Press conference

  • Joint transcript release with:

The Hon. Scott Morrison MP, Prime Minister

E&OE

Location
Canberra, ACT
20 August 2021

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, I’m joined by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Health and Aged Care. Those watching who have just been watching the New South Wales Premier will know that there are further restrictions that are being placed in New South Wales, as they seek to make the lockdown work. It’s very important the lockdown works, very important the lockdown works. Of course, there are additional vaccines that have been rolling in this week out of the special allotment we were able to make out of those more than a million doses that we were able to get from Europe. But, that doesn’t take away from the necessity of the lockdown working. And so those measures will add further to that. And I know that in situations when you’re being told of further difficult news that, that can make you feel somewhat disempowered. These events can become quite overwhelming, and I want to encourage people, whether they’re in New South Wales, Victoria, here in the ACT who are affected by these lockdowns, that mental health support is there and is available, and we have surged our resources into those organisations, be it Lifeline, Kids Helpline, and the many other services to ensure that they are there to assist you. The telehealth support that is provided through your GPs for mental health assistance, that’s all there. We’ve had this in place for quite a period of time throughout this pandemic. Ensuring there are important mental health services available to Australians during this pandemic has been a very high priority for my Government, and I appreciate how that’s been added to by states and territories to ensure that people living right across Australia can get that important mental health support that they need and so that is there for you.

But, when you do feel like these events are beyond your control, there are always things that you can do. And, in this case what you can do is of course, you can stay at home. Of course, you can get tested. Of course, that you can go and get vaccinated, and another outstanding day of vaccinations, 120,000 specifically in New South Wales, but over 300,000 again right across the country. Three times the MCG again in just one day. And that is encouraging. Every single one of those vaccinations taking us a step closer to where we want to be. But the other thing you can do is you just get on the phone and you talk to other people, you give them encouragement, you stay connected. Socially, social isolation doesn’t mean there needs to be a lack of connection between people. That’s a physical thing, physical distancing, but we’ve got to maintain the social connection and that’s very important. So, I want to encourage people to do that. Ring your mum, ring your sister, ring your cousin, ring, ring your mates. Stay in contact with each other through the course of these lockdowns.

Delta may have changed the game, but it hasn’t changed the character of Australians, and our resolve to fight and beat this. Delta is a big opponent when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic that we’ve been fighting now for 18 months. But Australians I know are up to that and I’m seeing that every single day as they are going out there, getting vaccinated, doing what they need to do to push through.

But, I want to update you on the serious situation that continues in Afghanistan. I'll make a few other comments on the COVID pandemic, and the Health Minister will add to that as well. Overnight, our airlift operation continued. We continued to strengthen our position on the ground in Kabul. Sixty evacuees were transferred from Kabul to AMAB last night, comprising both Australians and Afghan visa holders. That means that over 160 now in total, 162 have now been evacuated through the various flights that we've been able to run, and the support of the UK Government as well. Ninety-four persons were transferred from AMAB to Perth overnight, where they have now entered quarantine. Further flights are, of course, planned in the days ahead. They will be, of course, subject to weather and slots, and the time on the apron, about 30 minutes. So, it's a very quick operation, got to move very, very fast and the situation on the ground is difficult. And we will continue to work with other nations, other partners in ensuring the airlift of Australians, Afghan nationals who we are seeking to support, and indeed other foreign officials who are seeking to be evacuated out of Kabul.

The situation in Kabul does remain chaotic. We are engaged in constant messaging and contacts wherever we possibly can with those we are seeking to evacuate. Operations of Australian Defence Force or others who were there, beyond the airport, are not possible. They are not able to be undertaken in any way by the Australian Defence Forces. To do so would put them at great risk, with no commensurate benefit. And these are options we obviously consider, and we have considered those matters about how that can be done. We are working closely with the US and the UK forces who are providing that overarching security around the airport, and we're working to make that process of entering into the airport as orderly as you possibly can in a chaotic situation like this. But it is very, very difficult. Our biggest challenge is for people to be able to get to that airport.

We have, there is a large numbers now, we're advised, who are starting to come into Kabul. There are multiple checkpoints that are in place. The Taliban leadership is now moving into the city. On, in the region, at AMAB, we have two C-17s, two C-130s now, one KC-30, the, a refueller, which has already been engaged in operations supporting our partners in the region. And, we have a Defence, regular Defence contracted repatriation flight, which will bring people from AMAB back to Australia.

I've been working with the states and territories, and we'll discuss this this afternoon at National Cabinet, but I'm very pleased that all states and territories are seeking to support this effort, whichever way they can, either in providing directly those quarantine facilities, and all of those who are running them are doing just that. Had some contact with the New South Wales Premier this morning about those issues. And, of course they are, of course they are. Despite the considerable difficulties being faced in New South Wales, all states and territories are stepping up and to provide support to this initiative.

Last night, I spoke to His Royal Highness, Crown Prince Zayed of Abu Dhabi, and I thanked him, thanked him very much for the tremendous support and cooperation that we're getting within the Emirates, for our operations there at AMAB. We have a tremendous relationship with them, and the Crown Prince and I had the opportunity not only to discuss the practicality of those issues last night and express my thanks, but also to discuss the broader situation in Afghanistan and within the region.

I also spoke last night to Prime Minister Johnson about these issues and shared our understanding of the situation on the ground. I thanked him also for the support of the UK the night before last in uplifting those Australians and Afghan visa holders who are coming to Australia through their flight. And, obviously we will return that favour wherever that's asked of. We haven't been asked to do that to this point in time. Many flights are going in and out. People are being able to get people onto those flights. But it is very difficult for people to get through those points, getting into the airport, and we discussed those situations and many others, and I'm happy to answer any questions on those when we come to the question section of this press conference. We also discussed and the fact that we both understand, and there is an understanding of this amongst European leaders as well, the need to address the risk of irregular, illegal movement of people through borders as a result of this crisis, and that the lessons of Syria are understood and, and the situation there is managed effectively. Now, I already made a number of comments about how we're managing those issues here in Australia, with very clear messages to people smugglers. And equally these are matters that are understood in Europe and in the United Kingdom, and they're managing those issues. I had the opportunity to talk last night about our humanitarian program and what we're doing in Australia. As I said, we certainly believe we'll be able to work through around 3,000 this year. But that's a, that's a floor, not a ceiling, and I think we potentially can do more than that. It was good news to the Prime Minister who was unaware that Australia had been running these operations for many years and that some 8,500 Afghans had already come to Australia, in excess of what we'd certainly seen out of the UK in recent times. And so, we are already ahead on that score. And and as a result, we were able to share our learnings about how we undertake that process and ensure the security of that process. And, he was very interested in those issues, and and we will continue to exchange information on those points and ensure that, and not just through the UNHCR, which the Foreign Minister will speak of in a minute, but also through the Five Eyes countries, that we're working together. We're all taking more people, not just immediately to evacuate them from the situation in Afghanistan, but also over a longer period of time, and how we can process individuals who are in these situations and how they can be moved, and how they can eventually be taken to the various countries that are going to receive them and they can begin a new life in those countries.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs spoke last night to the UK Foreign Secretary as well, and the High Commissioner for Refugees at the UNHCR. Australia will be making an initial commitment. The appeal is yet to be established, but we’re just foreshadowing that we’ll be making a commitment of some $5 million to that effort. Other, a number of other countries have made a commensurate commitments, and we will continue to monitor that and the Foreign Minister will update you on the conversation that she had with the High Commissioner last night.

On matters of COVID, 16.5 million doses now in total. 303,304 on a day, 1.7 million in a week, 386,000 of those Polish doses going into arms right now. Those vax facts of 303,000 a day, that's two days over 300,000, that is really hitting the marks that we need to hit for us to achieve the objectives of our national plan. Our national plan is a deal with Australians. It's a deal with Australians. We've said you've, you've persevering the lockdowns. You're taking the instructions. You're making the sacrifices. You're getting tested. You're isolating. You're getting vaccinated. And the national plan is a deal with Australians, which says when we achieve those marks of 70 per cent and 80 per cent, there'll be changes. And I'm committed to that plan. And premiers and chief ministers have signed up to that plan, but they haven't signed up with me. They've signed up with the Australian people. And it's very important that we continue to work that plan in its practical elements as we move into Phase B, once we hit 70 per cent of which we're making very, very strong progress towards.

In particular, I'll just run down, ACT first dose, 57.5 per cent, New South Wales, 56.4 per cent, Tassie, 55.1, Northern Territory, 50.5, VIC’s at 49.9, just about to tick over that 50 per cent mark. South Australia at 48.3, Queensland at 45.2 and Western Australia at 44.6. Overall Australia is 51.02 per cent vaccinated on the first dose, and we're at 28.9 per cent second dose vaccinated around the country.

This afternoon National Cabinet will be meeting, as usual on Friday. I don't propose to be holding a further press conference on that later today. Today, we are basically just having a status report across a whole range of issues. So, not anticipating there being any resolutions today. None are planned for today. It is an update, and to continue work on a number of items that are before us, in particular, working on those exemptions for vaccinated persons, that work continues. But there'll be no resolution of that today. And, but, we have made a lot of progress on the digital support that is available and to be done through state systems to give effect to that. The youth vaccination program, which I know has been a regular issue raised, the Health Minister will speak more to that. We, the, the interim ATAGI advice on vaccination of 12 to 15-year-olds is imminent. We anticipate that that will be finalised over the course of the next week. At the same time, we’ll be talking through, in parallel the programs that will need to be in place at a state and Commonwealth level to support the vaccination of 12 to 15 year-olds. So, we'll have a good discussion about that this afternoon. And the freight code issues have been resolved. So they're the principal matters that will be discussed this afternoon. In the usual way, a summary of, a record of the meeting will be issued later today. But, they’re the main issues that are being discussed, and I don't think there'll be a need to draw you all back here in the late afternoon to go over those matters. And with that, I'll pass you over to the Foreign Minister.

SENATOR THE HON. MARISE PAYNE, MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Thanks very much, PM, and as the Prime Minister said, a second ADF flight from Kabul carrying 60 passengers arrived at our Al Minhad Air Base. That was made up of Australians, Afghan visa holders and families, being a third overall flight, after the UK flight that carried the 76 Australians and visa holders. We are also pleased that the first flight to bring passengers to Australia has landed in Perth, and again bringing Australians, Afghan visa holders and family members, including women and children. The nations who are working out of Hamid Karzai International Airport are working very hard to cooperate on some of the most challenging issues, and that cooperation is is vital. There are people in their thousands, as you've seen, crowding around the entrances to the airport. And there have been, unfortunately, injuries as well. And, we have had to address some of those amongst our passenger cohorts too.

It is dangerous. In the last day there have been incidents, there have been warnings of potential incidents. It is very complex and it is very uncertain. We have increased the numbers in our teams on the ground in terms of both the Australian Defence Force, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Home Affairs, and we will continue to do that as required. We are working with the United States led process and with the UK and others on that staging area, as I mentioned yesterday, to facilitate those movements into and through the airport, and continue to discuss that with colleagues.

As the Prime Minister said, I spoke with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab last night in, in London. We are very, very focused on that piece of work that we are able to do together on evacuations, on the arrangements at Hamid Karzai International Airport, on access points and on travel and transit issues to to, to HKIA itself, which continue to be particularly hard to to deal with. That situation is becoming very, very dangerous for, for many. And, we're well aware of that as we are making contact with Australians and visa holders in multiple ways who are intending to and available to travel.

In my conversation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi last night, we also discussed the issues that the UNHCR is dealing with in Afghanistan. The UNHCR is still in Afghanistan in multiple places and able to continue its work. And, I want to commend those officials of the UNHCR for what they are doing on the ground in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. The High Commissioner, of course, in our conversation recognised both the issues of evacuation and of displacement, both internally displaced people in Afghanistan and those displaced into neighbouring countries. We will work closely with the UNHCR, we’ll work closely with other donors to identify and to respond to what are going to be very pressing, are already, and will continue to be pressing humanitarian needs. And, that strong focus will need to come from, from all of the usual humanitarian donors.

Our bilateral program will focus increasingly on humanitarian outcomes, including in response to the drought, that internal displacement, COVID-19, economic stability, which instability, which will be fiercely exacerbated by recent events. And, we do that work through existing humanitarian partners. That includes UN agencies like the OCHA Managed Afghanistan Humanitarian Fund, the World Food Programme to respond to food security pressures, our support to women and girls, including through the UNFPA, and as the Prime Minister mentioned, the UNHCR efforts to manage internal and external refugee movements. And, so, we have flagged our support, as the Prime Minister’s indicated, for the prospective UNHCR supplementary appeal. When that is formally launched, we will proceed with that contribution. We have over many years invested through the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund that has supported essential services, delivery for health, for education, agricultural and community development through trusted partners. We will work with partners to review those contributions and how they are best administered into the future, particularly including the world multilateral financial institutions, to ensure that the support is reaching the people it needs to reach and is delivered by people that we trust and agencies and organisations that we trust. Thanks, Prime Minister.

THE HON. GREG HUNT MP, MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: Thanks very much, Prime Minister and Marise. In the last 28 days, in four weeks, 5.6 million Australians have been vaccinated. That's the population of Melbourne and Canberra in four weeks. What we're seeing is Australians play their part in the deal. They are stepping forward to be vaccinated in record numbers, and they've helped us move the burden and the weight of the vaccination programme from the fourth quarter to the third quarter. And that's about protection for Australians. But it also brings us closer to those critical benchmarks which the Doherty Institute set out on which the National Cabinet agreed with the Australian public. So that's, I think, immensely heartening. Yesterday, a second consecutive day of over 300,000, as the PM said, and in the last two days, that's the equivalent of Newcastle and Bendigo being vaccinated in two days. So Australians are stepping forward.

Today, we'll pass six million Australians with second doses who are fully vaccinated. And significantly, we're at 84.6 per cent of Australians over the age of 70 have had at least one vaccination, 84.6 per cent of our most vulnerable people have come forward and they're continuing to come forward every day. So that's extremely important. But there's another important point of hope. The TGA has today approved the therapeutic treatment, Sitrovomab. Sitrovomab is a monoclonal antibody. It means it mimics the body's immune system. It is now being considered by the clinical evidence taskforce and it is likely to help about eight to 13 per cent of patients. So it's not a result for everybody, but it's particularly likely to help those who are at risk of progressing to very serious illness. And that's available. That's something that will be able to help patients around Australia. It's being made available. It's expected that from about a week from now that we'll be in a position to ensure that it's used by patients at the instigation of the medical crews. And it's the first, but not the last of the treatments that are likely to have a significant impact on improving prospects.

So, lockdowns, you know, deeply, deeply challenging, but incredibly important. Vaccinations, borders, testing, tracing and treatments, all of these things say this is a moment in history. It's not forever. It's a moment in history. And as the PM said, we have to fight our way through it. We've done an amazing job and we're continuing to do that. And we see that with those vaccination numbers, but more hope and more support. The other thing on that is we are very aware of the mental health challenges. We know that so many people are still doing it very tough in in lockdown or because of other circumstances. And so, you know, dealing with Christine Morgan today, her message was very simple, you're not alone. Reach out if you need help or reach out to somebody you think may need help. It could be a friend. It could be a family member, could be a neighbour. But the telephone is how we bridge the distance. And these are the most important of human things to do. Head to health.gov.au or beyondblue or Lifeline or Headspace. These are all different options.

Finally, just in terms of New South Wales, the ADF is on the ground, they're doing the compliance work, a team of up to 50, the first of the vaccination teams is in place. AUSMAT is in place as of today, the first of the teams. And just to give you a sense, over the coming days, the ADF will be in Dubbo West, Bourke, Warren, Parkes, Narromine, Trangie, Nyngan, Coola, Mudgee, Forbes, Lightning Ridge, and then going on to Bathurst and into Orange, among others. So the help is there, whether you're in one part of the country or any part of the country right now.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, John Howard [inaudible] and his assessment of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, he says that it's been too swift, that a force should have stayed behind to preserve stability. Do you think that Joe Biden got the withdrawal strategy wrong? Have you spoken to the US President? And secondly, if I may, on the 12 to 15 vaccination rollout, once that happens, how much longer will it take to get to the 70 or 80 percent threshold?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, on the first matter, I'm just focused on what we need to do. Now, the President and I have not yet discussed these matters, but there's been close engagement with Secretary Blinken and many others across our administrations to be resolving and working on the issues that are on the ground. We are very appreciative of the fact that both the US and the UK forces are there securing that airport to enable us to undertake the operations we're engaged in. There will be plenty of opportunity for others to make comments about whether this should be done or that should be done, or commentaries whether it's on the United States or others. I don't intend to join that because we're working with a partner and an ally at a very sensitive time to do a very difficult job to bring people to safety. That's my sole focus. I respect the views, of course, of John Howard and many others, and they will make their contributions. And they would also, I have no doubt, understand where my focus needs to be. And that is working with our great ally and friend, the United States, our great ally and friend. There is no more important security, relationship and partnership with Australia than our relationship with the United States. And so we will work through this with them and we will work together with them into the future on securing not only Australia's national security interests in our part of the world and more broadly, but continuing to work together as the United States has always sought to do for a world that favours freedom. Now, the second question, Joe?

JOURNALIST: The 12 to 15 year old vaccinations, once that actually comes through, how much longer will it take to get to those key thresholds?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the recommendation from the Doherty Institute did not include and actually specifically did not include 12 to 15s and did not consider it necessary to be included in those overall vaccination rates to trigger when you can move to the next phases. So when we continue to report figures, it'll be based on the population 16 and above. That's consistent with the advice that they've given and consistent with all the numbers that we've had. The 70 per cent was based on that 16 and above, based on that medical advice. Now, of course, we will move into those other age groups. But I want to stress something the Chief Medical Officer reminded us of all again this morning and that I reminded everyone of last night and yesterday. The best way right now for you to protect your children from contracting COVID-19 is to ensure that you are vaccinated, that you are vaccinated. And that opportunity is right here, right now. That is the medical advice that we've been given both by the Chief Medical Officer and indeed by the scientific advice that has been provided to us by Professor McVernon. But we are working on those plans for how a vaccination programme rollout for 12 to 15s, we still do not have the definitive medical advice from ATAGI on that yet. The interim advice is imminent and that will help with that planning. But I don't anticipate that to be finalised for about another week or so, I'd say Greg, that's what we understand. If it's sooner than that, well and good. But the planning of how it needs to be done for what I'd say is a youth vaccination programme across the country is one that both General Frewen and his counterparts at the state and territory level have been working on now for some time, and we need to run that in parallel, of course, with the national vaccination programme, of which it will form a part, and the key priorities that we have in that programme will remain key priorities.

JOURNALIST: Those thresholds, do you expect all states and territories to ease restrictions at 70 and 80 per cent regardless of what their case numbers are at that point?

PRIME MINISTER: I expect the national deal made with Australians by all leaders of this country that we've said to Australians, you do your part, we'll do ours.

JOURNALIST: On Afghanistan, you said that the most difficult process is actually getting the evacuees to the airport, from all accounts that we're hearing from Afghanistan is that that is the most dangerous part. In terms of working with our allies, is there any way we could work with the Taliban to ensure a safe passage and also to Minister Payne as well, I'd like to hear from you on this, is there any possibility of a military escort to get to the airport?

PRIME MINISTER: The second issue, no, that is not a matter that is considered viable, and that is the direct advice that I have from our defence forces. And that is also what has been practised by other defence forces that are present to the best of our information that we're receiving. You'd appreciate and I'd add this layer of caution too, I mean, you'll all be hearing this and that about what's coming out of Afghanistan, and many of you have covered many of these issues in the past know that there are many reports that are unconfirmed and unreliable that come out of an environment like that. And you'll hear all sorts of rumours and things like this. I'd counsel against them. And you're all very familiar with that in treating reports that come unconfirmed out of the field with giving it only the weight that obviously should be given to it. And so our information, advice is that is not a viable option. And that's obviously concerning and distressing. The United States continues to engage directly with the Taliban about the arrangements that are in place over the course of this month, and that is enabling flights to go in and out of the airport. But we're dealing with the Taliban. So I'm not making any assumptions and I'm moving as quickly and as safely as we possibly can to get as many people out as fast as we can. But, Marise.

SENATOR THE HON. MARISE PAYNE, MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: I think, PM, that covers the questions that have been asked.

JOURNALIST: People, millions in lockdown through August, having written a month off, hearing mixed messages about what they may or may not be able to do if they get vaccinated, believing it and doing the right thing. Now, looking at the end of the tunnel and seeing more tunnel through September. What sort of hope can you give those people about October? What is October going to look like in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: It's going to look like a lot more people vaccinated than are now. I mean, what actual figures we achieve? Well, the results reported to you today shows that we're making great progress towards that and that only, I think, doubles down on the urgency for states and territories and ourselves to set out what those exemptions will be. And I want to be very clear about this. These will be exemptions, not additional rights. Because if you're vaccinated, I'm sorry to labour this point, but it's true. If you're vaccinated, you are less likely to get the virus, transmit the virus, get a serious illness, take up a bed in hospital, a respirator, respirator, and the worst of cases become a fatality. So by getting vaccinated, you are less of a public health risk than someone who is not vaccinated. And so it only stands to reason, to common sense, that in a situation where we've reached threshold levels of vaccination at 70 per cent and 80 per cent, as the science shows us, we can safely move into a period where if you are vaccinated, then you can be exempted from various restrictions that may still more broadly remain in place. Now, the Doherty advice has been pretty clear. I mean, in living with COVID, that means there will always be some level of baseline, cautious practises that we'll have to observe for some time. For how long, we'll see. But the rest of the world isn't fully vaccinated, and I don't anticipate that for some time as well. So we'll always have to be careful.

But when we get to those marks, I think, Mark, you're absolutely right, it's only reasonable that people have been doing the right thing, responding to the call, persevering. And you know, my heart goes out, particularly to the small business owners who've had the most punishing experience through all of this, the high school students doing their HSC even now, very tough stuff. And so they're doing that. And so over the course of this next week, I hope we'll make a lot more progress on that front. The Premier of New South Wales and I were just messaging each other this morning about that progress. The Victorian Premier, together with the Tasmanian Premier and the Northern Territory Chief Minister, together with the Commonwealth, are working up what that list is. And the other important part is you have the digital tools available to make that work in the most seamless and easy way for people. I mean, right now across the country, people are very familiar with the QR code registration for going into venues and things like this. And the system we're seeking to build would just simply use that system. And so people would have to do nothing different. It's also important in the future that people who are unvaccinated going into particular places, that we know that they've been there, because if something were to occur in a place like that, they are the most vulnerable in those situations. And so, the contact tracing, testing and isolating that will still be a part of our future, and particularly in the post 70 per cent world before we hit 80 per cent. But in that world, those who are unvaccinated still remain highly vulnerable. And so if they've been somewhere where there has been a case or several cases, we need to know so we can get to them quickly because they are greatly at risk. So the tools we're seeking to use are there for people's protection and to recognise the common sense position that if you're vaccinated, you are less of a public health risk to yourself, to your family, to those you work with, to those you're on the train with or on the tram or the ferry or wherever you are, you are less of a risk. And therefore, in those circumstance, it's only fair. It's only fair.

JOURNALIST: This morning, the Treasurer said states who choose to lock down after we reach the 80 per cent milestones cannot expect the same federal financial support. Are you really willing to punish the people in states where the premiers choose to go into those lockdowns?

PRIME MINISTER: I expect the states and territories to live up to the plan they've agreed to. That's what I expect them to do, I expect them to live up to the plan that they've agreed to.

JOURNALIST: So you've got an economy at the moment which has got one negative quarter of one contraction in one quarter. If state premiers, if premiers break the deal, are they basically bringing upon Australia the risk of a recession?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there's no doubt, and this was the Treasury advice that came through which informed their decision to support the plan, that once you get to 80 per cent in particular and 70 per cent as well, but particularly at that other level, that it is against the country's and indeed the states and territories economic interests to impose further lockdowns. It's against their interests. It actually becomes a more costly way of achieving a similar health outcome and that the balance of risk, both on health and economic grounds, is away from that old way of doing things. Now, of course, we're in phase A, we're dealing with a Delta variant, which is rampant, and we've seen, you know, they'll be watching very closely the situation not just in New South Wales but Victoria as well, that the Delta variant has these impacts. This is the conversation I was having with Boris Johnson last night. I mean, but we have to get to the point, you know, where we stop focusing on the cases. And we start focusing on the health impact of the virus itself, which is hospitalisation, serious illness, things like this, and that's what the transition from Phase A to Phase B is all about. Now, when we agreed that I think was back in June, we didn't have numbers on it at that point. We didn't have the 70 and 80 per cent numbers. So we carefully considered that Phase A to Phase B was about; in Phase A, it's about case numbers, you do need to suppress them, and under Delta, you know, it's hard to get it where you'd ideally like it to be. That's just an obvious fact. And I think that's all that people have been saying. But when you get to phase B, well, that's when you're focusing more on the the health consequences of cases rather than the cases themselves. And that's what we first agreed. Then we applied with the science, the vaccination rates to support that. And so that's the plan. That's the deal.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on Afghanistan, a number of the Afghans who worked alongside Australian Defence Force personnel over the course of our involvement in the 20 year war they were in the Helmand province, is your advice, they were in the Helmand province of Afghanistan and may still be there. Is your advice, security advice, now that if they're still in those areas and not in Kabul, they won't be able to get out of the country under Australian assistance? And Foreign Minister, if I can ask you, last night, the Taliban spokesperson used Afghanistan's Independence Day to say that he wanted the Taliban to be recognised at a diplomatic level. Can you trust the Taliban?

PRIME MINISTER: Marise, do you want to start with that one?

SENATOR THE HON. MARISE PAYNE, MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Oh, sure, I don’t mind. I answered that question earlier this week. With a request for trust comes an expectation of earning it.

PRIME MINISTER: We know their form. I'll make decisions, the government will make decisions based on their form. And in my discussions with leaders and others, I think there's a fairly similar view, very similar view about judging people on their form and being able to see through anything at this point. But right now, the issue is about getting people out. I said earlier in the week that there are many things we would like to be able to do, but the situation on the ground is as it is. But as I mentioned, 430 people we were able to get out from right across Afghanistan, as you know, 1,800 over the course of the last seven, eight years from right across the country, including the places you're talking about. But the planes are only going in and out of Kabul, not going in and out of anywhere else. And that's why we have seen in the course of this week, I mentioned in my opening remarks that we're seeing more and more people coming into Kabul and there are many checkpoints along that route. So that obviously has its hazards.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] leave people behind?

PRIME MINISTER: That's not what I said. We're going to make every effort to get everybody out that we possibly can in the very difficult circumstances we're facing. And prior to this series of events emerging in the past week, that's also exactly what we were doing, and we've been doing it for years and we've been doing it faithfully, both in respecting and being grateful to the service that they provided to us. And also, out of great respect for the people that they served with.

JOURNALIST: Can you confirm that the SAS soldiers who were named in the Brereton Report as committing alleged war crimes have now been pardoned, that they can keep their jobs, and that one of those soldiers is actually in Kabul helping with the evacuations? Do they deserve an apology?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm not going to make any comment on those matters. I'm just going to reaffirm, again, my faith in the Australians who are in Afghanistan right now. Thank you very much.

[ENDS]

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