PM looks for vaccine rollout wriggle room

Scott Morrison is giving himself some wriggle room on getting all Australians COVID-19 vaccinations by the end of this year.

The federal budget includes an assumption that all willing Australians will receive two doses by December 31.

That will require the weekly pace of the rollout to triple, with just 2.7 million doses administered so far.

But the prime minister is keen to point out it is not a concrete commitment.

“There are assumptions that go to the rollout. They are not policy settings,” Mr Morrison said on Wednesday.

“We will continue to roll the vaccine out, as we have been, and accelerating it from next week. We will continue to do everything we possibly can to ensure we’re progressing that vaccination program.”

The government will spend an extra $1.9 billion over the coming year to boost its vaccine supply to 170 million doses and speed up the rollout.

The budget also contained funding to expand the Howard Springs quarantine centre, but there was no money for a Victorian quarantine proposal.

The prime minister is not ruling out financially backing the Victorian project.

“The Victorian government has put forward a very good proposal and we’re working through the detail of that right now,” he said.

“We will see how we can work together on that initiative.”

The Northern Territory’s Howard Springs facility, which is housing Australians returning from overseas, is slated to cost $487 million over two years as it expands to 2000 places.

The budget papers also confirmed a plan to investigate domestic manufacturing of mRNA vaccines, although an exact funding figure was not divulged due to “commercial in confidence sensitivities”.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham says the federal government was in negotiations with global pharmaceutical companies to bring their mRMA vaccine technology to Australia.

He said money was baked into the bottom line of the budget to invest in manufacturing mRNA vaccines.

However, the government has not yet outlined its proposed spending commitments.

“It’s part of the contingency reserve in the budget – we just don’t publish those figures because obviously we want to negotiate the best possible deal for the taxpayers,” Senator Birmingham told Sky News. 

“There are two very sensitive commercial negotiations that have to be pursued there.

“The first is with the holders of the vaccine technology, companies like Pfizer or Moderna, and the second is then with those you negotiate to establish a production facility here.”

Senator Birmingham said there was no point splashing a bucket of money across the budget papers.

“You’ve actually got to go back to first principles here and get those tech companies to bring it to the country in the first place,” he said.

Treasury also expects international travel to “remain low” through to mid-2022 after which a gradual recovery in international tourism is assumed to occur.

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