Press Conference - Australian Parliament House

20 Jan 2020
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Well, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm, of course, joined by the Treasurer and the Minister for Small Business and I’m also pleased to welcome the head of the Business Council Australia as well as the head of COSBOA. Big business, small business, working together, supporting each other. And the announcements we're making today, which have already been reported in today's press, go to one of the most significant areas we've been working on as part of our response to the national bushfire crisis. We've seen it envelop so much of the country over the course of the past week and more, we've been working closely with the business community to identify the priority needs they have, to rebuild local economies from the ground up. And we want to thank all of those who've been such an important part of that consultation. I want to thank Michaelia Cash for the work that she's done with the Treasurer, working with the state governments to ensure we can get these most immediate areas of assistance in place as quickly as possible. But you've got to get the design of it right, and you've got to get it ready to go. And that's what we've been working on over the course of the past week. 

The National Bushfire Recovery Fund was set up just over a fortnight ago. In the course of the last fortnight, we have made commitments now well over half a billion dollars with the overwhelming majority of that to be spent before the 30th of June this year. That is an enormous investment in the response and recovery efforts that we're putting onto the ground, to assist these local economies recover. That began with our investments in local councils, some $60 million dollars investment in those local councils to ensure that they can meet those most immediate needs, well over a week ago. That was followed up by investments in mental health support of some $76 million dollars, $50 million dollars going in to support the recovery of wildlife. There was another $100 million dollars which was just announced over the weekend, which is going to the cleanup costs contribution of the Commonwealth to ensure that all private residential and commercial sites in the bushfire affected areas will have their cleanup costs paid for by the Commonwealth and state governments so that those who have been affected in those areas can build from that clean slate, whether that's with their existing level insurance, and if they're under insured, then that means their insurance is going to go that little bit further. This was something that was done after Black Saturday, and that was something that was shared 50/50 between the federal government, the state government. And we're pleased, very pleased to have that same arrangement in place. And the offer is also on the table for South Australia and other states, should they wish to take that up. 

Payments have been going out the door. And tonight, over 20,000 children aged under 16 will have that additional $400 dollar payment. As I said, we'll be rolling out from today. That will be happening over the course of this week. Over $50 million dollars worth of disaster recovery payments have already been made and to over 40,000 Australians in these affected areas. Now, just to give you an idea of the scale of that, work has been done by Emergency Management Australia, that in New South Wales and Victoria alone, the population in those areas of the country that have been directly impacted by what are described as the burn scars of this natural disaster, they have estimated that population at the last census of in the vicinity of around 65,000 people. So when you think about the number of people that have received those payments, we've been getting the money to where it needs to be. 

Another important part of what we've been doing is trying to get greater alignment between what our charitable sector is doing, what the Commonwealth government is doing and what the state governments are doing. There has been an enormous outpouring of generosity, whether it's to the Red Cross, Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul and many other charitable groups, wildlife groups in particular. And those groups have told me very clearly that they intend to honour the trust that's been put in put in them in handing that money over to be put to the best use available. And we're working together with the state governments to ensure that everybody in those charities, particularly the major ones, has access to find out who needs the support most so we can get that support to them, whether that's an emerging need, which is in accommodation in a lot of these areas that was identified late last week. And the roundtables we're undertaking as we move on, as several weeks from those most horrific fire days with people moving back into communities. And we've got quite a number of people going back into Mallacoota with the airlift of- being done by the defence force, of people returning to that community and ensuring that their accommodation needs can be met. So this is a comprehensive response. 

On the weekend, we also announced the $76 million dollars for the tourism response. Now, this is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, I would say the biggest challenge the tourism industry has had in living memory. You'd have to go back to things like the collapse of Ansett and the airline pilot strike of many, many years ago to get somewhere even close to what we've seen happen as a result of the broader impact on bookings, not just in the bushfire affected areas, but right across the country. And so the response of $76 million dollars, $45 million directly and in promotions and advertising, teaming up with industry to get people moving around the country again, direct support into little communities like Narooma, where there's going to be an oyster festival that comes up in a few months time, that $10 million dollars we're putting into those local tourism associations is designed to support exactly those types of events. When we heard of the Narooma Oyster Festival from the Deputy Prime Minister just last week, it was important in crafting our response that we knew that those types of events would get the support from what we're doing. I tell you this because I'm trying to communicate that we are going to a very granular level of detail in delivering this support on the ground where it's needed to be done. Now, today, the small business package, which I'll ask the Treasurer to go into more detail on, and the Small Business Minister, as well as Tim Reed from the Business Council and Peter Strong from COSBOA, has one key objective, and that is to understand that the biggest crisis that those small businesses face right now is their cash flow. And we need to try and remove every burden from their cash flow right now so they can get to that first step. The first step is the hardest when responding to the crisis, to get yourself up off the mat, to actually be able to look forward and say, my business has a future. My town has a future. And what these payments and what these supports are designed to do is to help small business get to that first step to see that they can get to the other side of this. And the Commonwealth government, the state governments, the big businesses, large businesses, local economies and communities are going to work together to rebuild their local economies. And for that to happen, the local businesses have to rebuild. So there's bigger grants, there's big loans with zero interest to be paid over the first two years. There's tax concessions and arrangements which will take the pressure off their cash flow. And we think this will have a significant impact. 

This is initial and it's additional. It's not the last word we're going to have on this. There are many other things that we will be considering. But what's important right now is getting this support out the door. This support will be assessed and administered by state governments, as is always the case for these types of payments, as is the case for the $75,000 dollar payment from for farmers, graziers and primary producers. And this will further add to the reboot of the local economies. So with that, I'll hand over to the Treasurer and the Minister for Small Business. 


Small businesses are the backbone of the Australian economy, and nowhere is that more apparent than in regional communities. The cafe, the butcher, the baker, the sport shop, the corner shop, indeed, the mechanic. They're all integral to not only the economic activity and employment in these small regional communities, but they're also critical to the social fabric of these communities. And last week, the Prime Minister, the Minister for Small Business, and I sat down at a roundtable with representatives of the small business community, and we heard firsthand from them about their needs in the wake of these bushfires. We heard from small businesses who couldn't afford to keep their staff on, who had mounting bills to creditors for stock that they never sold. That had mounting bills and interest payments for new equipment that they had bought, for customers that never arrived. So, as the Prime Minister said, our priority is to ensure that these businesses remain viable and sustainable and can continue to be part of these communities well beyond the recovery period and well into the future. So today's package comprises a number of measures. There's a grant of up to $50,000 dollars for those businesses that have been damaged by the bushfires. And this will enable these small businesses to get back on their feet. There are loans of up to $500,000 dollars, both for those businesses that have been directly impacted, but also those that have been indirectly impacted. And this money will help go to meeting their wages bill or leasing a new premises, helping to pay their creditors and helping to replenish the stock that may have been damaged in these fires. 

These loans will, as the Prime Minister said, be for up to 10 years in duration, the first two years are interest free. Thereafter, the interest rate will be at half the 10 year Commonwealth bond rate, which is at 0.8 per cent. This is of substantial benefit to these businesses with their working capital, but also to rebuild their businesses after the damage that they may have sustained in these bushfires. A third component relates to the tax measures that the commissioner for Taxation is implementing. We've been in discussions with the ATO and for small businesses their quarterly BAS payments for the December quarter will now be due on May 28th. This is a number of months later than would have otherwise been the case, and this builds on earlier announcements by the ATO that will also assist households get through this difficult period. 

There's also going to be a small business hotline that will be established by the government and will be up and running by the end of this week. This hotline in the first instance will provide a portal, an opportunity for people to get direction as to the various government loans and grants that are on offer and this was something that was raised in the roundtable last week. There will also be 10 trained financial counsellors who will be able to assist these small businesses with some of the economic decisions that they need to take to remain viable. This is a comprehensive package. It's part of, as the Prime Minister said, a range of initiatives that we have announced with more than half a billion dollars already committed by the Commonwealth over and above what is already available to people for disaster recovery payments and allowances in categories A, B and C. This will make a real difference on the ground because not only have homes been lost, but also small businesses have been lost and we want them to continue to employ people, to continue to be viable well into the future. 

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Josh. Michaelia?

SENATOR THE HON. MICHAELIA CASH, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT, SKILLS, SMALL AND FAMILY BUSINESS: Prime Minister, Treasurer, this package responds directly to the feedback the government has been receiving from small businesses in the fire impacted areas, but also more broadly in the greater areas. I'm really pleased that today we're also joined by Tim Reed from the BCA. Tim's going to address exactly what big businesses are doing to help small businesses in need. But also Peter Strong from COSBOA who can talk directly to the feedback that he's receiving from the ground. In terms of the feedback that the government has been receiving we've been in talks now with small businesses, affected small businesses, for many, many weeks. We also, as you know, had the small business roundtable last week. We had over 70 representatives from small businesses across Australia. In fact, the desire was so great to participate in the conference that we had almost 30 people from disaster affected areas phoning in so they could give us their feedback. The package that we are presenting today responds directly to small businesses and what they have told us they need. As the Prime Minister said, the most important thing the government can do for small businesses in these communities is to get them back on their feet. 

Small businesses are the lifeblood of the Australian economy, but in particular when it comes to small communities, they are well and truly the lifeblood of these small communities. So as a government, we need to ensure that they have the capacity to get back onto their feet so that they can continue in business and supporting these communities. And that's why we have the grant relief available to small businesses in the disaster affected areas. And then, of course, more broadly, the feedback in relation to those businesses who may not be in the disaster declared areas, but have been impacted by the fires and in particular in relation to loss of income. This is where we're directly responding to their needs with the concessional loans of up to half a million dollars, but also having the ability to get that financial assistance that is really acute to small businesses. We're going to also be providing those financial counsellors that the Treasurer referred to. And just in relation to the tax relief, we were told by small businesses on the ground they just need some breathing space and that's why we're now deferring the payment or the lodgement of the income tax return and the BAS statement until the 28th of May this year, we're going to give them that breathing space that they tell us they require. But also what we're putting in place is local economic recovery plans. 

So we'll get those small businesses back on their feet. But then, as the Prime Minister has said, we are going to work with those communities on the ground so that they can build back better. And certainly the feedback that we have received on the ground from the fire affected communities is that they are going to embrace the opportunities presented by the local economic recovery plans to well and truly build back better. So it's small and family business, the lifeblood of the Australian economy, but really exemplified in terms of the lifeblood of rural and regional communities, Prime Minister.

Thanks, Michaelia. Can I ask Tim and Peter now to join me. Thank you, Tim. I'll throw to Tim first and first, can I just say thank you to the Business Council, Tim, and the large businesses, which I know have been doing a lot over the last few weeks in particular to take some of that burden off your small business partners and really appreciate the strong cooperation we have from BCA.

TIM REED, PRESIDENT OF THE BUSINESS COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIA: Thank you, Prime Minister, and thank you everyone for joining us today. Perhaps before commenting on the initiatives that big business has been undertaking, I would just like to take a moment to recognise everybody who's been involved in terms of frontline response to this crisis. It is, you know, doesn't go past any of us, the people who are out there every day putting their lives on the line and those that are supporting them, many of whom are employees of many members of the BCA. And I'd just like to, on behalf of businesses big and small, thank them for all the efforts they have been putting in. The Prime Minister absolutely hit the nail on the head. Very quickly, past the emergency response, there is going to be a cashflow crisis that many businesses that are operating in this area are going to face. And that isn't something that government is just thinking about, it's very much something that big businesses are thinking about. 

Business big and small, thrive together. There is an ecosystem at play here and when one part of that ecosystem is weakened, all parts of that ecosystem are weakened. And so through our members, we've been working on multiple initiatives to try and make sure that big business is responding. Firstly, working with members to make sure that they are waiving or deferring debts and payments wherever possible. Whether it's a power bill, whether it's a phone bill, whether it's a software subscription, right across our membership, we've been looking at clients who are in the impacted areas and what we can do to alleviate the pressure on cash leaving their businesses. Of equal importance, however, is, of course, cash coming into their business. And in that sense, we have multiple members and are encouraging not just our members, but businesses right across the nation who owe money to a business in an impacted region, not to wait until it's necessarily due, but to pay it as soon as possible, because those funds coming in right now are going to be critical to businesses, as the Treasurer said, making payroll in the coming weeks. 

We are also encouraging all members and businesses across the nation to look at how they can get in and support economic activity in these local regions. That means holding sales conferences. It means holding management offsites. It means getting in there and actually making sure that the cash registers in these local businesses are turning over and turning over as quickly as possible. Post the immediate cashflow need, however, there is going to be an ongoing commitment that business across the nation have to rebuilding these communities. Communities only thrive when their local economy is thriving. If there aren't jobs in these local communities, if there aren't businesses that are operating there, then what we've seen in the past when these disasters happen is the community just frays and shrinks. That's not what we want. We want these communities to be built, rebuilt. We want them to be rebuilt bigger and stronger than what they are today. And the BCA is very much committed and our members are very much committed to ensuring that is the case. To achieve that, Sir Peter Cosgrove has volunteered his time to head up an initiative that we're calling the Community Rebuilding Initiative and this is aimed at matching needs that specific businesses have in those local communities to things that our members can supply. It might be right now that that is simply providing jobs to people who have lost jobs because a local business has shut down. And Sir Peter is going to be setting up mechanisms so that our members can do the best to make sure that we create those employment opportunities. It may also be that it is a supply of a certain specific need, whether it be temporary facilities, whether it be certain goods or stock that they can't get because there was inventory that was lost through the bushfires. Again, we're providing a direct line from small business in these local communities into our members who will be able to respond to that quickly and meaningfully. 

Finally, we're also fundraising and those funds are going to be able to be targeted at helping business, which many of the relief agencies under the Charities Act are not able to do, but also to rebuilding the local community halls in these areas, because we know that often they become a focal point for the local community. And in doing so, we'll be creating employment in these local, local areas. So let me just say again, Prime Minister, we appreciate the challenge that has been put out to many small businesses in these regions. Big business tends to have a geographic footprint that means we're not as geographically focussed in the performance of our business. And that does mean that there is an opportunity for us to step up and to make sure that we are here side by side with the relief agencies, with governments, local, state and federal, making sure that we're doing our part to to rebuild these communities. 

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, Tim. Peter?

PETER STRONG, CEO OF THE COUNCIL OF SMALL BUSINESS AUSTRALIA: Thank you very much, And congratulations Prime Minister, last week was extraordinary. The roundtable, the gravitas, the history that was there, of course, becomes meaningless unless something happens in the announcement today, is very welcome. Half a million dollar loans. We know not every business wants half a million dollars, but they can have it if they want it. I think they've got to jump through a few hoops, they've got to make sure that they follow the rules, there’s no drama is there. That is very welcome. We were hoping to get $20,000 dollar grants and we've got $50,000 dollars. So you can't complain about that. We know it's complicated. The states are the ones that are responsible to take this out and take it out to the communities. And this is very difficult. You're going- each community is different from each other. We know that, you've listened to people, you know yourself, as does the Treasurer. Communities are different. They're full of different people. And this is a response that will get down to that level. And let me say to the BCA, I got a phone call from the BCA out of the blue saying, ‘Peter, we're going out, we're telling our members to pay their bills and pay them now’. So it wasn't something we requested, it was something that was thought up from big business, greatly appreciated and greatly appreciated what's happening there. We do know that big business and small business have a few barneys, and we do, our competition policy… a couple of things like that. Well it’s happened, I know, but most things we don't- we need them and they need us. And the relationship is at times feisty. The consumer wants it to be like that to get good prices and services. But we work together and we cooperate. We've signed an MOU doing that. So, so important that people know we do disagree, and we're going to publicly do that. And we do agree and we publicly do that. This crisis is a moment when we have to do that. We have to come together. The government is certainly facilitating that. And we will get out there and talk to our members and make sure our members understand what's going on. I know Michaelia’s office has already received, I think 7 or 8 phone calls today from business people saying, where do I get this loan? And that's coming through Parliament House. So the sooner we set that up, the better. And I've got to say, the other good thing is we are continuing to talk and we have to do that because the local economic development part of this is the key. The best thing you can do for a worker is open the business. To do that, we need to come together and congratulations to the government and big business for doing that. 

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, Peter. I'm happy to answer questions.

JOURNALIST: There’s a lot of money being spent on the bushfire recovery, which the Prime Minister has said take precedence over the surplus. And we know the bushfires are going to be hampering the economy, but is it fair to say it's unlikely that you will deliver a surplus in May?

TREASURER: Well, the overall economic impact could be varied. We do know that obviously those communities have been absolutely devastated and that has impacted on everything from tourism to to household consumption. And the full economic impact will- is yet to be seen. But we also know that the Australian economy is very resilient. We've withstood comprehensive and damaging drought. We've seen the trade tensions between the US and China play out. We've also seen the uncertainty generated by Brexit. And I'm pleased that a few of those issues look much more positive this year than they did last year. But our focus is not on the surplus per say, our focus-

JOURNALIST: - but you’ve outlined some challenges, do you think it's likely you will deliver a surplus or you won’t? 

TREASURER: Look, I'm not in a position to give a firm answer to that question because the full economic impact is still uncertain. But what I want to say-

JOURNALIST: -If you don’t deliver a surplus, and you said you don’t know whether you will, isn’t that breaking a core election promise given you went to the last election with the back in black, saying you’re back in black, you went to the last Budget saying you were back in black when you weren’t, if you’re not back in black?

TREASURER: Greg, let me just make one clear point. What we went to the Australian people, was with a commitment to live within our means. Now the Budget is back in balance for the first time in eleven years. What the Australian people know is that when you are responsible economic managers, you have the financial flexibility to respond to crises and economic shocks whenever they may occur. This is one, this is a time when the Australian people know that their government is there to spend on the things that they need most. And the announcements the Prime Minister has already outlined are the most comprehensive and the most immediate of a federal government financially to a crisis such as this. And that's why responsible economic management is so important. 

JOURNALIST: Could we take the easier question, could you give us, Treasurer, an overall figure for this financial year? This financial year, of the commitments that the government has made so far? An overall budgetary figure that is.

TREASURER: It's $500 million. So- it’s $500 million. As we said, we said this at the last press conference that we foresaw that $2 billion dollars, which was our initial and our additional contribution to this national bushfire recovery fund, would have an allocation of half a million dollars in 19/20- half a billion dollars in 19/20, 500 million in 19/20. Now, obviously, some of these programs are demand driven. So it's above that. It will be, it will be above that. And then the rest of the allocation will be over 20/21 and 21/22. 

JOURNALIST: And the announcements of the last couple of days have added to that?

TREASURER: Well, of course, they’re added-

JOURNALIST: They’re within that $500 million envelope?

TREASURER: No Michelle, well in terms of that, they are under that half a billion dollars in terms of 19/20. But that number will continue to go up as a result of additional announcements that we are making, as the Prime Minister also indicated-

JOURNALIST: So the $500 million is a minimum?

TREASURER: 500- the way the numbers are playing out right now, $500 million dollars is probably going to- an estimate and probably lower than what will actually go out the door. But as you would understand, these are demand driven programs. And I want to make this very clear. You've got the $2 billion dollars for the bushfire recovery fund. And the Prime Minister pointed to a number of announcements that are within that fund for example, the wildlife initiative, the mental health initiative, the tourism initiative, the primary producer grants up to $75,000 dollars, the grants that we've announced today, and loans. But on top of that, you have commitments under categories A, B and C where we continue to see money go out the door, as a result of our commitments to a comprehensive disaster recovery response. 

JOURNALIST: Mr Reed, would you like to see the government do more- would big business, like to see the government do more to tackle climate change? 

TIM REED, PRESIDENT OF THE BUSINESS COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIA: Let me take the question on the Budget first, and then I'll certainly be happy to speak about climate change, because I think it is an important debate that is being had here. If you look back in December, the BCA put out our Budget submission. And in that we said that unless exceptional circumstances arise, we believe that the Budget should be back in a surplus, for 8 years the BCA have been calling for the Budget to be returned to surplus, but even in that document we said, other than in exceptional circumstances, I don't think there's any doubt that we are now in exceptional circumstances. I think if you look at the package that the government announced today for small business, it is absolutely the right thing to do. Many small businesses in these regions make 100 per cent of their profits between Christmas and Easter. Now, you cannot understand the fear that will be going through those people's hearts and minds at the moment as they are standing there looking at the rest of the year, where money goes out of their business, where they have this one moment, this one season each year where money comes in. And so, you know, from the BCA’s perspective, let me make this just very clear on the Budget. We believe that a Budget in surplus is important because we believe it gives the nation the opportunity to respond to circumstances like this when they arise. And we do believe that these are exceptional circumstances. And while we would love to see the Budget in surplus, we would not like to see it in surplus at the expense of these local communities. So I just-

JOURNALIST: What about- I'm sorry, what about climate change? Would big business like to see the government do more? 

TIM REED, PRESIDENT OF THE BUSINESS COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIA: So climate change is a large and and vexed issue across our community. And I think you've seen that and you've seen it in recent days. The BCA has a very well stated climate change policy which says we believe that Australia as a nation should be driving to meeting our obligations under the Paris Accord, of reducing emissions from the 2005 level by 26 to 28 per cent by 2030. We are, in the BCA at the moment, going back and having a look at the policy around how that is achieved, what are the mechanisms that should be encouraged to make sure that we do hit that obligation. Because the science moves forward at quite a rapid rate. And so I don't want to pre-empt what is going to be done by the work in that committee, which will be done over the next few months. But let me be very clear. We believe that the nation made an undertaking under the Paris Accord, and we believe that undertaking should be met.

PRIME MINISTER: Tom? Tom, and then Jen.

JOURNALIST: Do you regret saying on AM this morning that the New South Wales environment Minister didn't know what he was talking about when it came to climate change? 

PRIME MINISTER: No, I don't. What I said is, he didn’t know what he was talking about in relation to what was going on in the federal Cabinet. That's what I actually said. So I think I’ve answered the question. Jen? 

JOURNALIST: Do you endorse your ministers running parallel grants programs and spending taxpayers money for their own political gain?

PRIME MINISTER: I endorse ministers running programs that change local communities for the better by ensuring they have the sports infrastructure they need to ensure that young girls and teenage girls don't have to change in their car or out the back of the shed and that they have the facilities in their local community sports grounds and that's what that program was designed to do. I take the Auditor-General's report, as I said earlier today, very seriously, and we're acting on the recommendations of that report and to address the issues that it's raised. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, this morning you didn't rule out you or your office having any role in the approval or allocation of those sports grants. Will you do that now? 

PRIME MINISTER: I think you've misrepresented what I've said this morning. What I've said is that the Prime Minister's office has always relayed on representations made to it by its Members. That has been what every Prime Minister has always done in relation to any program. The Minister was the one making the decisions on those grants programs.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] being targeted at marginal seats then?

PRIME MINISTER: I just simply said what the process was.

JOURNALIST: Are you considering adopting a net zero emissions by 2050 policy? 

PRIME MINISTER: You'll be aware that in the Pacific Island Forum we made a commitment to review that issue over the course of this year and that will certainly be done. But I'll tell you what I won’t do. I would never commit to something like that if I didn't know what was going to cost Australians. And what troubles me is that there are plenty of people at the moment who will go out and make a glib promise about that and they can't look Australians in the eye and tell them what it'll mean for their electricity prices, what it will mean for their jobs, whether it's in north Queensland or in Western Australia or in the Hunter Valley. Now, if I'm going to answer that question, I'll answer it and be able to tell you what I think the impacts would be in those places. So that is not the government's position at the moment. That is not the government's position. I said I would- I gave an undertaking at the Pacific Island Forum that that would be a matter of the government review this year and that's what the government will do. 

What I notice is the Labor Party are going around saying they're going to commit to this and just like at the election campaign, when they were talking about 45 per cent emissions reduction targets and they couldn't tell people, what did it mean, what did it cost? Here they are again, doing exactly the same thing, going for all the big statements about what their commitments are and not able to tell Australians what that will mean to them. I'll tell you what I'm going to do - we're going to meet and beat our emissions reduction targets, which are set, as Tim just mentioned, at that 26 per cent level. And I'm going do it without increasing people's taxes with a carbon tax. I'm going to do it without pushing up their electricity prices. And I'm going to do it without wiping out important sectors of our economy upon which this nation depends, and particularly in regional communities, for their very living. That's the policy I took to the election. That's what I'm going to continue to do. That's the faith I am going to keep with the people of Australia to get emissions down and to keep our economy growing strongly for the future. 

JOURNALIST: The states have made similar commitments to net zero emissions by 2050. Are those glib promises, including in those Liberal states?

PRIME MINISTER: That’s for you to work out and you should ask them that question. We’ve got two guests here on small business and I’m happy to address all these other issues as you know I always am. But if there are any questions to Peter and Tim I’m sure they’re happy to take them. Otherwise I might excuse them. Are there any questions to Tim?

JOURNALIST: You talk about the ecosystem and how important is the business to be part of the ecosystem. Could big business be a better part of the ecosystem by paying more tax?

TIM REED, PRESIDENT OF THE BUSINESS COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIA: So big business pays a significant amount of tax in this nation already. I think one of the things that we've got to understand is when big business makes investment decisions, they are investment decisions that are made after the tax consequences of them. And what we believe at the BCA is that Australia needs to have a competitive tax regime to attract global investment. Big businesses are able to invest and choose where they invest and it's very important that Australia continue to have a competitive tax regime. If you look at the 28 going on 29 years of unprecedented economic growth that Australia has had, for the majority of that time, our tax rate has been towards the middle of the OECD. We do not believe that Australia needs to be a low tax environment because we think there are other great reasons for businesses to set up and to invest in Australia. But we do get concerned when the corporate tax rate gets too far away from the OECD average. And so our very clear policy is that every single business should pay all of the tax that is due. We believe that businesses that are part of the local community have an obligation to pay tax in the local community. But we do get concerned when the company tax rate goes too far away from the OECD average. We've been very clear on that policy for a number of years and continue to maintain it. 

PRIME MINISTER: Can I thank Tim and Peter. 


PRIME MINISTER: Please, Peter, by all means.

PETER STRONG, CEO OF THE COUNCIL OF SMALL BUSINESS AUSTRALIA: We’ve just got to remember that people out there, hundreds of thousands of people out there that need the benefit from these packages. So out there, they won't care about these things. They may when they come out of the crisis they're in. But we've got to get to them with all the support. We've got to get to them with the information, with the mental health support, so important. And this is going to continue for some time. So I think it's good to focus on big picture issues, but it's what the people out there are focussing on is their lives at this moment. 

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Peter. Good commonsense advice.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you said you’re looking at legal issues associated with the sports grants program. Would that potentially look like a retrospective change to the law to justify those grants? Is that even possible? 

PRIME MINISTER: No. What I'm simply saying is that the report raised a number of issues in those areas, and I've asked the Attorney to look at them.

JOURNALIST: Would you change the law to justify them?

PRIME MINISTER: I’m going to ask the Attorney to have a look at them and then he'll come back and give some advice about the matters that are raised in the report.

JOURNALIST: Bridget McKenzie routinely overruled her own government... her own government department’s advice about these and selectively chose sporting grants in electorates that you were targeting in the election. Do you not see anything wrong with that?

PRIME MINISTER: The Minister took decisions which actually increased the number of Labor held seats that actually received grants. The Minister took decisions which the Auditor-General has confirmed were to ensure that only eligible projects received funding and that no rules were broken. Now, this is in stark contrast to what Catherine King did and what Ros Kelly did, where they were found to have actually made payments and grants to ineligible projects. So there is no complementarity between those two circumstances. The Auditor-General's report is a very serious report. We take it seriously. We're acting on the recommendations. And what the Minister did was to actually ensure that more Labor seats actually received funding under the grants program than they would have otherwise done under the recommendations and the advice that was provided by Sports Australia. Now, I stress that Sports Australia cut the cheques and authorised then those payments based on the decisions that were taken, which were done in accordance with the rules. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, did the Cabinet discuss a possible Royal Commission and what was the progress made towards that if it did? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we had a very lengthy Cabinet meeting, it was our first face to face meeting this year. We'd had one which included a phone hook up last week, obviously, to address some of those more immediate issues around the bushfire crisis that the government has been responding to. We canvassed a whole range of issues this morning, Michelle. You know, it's not my habit to go into the details of Cabinet discussions in any detail. But as I said in the interview with David Speers over a week ago, that I would be taking forward a proposal. I am working that through with Cabinet colleagues and particularly with the Attorney-General. And I said I would do this in consultation closely with the states, in particular the premiers in the most affected states. And that's exactly what I'm doing. But let me be very clear about where the focus is and this isn't the urgent priority, because as Peter said before, the urgent priority is the implementation of these grants and these many other programs that we're putting in place now. And frankly, that's the focus the states have too. So we are not spending an enormous amount of time on this issue at the moment. 

But in broad terms, what we're interested in finding out is where is the crossover point where we were able to move to a position in January of this year where we instructed the defence forces to actually move and integrate as opposed to respond to requests. What that meant was that in December, we had 890 Defence Force personnel directly involved, boots on the ground, in responding to the bushfire crisis in December. After we made the decision in early January to initiate, to move on our own initiative and to move and integrate with that bushfire response, which included the first compulsory call out of the reservists in relation to a bushfire crisis that I understand from the advice of the Chief of the Defence Force, Australia has ever done. That figure is now over 6,500. So that is a completely different level and scale of operations in terms of the Commonwealth involvement. What we need to understand is what the best way to handle those issues in the future is. 

JOURNALIST: Do you need a Royal Commision for that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, given that we have taken the current deployment to the absolute extremes of constitutionality, Michelle, then I think if you were to consider the establishment of emergency powers, emergency powers for Commonwealth action that would most likely in all cases require state referrals of powers, then I think a Royal Commission would very much assist that case if that is indeed was what they recommended. I think that would be very helpful. 

JOURNALIST: Couldn't you do that just through COAG negotiations? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think the case would need to be made for such a change, Michelle, and there have been many organisations, including the Greens, which have called for a Royal Commission into all of this. And they've gone a bit quiet on that since some I seem to agree with them. But a Royal Commission would be very focused on what that federal-state interaction should be in the future and I think that would be very helpful for the states to have that looked at as much as it would be for us. But as I also said, it has to deal with the other practical issues of preparing for Australia, which is hotter, which is drier and for longer in these seasons. And the resilience and response we need and everything from hazard reduction and vegetation management, control burns, particularly using potentially Indigenous practices more than we do in the current arrangements, land clearing laws, all of these things. I think Australians coming out of this bushfire crisis as we go into the next season will want to know how they can be safer facing the next season and safer facing the next season, I think, goes to all of those issues which I've just outlined. So we will proceed in a timely way. We will consult with the states and territories, in particular, the states most impacted. And I've already had a number of discussions with Premier Andrews and Premier Berejiklian about this. They've been very constructive. We're working closely together. And I think that will mean that by the time we go into next season once again, because it was true this year, once again, every season we face, we face more prepared than the last one. And you only have to go back to those horrible events of over a decade ago with the Black Saturday fires. The lessons learned from those fires have saved lives in these fires. I've seen that. I've seen it with the practices and the technology and the procedures that have been put in place, particularly at a state level, and that has saved lives and we need to keep saving lives for the way we prepare in the future. 

JOURNALIST: Mr Frydenberg, Matt Kean has said that Cabinet ministers have approached you and said they're concerned about the government's approach on climate change and you need to do more. Is he right? 


PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much.