Businesses could join jab effort in months

·2-min read

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has rejected claims the Morrison government dragged its feet on involving big business in the coronavirus vaccine rollout.

Chief executives from Coles, Commonwealth Bank, Telstra, Wesfarmers, Virgin and Qantas met virtually with Mr Frydenberg on Tuesday.

Businesses could join the rollout in September or October if increased Pfizer supplies allow the sluggish program to be expanded.

Wesfarmers - which owns Bunnings, Kmart and Officeworks - offered its sites for mass vaccination hubs, while major miners want to promote immunisation in remote Indigenous communities.

Companies at the meeting agreed to write to workers stressing the importance of being vaccinated.

Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles said the talks should have happened in July last year.

"Once again, you see this government continually playing catch-up footy. They are behind the eight ball all the time," he told reporters in Melbourne.

He said the government spent too much time congratulating itself instead of securing vaccine supplies, putting the brakes on the rollout.

Mr Frydenberg said it was the first of many similar meetings but dismissed suggestions consultations with industry took too long.

"We have been engaged with them from day one, including through this vaccine rollout," he said.

"As more supply comes on board, businesses can play a greater role. Of course their advocacy about the importance of getting the jab is going to be vital."

Vaccine incentives were also raised at the meeting with airlines interested in providing sweeteners to frequent flyers who receive their jabs.

"It's more than a snag at Bunnings that we're talking about as our potential opportunities for incentives but the timing of those incentives are very important," Mr Frydenberg said.

Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott said businesses who already offer staff flu jabs could expand their services to coronavirus vaccines.

"We believe business can play a huge role in supercharging the vaccine when the supply arrives," she said.

"Let's use the resources of corporate Australia and institutions like universities who are very big institutions to get this done as fast as we can."

Australian Industry Group boss Innes Willox said airports, shopping centres, industrial parks, clubs and pubs were vaccination site options.

But he wants legal protections for businesses, similar to indemnities offered to doctors and pharmaceutical companies.

"Workers' compensation does not provide appropriate or affordable protections for businesses against adverse vaccine reactions," Mr Willox said.

A record 165,475 jabs were administered in the past 24 hours but Australia's rollout remains a straggler among developed economies.

Just 9.8 per cent of people over 16 have been fully vaccinated more than four months into the program.

Sydney and surrounds will remain in lockdown for at least another week with case numbers still too high for the state government to lift stay-at-home orders.

But restrictions continue to ease in other parts of the country with fears of a national outbreak of the contagious Delta strain subsiding.

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