Like all Australians, my family has been inspired by watching the extraordinary performance of our athletes in Tokyo. Whether it has been our Queen Machine, led by Emma McKeon in the pool, on the water with our rowers, in the rapids with Jess Fox, or boxer Skye Nicolson baring her heart and soul to the nation after her disappointment and Patrick Tiernan getting to his feet in the final lap of the 10,000m, we are bursting with pride. Not just in what they have achieved, but in what they have overcome to be there in Tokyo.
Of course, these are extraordinary athletes. They have incredible determination and rare skills that enable them to go higher, faster and further than the rest of us. But what I think really endears our Olympians to us all is just how like the rest of us they really are. Ash Barty kicking a footy before a match. Kaylee McKeown’s uncensored joy. Rohan Browning’s mullet. And then you see their families, tearing up, shouting loudly and hugging the breath out of each other.
They come from a place of honesty, sincerity and passion. Where you just push through life’s trials and get on with it.
There may not be gold medals for being a single parent, running a small business, doing night shift at an emergency department or aged-care facility or volunteering for your local surf lifesaving club or bushfire brigade, but if there were, Australia would be high in the medal tally. This is why I have always been so confident that Australia will pull through this Covid-19 pandemic. We won’t let it beat us. We won’t let our frustration get the better of us. We won’t let negativity overwhelm our optimism. We will just put our heads down and keep pressing on.
So far, working together, we have done better than almost any other country in the world in saving lives and livelihoods. We haven’t seen anything like this in 100 years. And it doesn’t come with an instruction manual.
The overseas evidence clearly shows that if we had the same experience of other advanced economy countries, where their Covid death rate has been almost 40 times greater than in Australia, more than 30,000 additional Australians would have died. Together, we stopped this.
And, despite setbacks from recent lockdowns, more than one million Australians were able to get themselves back into work after last year’s Covid recession, as our unemployment rate fell to 4.9 per cent. Now we have to finish the job and get Australians vaccinated. Because that is our path back.
As Prime Minister, I take responsibility for the early setbacks in our vaccination program. I also take responsibility for getting them fixed and that we are now matching world-best rates, with more than 1 million doses every week. The supplies are in place, the GPs, pharmacists and state clinics are getting the job done.
To keep us focusing forward, I have been able to secure the support of our premiers and chief ministers around the country for our national four-step plan to bring this home.
This plan now has clear vaccination targets to drive us on. Right now we are in the suppression phase, where the only way to stay ahead of the new Delta strain is to have quick and short lockdowns.
I wish this was different, but the Delta strain is far more infectious. The science of the Delta strain is the game changer and you can’t ignore it. The tools of testing and contact tracing are no longer enough to enable us to weather limited cases in the community.
We now need 70 per cent of our population aged over 16 to get vaccinated to move to the next phase where we can start saying goodbye to lockdowns. When we hit 80 per cent, lockdowns should become a thing of the past.
I can say this because I asked one of the world’s best pandemic expert scientific organisations – the Doherty Institute in Melbourne – to tell us at what rate of vaccination we can now safely take these steps, and not see it all fall over again and run out of control as we have seen in other countries that have tried.
I also asked our economic experts the same question, about the lockdowns and the cost of restrictions. And they agreed with the medical experts. With this new Delta strain, until we get to 70 per cent, you have to lock down for quick short periods, as this avoids longer lockdowns, where the cost is far greater.
The idea that you can just let this rip and ignore it is not an option. It is fanciful, foolish and dangerous.
To get us through these lockdowns, the federal government is providing timely and direct financial support to individuals and businesses. Through our Covid Disaster Payment, we have already directly helped 774,465 Australians in NSW, Victoria and South Australia with payments totalling $994.5m. This support will now extend to southeast Queensland.
So, 70 per cent is our next mark to get to Phase B and 80 per cent for Phase C. Like you, I wish it were lower. But it’s not. It’s what the detailed scientific analysis of the virus tells us. The science of Covid-19 writes these rules, not us, so we just have to adjust and beat it. If the virus changes again we’ll have to do the same.
If we all work together we can get this done, including getting to the next step before the end of the year. But it is up to all of us. There will be enough supplies. There will be enough GPs, pharmacists and nurses to deliver the jabs. All we now need is you.
So, our gold medal run to the end of year is now well under way. Our Olympians in Tokyo have given us the perfect inspiration to get this done. It’s now up to us.
Published in The Australian.