Joint press conference:
- Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP
- Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon Marise Payne
- Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon Karen Andrews MP
PRIME MINISTER: Morning, everyone. I’m joined by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Home Affairs. Australia condemns the evil, the calculated and inhuman attacks that were undertaken in Kabul overnight on the innocent and on the brave. We join with our American and Afghan friends in mourning their terrible and awful loss, like so many other losses that have gone before them. We are especially mindful of the reported 13 US Defence Force personnel who were murdered at the Abbey Gate at HKIA, a gate at which Australian Defence Force personnel stood only hours before. And, like those 139 Australians who have been on that same airport and at that same gate, and many others like it, over the course of these operations, these brave young Americans stood at that gate to protect life, to save life, but lost their own in providing a pathway to freedom for others.
I have conveyed Australia's and my own personal deep sadness for the loss of those brave American souls, to the President of the United States, by letter this morning. They have fallen in a very worthy cause. And, to all of those in Afghanistan, suffering as they are now, suffering as they have for so long, and particularly suffering as a result of this most recent attack, we extend our deepest sympathies.
We thank the United States, and the United Kingdom also. The sacrifice of those young Americans was part of a broader effort over the course of these many days now, that has enabled Australia to engage in one of the most significant evacuations that we have ever taken part in. Over these nine days, we have successfully evacuated some 4,100 people from one of the most dangerous places on earth. Now, those 4,100 people we have evacuated are either back at our base at AMAB or indeed have been transferred to Australia.
The United States and the United Kingdom made that possible. Were it not for the some 5,000 troops that they had on the ground, it would not have been possible for Australia to engage in these operations. It would not have been possible to have the Coalition forces doing what they have been doing to ensure the evacuations of tens of thousands of people, including thousands upon thousands, if not tens of thousands, of Afghans, who have found a path to freedom at this most difficult time to achieve that.
And, to our American and British friends, we are, we are deeply in your debt, as we so often have. But, as I often always say about our allies and partners, we may look to them but we never leave it to them. And, in the course of these nine days, our Australian Defence Forces, our Home Affairs officials, our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials, have played their part in this important evacuation.
Australia’s operations now for the evacuation have been completed. We were able to ensure the departure of the remaining Australian personnel over the course of last night, not that long before the terrible events that unfolded last night took place. I want to commend all of those who were part of that operation on the ground, be they wearing uniforms or they be civilians in our public service. I want to commend them for their bravery, first and foremost, for their sacrifice. I want to commend them for their dedication and their professionalism. I also want to commend them for demonstrating Australia's heart, their humanity and their compassion.
Some more than 3,200 Australians and Afghan visa holders for Australia have now been evacuated, but more than 800 also from our Coalition partners who were part of that evacuation program that Australians have undertaken. Currently, there are more than 2,500 people at AMAB, and I spoke to Crown Prince Zeid last night and thanked him for the support of the UAE as part of these efforts, and appreciate the hospitality that has been extended towards Australia to ensure that we’ve been able to accommodate so many people, and for the graciousness of giving us the time that we will need in the days, and perhaps longer ahead, as we arrange for the further processing and transfer of people back to Australia. Some 783 people who have been evacuated out of Afghanistan are already home or in their new home here in Australia, and I want to thank the states and territories for their support as we continue to increase the amount of quarantine places available that will facilitate further returns today and in coming days, as those operations continue.
The United States and the United Kingdom of course remain in Afghanistan over the next few days. Australia's completion of our operations there mirrors that of many other countries now, taking similar decisions as Australia has done, and we continue to support the US and UK operations through our RAAF, although none of that tasking or request involves any Australian presence on the ground.
The Foreign Affairs Minister will indicate the travel advice which has been updated just prior to us coming out here today, about the advice that we’re providing to those Australians and visa holders who remain in Afghanistan. It remains a extremely dangerous place, but as I said yesterday, our plan now moves into its post-evacuation stage, and that involves ensuring that we start the process of returning, through our official humanitarian program, people to Australia, working through other international agencies and working closely with our Coalition partners who are engaged in exactly the same exercise. And, that process, of course, will be undertaken by the Department of Home Affairs.
After my colleagues have spoken I’ll return to some of the other matters regarding COVID and National Cabinet meeting later today, but I think under the circumstances it’s important we continue to offer comment on these most terrible events overnight. Our hearts sank when we heard this news. Sadly, it was not unexpected, as we had previously flagged, but even events of that nature, when they are sadly expected, still make your heart sink.
SENATOR THE HON. MARISE PAYNE, MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Thanks, Prime Minister. And, let me add my strongest condemnation of the attack at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, targeting US personnel who were trying to help others and Afghan civilians who only sought safety and a better life elsewhere. We extend our deepest sympathies to those affected, to their families and to their loved ones, and we reiterate our sincere thanks to the United States, whose presence has helped Australia to evacuate those over 4,000 people that the Prime Minister just referred to, people at risk.
I want to pay tribute again to our officials and our military troops who’ve carried out this, one of the largest humanitarian airlift operations in our history, evacuating those Australians and visa holders and other citizens.
We know that this is a very distressing situation for Australians still in Kabul, for people with visas, and for family and friends who are here in Australia. I want to emphasise to those who are still in Afghanistan that we have issued new travel advice following our very clear travel advice of yesterday. Our new travel advice says Australian evacuation flights from Kabul have ceased. All Australian Government personnel have departed Kabul. There’s an ongoing and very high threat of terrorist attack. Explosions have occurred in the vicinity of Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport. Do not travel to the airport. If you’re in the vicinity, move to a safe location, and provides contact details for consulate support as well. I cannot encourage strongly enough the following of that travel advice, and I encourage those who are in Kabul, who have not registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to register.
As to the question of whether there have been Australians affected by these explosions, we are unable to confirm that at this point in time. We will contact those for whom we have details, and that is why it is so important to register and so important to follow the travel advice that we have issued updated this morning. Thanks, Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER: Peter.
THE HON. PETER DUTTON MP, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Thanks PM and thank you Marise. Well, ironically, the barbaric acts that have resulted in the death of, the loss of life of innocent Afghan citizens and the brave US soldiers; they’ve demonstrated through those barbaric actions exactly the reason why Australia was with our allied forces in Afghanistan. Over the last 20 years, 39,000 Australians have worn the uniform and have fought in our country's name to keep that sort of barbaric act from our shores. The 41 who have lost their lives should be honoured today as well, because it is the efforts of the Australian Defence Force personnel over the course of that period of time which has kept those terrorist attacks from our shores. We’ve seen the actions over several days now of all of our agencies, but from my perspective, the work of the Australian Defence Force is second to none in the world.
I want to acknowledge those members of the Royal Australian Air Force, bravely flying sorties in and out over the course of these days to lift people to a new life or to return them back home. I want to say thank you very much to the Regiment. The Regiment has performed again exceptional work in Afghanistan, and I recognise the work of those officers, as well as those from 3rd Brigade and also from 1RAR in Sydney, but others within the Department, the defence planners.
The advice that we received back in May from our defence planners and others to close the embassy, to move our staff to safety and to evacuate those people at that time, and the remarkable effort that has been underway from the whole of the Australian Government and our personnel to evacuate people over a long period of time. Since April there has been a concerted effort. The fact that we’ve got 4,100 people out is quite astonishing and a great credit to all of those agencies.
I want to say thank you very much to the United States. There are many critics out there of the United States on every day, but we would not have recovered one person of the 4,100 without the efforts of the United States soldiers who secured that airport, and still do so today. We hope in the coming days that they and the Brits – who have had a significant footprint there and remain so – that they are able to remove their people and their assets safely, and to do that in an orderly way in very difficult circumstances. As Marise pointed out, the terrorist threats are still there. The expectation is there that there will be further attacks and they are living with that circumstance at the moment. So we want to see them safely home as quickly as possible.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you Marise, Karen. Sorry, Peter. Karen.
THE HON. KAREN ANDREWS MP, MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Thank you, Prime Minister. And, can I also give great support and thanks to those people that Australia has had on the ground in Kabul over the last few days, in particular. There has been an extraordinary effort by so many people in Kabul, also in the UAE, and here in Australia, to support our evacuation efforts. And, whilst those evacuation efforts has now ended, we are continuing to provide all of the support that we possibly can to Australian citizens, permanent residents and visa holders, whether they be in Afghanistan or on their way here to Australia.
Once we have been able to process the evacuees in Dubai, they are being brought to Australia. There has already been a number of flights that have come in here, and over, well over 700 people are already in quarantine here in Australia. Once they have concluded their quarantine, we’ll be looking to resettle them as quickly as we possibly can here in Australia. It was important that we made it very clear, whilst our evacuation efforts were underway, that there would be 3,000 places that were allocated to people to come here from Afghanistan. Work is already underway to identify people we will continue to bring to this country, and I do encourage those people who have not already lodged an application for a humanitarian visa to do so, so that we can start working with groups here in Australia to make sure that we are focusing on family members potentially coming to Australia, to minority groups, and to women and children. This work is well underway, and in the coming weeks and months we will be in a position to welcome more people to Australia to either return home or to call Australia home.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. Now, on the other matters also, National Cabinet will meet later today. But, the National Security Committee on COVID met last night and confirmed the recommendations provided by General Frewen, and it follows the release of the ATAGI advice today on vaccination of children aged 12 to 15, supporting now, officially, the ability for us to undertake that. We’ve taken the decision that bookings will open for children aged 12 to 15 from the 13th of September. As you’ll recall from earlier, we had made and flagged the commencement of the ability for those aged 16 to 39 to be able to make those bookings and that is the next pressure on the system, and so we will allow that to commence and then on the 13th of September then people will be able to make those bookings. Now, principally I’ll see, I would see that happening especially through the GP network, and that provides the opportunity for family vaccinations, for the family to go along together across those age groups. So, that’s an important decision at National Cabinet this afternoon. Now, the Commonwealth’s decision to proceed will be briefed to the premiers, and we’ll start, continue the work, I should say, that we’ve already been doing with them through General Frewen, about their participation in that program.
Also, today, the Doherty Institute will be joining to brief - Professor McVernon - on the sensitivity analysis that’s been undertaken. We will also be examining in a first pass discussion issues relating to exemptions that can be afforded in Phases B and C for vaccinated persons. I don't anticipate any decisions on that today, there’s still ample time to work through those issues, but a lot of work has already been done to consider what the options are there, and they’ll be discussed in a first pass way today and that will provide some direction to further discussions on that ahead, before we reach those Phase B and Phase C marks.
We will also discuss today the important issue of the preparedness of public hospitals and our public health system, which has been a standing item on our agenda for many months, as we’ve looked at the pressures on those systems, and the Secretary of the Department of Health here has been working with others around the country to continue to understand and examine those pressures. The principle of those are really in relation to the management of workforce, the issue of when you’re furloughing staff - that is, isolating staff that have been secondary close contacts and things of that nature. And, they’re issues that we have to work practically through - the role of private hospitals, and so on. And, so, they will be discussed this afternoon, practically and cooperatively, because the preparation of our public hospital system and our public health systems are very important to the implementation of the national plan.
The national plan was developed to ensure there were gates to move through the different phases and we deliberately ensured that the calibration of what was done in each phase would be added. And, that's the discussion we’re in now. Of course, you need to have caution when you go through the 70 per cent mark, as opposed to the 80 per cent mark, and we’ve always left it open to ensure that we could calibrate what we were doing in that 70 to 80 per cent phase to ensure that it matched the risks that were present at that time, and we’ll have the opportunity to discuss those issues later today.
But, the good news is that we continue to make great pace towards those vaccination targets. Some 307,000 vaccines administered yesterday. That takes us to 33 per cent - one in three, almost - of the Australian population aged over 16 fully vaccinated in this country. Ten million doses now having been administered through the primary health care network, which is an extraordinary job undertaken by our GPs and pharmacists all around the country. So, with that, happy to take some questions.
JOURNALIST: On Afghanistan, the nation itself is obviously crumbling into chaos now. The jails have been thrown open, there’s terrorists on the streets. There’s an expectation there’ll be a boom again in the heroin trade. What do you say to Australians, how do you tell Australians when they ask will we ever go back? Is there a guarantee we won't go back to Afghanistan?
PRIME MINISTER: There is, there are no plans, of course, for Australia to be engaged in that type of an operation. I mean, the situation, as you've described it, and Peter may wish to offer comment on this, the situation, as you've described in Afghanistan, is, of course, very, very serious. And that is what occurs when countries go in, into these situations and we have been there for 20 years, 20 years, seeking to turn from a failed state into a successful state. And sadly, that hasn't proved possible. But what was done in those 20 years was extraordinary and the opportunities afforded to Afghans over the course of that 20 years provided an opportunity to a generation of Afghans that others have never had, and it is, of course, greatly concerning, and we will continue to monitor the risks very carefully with our partners, not just, not just our major allies, but those in our region as well. And the issue of terrorism has never gone away. It's not something that we've ever put to one side. It has been an abiding focus of our government. Every single, every single time we gather as a National Security Committee, we focus on these issues. So we will continue to take every step necessary to protect Australians, to keep Australians safe and to ensure stability, especially in our region. But, Peter.
THE HON. PETER DUTTON MP, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Just very quickly, PM. Obviously, all of the intelligence agencies are focused on the terrorist threat to not just our country, but to Australians who travel overseas in a normal year, and particularly in South East Asia, returning foreign fighters. And I think you'll see some activity of foreign fighters seeking to move around, et cetera, in the current atmosphere in the Middle East. Obviously, the pressure now is on the Taliban to honour their word and to execute by way of deed, that word, that assurance that they've given. And I think the world now is watching to see what they do next.
JOURNALIST: What of the Australians who are still stuck there, Minister?
THE HON. PETER DUTTON MP, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Well for the Australians who are there, we will provide every support that we can. But it was clear to us that it was unsafe for our personnel to remain there to continue the mission. And it was appropriate and proper for us to remove our staff from that situation. And they're now back safely at Al Minhad, as the Prime Minister has spoken about this morning. And we need to make sure that we can do everything we can to repatriate them back to Australia safely now as well.
JOURNALIST: How many Australians registered with DFAT remain in Afghanistan. How many people with Australian visas are still stuck there and do we have any chance of bringing them home?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, as the Home Affairs Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs may also wish to comment, the number of Australians in Afghanistan has been a number that has moved around quite a lot over the course even of the past several weeks. And the number of those who have been registering has been increasing over that time. So when we began these operations nine or so days ago, the number of of Australians who were indicating they were there has been growing each and every day. And that's why our operations have been sustained for so long. And the fact that we've been able to bring out so many is a testament to those who have been engaged in those operations. But the operation now moves into a post evacuation phase. And that is what we are now focused on, working with the Department of Home Affairs in dealing with the applications that are already there and then working with international agencies to ensure that those who can provide a pathway to Australia will be able to be received here in Australia under our official humanitarian programme.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] the Australian citizens and residents and Afghan nationals who have been evacuated, or more than that, sorry. Can you tell us specifically how many Afghan nationals you've managed to evacuate? And for those who still remain in Afghanistan, do they have any chance of getting out on one of our allied partners' flights, the US or the UK?
PRIME MINISTER: Peter might want to comment on this as well, but on the first one, no, we won't be. We are still working through the confirmation of those numbers at Al Minhad now and as well as the Australians. And the priority right now is returning those Australians who are obviously Australians, but also those who would have been fully visa to come to Australia. And that's what's occurring at the moment. And they'll come back to Australia and the Department of Home Affairs will continue to work through those who were given temporary visas at the time to enable them to be evacuated out of Afghanistan. And that's now being worked through. The second question?
JOURNALIST: About the Australians and Afghans who have been granted visas who remain in Afghanistan, do they have a chance of getting out ...
PRIME MINISTER: Look, to be honest, the opportunities for that will be very restricted. We're in the final days now with the United Kingdom and the United States. And their priority will obviously be on their tasking, not only for those they are still bringing out, but the safe evacuation of their own forces and equipment. And that's what they'll be focused on. We're obviously still engaged with them. I can tell you that even when that last flight left last night, we ensured that it remained on the tarmac until I was confident that everyone we thought we could get on that last plane, we did get on that last plane. And there are individuals who will be on their way to Australia as a result of those, even those decisions at that time. And so I can only imagine what it was like for our people who had been on that tarmac for all those days sitting there patiently waiting as we ensured that we could take every last person we possibly could safely at the end of that operation. Peter.
THE HON. PETER DUTTON MP, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: I'll just add this point. Many, many of the people who have provided assistance to Australia have also, as you appreciate, provided assistance to other allied forces, others that were present in Afghanistan, including, for example, the Netherlands. I think there will be a period of reconciling names of those that have been uplifted by partner countries. And we'll work through with the United States, obviously, their uplift in the thousands as well. It may be that people that we had issued visas to have actually ended up on a plane run by the British or run by the Spaniards or whatever it might be. So I think there will be a period of trying to reconcile that. And that should give us encouragement because more people than what we're acknowledging at the moment will have got out.
PRIME MINISTER: That's right. We are aware of some of those instances, but it'll take some time to reconcile it.
JOURNALIST: On COVID, the plan to live with COVID, the Doherty modelling forecasts, quite a large number of hospitalisations in the community, more than we're seeing now in New South Wales. We're seeing the New South Wales system really struggling with what they've got at the moment. As part of your deliberations on bolstering the health system, are we going to be looking at things like field hospitals, purpose built facilities? Like we've seen overseas in New York, for example.
PRIME MINISTER: That's not a recommendation or suggestion that has come forward to date from any of the states or territories. So certainly not that has been brought forward at a National Cabinet level or discussed at that level. The key challenge is not so much the bricks and mortar and the beds. The challenge is workforce, which is a constant challenge across many fronts in Australia. And one of the challenges for workforce is the policy that sits around the furloughing of health staff, around close contacts, and that is literally removing people from being able to work in hospitals and in health settings. So that is a practical issue that needs to be worked through. I mean in New South Wales, the ICU capacity is taken up about 20 per cent by COVID cases and more generally across the country, around 10 per cent. And so hospitals and public health authorities are able to adjust and manage resources that can free up capacity where they need to. And of course, our private hospitals agreement further adds capacity to that, both on beds and bricks and mortar, as well as important staff. Some 300 nurses already brought into that role already. What's important is having the plan to deal with it. We have had numerous discussions about how workforce can also be moved around the country to focus on areas that need it most, just in the same way that resources have been shared all across the pandemic up until now. So it's about having that plan. But the reports I have and indeed, as the New South Wales Premier and the New South Wales Health Minister has been at pains to point out, they are addressing the challenges in their own system, but the public health system and the public hospital system around the country is obviously a, a factor. And that needs to be fully understood.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, now, can you tell people when on your best advice we'll reach those trigger points of 70 and 80 per cent and why you believe the, you can assure them that the benefits of easing outweigh the risks at those points?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, that is the clear advice. The clear advice to us is both the health and the economic costs of lockdowns, those are very serious heavy measures, once you move beyond those points. That's the clear advice that we've received that becomes of greater harm than good. And that's why when you get to 70 per cent and 80 per cent, sure, you've got to calibrate, you've got to fine tune. And that's the exercise that I think we're rightly engaged in. And the Doherty sensitivity work will help us do that. And if there are issues with public hospital systems in particular states, well, that is a matter that needs to be brought forward and has been and where there need to do more there, we will do that together. As you know, we have a 50/50 arrangement with all the states and territories and New South Wales alone that has seen more than a billion dollars extra go into the public hospital system to deal with the COVID response to date from the Commonwealth Government. And so we certainly haven't held back in strengthening the system. But let's not forget the significant work that was done over a year ago in terms of respirators and all of these sorts of issues to deal with those surges. But when we think back to the Victorian outbreak last year and even the outbreak we're engaged in now and the initial outbreak, our public health system in Australia has stood up on each of these challenges, we will face a new one now, but our task is to is to deal with those challenges so we can maintain the hope of opening up Australia, because living with COVID requires us to strengthen that system to the extent we need to to ensure that we can live with COVID.
JOURNALIST: Just on the evacuations, did you, have you so far received a call from Biden directly about the Afghan evacuation? I understand he's spoken directly to Johnson and Merkel. Have you spoken to him directly over the phone?
PRIME MINISTER: No, I haven't. We've been in constant engagement through national security advisors. There's been defence level contact, foreign affairs contact. There's been direct contact between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Foreign Secretary and Secretary of State, I should say. So there's been high level engagement and constant, our partnership has worked incredibly effectively.
JOURNALIST: Can you just clarify how many hours elapsed between Australia pulling out and when we publicly as a Government confirmed that we were out and what efforts were made on the ground to let Australians and visa holders know that that was going to happen if they had, in fact, defied the advice and still headed to the airport?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we gave very clear advice and Marise may want to comment on this one. We gave very clear advice. In fact, we confirmed what that advice was here to you yesterday about the dangerous situation at HKIA. And we continue to take advice even as late as yesterday as we're working through our final operations before making the ultimate decision to remove our people and evacuate our own people from Kabul yesterday. I'm not going to go into the timetables around those things. What I am going to say, though, is that we made that decision based on, I think, the very astute advice from our defence forces, in particular the intelligence services that have been supporting us through this time. We were obviously aware of the terrorist threat that was being proposed and that it was credible. And that is the judgements that you have to make in very difficult situations like this. Australians had been risking their lives for the past nine days and more in evacuating 4,100 people out of Kabul. And I have a special duty of care to those Australians to ensure that in undertaking that very dangerous work, that we carefully assess those risks and make the right judgements. And there's no doubt in my mind that we made the right judgement.
SENATOR THE HON. MARISE PAYNE, MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Thank you, Prime Minister. We gave very clear, explicit advice yesterday about not coming to Hamid Karzai International Airport and that if you were in the vicinity of Hamid Karzai International Airport to move away from the airport, to move to a safe location. In all of our contacts yesterday, both here through the consular process in Australia, through contacts to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, from advocates and supporters here in Australia and in everything that we did with Australians, Australian citizens and visa holders on the ground, we explicitly reiterated that advice consistently right through the entire day yesterday.
JOURNALIST: Now that ATAGI is recommending vaccines for 12 to 15 year olds. Will they be included now in those vaccine targets of 70 and 80 per cent? And what will you say to state leaders who have been pushing that, today in National Cabinet?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, again, we'll take the advice today from Doherty and their advice, as recently as yesterday, is those two things, it's necessary to vaccinate children aged 12 to 15. But there is, there is no recommendation before us that it should be included in that target. So inclusion in the target does not mean they shouldn't be vaccinated. The target is about the overall level of vaccination in a adult population, which are the primary transmitters of the virus. So that's the science of that. The medical advice is that they should be vaccinated and that's exactly what we're going to do. So I think the conflation of those two issues is not something that has stood up to the advice that we've received.
JOURNALIST: It is something, though, that some of the state leaders have been pushing for, so will you be pushing against that?
PRIME MINISTER: There is no recommendation for me, from any of our medical or health advisers, to do that. And so I don't see the point of that. What I see the point in doing is vaccinating children. That's what it means. That's what it's about. And of course, we will. We've been patiently awaiting the advice from ATAGI, which we've only received the final version of today, and we've immediately, immediately decided to press ahead with that. And that will occur from the 13th of September. And that will follow, obviously, the opening up to those down to 16. And that will enable the system to gear up to do that over the next few weeks. And certainly all of us who have kids aged 12 to 15, I've already had the chat with mine, and they'll be going along to their GP and to get that opportunity very, very soon, we hope. We'll get in line and make a booking like anybody else, and I'll be encouraging other parents over the course of these couple of weeks to have that conversation with your kids about getting that vaccination and why it's important. Remember, we've also got school holidays coming up soon, and that will be another really good opportunity for families to get vaccinated at that time. We have some promising leads in terms of doses. I can't confirm those at this point, but we've been working on them now for some time. And when we're in a position to say anything further about that, but that is giving us some greater confidence about being able to particularly go forward with this decision to vaccinate children aged 12 to 15. One last one.
JOURNALIST: Has Qantas given false hope to people by suggesting that we could be travelling overseas by Christmas?
PRIME MINISTER: Sorry?
JOURNALIST: Has Qantas given false hope to Australians by suggesting that we could travel overseas by Christmas?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, if we hit 80 per cent, Phase C of the plan enables Australians who are vaccinated to be able to leave Australia and return. That's what 80 per cent Phase C means. So if we can achieve that, then that sounds like a really good reason to get vaccinated. And that's why the national plan is so important, because the national plan is to say it's not tied to a day. It's tied to the achievement of a vaccination rate that enables us to do things safely. It enables Australians who are vaccinated in situations like that to be able to travel and return at significantly reduced risk to themselves and to others. The South Australian home quarantine pilot is underway. And that, I think, will prove another very important tool to facilitate the very things that you're talking about.
But it's important to say about the national plan, which is agreed by all states and territories and and the Commonwealth that this plan, it's safe. It's about opening safely. It's about opening smartly. It's about opening in a way that is phased. It all doesn't happen on one day. It happens in Phase B, which is what I'd call a very soft, careful opening. And our task now is to ensure we get those careful settings, because I agree with the Doherty Institute that we have to be careful in 70 to 80 per cent. It's a soft opening period, not a big opening period. And then when we get to 80 per cent, we take another step. But at both phase B and phase C, you are still having in place those baselines and common sense measures that are protecting people from COVID. But that doesn't mean lockdowns. I've already said on many occasions that where you have discrete communities or particularly vulnerable communities that may have very low levels of vaccination and so on, then of course, there is the the actions that are available to states in those circumstances. But once you get particularly into Phase C, then you're in a position to use those common sense measures, your protection. That's what we call optimises TTIQ. When you have those in place, you're optimising the strength of your testing and and your isolation and your quarantining processes. And that optimises the result in terms of meaning that you get the same outcome as living with the flu, whether it comes to hospitalisation and other things of that nature. So the national plan is a safe plan. I look forward to making further progress on that this afternoon. It's unlikely we will probably hold another press conference on that today, given the lateness of the hour that I suspect we will finish this evening. The meeting's been pushed back this afternoon because of the Tasmanian Budget. And so after that will gather again.
But let me just finally say, in thanking all of my colleagues here in particular to Peter and to Marise and to Karen and I make a special mention of Alex Hawke as well as Minister for Immigration. In the course of this month, the National Security Committee has met on this matter 18 times, many times a day on occasions. And I want to thank them for their leadership. I want to thank the Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Campbell, and the many other brave souls at DFAT and Katherine Campbell and Michael Pezzullo at the Department of Home Affairs and all of their offices. This is a sombre day. It's a day when we are reflecting on, yes, the evacuation of some 4,100 people out of Kabul and one of the biggest evacuation operations that Australia has ever been engaged in, in these types of circumstances. And we've done that and have got all of our people who are engaged in that out safely as well, is a credit to them and all those who have led them at an operational level. But we are equally reminded on our departure, at the terrible circumstances that are present in Afghanistan by that cowardly and ugly and evil attack that we've seen and it reminds us, that we will continue to stand every single day with our partners and allies. The United States, the United Kingdom, as they stand in the cause of freedom, so we will too always.