Press Conference

Transcript
21 Aug 2020
Australian Parliament House, ACT
Prime Minister
E&OE

Prime Minister: Good afternoon everyone. Today's meeting of the National Cabinet came during a week of what I'd describe of increased hope. This was a week of hope. We were able to speak of the progress being made on vaccines, a week of hope where we've seen the instances of cases in Victoria turn the corner and head in the right direction again. A week where today, in particular, we saw the outcomes in New South Wales, which are demonstrating how we live alongside the virus and that through strong testing, tracing and outbreak containment practises that we get through this. We stay open, we keep people in jobs, and we keep investing in the things that can enable us to go forward. And in all the other states and territories where we continue to see positive news. Hearing today from the Western Australian and Tasmanian Premiers about the positive things they're seeing in their economies, particularly in the building and construction sectors, despite COVID. And so as the Premiers and Chief Ministers and I came together with Professor Kelly, we could reflect on a week where there was increased hope after many weeks which have been incredibly difficult. Most difficult, of course, for those in Melbourne and across Victoria, for those living in border regions who've had to deal with the inconveniences and the difficult challenges of border restrictions, particularly on the eastern coast where there are so many living in proximity and accessing services and employment across those borders.

Of course, there are issues that are still difficult to work through as a National Cabinet but what I can assure you after today's meeting is that the National Cabinet continues to focus on where it can agree. Where there are issues, where it can't reach agreement, well, we move on and keep dealing with the things we need to do where we can reach agreement. Very pleasing to report today that Western Australia has joined the JobTrainer program and that means we now have a billion dollars. 340,000 training places fully funded, secured in the arrangement between all the states and territories and the Commonwealth. And I thank the Western Australian Premier and Western Australian Government for coming on board.

The issues which we address today commenced with the economy. Dr Lowe and Dr Kennedy joined the National Cabinet. Dr Lowe, in particular, but also supported in the remarks by Dr Kennedy and Premiers and Chief Ministers, have asked me to rely quite specifically what they raised today. That is Dr Lowe and Dr Kennedy. The biggest challenge, which is shared by our governments is unemployment. It's jobs. It's about getting Australians back into jobs. It's about keeping Australians in jobs. It's about training Australians to get into jobs that will be there in the future. With unemployment expected to be at a measured rate of over seven percent over the next two years, jobs is the issue. The number one economic issue. And with rates low and expected to be low and financial markets performing well and rates being in the position where we could expect them to be for at least three years, if not more, which is what Dr Lowe told us this morning. It was important for governments to focus on three key areas, three areas that I must say match exactly the economic policy of our Government.

Firstly, income support, JobKeeper, JobSeeker, other payments and support of persons across the country of which is predominantly and overwhelmingly done by the Commonwealth. But state and territory governments are also engaging in that area and we welcome that. Secondly, in the area of infrastructure programs and capital works programs, training and skills programs across energy, transport, housing, schools and hospitals. Thirdly, to ensure there is a greater ease of doing business and investment through areas like taxes and regulation, ensuring there is a dynamism that will be in our economy as it seeks to recover in the years ahead. It was very much an outlook that Dr Lowe and Dr Kennedy spoke of not just for today, but for tomorrow and in the years ahead. And these are three critical areas.

Now, particularly in relation to the second of these points - that is infrastructure and programmes - these were areas that Dr Lowe was addressing specifically and directly to the states. As I've noted before, the level of Commonwealth investment in fiscal intervention in this crisis is well over 15 percent of our economy. As a share of state domestic product of the states, in total around two and a half percent. Now, that ranges across the states and territories. But the Reserve Bank Governor called on the states and territories today to lift their fiscal investment over the next two years in programs of the nature that I've outlined, which didn't lead to permanent increases in public spending to the tune of two per cent of GDP or $40 billion over the next two years. Right now, currently, all of the announced measures of the states and territories are currently sitting in the vicinity of just shy of $48 billion. So the Governor is saying there needs to be an additional $40 billion dollars on top of that by the states and territories over the next two years. But this needs to be done in a coordinated way. Don't expect states and territories to be making announcements tomorrow morning about where that will be done. That will need to be done in a careful and purposeful way, in a way that builds and works off existing programmes to get the maximum efficiency that extends capital programs that are already in place, training programs like JobTrainer itself, which are incredibly important for supporting that adjustment. The debt that will be required to fund that is one that the Reserve Bank Governor said can be absorbed by the states and territories with their existing areas of exposure and I would support that view. State debt to GDP to GSP, I should say, is far less than what it is for the Commonwealth and they are in position to raise those funds. And as you know, the Reserve Bank is active in the markets to ensure that the rights of the borrower are maintained at low levels for many years to come. And so there is an opportunity for them to do that. But the expenditure, of course, needs to be purposeful. It needs to be targeted. It needs to go where it's going to have the best effect. We had a very good discussion about that, about how state governments can be supporting local governments with their works and their measures, particularly as they reach out beyond metropolitan areas into regional communities as well and we welcome that discussion. We spoke of things like water infrastructure and the like.

Currently, as I said, it's around two point four per cent of GDP where the states in total, that's all of them together, currently have their measures. And that ranges from about 1.3 per cent here in the ACT, that is the state product, to 3.7 per cent of gross state product in Tasmania. So it's important that we do this together to make sure what the Commonwealth is doing while we would be doing things in 100 per cent capacity in our own right. Equally, state governments on things like housing and local government expenditure, which are contained completely in their bailiwick. They would do that, but we would seek to synchronise it wherever possible and where there are infrastructure projects and other programs like JobTrainer, then we're doing them with each other and giving good forward plans to give confidence to the economy.

Now, the second area that we spent quite a bit of time on today was aged care and the work that we reported to you last time will be coming back to the National Cabinet and the further work that has been done on preparedness. There was an agreement to how an emergency response operation centre would be established in other jurisdictions, a model on what is being done with the experience in Victoria. It was noted that there are existing arrangements with states and territories currently, which are dealing with the demands as they're currently presenting in the states and territories. And there was no need at this point to move any of those other states and territories to the footing we have in Victoria with the scale of those operations. So that is acknowledged. And I particularly acknowledge the work that has been done in Queensland in that respect and in New South Wales, where we've been working closely with them and those programs are good. But if either the Commonwealth or the state or territory believes that we need to initiate taking that level of co-operation to a whole new level through an aged care response centre then either jurisdiction can initiate that process, and that will be done on a bilateral basis.

Now, to support those plans today, I'm announcing that the Commonwealth will be investing a further $171 million dollars to extend our aged care response package and support the announcement that we have made, that takes our total investment in aged care throughout this pandemic to more than a billion dollars. The government will be providing $9.1 million in particular for funding to support the operation of, the further operations of the Victorian aged care response centre, we’ll be investing an additional $103.4 million in the already announced aged care COVID-19 preparedness measures. That includes workforce measures, activating national emergency call centres, search capabilities, for communications particularly with families, funding and compressed training programmes for new workers, covering quarantine costs for interstate staff deployed and strengthening the capacity to support aged care residents and their families with the grief and trauma associated with the COVID-19 outbreak.

Now these are all things that we've already been doing. We're going to need to be doing them for much longer and further resource and support will be necessary. There's also a further $50.6 million that will be provided to extend funding for the second instalment of the aged care workforce retention payment that is due to be paid in September. And we are also providing an additional $9 million dollars to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission to support their ongoing regulation of aged care. And Professor Kelly will talk a bit more about issues regarding assessments being made in aged care facilities. I was pleased to learn this morning, getting my report from Joe Buffone who heads up the Aged Care Response Centre, from today 40 facilities being visited each and every day in Victoria. And then that will progress into other states and territories.

On the borders, we made further progress today. On the borders I welcome the decision by the Queensland Government made as we went into this meeting and overnight, which has eased the restrictions for accessing health services for people who are coming out of hotspots and also expanding the border zones and additional postcode areas. These are matters that have been raised and I think is evidence of the working relationship that is there to deal with the practical issues on the ground of borders being put in place. Equally, New South Wales and Victoria have been able to come to agreements assisted by the Commonwealth, particularly in relation to the movement of agricultural workers. And as issues are being raised, particularly for access to medical services, then they are also being addressed. We also agreed today that in a fortnight's time we'll be coming back from Agricultural Ministers, an agricultural workers code along similar lines to the freight code that we agreed two weeks ago, which just deals with the practical issues of how those in the agricultural workforce are managing their activities across these borders where they are in place. I will continue to interact directly with Premiers, particularly in South Australia, New South Wales and in Queensland on individual cases. And I thank them for their cooperation as we've been working through those individual instances.

We also agreed, the medical expert panel, the AHPPC we are referring to them, again, the issue of identifying what a hot spot is, because when you have restrictions that are being placed on people’s movement in the country based on what is and what is not a hot spot, there needs to be a clear medical and scientific definition of what that is. These decisions cannot be made on an arbitrary basis. I'm not suggesting they are. I'm just saying and it was agreed today that we are going to ask once again, it’s a very difficult topic, for us to get a clear definition of what constitutes a hotspot. And so people who are living in those areas will know when they're in one and when they're not, when they can go and access health services or where that might be a problem and they might have to have other arrangements. We need to get more clarity. The agreement today, the work today was about practically working together to resolve issues, often, if not entirely unintended how the borders are put in place. But the other point I'd make about borders is this, of course it's necessary for where they're put in place but there needs to be a careful balance weighed up about the disruption and the cost and impact of those borders, weighed up against of the health benefits that are achieved by those borders. Now they are decisions for Premiers, they are decisions for state governments, and it's entirely reasonable that they would be speaking to that balance that they are seeking to achieve in the arrangements they're putting in place.

Borders, though, are no substitute for testing, tracing, and outbreak containment. You can get outbreaks in states that have borders. Now, the case in New Zealand at the moment is still at a very modest level. But you can pretty much say they had fairly secure borders when it came to how they were dealing with the virus. Outbreaks can occur in states that have borders. Quarantine arrangements won't always be perfect. They are human processes and they can be subject to vulnerability. The issue is not just if quarantine doesn't hold, but what happens if quarantine doesn't hold. What happens next? How does the tracing capacity kick in? How do you maintain the testing regime? And today we reinforce the need for testing regimes to remain up to the mark. I think New South Wales had 32,000 tests yesterday. Victoria is running at about 20,000 tests. Other states are running at much less. And even where you've had no cases, it's very important that you maintain a very substantial testing regime. Borders are no substitute for not having an adequate testing regime. I'm not suggesting any states and territories don't. I'm just reinforcing that that was agreed to be a key factor.

Now, we also agreed an arrangement regarding seasonal workers that largely deals with those who are already here, but where there is a need to have seasonal workers, particularly under the Pacific Labour Scheme and things of that nature, that was agreed amongst states.

You'll also be pleased to know that there was agreement to the common operating picture, which I undertook to raise last week, last, I think it was last week, states and territories have agreed that that common operating picture will be released on a weekly basis. That will start next Friday and it will be the average seven day running results of the week. Just one-point-in-time figure once a week is a bit meaningless in isolation, it would be much better assisted, we are certainly, by having the average results of the week.

Finally, you would have noted the announcement today by Premier Andrews that we are upgrading the disability sector, a joint response centre, the performance in the disability sector we agree has been one of the better stories in the management and containment of this outbreak. And that's good news and we want to keep it that way. So we are upgrading the activities of that group that has been meeting now together for some time. And we've agreed to share the costs of a further $15 million dollars in workforce support in the disability care sector, whether they’re NDIS participants or not, that is not a matter that we’re haggling over. We know this needs to happen. And I was pleased to reach that agreement with the Premier this week. And I thank him for his work on that issue.

And with that, I’ll hand you over to Professor Kelly.

Professor Paul Kelly, Acting Chief Medical Officer: Thank you PM. So firstly on the numbers. So we continue, I firstly, I agree with the PM that this has been a week of hope, but we do continue in a global pandemic. There were 272,000 new cases recorded across the world yesterday and over 6,000 deaths. So that is the reality. The international situation remains uncertain.

Here in Australia, we're now at 24,407 cases with very sadly, 472 deaths and my condolences to all the families and friends of those people that have died. The very good news and here is the hope, is that we are now down into the one hundreds in terms of new cases today. That is mainly still driven from Victoria and particularly Melbourne, 180 new cases and 9 new deaths. So when I reported today to the National Cabinet about the picture since I last reported to them two weeks ago, there was that definite sense and driven by the data, of an improved situation particularly in Melbourne and other parts of Victoria. So if we look two weeks ago, the weekly average, average daily number for that week was 512. For last week it was 364. And this week is 269. So a very strong and quite rapid response to the stage 4 and stage 3 restrictions and other matters that have been dealt with in Victoria. The other very positive component to that, and this relates specifically to the border discussions that the PM has mentioned, is that there has definitely been a contraction of cases into the greater Melbourne area, Geelong, and Ballarat, and Bendigo being two other parts of regional Victoria. But at the borders, both north and to the west, very few, if any, cases active there now. So that's the good news on the epidemiology.

On aged care, the PM has mentioned, I would just say that that the role of that of that centre in Melbourne that has been set up for the specific cases in Melbourne, we all hope will not have to be replicated. But it was very reassuring to me that the discussions we've had at AHPPC over the last couple of weeks have been taken on board by the Premiers and First Ministers, Chief Ministers. And so we now have a blueprint, if it was needed and it would be obviously in discussion with the individual states and territories if it was needed for that for the response. But a renewed commitment from the Commonwealth as well as states and territories to work very closely together on preparation and prevention right now, not to wait, but right now to redouble our efforts to make sure that the sector is absolutely prepared in case of that.

The hotspots work, we will work on. That's really about the movement restrictions in relation to borders. It is, it is a piece of work we have had an attempt at before. And we'll continue to try to get consensus there in AHPPC about a definition of a hotspot. It really is about movement restrictions from one jurisdiction where there are cases to another where there are less. And that's an important component to be both proportionate and transparent.

The vaccines we've talked about, the PM and I were in Sydney two days ago and talked at length about that. We have our advisory group now. We'll meet again to look at those issues over the coming days, but a great pace of many pieces of parallel work to make sure that Australia is very well placed and prepared if and when a vaccine is available.

I'll leave it there PM.

Prime Minister: Thank you. Yeah, Phil?

Journalist: Just on the states, a couple of things. The $40 billion that Dr. Lowe recommended is that in addition to projects they may have already on the books?

Prime Minister: Yes.

Journalist: And secondly, is AHPPC advice on what constitutes a hotspot, would that be in any way binding? So, for example, once they couldn't declare say the ACT a hotspot, even though there's no cases in the ACT, would the Premiers be bound by that?

Prime Minister: I’d say that as a process of transparency, letting the sunshine in, if there was a clear definition of what a hotspot is, then it would be odd to operate outside of that. And if people were operating outside of that, then that would be very clear.

Journalist: Prime Minister, shouldn’t the Aged Care Minister be sacked for incompetence after his appearance before the Senate this morning? And if not, can you say you have full confidence in his ability to be across his brief?

Prime Minister: I do have confidence. And over the last four months, and particularly in Victoria, in response to one of the worst outbreaks we've seen, where there was some 350 aged care facilities in Melbourne alone, all of which were potentially vulnerable to the worst circumstances that we saw occur in just a handful, terrible as it was in each of those. The actions that the Minister has taken, the more than a billion dollars that I have annotated to you today that he's been directly responsible for ensuring has been committed into this sector, the work that he's done with the operators themselves, the work that he has done with the states and territories, all of this has ensured that what we have seen has not extended far worse than might otherwise have been the case and certainly has occurred in other like countries like the United Kingdom and other places where these results were just absolutely horrific, even beyond the belief of what we've seen. So, look, this is a very demanding environment in which to be working, Mark. I'm sure you'd agree with that. People are working 24/7 on these issues and on occasion and as important as these figures are, 258 people have passed away, I mean, they are tragic stories for every single one of those families. And I know that those issues are not far from the Minister's mind on a minute by minute basis. And but, look, what's necessary is the actions that he has taken. And I'm sure the Minister regrets not being able to call those figures to mind. On occasion, I can't call every figure to mind. But what I can do and what I know he does, is keeps the importance of addressing the needs of every single one of those families each and every day. So I think it's important to play the issue, not the man here in this particular case. And I know Minister Colbeck will get right back about his job.

Journalist: [Inaudible] balance between economic risk,

Prime Minister: I'm just finding it a little hard to hear in this room?

Journalist: On borders, just regarding the balance between economic risk and health benefits. Do you think WA has got that benefit right? And what was WA’s response to this call for such balance to be considered?

Prime Minister: Well, again, I mean, they are questions you have to put to the WA Premier. I have not asked the WA Premier to adjust his border arrangements, but it’s for the WA Premier to talk about that balance and I'm not here to be an adjudicator on that.

Journalist: [Inaudible] Prime Minister, what is the, does the Federal Government believe there is a medical basis for border closures with the exception of Victoria and states where there are, there’s low community transmission?

Prime Minister: Well, again, they are decisions that states make, where they are making borders and where they're doing that acting independently. And it is for them to set out what that medical advice is and what the medical benefits of that are versus the other impacts that are there. We're all accountable for our own decisions. I'm accountable for the decisions that I make. And you're at liberty to ask me about them each and every time I appear here. But for decisions that are made by others and that are in the jurisdiction of others, then I'll let them speak for their own decisions. But I want to make it clear I have not asked the Western Australian Government to change any aspects of their borders. I wish them well with the rather unhelpful proceedings against them in the courts. And as you know, I've made it public my view that those proceedings shouldn't continue. We've got a pandemic to deal with here. And I think those issues are unnecessarily distracting the Western Australian Government and indeed the Commonwealth Government. And I'd be very pleased to see if we can just get back to helping people each and every day and spending less time in court.

Yep, John.

Journalist: Thanks Prime Minister, France today has announced a record 3,800 new virus cases, not deaths, cases. The French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron, says ‘we can't shut down the country because the collateral damage of lockdown is considerable, zero risk never exists in any society’. My question is, do Australia’s political leaders, including particularly the state Premiers, need to level with the Australian public that it's inevitable that we have to live with some degree of risk with this virus and that the quasi suppression or rather eradication strategies, quasi eradication strategies in states like Queensland and Western Australia is not sustainable over the long run?

Prime Minister: Well the National Cabinet position is a suppression strategy. That's, that's the position of my Government, and that's the position of the National Cabinet. You've characterised individual state’s responses to that in a different way. But it, the suppression strategy accepts the point that you have made and the one that President Macron has made. And if you want a good demonstration of how you do that well, go to New South Wales. I mean, that is a state that has built its testing, tracing and outbreak capability to deal with shocks to the system and keep its economy open. And I think they have set, as I think Professor Murphy said today, the gold standard on how, on how that works. They are the state which frankly, has been under the most pressure of any state and territory in the Commonwealth. And they have, their results today are simply magnificent. In terms of the hope it gives to Australians, that the suppression strategy can be successfully pursued. And I think they demonstrate the way forward as to how these things can be managed. Now, as you know, New South Wales has a border with Victoria at the moment. It was one that was put in place by the, both Premiers and myself some time ago. And we work daily, literally daily, to deal with any disruption, needless disruption, that is occurring because of those borders. But they are not permanent borders. And I'm sure both Premiers, like I, look forward to the time when they can be removed and life can go back to normal. But this is why I say, disruption that occurs from those things has to be fully considered. The real strength of our ability to live alongside COVID is testing, tracing, and outbreak containment. And that's where I think you've seen the New South Wales Government have some great success. But I can tell you, I've known Gladys for a long time. And she's never someone to take anything complacently, and she does not take those results for granted one day. And I know they will continue with their strong application. I'd make another point about the French situation you referred to. And we've seen similar rather alarming results in Germany and in the UK, and that has occurred because people left, went to areas on leave on holiday where the virus was moving again and now they're bringing it back. The Australian Government hasn't done that. We’ve, with some real hardship, I acknowledge, have had restrictions on people leaving and indeed the number of people that can return. But it's, as we've just seen in Europe, I think the wisdom of that approach has been borne out, that that is not one problem that we have at the moment, we have a few others and we'll deal with those. But I think, yes, we have to live alongside the virus. And I think New South Wales has demonstrated a great way to do that.

Andrew?

Journalist: [Inaudible] and your aged care Minister have both said that you couldn't have anticipated an entire workforce in an aged care centre being wiped during an outbreak when in fact, the Department of Health was saying precisely this, 80 to 100 per cent of the workforce may need to be isolated. Did you not get that advice? Or you know, why the difference?

Prime Minister: Well, Andrew, I think it's important to quote me in context and what I was referring to there was the immediate and without notice full removal of a workforce. And that was not a scenario that had been contemplated. That was not a scenario. The immediate, within hours, the entire workforce gone, no one there. And that was the situation that presented in a number of cases. And they were very distressing cases. But I can tell you what they did is they moved heaven and earth to get people there as quickly as possible. And that has meant that in the last several weeks, particularly when I returned to Canberra, that we have seen the number of facilities in what we call our acute category 1 list remain at less than half a dozen. And the fact that one or two cases didn't turn into 20 or 30 or 50 cases, I think is to the great credit of the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre and the arrangements that have been put in place. But I know I know Paul would make a few comments on that if you wanted to Paul?

Professor Kelly: Yes, PM so that was an unprecedented event that happened at one one particular one. And I remember the night very clearly, and and what we needed to do, as the PM has said, to move heaven and earth to get staff in there so when something moves that quickly, all of the planning that can be done and was done has been done from the very beginning of the of the pandemic here in Australia from February and in March, when the when CDNA guidelines were published and have been republished three times, there's been a lot of planning that's gone into these sort of things. But that was an unprecedented event, even at the places where we've looked at very closely in New South Wales outbreaks early on in the first wave of the pandemic. It was a much more gradual approach in terms of staff being affected and residents being affected.

Journalist: $171 million for aged care, is that an admission that you weren't fully prepared for the speed and scale of what's happened in aged care? And you've indicated previously that there could be more money in the October budget for aged care. Is there still room for more to be done in the October budget. Or is this what we're seeing today?

Prime Minister: No no, yes there will be more, in two areas. But no I don't think it is what you suggest. Not at all. I mean, this is a continuation of programs that we're already running and that we now anticipate will be running longer. And so that's providing for that continued support over a longer period. So we’ve gone from $850 million, to over a billion. So I wouldn't say $850 million up until this point has been an under investment, in fact I'd say it's been a very significant investment. And the fact without hesitation, as the Aged Care Minister, Minister Colbeck, has brought that to us, we have been very quick to respond, and myself, the Treasurer, and the Finance Minister. In addition to that, there are two, there are two challenges going forward with aged care that we will be addressing further in the budget. But obviously, ultimately, when the royal commission makes its report next year, and then the budget that follows that. There are other issues that regardless of a pandemic, that we would need to continue to address. And then there are the COVID additional measures that will be further undoubtedly required. If there's one thing I've learnt during this pandemic is it ain’t over until it's over. And it's, it ain’t over yet. And that means we will continue to provide the resource and the support and meet the needs that need to be met. And as they're presented, as the demands are there, then we have not flinched. We have, we have not baulked, not on one occasion. This is an unprecedented level of federal Government support, whether it's in the health sector, the aged care sector, the disability sector, for income support for JobKeeper, employment, wage subsidy support. We've got a billion dollars invested directly in everything from feeding animals in zoos, to ensuring that we're supporting entertainment businesses to be able to put on performances to keep people in work. So the Federal Government is more than meeting, at 15.6 per cent I think of GDP of our obligations.

Journalist: Prime Minister [inaudible] the states and territories to shoulder more of the economic burden of COVID-19 if they keep their state borders shut for longer than necessary? And just a second, quick one. Have you asked the states and territories to consider expanding their capacity for hotel quarantine? We know we’ve got 18,000 Australians trying to get home?

Prime Minister: Let me deal with the first question. Governor Lowe asked for $40 billion from the states and territories today. And that's over and above all their existing commitments and over the next two years. It's important, I stress again, and Governor Lowe made the point that these should not be programmes that have a tail on them that lift the overall level of government spending on an ongoing basis. So they are quite targeted measures that support aggregate demand through the period of the pandemic to address the issues of unemployment as the economy gets back on its feet. When it comes to the impacts of border controls on what's happening, and a very good example is what's happening with flight network subsidies, aviation network subsidies. Now, we've been supporting those now for many, many months. But I have been fairly candid and open with the states and territories that where there is a need for further subsidies to support aviation networks in place, that is as a consequence of state borders, then obviously we would be raising that with the states to to share that load, given the decisions they’ve made and I'm sure weighing up the economic costs of that in making the decisions they have on health issues, that they would be more than prepared to meet the costs of dealing with some of the impacts of those decisions.

On the many Australians, and it's around about the number that you've mentioned, some of those in a much more urgent state. Right now, when you're looking to manage the risk in quarantine, I agree, and that's why I am not lifting the caps currently as they exist on airports at the moment in our major capital city centres. It has been the New South Wales Government, particularly in Sydney at Sydney Airport, that bears the biggest load when it comes to inbound arrivals. I want to stress that 4,000 Australians are still returning every week, every single week, and we've got tens of thousands of people who've been going through quarantine as well from overseas. And that is particularly being done by the New South Wales Government. And right now, as they've been seeking to get on top of that outbreak, it is in our view and of course, the other state governments that are affected, that right now it is not the wise decision to lift those caps. What I have asked for from the Foreign Affairs Minister and the Minister for Home Affairs and the Defence Minister is they bring forward measures to me and the Treasurer to see how we can better support those who are still overseas and we acknowledge that some of them are in some difficult circumstances. Our consular teams are doing a great job to help them in those circumstances and we'll be doing more to help them in those circumstances and to assist them to get home within those caps. But we'll be reviewing those caps every fortnight. So we will review them again in a fortnight from now, and once the Victorian, I think, and we can be even more confident of the New South Wales situation, which is very good, then I'm hoping that we'll be able to make further room there. But right now, on the balance of risk, on the balance of risk, we need to keep those caps where they are.

Journalist: Professor Kelly, you were speaking about what needs to be done right now by the states and praising that in relation to aged care. This week the Australian Medical Association, in its latest submission to the Royal Commission, said that there should be a look at every facility in Australia to see their preparations. Do you support that? Do you think it's necessary? And is it possible?

Professor Paul Kelly, Acting Chief Medical Officer: So there's a couple of elements to that, that question. The first thing is there have been a couple of rounds of audit in relation to that from the regulator, the aged care regulator, during this year and during the pandemic. What we've learnt really in the Melbourne situation is that there are some places, at least, that should be visited and looked through much more carefully. And so... let me just finish. So the PM mentioned earlier about what's happening in Victoria right now. One of the key components of the response centres is to look at an emergency from the full spectrum. So prevention, preparation, the response itself, of course, and recovery. And so whilst they've been dealing with those really difficult situations of the response in in the early weeks, they're now moving very rapidly to having specific staff that are going specifically to every... that they're planning to do every single aged care facility in Melbourne first and then the rest of Victoria, and then moving into New South Wales to do exactly what the AMA is calling for. To go there not only to look at what the preparations are and what the particular facilities say that they're doing, but to actually check.

Journalist: And  other states as well eventually?

Professor Paul Kelly, Acting Chief Medical Officer: Yes. So they're starting in those two because that's, at the moment, that's where the active cases mainly are. But they're first starting with those ones that are at the moment doing well, but still within a community transmission event in Melbourne of some great proportion they want to make sure firstly at that point that they are ready. And that's looking at all of the plans, the training of staff, the PPE use, actually watching people use that PPE et cetera. So in great detail, working through all that. And what we've called upon was agreed at National Cabinet today is that all states and territories work with the Commonwealth in this endeavour over the coming weeks, because we hope that this won't happen again anywhere else. But we can't know that for certain. So the AMA is spot on on that approach.

Prime Minister: The answer to the question is yes, we agree.

Professor Paul Kelly, Acting Chief Medical Officer: Yes.

Prime Minister: That’s exactly what we’re doing and I was pleased to hear this morning it's taken a couple of weeks to ramp up particularly with the training of those who are doing that work. But we're, from today, 40 facilities a day they're able to do and there'll be they will be going crackerjack on that.

Yeah, Sam?

Journalist: You say that you have an open mind about delaying or scrapping the increase in the superannuation guarantee. That that's something the Government is considering. Is that something that you think you would need to put to another election? Are you prepared to cop it as a broken promise on the grounds of COVID? And if you were to proceed with that, why would that not be putting your hand in the pockets of workers given that it is, in effect, a legislated pay increase?

Prime Minister: Well, it’s not a decision the Government has taken. I'm aware of the commentary by everybody from the Reserve Bank Governor, who's said that continuing with those arrangements would be bad for employment. And it is the circumstances that has occurred since the election which has made that the case and prior to the election it was certainly my view and I articulated that that those were legislated changes and increases and we had no plans to change any of those and that was certainly our view. COVID-19 has occurred, people's jobs are at risk and I note, whether it's Ross Gittins or any number of others who've spoken on this issue, normally those you wouldn't necessarily put in the same group as being agreeing on everything. They seem to be agreeing a lot on that. But that said, it's something the Government has to carefully consider for the reasons that you've said. But I also note that this doesn't come into effect until July of next year. So I don't think there's any undue haste that is needed here to consider these issues. I mean, I hope, I would certainly hope, and I am an optimist, that by May of next year that we're looking at a very different situation. I hope we are.

Sorry, I’ll go to Paul.

Journalist: Prime Minister and through to Dr Kelly, you said that the total and sudden withdrawal of the aged care workforce is unprecedented, but was it really unforeseeable given we're talking about a highly infectious disease that requires all close contacts of someone to self isolate? Was it unforeseeable?

Professor Paul Kelly, Acting Chief Medical Officer: I think that’s getting into pedantics of words at the moment, but certainly it was unprecedented. Could we have foreseen that? That's a matter of debate. But the issue is that this was an enormous thing that happened within hours, within hours, in a setting where there had been delay as has been well talked about in the public domain about testing results being notified to the Commonwealth, which was a part of the plan and part of the commitment of all residential aged care facilities to do.

Prime Minister: I just want to go back to Sam’s question, because I know Sam likes precision. I will do and the Government will do what is in the best interests of people getting jobs and staying in jobs. That's what this Budget will be about. That's what the next Budget will be about. You've got to look at the situation as you find it. The situation today is different to what it was previously, but that doesn't necessarily mean you go down that path. But we have to deal with the situation as we find it, not as we'd like it to be.

Greg?

Journalist: [Inaudible]

Prime Minister: Well, I can't really add any more than that. I've told you when it comes to the effect, which is July of next year and what I've learnt and in a pandemic, you have to be learning every single day because things change constantly, is that you've got to be careful not to make some decisions too early because circumstances can change dramatically. And you need to be able to make those decisions when you've got the best possible information. And at the moment, how things sit today, where things are in Victoria and what the impact is. We've got the retail figures which show what's happening in Victoria. But in the rest of the states and territory, we're seeing much better results. So I think we have to continue to observe how the situation unfolds and make decisions at the right time in the national interest, which is what we'll do.

Journalist: You mention the retail figures there so it’s a nice segue, at the very beginning of the pandemic, you were driving the commercial tendency code of conduct for negotiations over rent reductions and things like that. That's obviously an onus that’s put on the states to impose those code of conducts. A lot of them are coming up to be expired in the next few weeks. Victoria's already rolled over theirs. Would you like to see the other states extend that rent relief and things like that?

Prime Minister: We considered this a few weeks ago, I can't remember which meeting of the National Cabinet it was, I think about a month ago, actually. And what we agreed is that states and territories now would make decisions based on the circumstances in each of their states or territory. And you go to Western Australia at the moment, It's a very different economic scene to what's happening in Victoria. And so I think with the spread of experience now, those types of arrangements would be not wise to do on a national basis. So it's got to be what's right for what's happening in the economy in that part of Australia. I have every confidence the states will make the right decisions.

Journalist: What have you learned from how New South Wales has attacked this outbreak?

Prime Minister: Keep New South Wales open. Keep Australia open and deal with the fight against the virus each and every day with your key weapons being testing, tracing and outbreak containment. They have backed the weapons that they have built and formed to combat this virus and they've done it each and every day. And they haven't been intimidated when things haven't always gone the way they would like. Where there'd be an outbreak here or a breach here or breach there. That doesn't mean you have to fold your tent and walk away. No, they keep going and they have built the capacity to deal with that and I think that's really important. We spoke this week of a vaccine and let's all pray that's the case. But in the absence of one, we will live with this virus and we will live with it, not behind walls, but we will live with it by having the capacity to deal with outbreaks and to deal with the virus as we live with it each and every day. Now, what National Cabinet sought to do today, particularly in referring, again, this matter of outbreak areas to the AHHPC, was, I think, get some greater transparency and understanding of where there are hotspots and where restrictions would particularly need to be in place. It wasn't a hard decision about the New South Wales Victorian border, although it is hard to implement and there have been hard implications for people who have had to deal with that. But the need to have that isolation of Victoria was self-evident. And that, I think, has been very important in constraining it spreads to other parts of the country. And so all of these measures have roles to play. But I do commend the New South Wales government for keeping New South Wales open, always leaning forward to keep New South Wales open. That's my approach. I want to keep Australia as open as we possibly can. And we've got to keep managing this twin challenge of a health pandemic and a COVID recession. But I can tell you this, we're doing better than most and many of the developed world in this situation. I mean, when you compare what is happening in our economy to the economies of Europe and America, when you compare us on our health situation to what is occurring in the developed economies of the world, I would rather be in Australia than anywhere else in the world because we have this optimistic way of looking to let's keep this place open. Let's continue to strive for the life we want to live in Australia, but doing it in a responsible way that deals with the challenges and keeps that spirit of the fight up each and every day. Thank you all very much.

[END]