Scott Morrison will commit $1.9bn for Australia’s vaccine rollout and attempt to bolster consumer confidence while preparing the public for the withdrawal of fiscal supports in a scene-setting address ahead of the resumption of parliament.
With MPs converging on Canberra for the opening of the new parliamentary year, the prime minister will outline five priorities for 2021 in a speech to the National Press Club on Monday, including the continued suppression of Covid-19 and cementing economic recovery after presiding over the first recession in 30 years.
As Perth entered a snap five-day lockdown late on Sunday after a hotel quarantine security guard tested positive to Covid-19 after being exposed potentially to the more contagious UK variant, the prime minister will on Monday seek to reassure people that Australia’s management of the pandemic remains more effective than most other countries.
Morrison will note Australia currently has the third-lowest mortality rate among G20 countries. But according to a speech extract circulated by his office, Morrison will also stress that continued vigilance is required, because “the pandemic is still raging” and Covid-19 is “morphing into new and more virulent strains”.
With concerns heightened during the past week about Europe engaging in vaccine nationalism, and with the Australian Medical Association warning the government might not meet its target of 4m vaccinations by the end of March due to supply disruptions, Morrison will say the government’s “aim” will be to offer all Australians “the opportunity to be vaccinated by October 2021, commencing in just a few weeks’ time”.
The prime minister will say the latest advice to government indicates the first vaccinations are on track to be in Australia, ready for distribution to priority groups, from late February. But he will also acknowledge “the final commencement date will depend on developments overseas, which we will continue to monitor and update accordingly”.
Morrison will note that Australia also maintains “sovereign vaccine manufacturing capacity” through local biotechnology company CSL – which was a no-show at the first hearing of the Senate’s Covid-19 inquiry for 2021 last week. The company said it was too busy to front and answer questions about its preparedness for the vaccine rollout.
The prime minister will say on Monday that the government “expects”, through CSL, being able to supply Covid-19 vaccines to “the entire Australian population”, subject to the appropriate approvals from the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
In terms of economic recovery, Morrison will note the government’s fiscal support rolled out during 2020 helped boost business balance sheets and households savings by more than $200bn.
He will note that 90% of the jobs lost during the pandemic had returned by the end of 2020, the labour market’s participation rate has bounced back and consumer and business confidence “has recovered as restrictions have come off and will be further supported by the vaccine rollout”.
The prime minister will nudge Australians to open their wallets. “There is now a large sum of money available to be spent across the economy helping to create jobs and maintain the momentum of our economic recovery”.
But while trying to persuade Australians to spend and invest, Morrison will also set the scene for the withdrawal of the popular pandemic payments that have provided support to the economy during the public health crisis.
Morrison will say the government needs to exercise “the fiscal discipline necessary to ensure that we do not overburden future generations and continue to spend taxpayers’ money wisely” adding: “We are not running a blank-cheque budget.”
He will say the government crafted the fiscal response to the crisis with guardrails, including emergency measures that would be temporary “and accompanied by a clear fiscal exit strategy”.
“You can’t run the Australian economy on taxpayers’ money forever”.
Morrison’s press club scene-setter comes as parliamentarians return to Canberra for a short, three-day sitting of both houses.
With the parliamentary year about to resume, the Labor leader Anthony Albanese reshuffled his frontbench last week in an effort to shore up his position, calm internal brawling over climate change policy, and set better structures to fight an election which could be called in the second half of this year.
The opening sitting week of the year will see consideration of mostly uncontentious bills, some of them related to the Covid-19 response and vaccination plans. Most MPs are expected to attend although there are still likely to be Covid-19 distancing requirements in the chambers.
The agenda for the lower house on Tuesday includes a bill setting up a serious incident response scheme in aged care, a sector that suffered a series of deadly coronavirus outbreaks last year. That is scheduled to head to the Senate for debate on Wednesday.
The House of Representatives will also continue debating technical amendments to the Therapeutic Goods Act to allow for the timely availability of Covid-19 vaccines. As the government prepares to begin the rollout in late February or early March, other amendments will require vaccination providers to report information about vaccines they administer to the Australian Immunisation Register.
Both of these bills are due to head to the upper house later in the week.
The Senate may also debate a contentious bill to establish a national radioactive waste management facility in Napandee on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula, with Labor expected to move significant amendments.