Transcript - Press conference at Monarto Safari Park, Murray Bridge, South Australia

ELAINE BENSTED

So first of all, this is so exciting; it’s the next stage of development of Monarto Safari Park. I would like to welcome Uncle Clyde, if I can see him in the group hiding quietly. We are on Ngarrindjeri land and working really closely with the Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal Corporation to make sure that this project also delivers benefits for all. So thank you for coming.

This project is only possible by the funding we received. It’s a $16.8 million project and it really allows Monarto to grow. Our current visitor centre just simply doesn’t support our current level of visitation, but this new visitor centre will allow us to add about 50,000 visitors a year – is what we’re projecting. That brings huge benefit into the region. For us it allows us to connect more people with nature and then do our critical conservation work.

So the funding that we received: over $11 million from the Commonwealth, over $4 million from the State and then the Rural City of Murray Bridge, building the critical road infrastructure to get people safely into this new visitor centre. So it really is a true collaborative project, which is fabulous to see.

We started this project with a design competition and the architects, they’re local architects and designers, Intro and Studio-gram. They designed a building that we absolutely love. We also love the story behind the design. It’s about bringing together Africa and Australia. It’s about bringing together humanity and wildlife. So it’s very much part of who Monarto Safari Park is. We also love the fact that it’s environmentally sustainable, the design. It looks stunning and it will look absolutely beautiful when it’s finished.

We then went through a procurement process and we’ve appointed Mossop’s to do the building work and the formal completion handover date is just under 12 months away, so by February next year. But we are working collaboratively with Mossop’s because they all know I’d absolutely love to be in here by Christmas if that’s at all possible. And we’re standing now, the first concrete pour, is the southwest part of the building, which is the new café, which will be operated by our catering partners, Adelaide Oval.

So I got really excited about two days ago. My phone pinged with a message at six in the morning. That’s usually not good news, but it was actually this site under lights with the first concrete pour, so it was very, very exciting to see.

So, it does take us to such a new stage of Monarto and the investment we received from the Governments allowed our partner, Gerry Ryan, to have the confidence to announce a $40 million investment in accommodation, which will be just over the way in Wild Africa. Unfortunately Gerry can’t be here – he passed on his apologies and also the assurance that his project is definitely still going ahead. And he is also working with Intro in doing the design for the hotel.

So we’re excited. We’re very thankful for the funding support that we’ve received. So I would like to hand over to the Member for Barker, a supporter of Monarto Safari Park, Mr Tony Pasin.

TONY PASIN

Well, thanks, Elaine. It falls to me to welcome you all to not just Monarto but to the Murraylands. I’m particularly grateful to be here with the Premier and as well as the Deputy Prime Minister, who’s in South Australia again this weekend, having been there last weekend. He is, of course, no stranger to South Australia and, of course, we think that’s a great thing because of the trail of infrastructure funding he leaves behind him as he travels through Barker, through Grey and other places in South Australia.

This is a classic example of what you can do when you work together. You’ve just heard from Elaine – a $16.5 million project facilitated by $11.25 million from the Federal Government partnering with not just the Zoos SA but also the State Government, importantly, with a grant of $4.55 million. Now the Murraylands is quickly becoming the place in South Australia where you come and play. Whether it’s here at Monarto Zoo, which will be a state-of-the-art iconic facility, particularly given the new entrance visitor centre we’re creating, but also we have Gifford Hill, if you’re into the races. If you like burning up the fossil fuels and getting around a racetrack, then, of course, there’s Motorsport Park at Tailem Bend.

I acknowledge his Worship the Mayor, who is also here, a strong advocate for this community and someone who is seeing these projects through into reality.

So with that, ladies and gentlemen, can I take this opportunity to introduce to you – not that he needs any introduction – the Premier. Can I thank him for partnering with the Federal Government and Zoos SA to deliver on this project. And can I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for being here. Can I also acknowledge my good friend and colleague – he towers over me – Adrian Pederick who, as with the mayor, is just such a passionate advocate for this community.

Now Elaine, I reckon I might make the callout – the new hashtag for Monarto Zoo is “The wild is calling”, and I couldn’t think of anything better. I can imagine sitting here and having a coffee looking over the Savannah that is this part of the Murraylands in the future. Obviously this adds to other experiences that we’ve provided for here at the Monarto Zoo, including Lions 360.

But with that, the Premier of South Australia, Steven Marshall. Steven.

STEVEN MARSHALL

Thanks very much, Tony. Can I also acknowledge today that we’re meeting on the traditional lands of the Ngarrindjeri people and we acknowledge their ongoing spiritual relationship with this precious land. Clyde Rigby is with us here today, and he told me that the name Monarto comes from one of the women who was very senior in providing leadership with the Ngarrindjeri people, a senior spokeswoman for the Ngarrindjeri people.

So it’s just fantastic to be back at Monarto. It’s fantastic to have Michael McCormack back here for the second time in one week. He loves South Australia. This project is another example of the Federal Government and the State Government working together to deliver for the people of our State. This will be an iconic project. In less than 12 months’ time this is going to be busy. People are going to be coming from all over the State, all over the country into South Australia to see the largest safari experience outside of Africa. Now we can’t go to Africa at the moment, but people will be able to come here to Monarto. It’s going to be absolutely fantastic.

Importantly, it’s going to create a huge number of jobs – 136 jobs in construction, 89 ongoing. Now the Monarto Safari Park and the zoo have been attracting in normal non-COVID times around 160,000 visitors per year. The plan now is to sail well past 200,000 visitors, and that will be massive for jobs, the local economy, but also for bringing tourists into South Australia, which is one of our highest priorities.

It’s part of our overall $16.7 billion investment in South Australia at the moment. There’s a lot of hi-vis – there’s a lot of steel caps right across this State at the moment and that is absolutely good news as we try to make sure we can do every single thing we can to create jobs following the COVID‑19.

Now this year is a year where we can’t become complacent. Things are moving in the right direction for Australia, the right direction for South Australia, but that vaccine rollout is going to be absolutely crucial to make sure that we can continue to keep our State safe and our economy strong. They’re our priorities.

I want to just create – I want to just, if you like, thank and congratulate every single person involved in this project. It is a real collaboration – State, Federal, Local Government, the zoo board, their fantastic team here in South Australia. And what we will have in less than 12 months’ time is a fantastic new, iconic visitor experience here in South Australia.

I’m now going to pass over, I think, to Brenton Lewis. I can tell you Brenton is a fantastic mayor, but also before that he worked for the RDA – Regional Development Australia. And this was one of his major passion projects, making sure that we could deliver on the full potential of Monarto at Murray Bridge and of course, Tailem Bend. This is now a really high growth part of our State, a really high growth part of our nation. But that took a lot of work and Brenton Lewis was the major contributor to that. So over to Brenton.

BRENTON LEWIS

Thank you, Premier; you’re too kind. I love the Premier coming here and he comes here regularly. Normally it’s an occasion of some significance where we’re sealing a deal, where we’re signing off, turning a sod of soil or doing something that heralds yet a new project for this part of South Australia.

To you, Deputy Prime Minister, thank you for coming to Murray Bridge. Tony, the good work you do, it’s much appreciated. Today is a culmination of a lot of knocking on your office door and your door, Adrian, asking you to support us in localised projects of significance.

Elaine, since the day you’ve joined the zoo we’ve watched the management and watched the change, the changing culture, the progressive nature of your organisation. To Julieann, president, and members of the board, ladies and gentlemen, Rodney – I’ve seen Rodney Buchecker here somewhere, where are you, Rodney – that’s for your support as well.

As the Premier has outlined, this is a game changer. How fortunate are we in South Australia to have projects of this size that will bring people from interstate and around the State and when we get our borders open again – and that will happen – we’ll have the international visitors coming to this part of South Australia. How fantastic is that?

It’s just a proud, proud moment for myself as the mayor of the community of Murray Bridge to be here today, to be part of this, to be welcomed – and to welcome you and you see the Murraylands have yet again another major, major project. We’ve had a run of them; I hope they don’t stop. Thank you so much.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, thank you, Mr Mayor and to my friend and colleague Tony Pasin, the hard-working Member for Barker, to my good mate the Premier of South Australia, Steven Marshall, everybody here – Elaine – everyone else. Fantastic to be here. The noise of the excavator is soon to be replaced by the rumble of the jungle. This is going to be the biggest safari experience outside Africa, as the Premier has just mentioned. How good is that? How good is South Australia?

This is going to transform the Monarto Zoo, the Monarto Zoo which has been operating, of course, since 1983. Fifty-five thousand additional visitors, as Tony has just reminded me. That is going to be so good for the visitor economy. That is going to be so good for ongoing jobs. And the Premier, of course, has said 89 jobs ongoing. That is massive. These are the sorts of things we need to do for regional Australia, regional South Australia. And that’s why as the Federal Government building infrastructure right across this nation, right across South Australia, we are partnering with States and Territories. We are rolling out $110 billion of infrastructure over the next decade.

And the South Australian Government, the South Australian Liberal Government is playing its part, too. They are partnering with us. I met with Corey Wingard on Sunday to talk about what future plans we both had to cooperate together, to collaborate together to build a better South Australia.

I’m really excited about this project. I know tourism has been hit so hard through the COVID situation. I know how difficult this has been. But whilst it has been difficult, it has also given the opportunity for construction to take place in these sorts of locations, these sorts of destinations. And this is going to be such a destination point for not just South Australians but for interstate travellers and, indeed, as the Premier has said, when we get those international flights coming back into Australia, from people from all overseas to come and see what Monarto Zoo has to offer.

This is so exciting, Elaine. Tremendous day, a historic day for South Australia. And I know that this visitor gateway centre is going to play such an important part. It’s going to have a children’s playground area, it’s going to have meeting rooms. But it is going to be the first point where many people from around the nation, around the world, see what Australia, what South Australia, has to offer as far as a zoo experience, a zoo experience like no other, as my good mate Tony mentioned. And I’m hoping it’s on my hat, too – the wild is calling. Indeed it is. And why wouldn’t you want to come to South Australia to Monarto to experience the best that these SA Zoos have to offer.

And as I say, it is an exciting day for South Australia. Earlier this morning I was at the ARTC headquarters in Keswick in Adelaide to announce $220 million worth of funding for an advanced management train system, an advanced system which is going to revolutionise the eight and a half thousand kilometres of freight rail network and this is South Australia ingenuity. This is going to be a signalling system that is going to revolutionise the train system right across the nation – not just in South Australia, right across the nation. And indeed, I know it’s going to be taken up by other places elsewhere in the world because it’s going to increase efficiency. It’s going to increase productivity. It’s going to increase safety on the rail system. And that’s fantastic.

And of course, Tony and I are partnering up as well to announce, along with the Premier, $104 million as the first tranche of the road safety package. So they’re just things like rumble strips and grade separations and shoulder strengthening of roads and those things which can make such a difference, which will create jobs – and they already are – but most importantly, will save lives, lives of South Australians, lives of people in regional areas and lives of visitors to this great State as well.

I’m excited – you can probably tell that – to be here today. This is a great visitor centre. It’s a work in progress. You can hear the rumbling of the excavator off in the distance, but as I say, it will soon be replaced by the wonderful noises and sense and feeling of this great zoo, an internationally acclaimed zoo attracting more than 55,000 more visitors each and every year. Great day to be in South Australia.

ELAINE BENSTED

So if there’s any questions for any of the speakers or also the architect or builders?

JOURNALIST

I have a question for you. We sort of heard a bit about it then, but just tell us a bit about the detail, what’s going to make this visitor centre so special, so unique?

ELAINE BENSTED

Apart from the design, which is beautiful, it is going to be open to the public, even those who don’t choose to come inside the park, so particularly for local residents. It’s something we’ve worked closely on the mayor on, to have a place where people can have their coffee. So there’ll be a café, retail, all of our admissions and memberships. There’ll be the playground. Inside this area that you can see, it’s what we call the heart and that’s where we’ll be encouraging people to come to mingle, to meet up for tours such as the Lions 360 experience. It will have our staff, our volunteers. So it will be an operational full visitor centre and designed to be as accessible as possible for anyone with special needs, parenting rooms, a spot even to hold a dog if somebody we have – a lot of grey nomads or travellers who are coming around Australia and they come in and they’ve got their pet with them, can’t necessarily bring that pet in to see our lions; we want to make sure we look after the pets, so it’s got a pet room.

So it really has got such a huge level of design thought that’s gone into it in partnership with Intro and Studio-gram.

JOURNALIST

It’s the first step really, isn’t it? I mean, how exciting is it that this is the first step and you’ve got a $40 million resort as well. I mean, in a couple of years this could look quite different.

ELAINE BENSTED

Absolutely. And Monarto has grown hugely over the last 10 years and particularly over the last five years. And we’re really now on the cusp of what will be the next iteration of Monarto Safari Park. As I said, Gerry Ryan is totally committed to the $40 million investment. The land next door that we call Wild Africa now has some animals in it. We moved the first group of animals on Christmas Eve, which was a bit of a milestone for us. So that’s getting ready to be able to offer an absolute world-class tourism experience. You’ve heard it will be the largest safari experience in the world outside of Africa and yet it’s an hour’s drive from Adelaide. So it will be an 80-room resort and safari resort hotel, then about 25 glamping units. We’ve already through a partnership with SA Water dug our water holes, so it’s starting to look really, really lovely. It will be an amazing experience. We regularly have staff here on site at sunrise and the sunrises that you see at this place and the sunsets are just stunning. People even just coming in here, you’ve seen the emus. They’re our native wildlife that are joining in. But when you see Wild Africa, when it’s got cheetah and rhinos and giraffes, it is going to be an amazing experience.

JOURNALIST

So when is construction expected to begin on that next stage?

ELAINE BENSTED

Look, Gerry is hoping to be open if he can by June ’22. So he’s probably only a few months behind the visitor centre development. So come, you know, 2022 – it’s not that far away we will be operating both the visitor centre and our accommodation.

JOURNALIST

[Indistinct] visitor centre by Christmas, did you say?

ELAINE BENSTED

I am definitely hoping that. I think Mossop’s have heard that more than once from me. Look, as I said, we did have a few delays, as many organisations have, with COVID. The formal handover date is middle of February. I’d love to be in by our busy, busy season for Christmas. But we’ll just wait and see. I know they’re doing – pulling out all stops. As I said, this concrete was poured under lights starting at, I think, quarter to six in the morning. So they’re working really hard, but officially it’s at least by February next year. Thank you.

STEVEN MARSHALL

Well, as I said, it was absolutely fantastic to have the Deputy Prime Minister back in South Australia. It’s the second time he’s been here in a week. He’s a massive supporter of what we’re doing. Most importantly, he’s part of that critical team that are making sure that South Australia is working the Commonwealth to deliver for our State. Jointly we have $16.7 billion worth of projects in South Australia at the moment, which is creating, you know, just a huge, huge number of jobs in our State now and well into the future. And that’s exactly and precisely what we need.

JOURNALIST

Just while you’re wearing your tourism hat, FiveAA reported this morning that a number of staff at Events SA are going to be stood down today. Given that the Adelaide 500 was going to be this weekend, I mean, there are, I guess, concerns that there aren’t any replacement events in the pipeline. Is that the case?

STEVEN MARSHALL

We’ve got the WTA event on in South Australia at the moment then we move into Tasting Australia and then in the middle of the year we’ve got Illuminate Adelaide, which is going to be a fantastic project. What we’ve decided to do on the advice of the SATC is move away from a single event every year in February-March to a range of projects right throughout the year to spread those events. And Illuminate Adelaide is going to be absolutely superb. It’s going to be right in the middle of winter where we know that we’ve got great capacity to take additional interstate visitors into our State. And there’s going to be a huge number of additional projects that we’ll announce in the coming months. We’ve got a group that has been working I think extraordinarily well identifying opportunities. And what we’ll do is we’ll take the money which was previously going into the supercars and we’ll spread it throughout the year. So rather than having one project we’ll have a larger number of smaller projects which will create more jobs. That’s our focus this year.

JOURNALIST

What’s your response to the staff being stood down? We’re hearing there’s about nine staff being stood down?

STEVEN MARSHALL

Yeah, well, obviously the SATC has made a decision not to continue with the supercars. We support that in Government. They are responsible for their staffing arrangements. But what we are doing as a Government is moving away from the Government providing all of the events to the private sector providing events. So I’m quite sure as those new events roll out those people will find other employment.

But, look, it’s a consequence of not continuing with the supercars, but our focus is creating on many, many more jobs by spreading that money that was going into supercars right across the entire year. And that’s what we’ll be seeing, starting with Illuminate Adelaide in the middle of winter, which is always a pretty tough period for our tourism operators, our accommodation, our restaurants and cafes. So that’s the direction that we’re heading in and I think it will be ultimately very, very good for jobs in South Australia.

JOURNALIST

The Health Minister said on Sunday when the vaccine arrived that all 4,000 doses would be used within the first week and 12,000 within the first three weeks and SA Health said something similar on Sunday. Today we’re on Friday and we haven’t even used a thousand doses yet in terms of what the State Government has delivered. It sounds like we’re really running behind.

STEVEN MARSHALL

No, look, I think that you’ve got to recognise that this is an important project. We want to get those early days right. It is a combination of approaches between the Federal Government and the State Government. So we are looking after those people who are on the frontline. So people that are working in our quarantine hotels, down at our airport, and the Federal Government is responsible for delivering into aged care facilities and also disability residential facilities as well. So it’s a combined approach. It’s going very well.

This is, as Professor Brendan Murphy says, the largest peacetime logistical exercise in our country’s history. We’ve got to get this right. We’re learning from what’s happening in other parts of the world and I think that it’s going extraordinarily well to date.

JOURNALIST

The Health Minister did specifically say that the State Government would deliver 4,000 doses. It doesn’t look like we’re going to get that delivered in the first week. Can you acknowledge that?

STEVEN MARSHALL

So I’m not sure whether you’re talking about the combined effort between the two. We did have 4,000 Pfizer vaccines or doses, which came in over the weekend with 12,000 in total that we will be looking to rollout into that what we call phase 1A and then we move into phase 1B. And we’ll also be then bringing the AstraZeneca vaccine in. I can provide further details later in the day exactly where we are. But I think it’s important to be naturally cautious in the early days, make sure we get the protocols right. This is a very important project and we’re absolutely determined to have the very best vaccine rates in the country here in South Australia. We’ve got a very, very supportive population. Incredible testing rates here in South Australia, great tracing capability, great uptake of the QR code technology and now we want to continue that right the way through with the vaccination program.

JOURNALIST

The ambulance union last night said they were unable to staff a number of resources, including eight emergency ambulances. Does there need to be extra staff hired to support that demand?

STEVEN MARSHALL

Yes, since coming to Government I think we’ve now put on an additional 180-plus staff in South Australia. Our emergency departments are not operating where they need to at the moment, but that’s a combination of issues; it’s not just related to the number of ambulances and the number of ambulance personnel. It’s a complex system and since coming to Government we’ve looked at the situation that we inherited from the previous Government and we’ve got a multi-pronged attack on how we’re going to deal with the current situation.

Now the current situation is exacerbated by the massive upgrade that we’re doing at the Flinders Medical Centre Emergency Department at the moment. So during that construction there is a reduction in the number of beds within that emergency department, but very soon that will be the largest ED in the entire State.

We’re massively expanding Flinders, we’re massively expanding out north at the Lyell McEwin Hospital, we’re doing huge upgrades out at Modbury and a brand new emergency department at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. In addition to that we’re doing a lot of work in terms of patient flow through our hospitals, getting some of those longer stay patients out of the beds into more appropriate accommodation, freeing up beds and improving that flow through the hospital. And we’re also tackling the issue – excuse me – of getting patients who would normally go to EDs into more appropriate types of care. And very, very soon we will be opening up that urgent mental health care facility which will take the pressure off of the ED, especially at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

I think what I’m trying to say today is there’s not one single issue which is affecting times at our emergency departments; there are a number of issues and the Government is working on all of those simultaneously. I’m absolutely convinced that we will be able to improve that patient flow. We are putting additional resources into our South Australian Ambulance Service. More than 180 new staff since we’ve come to Government and, of course, a massive upgrade of the ambulance fleet – I think 46 new ambulances since we’ve come to Government.

JOURNALIST

One of the roles they weren’t able to fill last night they said was a 000 caller. Do you think there does need to be more staff, though, to make sure that that roles are being filled?

STEVEN MARSHALL

Well, look, there are obviously going to be surges within our health sector. What we’re doing as a Government is to make sure that we can provide the appropriate level of resource. We’ve significantly increased the number of ambulance officers since we’ve come to Government. But more than that, we’re improving patient flow, upgrading our emergency departments and looking for alternative ways to look after patients outside of emergency departments where that is appropriate.

JOURNALIST

Just on submarines, the Financial Review has reported that the Federal Government is looking at ways to get options to get out of the contract. Have you had any conversations with Canberra about that and if so, I mean, how frustrated would you be if it was to fall through?

STEVEN MARSHALL

No, look, I think that this is a massive, massive project for our nation. It was great to have Pierre Eric Pommellet here in South Australia earlier in the week then over to Canberra. He’ll be back again on the weekend. It’s great to have his eyes on the project here. There is a contract negotiation going on between the Federal Government and, of course, the Naval Group. My understanding is that those negotiations are progressing.

Look, we’re just interested in jobs here in South Australia. The Naval Group have created hundreds and hundreds of jobs so far since they’ve arrived in South Australia and there are thousands of jobs to come, and that’s great news for our State.

JOURNALIST

Did you know how many vaccines the State Government was going to deliver this weekend?

STEVEN MARSHALL

No, I can get that provided to you.

JOURNALIST

Will you be hitting the newly reopened dance floors this evening?

STEVEN MARSHALL

I don’t know about that. I’ll tell you what’s happening tonight, though, is it’s the opening of the Adelaide Festival. I can tell you, it was the largest arts festival in the world last year. I think it’s going to be the largest arts festival in the world this year as well. So Adelaide Festival kicks off tonight. The Fringe is in full swing. The WTA finals are tomorrow night. Next weekend we’re moving into WOMAD. There is a huge amount happening in South Australia at the moment and that means great news for people looking for work.

JOURNALIST

Can I just ask, the hard border with Melbourne has come down. What does that mean for visitors to our State?

STEVEN MARSHALL

I think so many people are going to be relieved that that hard border arrangement with Victoria has been removed as of midnight last night. So a lot of family reunion. A lot of people coming in for the festival, for the Fringe, for the tennis, for WOMAD, which is also great for our State because that is going to create jobs.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I was looking forward to seeing the Premier do the Nutbush then, but never mind. Next time.

JOURNALIST

Just on the Naval Group negotiations, are we any closer to seeing a formal contract there?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

They’re ongoing, and those discussions are necessary, and they’re happening.

JOURNALIST

Are you confident all the members of your parliamentary party are aware of what’s appropriate office conduct and what isn’t?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Absolutely. And they have been for some time. You don’t get into Parliament without being a community leader. And I expect my members of parliament, the staff are very important, and I expect my members of parliament to treat them accordingly, to treat them with respect. The Prime Minister gave a very, very good speech yesterday about respect, and I think that’s what’s needed always. I mean, people right across Australia look to the Federal Parliament for direction, for good Government, and they expect us to respect one another and that’s what should be the absolute bottom minimum.

JOURNALIST

Is it ever appropriate for a politician to touch a staff member in any context?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

No. Well, not in an inappropriate way. No, of course it’s not.

JOURNALIST

And why did –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

They can shake hands, of course, they can, you know, do those sorts of things, but, no. And at the moment it’s elbow bumping through COVID laws etc. But, you know, any inappropriate touching is not on, not appropriate and is not acceptable. And not just in the parliament, but in any workplace. I mean, you know, people need to respect one another and they need to respect people’s personal space. They need to respect people for who they are and what they are and, you know, our staff do a great job. They do a great job in long hours, in difficult situations. And, you know, at the end of the day they need to be respected for the jobs they do and as human beings. And, you know, in any workplace right throughout Australia those rules apply.

JOURNALIST

Why did MPs need a letter to tell them to report criminal conduct?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, the AFP made quite clear to the Prime Minister that was conveyed then, of course, to the presiding officers – the Speaker of the House of Representatives, to the President of the Senate – that in the event of serious criminal allegations being made they should be referred to the appropriate authorities. And the Prime Minister’s Office, parliamentarians themselves are not arbiters of justice in that regard. That needs – those issues, those allegations, should be referred to the proper authorities, and that is the police, whether it’s the State police, whether it’s the Australian Federal Police, no matter what jurisdiction it occurred, it should go to the proper authorities and then justice can be done.

JOURNALIST

Has the rollout of the COVID vaccine been halted in aged care centres in regional areas?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I don’t believe so. There’s 134 vaccination sites around Australia in week 1, 44 per cent of those are in regional areas. This is the largest peacetime logistical exercise in Australia’s history. Now that’s been said by the Chief Medical Officer, that’s been said by the Secretary of the Department of Federal Health and it is. It is a large logistical exercise. It won’t be without some hiccups along the way, but Australians can be rest assured that the jab is necessary, that this is going to get us back to some sort of pre-COVID normality. And as many of those who’ve already received the jab have said, “I’m not just doing it for myself; I’m doing it for the loved ones around me. I’m doing it for those strangers I have never encountered before, but I’m doing it for Australia.”

JOURNALIST

The Federal Government is also well behind in terms of vaccines at aged care facilities. Was it too ambitious a target you set?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, Australia is well in front of any other nation you like to look at in the world as far as what we’ve done as far as the COVID-19 situation is, you know, concerned. I mean, you look at other countries in the world where, dare I say, other Western democracies, where they’re still dying at the rate of two a minute. We haven’t had any community transmission cases in most States for some time now. New South Wales has gone through almost a month without a community transmission case. I was on a plane last night. I overheard a woman say, “I’m going back home to Adelaide. Where else what you want to be?” I mean, the States have done very well, the territories have done very well. They’ve been led by the Commonwealth as far as COVID-19 is concerned. And I have to say Australians have been magnificent. They’ve exercised social distancing, they’ve worn face masks, they’ve been absolutely magnificent. And that’s why we’ve kept Australia as COVID-free as we have.

JOURNALIST

We’ve heard some wild claims about, you know, tens of thousands of vaccinations coming through within a few weeks. It doesn’t seem to be rolling out that way at this stage. Can you comment on that?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, of course we’re getting tens of thousands of shipments of vaccines. And I’ve seen – I’ve been to the warehouse where they are arriving. DHL and Linfox are helping with that logistical exercise. They’re getting their trucks and planes are also in this exercise of getting these vaccines out. The Pfizer vaccine, of course, has to be stored at minus 70 degrees. This is a huge logistical exercise. And of course, Australia is a very large country. It is a massive country. And the amount of kilometres travelled by trucks and planes to get the vaccines out this week was further than from here to the moon – 400,000 kilometres. This has been an amazing exercise in the first week alone. And, you know, many, many people have received the vaccine. They will receive it as part of this phase 1A. That will be nursing homes, nursing home workers, hospitals etc., frontline medical personnel, disability carers and those who have disabilities. We’ve got the agenda. We’re going to roll it out. Hopefully by September, October most if on the all of the population will be vaccinated. And we’ve got enough vaccines for all of Australia, whether it’s Pfizer AstraZeneca. And of course, we’re also going to vaccinate the South Pacific Islands because that’s what a good neighbour does.

JOURNALIST

The infrastructure report has declared the Hobart port as a priority. Why is the port considered not suitable and in need of major funding if the operators of the ship and local port authority say there’s no problem?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I what chat to Michael Ferguson last night, who is the Tasmanian Infrastructure Minister. We’re working through all those issues. The IA does a list of priority projects, put it on their list. That’s good advice to Government. It’s not Government-run. It’s not Government-led. It’s independent of Government, and that’s the way it should be. They offer the advice. We look at that advice. I’m pleased that there are a number of projects from South Australia on that list. And even this morning the advanced train management system was previously on the IA agenda. They said that this is going to be an important thing for safety, productivity and efficiency of Australia’s freight rail network. And today $220 million of Commonwealth money went to that very project. So over the next three or so years that’s going to be rolled out across the network. Over the next 10 or so years, that’s going to be rolled out over the entire eight and a half thousand kilometres of network. And this is South Australian ingenuity, inventiveness at its best. And this is the IA working collaboratively with the Government at its best. Thank you very much.

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