Multicultural Press Conference

12 May 2021
Prime Minister

Prime Minister: Welcome everybody. I'm glad you've been able to join us. Last night's budget was a very important time in Australia's history as the world confronts the worst global pandemic we've seen in a century, a pandemic that is worse today and more threatening today than it even was a year ago.

As we look around the world, we see the terrible impacts and toll that it is taking in so many countries. But yet here in Australia, we are living life like few countries are, and our economies is strong like few economies are, including developed economies around the world at this point right now, we have more Australians in work today than we did indeed have before the pandemic began. There are virtually no advanced economies, developed economies around the world that find themselves in that position today.

In addition to that, we continue to have success in fighting the pandemic, protecting Australian lives and protecting the health of Australians. If the OECD average of the fatality rates that we've seen across those countries had been realised here in Australia, some 30,000 additional Australians would have perished during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic to date.

So Australia can stand here today on the basis of some extraordinary achievements by Australians working together, doing what they needed to do, supported by very effective government policies, governments working together to keep Australians safe, but to keep our economy together and performing at one of the most difficult times we've faced or indeed any country has faced since the Second World War and the Great Depression.

So the budget is a plan for securing Australia's recovery. We don't take that recovery for granted. We know that that recovery will be built on ensuring we keep doing the things that are working, that we remain diligent and that we remain focused on, especially driving employment, driving unemployment down, driving employment up, getting Australians into work, because that increases their means and ability to be able to deal with the impacts of the epidemic here in this country.

So I'm happy to take some questions Rosa, and we'll go from there.

Rosa Stathis: Thanks PM, the first question is from Suzan Horani from Radio 2Moro, please go ahead Suzan.

Suzan Horani: Good morning, Prime Minister. How will this budget help small business employ more Australians? You've been talking about infrastructure, but how does it help small businesses.

Prime Minister: Well small businesses for a start, the tax rate is now 25 per cent, 25 per cent used to be 30 per cent when we came to government. And so we've reduced the tax burden on small businesses. In addition to that, we're engaged in a more than 400 million dollar program to cut red tape for businesses and the compliance costs that involve everything from putting an additional person on or if they're working in the agricultural sector and many of the regulations and other things they have to work to get their products to market. Now, on top of that, we've also got the increased investments in our digital economy and digital transformation plan that's supporting small businesses in particular to realise the opportunities of the digital economy and to ensure that Australia is one of the top 10 digital economies in the world by 2030. On top of that importantly, we've got further extension of major tax incentives for investment in this country. TheCOVID period against the tax that you've previously paid, previously paid prior to the pandemic when your business was performing much better. Now, that gives you cash flow right now, right here, right now. And then we double down on that by putting in place the instant expensing initiative and keeping that going out into the future. And what that means is you can take that cash from tax you've already paid before rather than having to wait some years for those losses to be realised in your annual tax returns, you can then ensure that you've got that money now and you can invest that back into your business as you're seeking to take advantage of the opportunities that are there for Australian companies as we speak. Now, in addition to that, their is support for small and medium sized businesses in particular to take on new apprentices and trainees with the wage subsidies that are in place. Small and medium sized businesses have been champions of taking on young Australians in particular, and those of the apprenticeships and traineeships, 170,000 of those supported throughout this Budget. So whether it's the tax system, whether it's the training system, whether it's the, the support we're providing in cutting red tape and supporting small businesses into the digital economy, all of this is designed to continue to back them in. And that comes on the back as we know, over the last 18 months, where JobKeeper saved those businesses. There would not be those small businesses here today were it not for the interventions that were undertaken to support small and medium sized businesses through the first waves of the pandemic here in Australia. So I'm pleased they're here. It was our intent to ensure that they would still be here, and it's my intent to ensure they're getting even stronger in the years ahead through particularly the tax incentives and regulation reduction and red tape reduction and costs of compliance that can hold them back and to see them also realise the opportunities of the digital economy.

Suzan Horani: Thank you so much, Prime Minister. Hoping for another opportunity sometime soon.

Prime Minister: Thank you.

Rosa Stathis: The next question is from Fred Zheng from Melbourne Today. Please go ahead Fred.

Fred Zhang: Good morning Prime Minister.

Prime Minister: Good morning Fred.

Fred Zhang: Thank you for all your efforts of keeping Australians safe. We'll have noticed the winemaker's receive a considerable amount of tax relief in the coming budget. And this is an industry that suffered a lot from our relationship with China. My question is, what about other industries suffering loss from this relationship for example, meat export, fishing and agriculture export.

Prime Minister: Well, we've already diversifying our markets and while we want to have a very positive trading relationship with China and work closely with China and, and ensure that the region as a whole continues to go forward with its prosperity we are very, very open and supportive of such a relationship indeed that's the spirit in which the China Australia free trade agreement was put together. And we want to see that continue to be realised. And so there is there is no obstacle from Australia's perspective in realising that going forward. And and we hope to to see that realised into the future. But we've already seen whether it's barley or many other sectors we've seen through the support of of our trade agencies working together with the sector. We're already seeing the diversification take place. We're already seeing new markets being found and a key part of that, particularly in the agricultural sector, is the work that is being done through biosecurity. Now, why is that important? Because Australian produce is clean. Australian produce is the best in the world and our biosecurity and border protections, which keep out things like African swine flu and various other things that are ravaging many other countries. The quality of our exports depend very much on the health of our biosecurity regime, and there's additional investments in this budget. But there's also work being done and additional support for agricultural offices, scientific officers and others to ensure that we can gain the market access and ensure we're complying with other countries regulations to ensure that we can get our products into those markets. So right across the board, we have always pursued a policy of trade diversification. We have not put all our eggs in one basket when it comes to our trade. And indeed, right now we're seeking to finalise a trade agreement with the United Kingdom, still working hard this year to seek to finalise an agreement with the EU. These are very important markets, particularly for our agricultural sector. And I was just a beef week up in Rockhampton and people were raising with me the issues that they wanted me to focus on were those agreements, understanding that some markets from time to time will they will have their peaks and they will have their cycles. And it's always been a good policy I think for Australian exporters to to have a a good basket of trading partners that they're engaged with to ensure that the I think the ongoing security of their production and their businesses

Fred Zheng: Thank you, Prime Minister. Thank you.

Rosa Stathis: Prime Minister the next question is from Argyro Vourdoumpa from The Greek Herald. Please go ahead Argyro.

Argyro Vourdoumpa: [Inaudible] here today, after their Budget night, that a considerable amount of money of this year's Budget will be spent to support women. How will this budget specifically, is specifically supporting the well-being of women from migrant communities, who were hit hard by job and income losses Prime Minister.

Prime Minister: Well look, I thank you for that question. And you're indeed right. The Budget does take significant steps to improve both women's security, their physical security and safety, as well as it does their economic security. And regardless of what your background is, tax cuts of childcare support and these measures provide support for people of all backgrounds in Australia, obviously doesn't discriminate. A particular area we focus in on, on the safety of women has been support for women from in migrant communities and migrant backgrounds and refugee backgrounds who can be exposed to violence and economic coercion from partners here in Australia and providing additional support for them to be able to be kept safe and protected more in those circumstances. This is something I've been aware of for a very long time, and we've taken a lot of measures to try and address those issues more fully. And we have again in this budget to provide that support for particularly migrant women in terms of their physical safety in the community. But more broadly than that, I think one of the great things about Australia's migrant communities is that they're the most entrepreneurial and they're the ones starting businesses and women in migrant communities, even more so. And so all the measures I was talking about for small business before in particular, I think go very much to the heart of the opportunity for women in the Budget. But it's also about developing the entrepreneurial skills of women, which I think will be of great value to particularly migrant women in this country, because we know when people come to this country, they come to make a contribution and not take one. And that means they're looking for opportunities to be able to develop their skills and opportunities in the entrepreneurship and established businesses and become networked into the Australian economy in the Australian community. And that's what that's what these programs are there to support. So migrant women are small business women. Migrant women are working in the care sector and we've got additional support going into the care sector to ensure that we can meet the big challenges we have, both with the aged care reforms that were announced in this budget, as well as supporting the needs that we know are present in the National Disability Insurance Scheme. And a very significant portion of our of our labour force that goes to support those care sectors actually comes from migrant communities and particularly comes from women. And so ensuring that they can get the training that they need to continue to be able to work in that sector and do what I know what they want to do and that is provide the best possible care they can to those who are in their care. Now, this is especially true for aged care in migrant communities themselves. As we know, when people age and they suffer from dementia, there is a need to ensure that we have people working in our aged care facilities who have language skills for those particular migrant communities. When one suffers from dementia, you often revert to your first language, and that can make someone feel even more isolated there’re in an aged care facility, there’re speaking and no one can understand what they're saying. I can only imagine the sense of isolation you would feel in that circumstance. So our aged care reforms are about getting the right workforce for the right places. And Australia's migrant communities are going to play an increasing role in meeting the care needs of the Australian community.

Argyro Vourdoumpa: Thank you, Prime Minister.

Prime Minister: Thank you.

Rosa Stathis: The next question is from Neeraj Nanda from the Fiji Times. Go ahead Neeraj.

Neeraj Nanda: Hello. Hello, Prime Minister. How are you today?

Prime Minister: I'm very well. All my best to my dear friends in Fiji.

Neeraj Nanda: I'm not in Fiji. I'm in Melbourne.

Prime Minister: You're in Melbourne but you're writing for the Fiji Times.

Neeraj Nanda: No, no, no South Asia Times.

Prime Minister: I'm sorry I heard that wrong anyway.

Neeraj Nanda: OK, Prime Minister, my question is, I'm sure because I haven't read all the Budget papers at all. I just read the media release. There is provision for to help other countries hit by the pandemic. And you have helped India with the first consignment between New Delhi and welcomed over there. My question is, India has been pressing for one very important thing along with hundred other countries, as to who will work for the vaccine patent. Yes, so can you enlighten us on that. What is Australia's view on that?

Prime Minister: We are leading into this. And I said that Narendra Modi last Friday when we spoke and to speak about the serious challenges that India obviously currently facing with the pandemic right across India, which is a heartbreaking story. But our thoughts and support are with the people of India right across the country, not just those Australians and Australian residents and their immediate families who are caught up in this. But, but Indians more broadly, and we are there, as you've said, with whatever support we can continue to provide from oxygen concentrators and respirators and other medical equipment, we are there and will continue to provide that support. But on the issue of the patent, I made it clear to the Prime Minister that this was something that Australia was disposed towards. In my address to the United Nations General Assembly about a year ago, I made it clear that during the course of this epidemic that whoever finds the vaccine needs to be able to share it with the rest of the world. And that remains my view. So I understand that process has been worked through, through the WHO. There are many countries that have to get on board with this. But as I indicated to the Prime Minister, this is something that Australia has as a deep level of sympathy for.

Neeraj Nanda: Thank you.

Prime Minister: And, and I commend Prime Minister Modi for the, for the for the leadership stand he's taken in in pursuing this.

Neeraj Nanda: Thank you, Mr Prime Minister.

Rosa Stathis: Prime Minister the next question is from Cecil Huang from 1688 Media Group. Go ahead Cecil.

Cecil Huang: Good morning, Prime Minister. In terms of a broad economic prospect, what impact would the tension between Australia and China have on Australia's economy and how do you think this tension can be resolved?

Prime Minister: Well, China remains a most important trading partner with Australia. But what I'd stress is, is that this is good for China and this is good for Australia. There's a mutual interest here. This is not a one way street. This is not a relationship that only benefits Australia and I think it would be a mistake to characterise it that way. And so it's in both of our interests to maintain, I think a healthy and positive trading relationship. And I believe that's possible. And Australia is fully committed towards that. We obviously would like to see the, the disruptions to our trade, in particular products and commodities. We would like to see that come to an end. Of course we would. These are decisions that are not taken by Australia and we're seeking to work with the processes that are established to address those, those disruptions that have have arised, arisen I should say. But Australia will also we have you know, we are a very broad trading base. Overwhelmingly, our two way trade is covered by agreements not unlike those that we have with China. And so we will just continue to engage, be open to that engagement, be available for dialogue, to address the issues, I should say that have been raised by the Chinese government. We enjoy a very positive people to people relationship with China. I think we enjoy a very positive business-to-business relationship between Australian companies and, and Chinese companies, including state owned enterprises. And so I would like to see the good spirit of that relationship prevail and extend at the political level. And Australia is obviously very keen to support that. But to do so, consistent with who we are as a liberal democracy, consistent as a sovereign nation, consistent in being able to express ourselves and, and to be able to function in the in the region and the world more broadly and to ensure that we run our democracy here free of any interference, that our foreign investment rules are matters for Australia's decision in the national interest, not other countries, and as the same as it is in China. So look I remain optimistic and willing to engage, and I think that's the way to approach it.

Rosa Stathis: Thanks, Prime Minister. The next question is now from Navneet Anand from Fiji Times.

Prime Minister: Now we've got the Fiji Times.

Navneet Anand: It’s the Fiji Times, be with the times. Good morning Prime Minister, my name is Navneet Anand, an Australian citizen with Indian heritage. One thing I wish to say, we all are very, very fortunate to be living in this country Australia, amid the pandemic I think we are the most safe on this earth. Thank you so much.

Prime Minister: Thank you. I've got to say, they're doing a great job in Fiji, too. I'm talking to the Prime Minister I think, later today. And we've stayed in contact over the course of the pandemic. And they're rolling out their vaccination program there and we're, of course, supporting them to do that. And so I think I think Fiji's also done very well.

Navneet Anand: I'm from the Indian heritage born in India and being [inaudible] in Australia my question Prime Minister would be there is a shortage of workers in hospitality sector as we all know, because no more international students have come to this country probably in over a year now and we don't see them to be coming back before July 2022. Do we see any way to get more international students coming in the country, maybe with extra quarantine and different facilities, at least have these workers for the hospitality growth?

Prime Minister: Well, what we've done is we've extended the work rights from 20 hours to 40 hours. And I think that'll be very important for the large numbers of students that have remained in Australia in the numbers as far greater than I think people appreciate that have actually have remained in the country. And that's a very welcome labour force here in the country, but also that they continue to pursue their studies here in Australia. And we've been able to maintain so many of these student numbers through the, the online and digital delivery streams of our education system. Our Government has always been open to the university sector, which has very significant capital reserves and an ability to engage in establishing the types of facilities that could facilitate what you're saying. We've got state governments, particularly New South Wales and South Australia, who I think are very open to working with the sector to achieve that. The suggestion, though, that this will somehow be all done by the Federal Government and subsidised by taxpayers I think is unreasonable. The universities have much to gain from doing this, and I've always encouraged them to come forward and, and put forward proposals that would enable them to be able to see some students come into Australia. And I think that is achievable. It's not all going to happen in one go. It's not going to happen of a switch on, switch off sort of binary way. But we do have state governments in the country who are willing to engage. And I would hope that we would see the students coming back, but not all in one hit, because that could prove to be very risky and we'd want to be confident about the arrangements for their entry. But you know, I think we have a positive disposition towards all of that. It will just take time.

Navneet Anand: As you say, a lot of students are doing their studies online while being in the home countries, but for international students it's not only the formal classroom study that they're looking to. They also want to have some of the international experts are coming to countries like Australia, meeting with people from different countries.

Prime Minister: I agree.

Navneet Anand: Any chance at all, any chance at all to have quarantine facilities for international students itself, maybe in a third country at all.

Prime Minister: In a third country, well look, there's been nothing that's been presented to us in a third country that has in any way been seen to be acceptable by the states and territories from a public health management point of view. In terms of the universities themselves stepping up and being prepared to fund the sort of thing you're talking about. I also haven't seen any great interest from them doing that either, but they have a lot to gain by doing so.

Navneet Anand: Looking forward to it. Thank you so much joining us and thank you.

Rosa Stathis: Prime Minister, we have time for one last question from the Australian Chinese Daily, go ahead Keith.

Prime Minister: Keith. I might have to move on Rosa.

Rosa Stathis: Might have to move on from Keith, sorry about that. I have another tech issue. It’s from Susanna from Korean Today. Unfortunately, she has an issue with her sound, she's submitted her question. Prime Minister she would like to know, according to the ABC report, the Treasurer mentioned that the Budget assumption on this is conservative regarding the border opening. Could you please elaborate more on the border opening.

Prime Minister: Well, it's an assumption it's not a policy. When the Treasury seeks to make estimates for a whole range of things, revenue and so on, and has to make some assumptions. So please don't please do not confuse assumptions with government policies or government forecasts of when things my may or may not occur. That is just a simple transparency of what the budget is assuming. The reopening of international borders is something that is very hard, very, very hard for us to put a sort of finite position on. The pandemic is worse now than it was a year ago. Australia has been successful because we've run a successful border control policy, and I'm not about to put that at risk at a time when COVID is now going to rage through the developing world. And so to secure our recovery in the plan for our recovery that we've set out on last night's budget, it's very important that the international borders and the security of those are maintained for the foreseeable future. Now, I think there will be, as the Health Minister has said, attempts to try and ease some of the restrictions that occur around our borders. For example, if vaccinated Australians are able to leave the country and return under different quarantine arrangements. That's something we're working on. But at this stage, no state or territory is open to that at this point. Equally, for Australians who are vaccinated and returning residents and their close family are returning from places overseas if they have been vaccinated, that they similarly could be, could be able to go through a different channel when it comes, particularly if they're coming from what you'd call a green list country where COVID has had less impact. So I think there are steps that can be taken, but we have to take them one at a time. And the truth and sad truth of the global pandemic is, as it stands today, is it's far worse and I fear it will continue getting worse. And so we need to do everything we can here in this country to ensure we can keep living the way we are, because living the way we are is also good for our economy. And that's why the Budget plan that we released last night is all about securing that recovery in those borders are an essential part of that. If behind secure borders, we can open our own economy up more and more and in critical areas, we've talked about students, but also in other forms of important labour that needs to be brought into the country to support our economy where we can do that safely. Well, we will continue to do that and we'll continue to provide new opportunities for that. We will also ensure that here within the country, those who have come from overseas, who are on various temporary forms of visas, are in a position to do more, work more and support our economy, particularly at a time when we don't have any migration program really operating externally. And population growth, migration growth has always been an important part of Australia's economic story. Our migration has been successful migration in Australia, skills based migration in Australia has been a key reason for our prosperity over generations. Now, we haven't lost sight of that. But the health imperative for the time being says that will be constrained. Then that's why our economic recovery plan focused so much on government leading into the various programs tax cuts and investment incentives that I've spoken to you about today. We have to do that. We have to keep leaning in because of the absence of a migration program effectively and monetary policy have been more, more or less exhausted as an option to support the economy. So we are conscious of how we accommodate, mitigate the impacts of being unable to bring more people into the country and indeed allow Australians to leave. But those international borders, we would like we would like to get to a place where we can have a more liberalised arrangement. But for the foreseeable future right now, that is not on our immediate horizon. What is on our immediate horizon right now is ensuring that we continue to suppress the virus and we ensure that our quarantine system is reliable. And it has an almost impeccable record, ninety nine point ninety nine per cent effectiveness there is not a country in the world that I think can, can talk about those sorts of success rates and then the rings of containment that go beyond that with the testing and tracing regimes. So I appreciate whether it's Australians who have family, particularly parents or others who are overseas. I can understand the difficulty there is in not being able to see them, particularly if you've got young children and you want them to be able to see their family members, you want to see that. I understand that. We all understand that. But the reality is we're living in the worst pandemic in a century, and that means that there are certain things we used to be able to do, which is just simply not sensible or safe to do for a period of time. And that period of time will extend for as long it needs to, to keep Australians safe and to ensure that we can keep our economy moving forward and the recovery that we've all been able to achieve as Australians is not put at risk. Where we are right now is quite extraordinary, but we could lose it all if we do not stick to what is working and we do not stick to the plan that is delivered the environment and the situation we're in now. Migrant communities across the country have done an extraordinary job, CALD communities, an extraordinary job. And I thank them all very much, whether it's been faith communities, language communities or others communicating, engaging with people so they understand the services and supports that are available to them. I deeply appreciate, particularly on the vaccination program and encourage you to continue to work with us to ensure we're getting those messages out to encourage vaccination. And we want to keep supporting those countries for whom we have such big Australian populations here. The Indian community foremost amongst those at the moment as we're reaching out to support, but equally in our Pacific communities and our South East Asian communities as well, reaching out through our vaccination program with support, whether it's to Timor Leste or across the Pacific. Anyway, thank you for your attention today. I thank you for your questions. This is an important part of Australia's future. This recovery plan will ensure that we can stay on track. And I greatly appreciate the involvement in the many communities across Australia of people of so many different backgrounds and the contribution they're making to that. Thank you all very much.