Australia’s business leaders are pressing the state and federal government to set realistic vaccine targets to reopen Australia after 18 months of pandemic economic pain.
This comes after Prime minister Scott Morrison announced the four-step plan at the National Cabinet meeting last Friday, with each phases to be triggered by the achievement of a vaccination thresholds.
But Business leaders are critical of the roadmap for making wide-scale vaccination a precondition to move past “phase one” despite the nation’s vaccine shortage. They are also concerned that the plan lacks key details, with no firm dates for reopening or clear thresholds for vaccination rates which State leaders could work towards.
Jenny Lambert from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry warned the national plan could fall apart if state premiers ignored targets and timelines.
“We need to make sure we get open and stay open. We need to be mindful that businesses can’t survive forever,” she told Sky News on Monday.
“We can’t continually go from open to lockdown to open to lockdown.”
Former Prime Minister and Australian Labour Party leader Kevin Rudd echoed Lambert’s comments.
“Over many months, Morrison and Hunt have unveiled a series of new ‘plans’ to reset the rollout, each of which promised much but delivered little. Last Friday’s announcement by Morrison – a ‘four-phase plan’ with hazy targets and no timeline – is part of the same. If you remove the wrapping paper it’s just another political mirage designed to project an image of competence after yet another week of chaos.”
According to the federal government statistics as of Sunday, nearly 31 per cent of over-16s in Australia, or 6.3 million people, have got their first dose, but fewer than 1.9 million people, which is 9 per cent of the population, are fully vaccinated.
However, Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce defended the four-phase plan, saying the government is accelerating the vaccine rollout and will be administering more than nine million vaccine doses by the end of this week.
“The numbers are there in what we’re doing,” Joyce said.
“More and more people have had one shot and are heading towards getting the second shot,” he said.
“You see it in your own community and your workplace, so many people (have) had a shot now, it is rolling out.”
The Deputy PM also admitted that there was an issue with the Pfizer vaccine supply but noted Australia was not the only country in the world to be in this position.
“We’re not the only country in the world having to deal with this, other countries such as Canada and Mexico are having to draw on the Pfizer vaccine as well, so this idea that the Pfizer vaccine issue is a unique problem is not correct,” he said.
Tens of millions of Pfizer doses are set to arrive in Australia over the next six months, and about 500 clinics across the country will start offering the vaccine to people aged between 40 and 59 this week.
Joyce also suggested that Australia should start to learn to live with the virus, like other contagious diseases such as the flu or measles, as it was no longer possible to eradicate it.
“Even if everybody is vaccinated or you get 90 per cent vaccination, you will still have the virus in the community. So you have got to make sure that you condition people to the idea that our job is to keep you alive and to stop you from getting sick, we’re not going to be able to eradicate Covid-19, it’s just not going to happen.”
“We don’t want them but we don’t close down the economy because of them,” he said.
“And that’s precisely what we’re doing and I think the states are now coming on board with that idea. That sets the nation up in a much stronger place.”
Meanwhile, Melbourne-based workplace consultant Maureen Kyne, from Maureen Kyne and Associates, told The Australian that as the country moves forward with the Four-Stage plan she was concerned that many employers may become embroiled in legal disputes if they have forgotten that vaccination is voluntary according to the Australian government policy.
“Employers who play the vaccination card for employment and promotions, pay rises or even determining which staff it elects to bring back to the office may find themselves embroiled in costly legal disputes,” she said.
“The COVID-19 vaccination is a complex issue and we need to be sensitive to those individuals who for whatever reason, be it anti-vaccine beliefs, political views or religious and medical grounds, can’t or won’t get inoculated.”
“Education and persuasion and a thorough examination of options will generally be a better starting point than confrontation; and it may require employers to seek legal advice to clarify their position.”