me, I’m always optimistic. I’m probably one of the most optimistic people, you know, Chris, but I am also doing is ensuring that we’re doing this very carefully on the basis of the most current information we have from the field. And that’s why we’re reviewing these matters so regularly. And, but I do remain optimistic about those operations. That’s why we continue to authorise and proceed with our plans to ensure we can get done what we hope to get done in the days ahead.
JOURNALIST: You were saying you were aware of this deteriorating situation in Afghanistan since May, we closed the embassy at that time. So why did it take up until now, mid-August, to send these 250 personnel? And can you rule out that any of them that have been sent have, are in any way connected to the Brereton Inquiry?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I firstly respond by saying that the suggestion, I find a bit extraordinary in the circumstances. These are 250 Australians answering the call of their government to go and help Australians in need. And you’re questioning their integrity? I, I find that quite surprising. They’re going there to help their fellow Australians and to help Afghan citizens who will be coming to live here in Australia. They’re going to do their service in our uniform and in our name. I respect it. And I would ask others to respect it also and not to cast slurs against their integrity.
The second point I’d make is this. They have been asked to go there under this operation to support the mission we’re currently engaged in. And that mission involves a situation on the ground in Kabul which is very distressing, very fluid. And of course, should we need Australians to be going in to support the efforts of our mission over, in the days ahead, then, of course, we have that option available to us by people being prepositioned. But I thank them for their service. Thank you to those 250 that have left from Townsville. I want to thank their families as they farewelled them off to that service. And I can assure you, I honour each and every single one of you.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve mentioned that the importance of the 70 and 80 per cent targets under Doherty, how important is it going to be for the states to ensure no regions actually fall short of that 70 or 80 per cent, because you could see areas much higher. You could end up with a state with one level, but vastly different rates across different regions?
PRIME MINISTER: Look, I think that’s a fair assessment, and that’s why the disaggregated data we’re increasingly releasing for that purpose so we can know where to greater focus our efforts and states and territories know where they can greater focus their efforts. Even when you go across the country. I mean, right now, if I go around the country and look what everybody is achieving, I mean, Tasmania continues to be leading the way. And good on those in Tasmania together with the ACT and the Northern Territory. New South Wales is also moving into that category now, well over 50 per cent now who have had their first dose. So it is important that the national vaccination programme works right across the country. And as we move into those 70 and 80 per cent phases, I was very clear, as was I think the Chief Medical Officer at the time, that where communities in particular remain vulnerable because of lower vaccination rates, then we will have to be more careful in those places and we will need to know those sensitivities. But for the broad majority of the population, then the broader vaccination rates will be more prevailing, I think, in those circumstances. And even when we look across metropolitan areas and this is why we’ve been able to push over half a million doses into Sydney in particular, to deal with those 20 to 39 age groups, I’ve got to say, I’m very, I am encouraged by the fact that when I stood up at the end of June and encouraged those under 60s to really consider going out and get that getting that AstraZeneca vaccine, you know, more than half a million people aged under 60 have now done that. Thank you. Thank you for doing that. Thank you for having the conversations with your GPs. Thank you for having the conversations with your families. Thank you for taking those decisions. I really appreciate it. We’ve time for one more. Clare.
JOURNALIST: Thank you. The New South Wales Government has released data today showing that the vaccination rate in Dubbo and large parts of western New South Wales only between 10 and 19 percent fully vaccinated. How is it possible that these regions with such a high concentration of priority recipients are so far behind and has this put them in a worse place to now battle these outbreaks of virus? I’d like to hear Minister Wyatt as well.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’ll let the Chief Medical Officer respond to that one. It is challenging in different populations to have higher rates of vaccination. Some communities are more challenging, their remoteness and many other issues play into that, and of course, we want those vaccination rates to be as high as they possibly can. And the Minister has already commented on all the things we’re doing to try and achieve that and the support we’re getting from communities. And we just continue to seek to encourage those communities to work with us in those efforts. But it is concerning to us what’s happening in western New South Wales. Of course it is. Of course it is. And that’s why the additional resources and efforts and doses and masks and AUSMAT teams and all of this are being provided to ensure that we can address that situation. We do see it as a serious situation and we’re moving quickly to work with the New South Wales Government to address it. Paul.
PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, COMMONWEALTH CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Minister Hunt mentioned many of the things that have been now done to address that issue rather than looking backwards. Let’s look forward. Let’s look at what’s happened in the last few days. Extraordinary efforts, literally thousands of vaccinations happening in places as far flung as Walgett and Bourke and Brewarrina and many other places in western New South Wales. And this is a huge collaborative effort between the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the local Aboriginal Medical Services, New South Wales Health, the Commonwealth, and from tomorrow, the ADF resources and from later in the week, the AUSMAT resources. But Minister Wyatt may talk to the community element.
JOURNALIST: Why shouldn’t those people have been eligible since March, have had more of an opportunity proactively to get the vaccine?
THE HON. KEN WYATT AM MP, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Part of it is choice. Some people have made choices because they have become fearful of adverse effects, but they are now focusing on getting vaccinated. That’s why the vaccine rates, the vaccination rates have increased substantially. And we’re seeing this right across the country. Wallum community, 80 per cent are now vaccinated. Palm Island, the figures are extremely high, 1,770. Torres Strait Islander regional area. People are now believing that it is time for them to take the proactive action. And the elders and the leaders are ensuring that the straight messages, straight talking is now part of what communities are hearing.
JOURNALIST: Shouldn’t you have been more proactive before, because we knew these people were so vulnerable, they were at the front of the queue. Surely the messages should have been got out strongly before.
THE HON. KEN WYATT AM MP, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Michelle, the messages were going out through Aboriginal media. They were about the importance of becoming vaccinated. They were important, about keeping families safe and mob safe and communities safe. But in some places they thought that they would be fairly distant from what was happening in capital cities. There is now a realisation that this virus can travel anywhere because of the movement of people. Most communities don’t have the volume coming through, so there is that sense of secureness within their remote communities. This is now changed and it’s a game changer. And that’s why we’re seeing the stepping up. And let me say that the Aboriginal community controlled health services, working in coordination with all of the other layers of support that are going in, are now availing themselves of vaccines and they are availing themselves of other services, such as mental health services and whatever else is needed to protect them and their families.
PRIME MINISTER: Just on Parliament before I leave, I mean, no decision has been taken other than that Parliament would normally proceed next Monday. And we continue to work through those issues with the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Health Officer here. A quorum of members of Parliament actually remain here in Canberra. They’ve been here during the lockdown. So there won’t be an issue in terms of there being enough members to be able to sit in the Parliament next week if that’s indeed what we progress with. And so we’ll continue to work through those issues. And when we’ve made a decision, we will advise accordingly. Thank you, everyone.