Press conference - Australian Parliament House, ACT

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05 May 2020
Prime Minister

5:52 PM

PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon. I'm joined by the Attorney-General and the Minister for Industrial Relations and Nev Power who is the Chair of the Covid Commission. Earlier today the National Cabinet met. There are no matters to report from a health point of view in relation to today's National Cabinet, we are working towards those decisions on Friday as I've indicated to you, and the Chief Medical Officer will hold his usual daily press conference as part of that normal program this afternoon.

Today we are focusing on another topic, and that is very much about getting Australia back to work and I will ask the Attorney-General and the Chairman of the Commission to work through some important work they have been doing with Safe Work Australia. Hundreds of thousands of Australians have been protected, in terms of their health, in recent weeks and months. Thousands of Australian lives have been saved, when you look at the experience of how coronavirus has affected so many countries around the world. But we now need to get a million Australians back to work. That is the curve we need to address. We have had, particularly when you look at it at an international level, quite an amount of success as a National Cabinet, Federal Government working together closely with state and territory governments to ensure we have been able to manage and contain the outbreak of the virus here in Australia. And those decisions that we have taken have been incredibly important, and no doubt had we not taken them, that not only would the health impact have been disastrous, but the economic cost would have been even greater then what we are now currently experiencing, and as the Treasurer has gone into some detail today explaining. But it is also true that it has come at a cost. That cost will continue so long as we have Australians in a position where they are unable to open their businesses and able to go back to the offices, children unable to go back to school, and the many restrictions in place. That is why the National Cabinet has been working very effectively again today as we move towards the decisions we need to take on Friday, that will impact on these restrictions in weeks and months that are ahead.

But to get Australia back to work, we have to get Australians back to work in a COVID safe economy. The National Cabinet is working very hard to define what that national COVID safe economy looks like, so we can move towards that. But as long as these restrictions are in place, they are costing our economy some $4 billion each week, and today at National Cabinet we had the opportunity to go into the Treasury work that has been supporting those figures that the Treasurer was talking about today, and I can assure you that the National Cabinet and certainly the Commonwealth Government is under no illusion about the ongoing costs of these measures, and it certainly puts enormous pressure, as it should, on the timetable as we seek to move Australia back to a COVID safe economy because of those significant costs. And as we plan our way back and getting those million Australians back to work, those costs are expressed in so many different ways. By the end of the day, more than a million Australians will have had their claims processed for JobSeeker. Around 5 million are estimated to be on JobKeeper. One million, or more than one million I should say, are accessing their own super, of almost $10 billion. 384,000 businesses are accessing around $7 billion in cash flow assistance, and that is just to date.

I just want to spend a couple of minutes taking you through the same figures that I was able to share today with the National Cabinet when it comes to the impact on the economy, if I could just have the slides up. What you can see here is the estimate over the first half of this year, obviously the first half of this year is not completed, but this is the estimate by Treasury on how the impacts on the economy are being played out. On the left hand side is the impact of the fall in GDP, which is just over 11 per cent over that period, and on the right hand side is how that is expressed in jobs. So the play out on jobs as opposed to GDP is different. If you look at what is done in the areas that have had great restrictions, you can see that some three percentage points of that 11 per cent fall, but when you look at the jobs, 708,000 jobs estimated to be lost and impacted by these restrictions, specifically on those industry sectors. You have a broader impact on domestic demand, on flow ons from these changes of around 4 percentage points, and that equates to some 516,000 jobs. And when it comes to schools, the school shutdown, 3 percentage points, estimated of that growth, and that flows through to around 304,000 jobs. Next slide.

When you break it out, the same impact in terms of the percentage decline in gross domestic product and you look at jobs, you can see that for, particularly the hospitality sector, accommodation and food services, just under 2 per cent fall, but in terms of jobs, 441,000 jobs. That is the sector most affected by all of this, when you look at the retail services, you’re at just 1 per cent, that’s retail and wholesale trade, 146,000 jobs, 120,000 or just under that on construction jobs, arts and recreation services, around 180,000. The broader remaining industries, you can see around four per cent fall on GDP, and that translates proportionately to fewer lost jobs and you can see why, in terms of the other sectors that have been more acutely affected. When you look at areas, though, like accommodation and food services, while restaurants and cafes and groups like that, businesses like that,are closed, it isn't just the effect, though, ultimately, these are first round effects. It is the effect on food supply, and so we have in the agricultural sector at the moment some welcome news in seeing, in some places, the drought starting to break and rain getting to areas it hasn’t been. But when restaurants and cafes are closed, they are not buying from those producers like they were before, and so, there is a compounding of the effect and so keeping those types of places closed, and there have, obviously, been very good reasons for having them closed but the longer that goes on, it is not just the waiter and the chef that is affected. It is the food producer, it is the supply chain that actually goes into those sectors, and we need to take that into account. Thanks, next slide.

When you break it down by states, and what is is a simple extension of what the overall fall in economic activities across the states and territories, based on their usual share of gross domestic product, and of employment. And so the actual impacts will be different when they can be more closely modelled. What you can see from that, as you would expect, obviously New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland are going to have the biggest fall is based on an ordinary proportion of what happens with economic activity across Australia. And on that basis, a 3.7 per cent fall in New South Wales and on the job side, that is just under 500,000 jobs. But it is also true because these restrictions have impacted more on the services side of the economy, that those economies particularly, in Victoria and others if their restrictions are stronger, then it means that the job losses would be greater. So this is what that $4 billion each week starts to translate into when you look at it on a state-by-state basis. Thanks.

So you can understand that with numbers like that, the National Cabinet are not in any way unaware of the serious implications of the decisions we have had to take now over many months, and that is why we are not seeking to delay any time at all in terms of trying to get things moving again, but we must be able to move them forward safely. Ultimately, they will be decisions that will be taken by the states and territories, and I look forward to outlining a framework later this week once we have our next meeting. So to get Australians back to work, what is absolutely essential is they could go back into a COVID safe workplace, and this is something the Minister for Industrial Relations, the Attorney-General, and the COVID Commission together with the unions and others have been working on for some time. Already, businesses are acting on this. It is not just about being able to go back to a workplace that is safe but it is also about being able to do that confidently and it’s also about being able to go into a workplace where where there are outbreaks, and let's not forget when we move and start to ease some of these restrictions, of course you will see numbers increase in some areas, you will see outbreaks occur in other places, that is to be expected. What matters is how you deal with it, and how you respond to it, and it is important that businesses, employees and employers have the tools to deal with the COVID environment and ensure they are all working together to support a COVID safe workplace.

So I am very pleased with the work that Christian and Nev have done, ably supported, of course, by Greg Combet, who is the Commissioner who works as part of Nev’s team who has been very involved in this, and I want to thank you, Greg, for the great jobe you’ve done, not just on this issue but on many of the issues we’ve been engaging across the workforce and that has made a very big difference. So with that, I might pass you over to Christian to talk through the new tools and work that is being done, and Nev also to speak to those matters. Thank you very much.

THE HON. CHRISTIAN PORTER MP, ATTORNEY-GENERAL AND MINISTER FOR INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS: Thanks, PM, and maybe if I start with some of the complications around the health and safety landscape in Australia. There are obviously a range of strict legal requirements that are placed on all employers under work health and safety legislation across Australia, and they are meant to be able to allow businesses to manage a whole range of risks, and now we had this new risk that will be with us for some time in the form of COVID-19. Now obviously, there are measures that businesses have and will continue to need to put around COVID-19, social distancing, which will be measures determined through National Cabinet but which emanate through state legislation, either emergency legislation or health legislation, personal protective equipment, hygiene, cleaning, and these are, on occasions, not going to be uncomplicated matters as businesses across Australia reanimate and get back into business. So the monitoring enforcement of health and safety regulation occurs in each of the state and territory jurisdictions. All states other than Western Australia and Victoria are part of a model code but even those that are part of the model code, there will be slight differences in the way that it is monitored and enforced.

So to try and cope with some of the complexities of the system, there have been four things, obviously, that have happened. The first was that National Cabinet adopted a set of national COVID-19 safe workplace principles and that is a very important first step in ensuring there is consistency in approach as the reanimates. Obviously, the COVIDSafe app is a very important part of the health and safety work to reanimate the Australian economy. Nev shortly will be talking about the COVID-19 planning toolkit which will allow businesses on a broader level to prepare and plan. I just wanted to quickly focus on the Safe Work Australia website. So that website can be found at and as we went into the constraining phase in April with COVID-19, there were almost a million visits to the Safe Work Australia website which was massively an increase on the number of visits that you usually get to the Safe Work Australia website. And what was clear is as the constraints were necessarily placed as a health response of the Australian economy, businesses had a great hunger for information in what was a very dynamic and fluid environment so they could be doing the right thing, discharging their obligations according to federal and state law, and understanding how those laws would be enforced and regulated. So in response to that need for information, we have effectively rebuilt the appropriate parts of the Safe Work Australia website. So what we have done is create 1,300 different webpages which will apply to 23 different industry sectors, so anyone, an employer or employee, can go on the Safe Work Australia website using the content filter and tailored drop-down menus, they can navigate fairly simply to get precise answers to the questions that will apply to their particular business, whether they are a manufacturer, or an abattoir, or a cafe, whether they want to know about how cleaning should work, what are the standards that are appropriate, what products should be used,. So down to a very granular level of detail Safe Work Australia, acknowledging the role of state and territory health systems and acknowledging the role of state and territory enforcements, is able now to provide a relatively consistent, detailed, head start to every business in Australia so they can thoroughly understand the best way in which they can cope with working and carrying on their business in a COVID safe environment in the weeks and months that followed.

So that is something that will be a very important tool for all businesses, large and small, in Australia, as they reanimate and that will engage in information such as the existing duties under workplace health and safety laws in all the states and territories, how to conduct risk assessments, what physical distancing will mean for a particular point in time for a particular jurisdiction, for a particular business, so that you can go on with your business, describe its effective and fundamental dimensions, and you will get an effective and fundamental response as to how you might respond to social distancing as that applies in any given point in time, hygiene, cleaning, personal protective equipment. So it is the largest repository of information that we have available to ensure there is a consistent headstart approach to understanding how you can safely reanimate any particular business. So obviously I would encourage people to get onto the website as they go about reopening their businesses so they can get a very thorough headstart as to how to do that safely, and effectively, and in accordance with state and territory laws and regulations and I think with that, Nev, you will describe the Commission's role in that.

NEV POWER, CHAIR OF THE NATIONAL COVID-19 COORDINATION COMMISSION: Thanks very much, Christian, and thank you PM. Everyone, I think, Australians have done a fantastic job responding to the call to arms around the COVID-19 and we have seen that disciplined approach turn out very good results for the community. The business sector is exactly the same. We have been working with businesses, with peak bodies, with unions, with associations, to try and make sure that there has been clear, consistent communication two way, so we can understand what the issues that businesses are seeing and how we can work around those, but secondly, and perhaps just as importantly, to provide guidance and counselling for businesses about how to operate through the various phases as we come through the virus. As the Attorney-General mentioned, there has been a lot of work put into the resources necessary for businesses to have that information, and what we have been doing is meeting with hundreds of businesses and individual businesses and over 100 peak bodies and associations and unions to talk about how they can get their businesses ready to be COVID safe.

That comes around really four key issues, the first is reconfiguring and restructuring worksites to make jobs safe in those worksites. That is very much a business by business proposition under the guidelines of social distancing and personal hygiene. Secondly, how to respond in the event that there is an incident in a workplace, how people are communicating and how the tracking and tracing is done, and how those people are supported. And then, how do we return that worksite to a safe place to work as quickly as we possibly can. Very importantly, the communication process of sitting down with employees, making sure everyone understands what is required and what will happen, how their families will be supported and that communication processes right through the workplace. That has gone really well and with the Work Safe Australia website now as a resource, businesses will have a complete toolkit once we complete the COVID-19 toolkit that they will have resources there that they could draw on.

Some businesses are doing quite well and are ready and continuing to operate with reconfigured workplaces. Some businesses are in the preparation stage and some need a little more help to get there and that’s where we are working on that at the moment. But it would be fair to say the level of ingenuity and innovation that we have seen has been fantastic. Businesses are looking at this as just another business problem and saying how do we get as many people back to work as we possibly can while having those protections in place to reduce the transmission of the virus. A key part of that has been the IR task force set up with the Attorney-General 's office and being led by Greg Combet and that is about advising workplaces and businesses about how to set up the workplace but it's also about fixing problems when they occur so we can intervene quickly and settle any issues that might have arisen because of issues in the workplace.

So, my message to business is a very, very simple: continue to work with your employees to find ways of configuring your business so you are able to introduce the restrictions on social distancing and hygiene into your normal business activities and have plans in place and be ready as the restrictions change that you can continue to do that as more customers are coming into your business, as there is a higher level of activity and make sure that we continue to contain the virus as the economy starts to expand again. And it's really important I think also that if we do have outbreaks in the economy, in the community, that we are able to deal with those directly without needing to go back and reintroduce further restrictions. We want to make sure we are able to deal with those quickly, that's been our guidance to business, is to make sure that this is a progressive, disciplined and well organised change in those restrictions. So great response from everyone, I think we are all looking forward to having a more relaxed set of restrictions but we need to make sure that we’re continuing to do the right thing. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Nev. Now, I will start with you and move our way around the room. Before I do that, just an update on the COVIDSafe app, it will pass 5 million today, we’re actually not far away from that just as we speak of a targeted population of some 16 million, that puts us almost at a third of that. That's a welcome response, and obviously a bit more we would like to see, I would like to thank everybody including those in the media for their support of promoting that app and passing on the important messages part of that app. Let’s not forget its most important job is to keep you safe, every single Australian that downloads it, it keeps them safe. Because if you have come into contact with someone who also has the app who has been infected by the coronavirus, then you will know and people will get in touch with you so they can tell you you have been potentially compromised by the virus and then you can make decisions to make sure you protect your other family members and those in your household and those who are around about you. The first job of the COVIDSafe app is to keep you safe and that is its best reason why I would encourage people to continue to do that. Of course, the more people we get, then the better protection we all have as we go back to work or as the National Cabinet considers further restrictions, there have already been quite a number of restrictions eased and I particularly welcome the changes that were announced by the Queensland Premier in relation to schools. We are already seeing a lot of changes happening, all of those changes get better supported by how we all keep each other more safe by ensuring we download the COVIDSafe app. So please continue to do that in days and weeks ahead. Greg?

JOURNALIST: Thanks Prime Minister, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says there is enormous evidence that the coronavirus came from a research lab in Wuhan. Do you still believe the most likely source of COVID-19 is a wet market, or is there, according to your advice, growing evidence it emanated from a lab? And will you urge the Americans, the Trump administration to share their apparently compelling evidence with Australia or even globally through the United Nations forum?

PRIME MINISTER: We work closely with the United States, and I've already made comments on this matter and there's been no change to the Australian position on this. And whether, and which was to say that we can't rule out any of these arrangements, that's what I said the other day. But the most likely has been in a wildlife wet market, and that that wildlife wet market is an important definition of what we're talking about here. There are wet markets and there are wildlife wet markets. They're two different types of things, and that is the most likely outcome. But what's really important is that we have a proper review, an independent review, which looks into the sources of these things in a transparent way so we can learn the lessons to ensure that were there to be a virus of pandemic potential that would originate anywhere else in the world, we can learn the lessons from that. And that's what Australia is focussed on. And I've written to all the G20 leaders to that end.


JOURNALIST: Josh Frydenberg said today at the Press Club that widespread closure of schools and childcare centres would have cost the economy $34 billion. What's your message to states that are still dragging their feet on reopening schools in a widespread way? And Mr Power, you've also said just now, that there are some businesses that are ready to reopen. What proportion of businesses is that? Do you have a percentage on how many businesses are ready right now to reopen?

PRIME MINISTER: Well on schools, I can only repeat what I've been saying for months, and that is that the expert medical advice is that schools can be fully open. And the expert economic advice that we've received from the Treasury is that not opening schools fully is costing jobs and it does cost the economy. That's, they’re the facts and those facts have led the Commonwealth government to have a very consistent position on that and to welcome every day where there is a school with a classroom that is open with more and more students attending and getting their learning face to face in the classroom.

Nev, did you want to add?


PRIME MINISTER: probably going to need to go to a mic.

NEV POWER, CHAIR OF THE NATIONAL COVID-19 COORDINATION COMMISSION: I need to go to a mic - It's a little hard to tell exactly how many are each category, but we've got a number of businesses that are working either at full capacity. For example, the mining, supermarkets, food processing industries, they've introduced COVID safe practices and COVID safe business models for their businesses and are continuing to operate right through. Other businesses have had some impact on demand so they're running at partial capacity. A lot of, in the housing construction area, for example, some have had to change their working practices to work around that. And there are businesses, particularly in hospitality and restaurants and pubs and tourism that are still impacted by the restrictions that are there. And those are the businesses that we're focussing on at the moment. There's a lot of small to medium sized businesses in there. And we're working with them now to make sure that they have all of the information they need to get their businesses back up and running, not only from a safety point of view, but also that they've got the ability to fund their businesses and get them back up to fund the working capital to restart, and that they're ready to make sure the public are safe when they come into those businesses as well. So it is now very much about as the restrictions are changed, that businesses can fill, can come back onto line or increase their capacity to do that. So it's very hard to give you the exact percentages because we're talking of hundreds and hundreds of businesses across Australia. But what I can tell you is that we're reaching out across the board to make sure that those businesses are absolutely ready to come back.


JOURNALIST: What exemption was agreed on the trans-Tasman, sorry, that's quite hard to say, travel bubble today, given just Jacinda Ardern's presence in the National Cabinet? And also, just so that I'm clear, just picking up something you said a minute ago, just about the restricted or the easing of restrictions, I think you said that ultimately these are the decisions that will be taken by the states and territories that on Friday we’ll get a framework, but ultimately states and territories decide. So does that mean that not all states and territories will start to ease restrictions from Friday?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I can't pre-empt decisions of Friday. The National Cabinet, particularly on these issues where the Commonwealth has no direct authority at all, our job here is to try and ensure as much consistency across state and territory jurisdictions as possible. And it has been one of the more effective tools that we've had when we compare ourselves to other countries that exist in federations - Australia really has operated as a federation remarkably well, but as we've seen already and as has been the case, states and territories have operated on different timetables, there have been different nuances. They've reflected the case characteristics in each of those states and territories. In some cases, they've just reflected the sheer geography of the different states and territories, and that's to be expected. And so what you can expect on Friday is that, again, will seek to have as consistent a national position as possible. But ultimately, each state and territory are the arbiters of their own position. But I have no doubt they will seek to do that in as consistent a way as possible. They are already moving on many restrictions there, I would expect that on Friday there will be some restrictions which are formally eased, which many states have already moved on. Others are yet to move on. And so I think that framework will assist states. But more importantly, it's our hope that where we get to on Friday can sort of lay out much more of the road map for Australians so they can see what's happening in the weeks and the months ahead. But the point that Nev and Christian have made today is very important, and that is to get people back to work, to get people back on trains, to get people, you know, commuting to work. All of these things you need to have these very arrangements and the tools in place for businesses to give Australians that confidence so they can be out and about. Now, you'll have to remind me of the first part of that question Katherine, sorry?

JOURNALIST: What I can't say; trans-Tasman?

PRIME MINISTER: Trans-Tasman. Well it was great to have the Prime Minister Ardern there with us today. I understand that's the first time a New Zealand Prime Minister has joined a meeting of the states and territory Premiers and the Prime Minister since John Curtin was Prime Minister. So that was some time ago. The discussion was at my invitation for Jacinda to be able to share what their experience has been in New Zealand with my state and territory colleagues. That was the primary purpose of today's discussion. I mean, I've had the benefit of having those discussions with her and many other leaders around the world, and I thought that would be of great value to my colleagues. And so they could swap notes on a whole range of different restrictions and the economic impacts and things of that nature. The Prime Minister and I have been now for several weeks been talking about a safe travel zone between Australia and New Zealand. It is still some time away, but it is important to flag it because it is part of the road back, at some point both Australia and New Zealand will start connecting with the rest of the world again, and the most obvious place for that start is between Australia and New Zealand. And we could see that happening. But it's not something that's about to happen next week or anything like that. It is something that will better sit alongside when we're seeing Australians travel from Melbourne to Cairns at at about that time, I would expect everything being equal, that we'd be able to, you know, fly from Melbourne to Auckland or to Christchurch or things like that. The two-way travel between Australia and New Zealand is about 1.4 million a year, both ways, as many, almost as many Kiwis come here as Australians go there, and particularly for states like Queensland. There is a much greater share of that tourism travel that comes out of New Zealand into Queensland. And as we're building up our economies again, and particularly for trans-Tasman travel and what that means for the airlines as well, that will be important to support jobs in those sectors. So we're working cooperatively together. New Zealand has a strong biosecurity and border arrangements, as do we. And so it's the obvious place to start.

JOURNALIST: PM, just mindful of the answer Mr Power just gave, if we just press a bit further. If this toolkit and these protocols are widely and quickly adopted by business, do you have a timeframe in mind by which the overwhelming majority of our businesses could be open again, excluding the obvious cases like international tourism and so forth. But is there any reason why we can't have nearly everyone up and running in a matter of months if this is?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I hope to have a bit more to say about that later in the week. It's certainly something the states and territories and I have been discussing in some detail. I think we do have to have some aspirations and some targets about this. But even when you're easing restrictions in some sectors, it may take you a week or two for those particular sectors that have been closed down to be able to actually reopen, to get their staff back and to reopen the premises and get their supplies in and do all those sorts of things, so it so it can take a bit of a step up on the way back. But it is our goal to ensure that we can get back to the state you're talking about, which is what we are talking about as a COVID safe economy - to try and get to that point as quickly as we can. Because at $4 billion a week, we have a very strong incentive for all Australians who are wearing that cost every week, to reduce that as much as possible as soon as we can.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned that as more things get going the number of cases are likely to, to increase somewhat. What has been the health advice on that rise?

PRIME MINISTER: Nothing at this point because it all is a function of what restrictions and how quickly and so there are the parameters that would go into such an equation. But let's remember that one of the key things we have done in the last six to eight weeks is to triple our ICU capability. Now, when we start opening up again, we already have started opening up again, but when we take further steps, if we take ourselves back six, eight weeks ago when we were sitting around a table just as we were the day we formed the National Cabinet, I remember Premier Berejiklian over the course of that day, she was sitting next to me and she goes at the start of the day, the cases were low. By the end of the day, there were over 100 cases in New South Wales. So things were moving very quickly at that time. What I'd add to that, is at that time there was not the same sort of sense of social distancing. There were not the things we have in place now. There was not the same stockpile of personal protective equipment. There was not the number of respirators that we now have. There were not five million people on the COVIDSafe app and so we've built these protections over the last six weeks and more. And that means that we're in a much stronger position to resist and deal with any increase in cases. And we're seeing the same thing in Germany and other places like that, they have far more cases than we do, and they're also looking at easing and they're not allowing any movement in those cases to prevent them from keeping on with that program. So it will be a balance, but we're in a much stronger position today to deal with the sort of things that we saw six weeks ago. We're in a much stronger position to do that today than we were then and that gives us the confidence to be able to move into the space we're now seeking to move into. Andrew?

JOURNALIST: PM, you've talked about the next step being pubs and restaurants and things like that. Could you tell us…

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I haven't been specific, to be fair Andrew.

JOURNALIST: I think Nev Power was, actually. But could you explain and give us an idea of what a COVID safe pub looks like? And knowing what you know, when will it be legally safe for the two Andrews, Tehan and… ah, two Dans I say, Dan Andrews and Dan Tehan, to legally have a drink together?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they can legally have a drink together right now, just not in a pub. And I'm sure all of us are looking to that into the future. At the present point, Andrew, we do not have a clear set of rules that would apply to a pub. But what we do have is a set of recommendations that have been provided to us by the AHA and the Restaurant and Caterers Association and that is exactly the thing we're looking for from industry groups right across the country. All industry groups, all businesses - as Christian said - whether you’re an abattoir or a newsagent, you should be thinking about the sorts of things that you can satisfy yourself about in terms of having a COVID safe environment as well as those who come in and out of your shop, your patrons, to ensure that that is sustainable. The last thing the business want, and this is a common feedback that Nev and I get, is what's called the sawtooth, which means you open, you shut, you open, you shut, you open, you shut. That is not good for business. There needs to be the certainty to keep moving forward all the time. And so to have that, you know, you need to have these things in place and what we're talking about today is a further encouraging business to do just that. So thanks to the AHA and the Restaurant and Caters, that advice will go off to the medical expert panel, and that'll be part of the process that we will work through to get back to a position when pubs and clubs and restaurants or cafes in the future can be open. But as I say, we're not making those decisions today. We've had some good discussions on that today, but we've still got quite a bit of work to do.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, in the time that we're sitting here waiting for the press conference to start, a friend of mine was stood down from her job in Victoria and there's clear frustration amongst some Victorians with the extent of the lockdown, the position on schools. Within your own team, we saw that frustration on Sunday. Is there anything that you can do as Prime Minister, leader of the nation, to put more pressure on some states that perhaps not everyone agrees with the extent of their lockdown?

PRIME MINISTER: We’re a federation and at the end of the day, states have sovereignty over decisions that fall specifically within their domain. And the National Cabinet, more than any other tool I've seen in my time in public life, has brought about a consistency of approach between states and territories, not a uniformity, but a greater consistency. And within those discussions, they have always been candid, they've always been honest, and they've always been in good faith. And you know, whether it's considering as I did today, demonstrating what the impact is by state to the economy. At the end of the day, every Premier, every Chief Minister has to stand in front of their state and justify the decisions that they're taking in terms of the extent of the restrictions that are in place. The trade off that they're making between people having jobs and the impact on the containment of the coronavirus. Now, my view has always been this and I've said it from this podium many times. Just having a low number of cases is not success. Particularly when you got a lot of people out of work like your friend today. That is the curve that I'm looking to address. Now, we've had great success on flattening the health curve, and that's great and we all wanted that. But it has come at a price and we now have to start balancing that up. I think there is, having spoken to all the Premiers and Chief Ministers regularly, there is no shortage of pressure on the decisions that they're making, I can assure you. But I respect the fact that they've each got to make their own call, just like I do, and they've got to explain it to the people who live in their state and they've got to justify it. And I think that's the appropriate transparency and accountability.

JOURNALIST: PM, thank you. The US Department of Homeland Security has released a report that accuses China of covering up the severity of the coronavirus outbreak to essentially buy time to hoard medical supplies. Obviously, cover up is a very particularly strong assessment. Is that a view that you share of the Chinese actions in those initial first few weeks?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what I'm keen to have undertaken is a proper assessment and review of these questions. I don't want to express an opinion about it, I want to know. And I think the best way to arrive at that is what I've proposed and as I’ve said, I've written to all the G20 leaders this week proposing exactly that process. I think on the 18th of May, the World Health Assembly will be meeting and they'll be considering a proposal being put forward by the European Union. I spoke to Ursula about that last week, discussed that with Boris Johnson and many others. And I think there's good support for that motion. That's a good first step. It doesn't cover all the issues that I've been advocating, but I'll continue to advocate for those and to do it in the global interests and in Australia's national interests. So that's where we're focussing our effort. How other nations choose to pursue those issues, I'll leave to them.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve repeatedly said that schools are safe and you've said today that keeping them closed is going to cost jobs. Given that Victoria still doesn't have a return to class plan, at least made public, is that something that you would consider when Daniel Andrews potentially comes to you in the future as their economy potentially suffers as a result of these prolonged restrictions, especially on schools and further to that, did the premier come to National Cabinet today with any sort of plan about returning Victoria's students to classes after May 11th?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that wasn't on the agenda today, the issue of schools and the advice from the medical expert panel, it hasn't just been me saying it. I've been saying it on the basis of the advice from the medical expert panel. It's not an opinion of mine. I'm relaying what is the expert medical advice on the issue of schools being able to be fully open and that is why the Commonwealth, under the National Principals for education, took the decisions that we did in relation to non-state schools. And those principles and the agreements that were set around the national principles, understood by all the Premiers and Chief Ministers. I made it very clear some weeks ago, that we would be taking those actions in relation to non-state schools because we fund non-state schools to the extent of 80 percent of what they receive. So we have required a plan, regardless of what state or territory that non-state school is in, to return to in-classroom teaching and on that basis, we are happy to encourage in the way that we're bringing forward funding. So the Premier in Victoria will continue to make the decisions as he sees them in relation to state schools, and that's entirely within his bailiwick. Other Premiers are making different decisions, like in Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, the Northern Territory and in Western Australia. And I think they're making good calls.

JOURNALIST: Did the Deputy Prime Minister raise any concerns with you that John Barilaro would cause problems for him in Federal Parliament and are you concerned this Nationals infighting occurring now, will affect the government's chances in Eden-Monaro?


JOURNALIST: PM, you talked about the benefit a safe travel zone would have on the tourism industry, including airlines. What role do you see intrastate travel having in terms of the economic recovery as restrictions are wound back over the coming weeks?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, very positive. And that's part of the road back that National Cabinet is considering. I mean, there are still hard borders with Western Australia. There was a bit of friendly banter about whether Kiwis would be welcome into Western Australia before those from the East Coast were. That's still to play out. But there is, I think, no doubt a big benefit once we're back in that situation where people hopefully by the end of term school holidays, if they're able to go and have a holiday on the Gold Coast or in South Australia and wherever it happens to be out of one's home state, well, let's hope that that's possible, because that will be great for those places in terms of the tourism impact. Already in New South Wales, which is what I get to see a bit more of here in the ACT, we're seeing those restrictions about people being able to move and travel a bit further. Same is true up in Queensland. That's good. I welcome that. I think that's great. I think Australians are welcoming that, too. That is all part of getting back to that COVID safe economy. But what is really important is people need to still hold to those principles that are around a COVID safe environment, the social distancing, keeping in contact, but not physically in contact, the hand hygiene, all of these things remain just as important. And of course, downloading the COVIDSafe app that provides that passport, I think, to protect those you're with, your family, yourself as well as those you're coming in contact with.

JOURNALIST: Yeah, thanks, Prime Minister. Three weeks ago your Communications Minister promised urgent short term support to regional broadcasters, but we haven't really heard anything since. Do you know why some of these relief measures are taking so long?

PRIME MINISTER: I'll refer you to the Comms Minister, but we’re happy come back to you on that.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you talked about the agriculture producers who don't have a market for their produce, but a more pressing issue for many more is not having capital to actually restock and grow their crops after the drought. The Federal Government has not announced any drought recovery measures since certain parts of the state had rainfall earlier in the year. Obviously, the drought fund… the future fund doesn't start flowing until July. What measures might be considered beyond what exists with the Regional Investment Corporation loan to assist those farmers with cashflow?

PRIME MINISTER: The original investment corporation loan actually provides for hundreds of thousands of dollars of loans for that exact purpose. It already provides for it. That's part of existing government policy. That's one of the reasons why it exists and so the exact thing you're asking for currently exists. It's part of existing government policy and it's an important part of government policy, that they get access to those loans. That has particularly been put in place with additional support in relation to bushfire affected areas and the primary producer grants that went into those bushfire affected areas and particularly those in south-eastern New South Wales, which remain in a drought affected state. They do have access to those loans as well and their take up has been lifting, the primary producer grant certainly has been lifting over the last few months. And we welcome that. The Drought Recovery Agency, that Shane Stone leads, has been working just as hard during the COVID period as they were from whence they were first established. And that COVID, sorry the Drought Recovery Agency has been working right across the country. And I'd encourage you to go to their website and see all the tremendous work that they're doing to connect farmers to loans and other forms of assistance and support for which there is a very large set of measures for them to draw down on.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, last week you revealed that there’d be this fall in net overseas migration, the 85 per cent cut or fall. What's your goal for Australia in the recovery phase from COVID? Do you want to get net overseas migration back to the levels that we've seen in recent years? Or do you think that there's an argument after this crisis where we should accept lower net overseas migration every year?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you know, the government's policy on permanent migration and that is it's got a cap at 160,000. That's not a target, that's a cap, and our policy hasn't changed on that front. On net overseas migration, you may be familiar with the work from Professor McDonald from some years ago that was done for the Department of Immigration. And he'd always put a range on net overseas migration that was consistent with maintaining per capita GDP growth at between about 160,000 and 210,000. So that's, there the figures that have sat around for some time. Of course, having a responsible immigration program is part of having a strong economy. What I think Australians have been quite cautious about when it comes to issues of immigration has been the infrastructure support for a growing population, and that has particularly been felt in the high growth metropolitan areas of Sydney and Melbourne, and that's why we've had the Urban Congestion Fund and the range of of new project measures that we've put in place now over some years, the $100 billion of rolling infrastructure all around the country. You've got to build the infrastructure to support the population, and you've got to have an economy growing to support that population. Now, you would know that if you drop your net overseas migration to 34,000 or thereabouts, then that's going to have a consequential impact on the construction pipeline and the housing market, which is going to cost people's jobs. And so you need to get the balance right, we believe that our policies around this have kept the balance right. I think one of the lesser understood elements of the net overseas migration outcomes and how temporary migration plays into permanent migration is the vast majority of skilled migration these days actually comes from those who are already here on a temporary skilled visa. And so if you're, if you're wanting to hack into the temporary skilled migration program, you're basically saying you want to hack into the skilled permanent migration program and and those communities all around the country, who's, that permanent migration program is incredibly important to, I think that an insensitive way and dealing with that, an unbalanced way is not only not good for the economy, but equally, I think it puts unnecessary pressures on on particular communities around Australia and shows an insensitivity to those.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, in Josh Frydenberg's speech just a second ago, he said that your government wouldn't be cutting services. He then also went on to say that the government would cut back on quote, “wasteful spending”. What would you classify as wasteful spending?

PRIME MINISTER: We've always ensured that the government has lived within its means. That's how we were able to balance the Budget for the first time in 11 years. That has been the core feature of every budget that I've been involved in, and our Government's been involved in over the time we've sat on the Treasury benches. We've also been very clear that the way to grow your revenues is to grow your economy, and the way to ensure you can support health and education and disability services, is to have a strong economy. I mean, that is that is the theme of every single Budget that I've been involved with and that will continue to be the theme. I've talked before about sovereignty. Sovereignty means that we can get Australians back into jobs. It means we can guarantee the essential services that they rely on and that we can guarantee their national security as well, both in terms of environmental security as well as the strategic security that is afforded to us by the work of our intelligence agencies, our law enforcement agencies, our defence forces and others. And that's what sovereignty is about, having an economy that can support our jobs, our services, and our national security. And that will continue to be the way we approach our Budgets in the future.

JOURNALIST: Just on schools, we're told that schools are low risk, the New South Wales Premier also says that we can expect to see more outbreaks as they start to reopen. So if you can tell us how many jobs the school closures are impacting on right now, as you have today, can you tell me how many people are going to get sick? Do you have any estimate of how many additional cases are potentially, of COVID, are involved in getting all of that school system up and running around the country?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the estimate from Treasury, based on the second round impacts of schools being reduced in the way they have over a six month period, is around 300,000 jobs. And one of the issues that was flagged early on in this debate was, in particular, the impact on the health workforce and the first responder workforce and those employment sectors. And that's why we were so cautious with the rush that was taking place some months ago to try and close the schools down, because at that stage, we were not in a position to have any knowledge about how bad the COVID crisis could become and whether we'd be seeing the scenes that were ultimately seen in New York or London or other places. Now, fortunately, because of the measures we've taken, that has been avoided and that's welcome. But the impact on jobs has happened as a result of that. That's why it's so important not just for the fact that it's safe for kids to go back to school, and that's always been the case, it's also important because it frees up the workforce to go back to work. And women are some of the most affected by that with school closures and even if they're trying to work from home while at the same time looking after kids, it's not an easy job, whether with you’re a mum or dad. Doesn't matter either. It does impact on the productivity. So kids going back to school lifts productivity, helps people get back to work and helps the economy get back on its feet. Now, we do not have other than the modelling estimates that you've seen provided by Professor Murphy about where we see the track of the virus moving into the future. But if we continue to have the strong defences that we've been building, whether it's overall on ICU capacity and PPE and things like that, but also a lot of the more tactile responses which are about the surveillance testing and the broader testing network. And I commend all of the states and territories which have all been lifting their game on testing and I know Victoria, in particular, right now is putting a lot of effort into boosting its testing effort, and that means that you can move on outbreaks far more quickly. Of course, with the COVIDSafe app, you're more able to quickly isolate those who have come in contact with someone who's contracted COVID-19. But the third area, Sam, I think it’s really important. You've seen this with a number of these schools and the one in Melbourne most recently. Where it does happen, you've got to move very quickly, lock it down, scrub it down and then reopen it as quickly. Now, that's true for a school, but as Nev and Christian were saying, that's what you have to do at a manufacturing plant, that's what you have to do in a shop. It's what you have to do in any number of other workplaces. And so having the processes to move on that really quickly is important and those types of things will have a big impact on how many more cases that you see.

Now, Professor Murphy has been pretty consistent, immaculately consistent, on the low levels of transmission and numbers of cases amongst those, you know, of children's ages. And that hasn't changed and that research has not changed also in the international experience. So our expectation is that, yes, I suspect undoubtedly you will get cases, of course, that will happen. We aren't pursuing an eradication strategy. But those cases can be managed and those cases can be contained in a strong health system and that's our focus. So rather than be focused on how many more cases there would be, what we're focused on is making sure we have the capacity to deal with the cases and that's an approach which has been mirrored by many other countries and I think Germany is a good example of that. And they provide a good guide, as we do to them, on those types of issues.

If there are no other burning questions, thank you all very much. I'll see you next time. Thank you.