Press Conference - Australian Parliament House, ACT

Transcript
10 Aug 2020
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, everyone. I'm joined by the Honourable Brendan Nelson to make an important announcement about the expert panel that Brendan has taken on over this recent six week period, reported to me at the end of July.

I will come to those matters shortly, but I just wanted to start by expressing my sincere condolences to the families of the 19 Australians in Victoria who have passed away because of their COVID infection. More than 300 Australians now have fallen victim to the coronavirus. This news is devastating no matter what age, COVID affects people and we just want to reaffirm our support through every channel we can provide it. Sadly, when it comes to the fatalities that result from COVID, that reflects a situation of several weeks ago now as the virus has taken its course with these particular individuals. The work continues. We look for better news when it comes to the stabilising of cases in Victoria. I'm more hopeful of that today than I was in the course of the past week over the briefings I've received over the course of the weekend and again this morning. And of course, the Premier will be on his feet again shortly in Victoria and will be updating on the situation there.

There are a number of other important matters which I'm happy to address. But in the first case, if you’d allow me to address this matter that Brendan has been working on and Dr Nelson's been working on and, and then we can make comment on those matters and take any questions on that, and then I'll thank Brendan for his time and allow him to get out of the cold. And then I would like to address a couple of other issues that are out there today.

The Victoria Cross is the highest award that can be provided to any Australian serviceman or woman for their valour. It is a very serious award. And as Prime Minister and as a government, we have a very special responsibility to ensure that the integrity of the Victoria Cross is upheld for all of those who've been honoured by being bestowed, having bestowed upon them that award and all the others that will. And so it is not done lightly that a recommendation would be made for a Victoria Cross contemporaneously. Which of the hundred VC’s that have been awarded to Australians, that has been the case in all of those circumstances. The service, the actions undertaken by that individual has been the subject of recommendations that have come from those who were there at the time and those commanders who made the relevant recommendations and this was done contemporaneously.

Our system, though, does provide in exceptional circumstances where there have been instances of maladministration or where new evidence has been brought forward for higher awards to be considered in those circumstances. And it has certainly been the case in relation to Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean, that this has been a case that issues have arisen now over some time. And it is also the case that these, this case has been the subject of a series of reviews and panels. And the challenge that the government was faced with was that we had two findings of equal standing from two reviews, neither related to each other, that had concluded different results. And so the government was presented with conflicting evidence. Now, you don't go around handing out VCs on the basis of popularity or sentiment, certainly in cases that involve events of many, many years ago and in this case, the 1st of December 1942, we must be careful to guard against arrogance that we today, can stand in the shoes of those of all those years ago and pretend to know that we know those events better than those who were dealing with acts of bravery that today's generation, except for those who've served, could not imagine.

That said, the opportunity we have, is the process we have, to uphold the integrity and ensure that justice is done to these incredibly brave actions. So when presented with the findings of the tribunal review, we had to address this matter of conflict between that review and the one, the comprehensive one done in 2013 that had come to a different conclusion. And the responsibility of making a recommendation to Her Majesty in order for that to be successful would need to be able to demonstrate the highest bar being set for such a recognition in the case of Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean. And so I asked Dr Nelson, given his extensive experience, not just most recently as the most outstanding head of the War Memorial that we've seen since its founder, but also because of his role as a former Defence Minister, a longstanding member of Cabinet, to draw together an expert panel comprising Mr Bennett, who, as a former Solicitor General of the Commonwealth, together with the former head of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Dr Shergold. And Brad Minera, an outstanding historian from New South Wales, military historian. I tasked them to tell us to reconcile the conflicts in these two positions that had come forward and in particular to determine the issue of whether new evidence had been established that would enable a recommendation to be made to that end.

And I received that report at the end of July, and the report found as follows, that there is compelling new evidence in support of higher recognition for Sheean, that Sheean was done a substantial injustice in consideration of his actions in the original decision making period in 1942 to 1943. And Sheean's courageous sacrifice of his life to save his shipmates makes him eligible for the Victoria Cross for Australia, and the highest level of recognition should be accorded in this exceptional case.

I have accepted these findings and I have so written to the Governor-General on the basis of the recommendation received to me from the Minister for Defence on the basis of this review. And these matters are now before Her Majesty, and we would be hopeful of what would come back as a contented response from Her Majesty. It is incredibly important we hold this to the highest bar. I am very pleased that the process that we have followed removes any doubt, certainly in my mind, and any doubt I believe in terms of our knowledge of these events and what should be done. Any ambiguity that existed before, if that had been allowed to prevail by acting hastily, that could have undermined the recommendation that we had made. So I can now make this recommendation confidently on the basis of the process that we have followed.

I wanted to thank two people in particular. Apart from, of course, Dr Nelson and the members of his expert panel. I want to thank Gavin Pearce, who as the member for Braddon and also an ex-serviceman, provided important advice about getting the balance right of protecting the integrity of the VC, but also to ensure that these issues were dealt with by a proper process and that there could be no doubt either on any potential recommendation of an award of the VC for Teddy Sheean or indeed anyone else who had been awarded with the VC. He provided important advice as particularly an ex-servicemen. I also want to thank the many others who have been involved in this important process over a long period of time. I want to thank the family of Teddy Sheean for their patience and their forbearance, and I'm sure they'll be very pleased about this result today. I also want to thank a good friend and a former colleague here in the federal parliament Guy Barnett, for the way that he engaged with this process. Guy has never pursued this issue as a matter of popular sentiment. He has pursued it as a matter of justice. And I want to thank him for the way he engaged with me to ensure that we could properly address the outstanding issues that needed to be addressed in order to make this recommendation possible. But I'm very thankful to Dr Nelson, and his full panel, and I'd asked him to make some comments on these matters.

THE HON. DR BRENDAN NELSON AO, HISTORIC VICTORIA CROSS EXPERT PANEL CHAIR: Well, thank you very much, Prime Minister. It has been a privilege to oversee the examination of the Teddy Sheean issue. And I certainly came to it with an open mind, but with a disposition not to support retrospective awards, particularly a Victoria Cross. As the Prime Minister said, awarding a Victoria Cross eight decades after the events is something that should not be entered into lightly and only when the evidence is compelling and the case for doing so is exceptional. And that is precisely the case here. This young man, this young Tasmanian Ordinary seaman, Edward or Teddy Sheean, was the youngest, lowest-ranked sailor on HMAS Armidale. The ship was attacked just after 3:00pm on the 1st of December 1942. The report of proceedings from the commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander David Richards, was written only the day after he arrived in Darwin, six days after the sinking of the ship. And in relation to Sheean, he said that Ordinary Seaman Teddy Edward Sheehan remained at his post at the aft Oerlikon and through his actions, downed one enemy bomber and remained at his gun until he was killed. The board of enquiry was held the following day and then the report of proceedings, which included that reference to Sheean, went forward to the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board and subsequently on to the Lords of Admiralty.

It is an uncontested fact that Lieutenant Commander David Richards' report was both incomplete and inaccurate in relation to the description of Sheean's actions. It's also the case the Australian station of the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board did not use the Royal Navy form 57 used everywhere else in the world, as was its practise. Nor did it use the Australian equivalent form 58. It also did not fully comply with its own instructions in CNO order 43/42 to precisely, in detail, explain whatever action was being awarded. In 1945 one of the survivors, Russell Caro, wrote a lengthy report about what had happened during the sinking, which accords largely with the facts as they are known today.

The evidence emerged in the decades following the end of the war. The 2013 inquiry, to which the Prime Minister refers, of unresolved recognition of naval and military acts of courage and valour from the past, examined in detail all 14 cases referred to it, including the Sheean case. But in the case of looking at these, examined these cases under a different part of the Defence Act, where it was required to be mindful of government policy not to retrospectively award such awards, and also to uphold the integrity of both the Australian and the Imperial honours system. Its very comprehensive collection of evidence, however, was, in our opinion, flawed in its analysis. And then in 2019, under a different section of the Act, considering an appeal by Veterans Minister from Tasmania, Guy Barnett, against the decision of the Department of Defence not to award the Victoria Cross to Sheean, it then examined all of the evidence available, had two pieces of new evidence, including from the chief of Navy and recommended the Victoria Cross be given.

I can also advise you that the expert panel has found new evidence. And that is for the first time we actually went and had a look at the Japanese aviation military records and the National Institute for Defence Studies in Tokyo. And we are very thankful to the Australian War Memorial and Dr Steven Bullard for the assistance he gave us in this regard. And what the Japanese records show in meticulous detail is that the ship was attacked at the precise location, the precise time by seven so-called Betty bombers, Japanese bombers and three Japanese Zeros. The Japanese records accord with the Royal Australian Navy official history in terms of the torpedo and then the bomb landing on the ship. It records the six minutes from the first attack to the sinking of the ship, which gave Sheean to do what he did. And also further to that, that as the ship sank, the aircraft took enemy fire from the ship and two aircraft were damaged. It's also the case that the Japanese Zeros expended 15 per cent of the machine gun ammunition in the only contact they had that day, which was against Armidale, consistent with the strafing of men in the water.

The uncontested facts are that Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean, when the ship was listing 50 degrees to the port side, obeyed the order to abandon ship. He went to the port side of the doomed and listing ship and then alongside Able Seaman Ted Pellet, who was chopping the ropes from the motorboat, Pellet got into the boat but Sheean was seen to move as if to get into the boat, and then, instead of doing so, turned unwounded and made his way up to the back of the ship with the stern rising. He was wounded on the way to the gun. He was not the gunner, at the aft Oerlikon, he was the loader. But he strapped himself into that gun, into the harness and then he began firing at the attacking Japanese aircraft that was strafing his shipmates and killing them in the water. He was wounded again while firing the gun and then was killed at the gun. Whether he was killed as a consequence of wounds or drowned attached to the gun as the ship sank, remains unclear.

So, in summary, this man deserves the Victoria Cross for Australia. The decision is made on the basis of maladministration, by omission and also by testing his conspicuous gallantry and pre-eminent valour against the eligibility criteria in the letters patent for the Victoria Cross and the regulations. And I would say to all Australians, as we live through the most significant adversity in our lifetimes, approaching the 75th anniversary of the Second World War, let Teddy Sheean inspire us to be a people that are selfless, caring and brave. And I thank the Prime Minister for having the foresight to put together a group of people that were able to consider all of the evidence that is available and give us the opportunity to find more. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER: We’ll take some questions on this matter, yep?

JOURNALIST: Now the position’s been resolved, would it be a good idea to try and resolve the issue too about John Monash, whether he should get a Field Marshal? Maybe have a look at that in a similar process?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, there are, there are many other cases that have come before us. This one was very pressing, given the more recent review that I received from the tribunal. I think the circumstances around these two things are very different. That is about a commissioning, not the, a valour award. And they are two very different exercises. So I'm not proposing to go any further on that matter. But on this issue, Teddy Sheean's valour has never been in question, I want to stress that, it's never been in question. What has been important is to ensure that the process has been of the highest standard and there can be no ambiguity about it. So a fulsome recommendation can be confidently made and that is now the case. It wasn't the case for me some time ago. It is now that case.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister is this something that’s supported by all military top brass, and is it somewhat embarrassing that we've had to wait 80 years for this?

PRIME MINISTER: This is an exceptional case and it has taken, it took many years for this case to first emerge after the Second World War in terms of whether the award that was provided was sufficient for the gallantry on that day. And sometimes justice takes a long time, but I'm pleased that it is now being addressed. And I have had no recommendation from Defence that is inconsistent now with the recommendations I have from the panel. I welcome that. And I thank the Minister for Defence for her recommendation.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, I’ve got a Defence related question I'd like Dr Nelson to answer as well,

PRIME MINISTER: I've invited Dr Nelson to be here today on the basis of his, of his role on this expert panel. I'm happy to deal with matters of Defence, which I'll come to, and I expect I'm aware of the matter you want to raise and I'll be happy to address that. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you expect this case to create a flood of new cases with revisions of other military awards?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'll ask Dr Nelson to speak to this as well. I think that's unlikely. I mean, the Sheean case was quite exceptional. And it does stand out from the many others that have been considered in the past. And I think that's why it's been able to get past what has been a very high threshold that we've established. And so that may be the case. I think it's unlikely to be the case in any significant number. But if it were to be the case, then it would be pursued in the same way and it would have to meet the very high standard that I've insisted upon. But Brendan?

DR NELSON: Prime Minister, yes, those cases that are likely to be brought forward have already been brought forward, in my opinion, and been considered. Mark Sullivan, who's the incumbent chair of the Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal, said to me in the enquiry, he said, I personally have been involved in consideration of 11 applications for retrospective Victoria Crosses. He said, I have not supported any of them except this one. My view also is, as a person whose natural disposition, as I said, is not to support retrospectivity, is that if there are other cases like Sheean to which we are currently not yet introduced, then if injustices have been done, then let us consider them. Personally, I think it is most unlikely that there will be any case like Sheean that will come forward. And I should have said, it's in our report, but I should have said Lieutenant Commander David Richards, his ship is sunk on the 1st of December 1942, the day after he gets back to Darwin, having been at sea with 22 survivors for 6 days, he writes his report, not all of the survivors or witnesses have even returned to Darwin. And those that did were told not to speak about anything in relation to the sinking. He describes Sheean as having remained at his post. His post was not the gunner. He was the loader. And then he went on to describe him shooting down one plane. We now know that Sheean actually damaged two planes, but survivors in the water could be forgiven with their short horizon for thinking that a plane trailing smoke had gone down into the water. Importantly, Lieutenant Commander Richards did not describe Sheean as having left the gun, gone to the side of the ship and then, looking into a boat into which if he'd got, he'd almost certainly have survived and certainly had a much greater chance. Instead of that, he turns away from the opportunity to save his life, to literally give his life up, to do what he could to save men in the water by going back to the gun and shooting it. So this is, an injustice has been done to Sheean by a series of missteps, missed opportunities, and at times some mistakes that have been made in examination of the facts in relation to his actions. He, as the Prime Minister said, he's a man of whom we've always been proud. But now, if you like, we put him amongst those other 100 Victoria Cross recipients as literally the bravest of the brave.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, if I may ask you about Lebanon, what were the biggest-

PRIME MINISTER: I’m happy to move to other issues now, so I might thank Dr. Nelson, for his service and appreciate your being here with us today Brendan, thanks very much.

DR NELSON: Thanks very much.

JOURNALIST: You were part of that virtual conference last night with some 30 other world leaders. What were your biggest takeaways? And could you maybe expand a little bit as to how that $3 million in additional funding will be distributed between NGOs?

PRIME MINISTER: Sure. We've upped our commitment to $5 million now, and it will be distributed through the same channels that we've talked of before. The World Food Programme and the Red Cross are the agencies through which we'll be providing that support. And that's to support the most urgent of humanitarian supplies that are needed in these circumstances. Australia will use its agency through those vehicles to lend that support.

We also made the comment last night that it was important that these global organisations work well together to deliver the assistance that's needed on the ground. We stressed there was a need for there to be a creditable and independent investigation as to the causes of this horrific explosion, which my advice is, was just a horrific accident, nothing other than that. But importantly, there needs to be a credible investigation into that. And we're also all very aware - on the call last night - of the many challenges that Lebanon currently faces and the need to have stability there and the importance of, I noted, of them re-engaging with the IMF and putting in place the necessary economic reforms that can help Lebanon.

There are 230,000 Australians of Lebanese descent at any one time. I made the point last night, there are around 5,000 Australians in Beirut is our normal estimate. And so, of course, we've had the one terrible death of a two-year old young boy, which I spoke of last night. But with the number of casualties and the amount of uncertainty there, we obviously can't rule out anything further. And if there is any further information than we have, then will obviously disclose that.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: I'll come to that.

JOURNALIST: The world leaders have made that pledge of the $420 million on the basis that protesters get the reforms that they’re after. For you, what does that look like? Because the government there is pledging an early election, but protesters want systemic change.

PRIME MINISTER: Look, Australia is not going to pretend to have a role in this issue that we don't have. I mean, of course, we want to see Lebanon as a functional, prosperous state. I think all Australians of Lebanese heritage would certainly want that. And I know that there is a keen level of interest in those issues. But at the same time, I don't want to suggest that Australia is playing some sort of direct interventionist role in terms of seeking those types of outcomes. We've made our comments known and been very supportive of economic reforms that are necessary, I think, to advance the wellbeing of people in Lebanon and will continue to do that as part of a global community. I got in touch, I reached out to President Macron on Saturday when I became aware that he was moving in a number of areas. And I got a very swift response. And he was very pleased to hear that Australia was so concerned about what was happening in Beirut in particular, but Lebanon more broadly and we’ll continue to support President Macron in his efforts there.

I'm just going to move across, so I promise you we'll get to your question.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Dr Nelson has remade the case for the expansion of the War Memorial, $500 million. Are you at all concerned about the risk to the heritage of that institution, you know, one of the great places of Australia? Are you aware of community concern about the size and scope of the work that you support?

PRIME MINISTER: I think it's a tremendous project and I think it honours all of those who've served Australia and will serve Australia. And particularly those who have served Australia in more recent conflicts, which was the passion of the project that was brought to me by the War Memorial Board at the time that Dr Nelson was its director.

We do need to tell all the stories of Australia's service. And there needs to be room and space and appropriate facilities there to recognise and reflect that. And I think the designs and the project that has been put together achieves that. And that's why the government supports it. We’ll continue to work through if there are any other issues there as we consult, as you always do with a project of great sensitivity. But this will be the most significant improvement to the War Memorial since it was first built.

And that is not at the expense of resources being available for veterans, I hasten to add. Not one cent will be spent on that memorial that would otherwise be spent on support for veterans. The best memorial we can provide to our veterans is to ensure they're well supported with their daily struggles. And that's certainly what we're seeking to do.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the Royal Commission into Aged Care has heard that 68 per cent of COVID deaths have been in nursing homes. That's 213 deaths. It makes us one of the worst performers in the world in this sector. So what do you have to say to the families who have lost loved ones, given aged care is ultimately a responsibility of your government?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'd make two points. The first one is to stress again our condolences to the families of those who've lost loved ones. We've always known that the most vulnerable in our community are the elderly, as well as others who have other comorbidities and health issues, receiving treatment for cancer and so on, those in indigenous communities. And so it is sadly not surprising that we would see the highest proportion of those who've been fatally affected by the COVID-19 virus to be those in aged care facilities, because they are the most vulnerable in our community. And I think it says something about the fact that there has been greater success more broadly in the community about preventing fatalities more widely, as we saw in other places, and that the fatalities have been more restricted to those who have been the most vulnerable in aged care facilities.

So I don't think either I'd agree with the assessment or the implications of the figures that you've referred to. It is a terrible tragedy that we've seen over 300 people pass away as a result of their infection with COVID-19. And I've been keen to stress right from the outset, there've been some suggestions, I've read it in pieces that have been written in the outlets that you represent, that somehow our elderly should in some way have been offered up in relation to this virus. That is just a hideous thought. An absolutely amoral, hideous thought, one that I have had no countenance with from the very first time it was suggested.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what can you tell us about the negotiations which are currently underway in Afghanistan that might see Hekmatullah freed, a man who murdered three Australian soldiers, and how would you feel if that happened?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I suspect this is the same point you wanted to raise, Greg. Did you want to add to that so I can deal with it?

JOURNALIST: I wanted to ask if you made a personal request to Donald Trump?

PRIME MINISTER: The answer to that is yes.

And this has been a matter of very regular and persistent petitioning on our behalf. And it was also raised at the recent AUSMIN talks between our Foreign Minister and Defence Minister. It is a matter that I've written to the President about. It is a matter of keen interest to Australia, and we've reminded them of that.

Hekmatullah was responsible for murdering three Australians, and our position is that he should never be released. We do not believe that his release adds to peace in this region. And that is the position that we will continue to maintain and we’ll maintain it strongly. I can't promise you the outcome we all want here, but it's certainly the outcome that we will continue to press for as hard as we can.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, there's a situation unfolding at the New South Wales/Victoria border at the moment where 100 Canberrans are stranded because they are no longer permitted to pass through the site.

PRIME MINISTER: I just can't quite hear you.

JOURNALIST: That’s alright. There's 100 Canberrans stranded at the New South Wales/Victorian border at the moment because New South Wales made a last-minute decision late at night to revoke their permission to drive through the state to get to the ACT. Should New South Wales reverse this decision? Is it fair that they're stuck there after a last-minute decision was made?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, these are one of the challenges of when borders are put in place between state jurisdictions. At least in the case of New South Wales and Victoria, there's been quite a lot of cooperation, certainly between New South Wales and Victoria. And I think it's important for the ACT administration to be engaging with New South Wales to try and resolve those issues. When it has come to my responsibilities in this, particularly in relation to those members of Parliament have been journeying through New South Wales to the ACT, I've been able to get a favourable outcome on those issues. They're quite unique circumstances, the convening of the Parliament, but more broadly, I mean, I understand that the New South Wales Premier will be anxious in these circumstances. We certainly don't want to see people stranded. But I would hope between the ACT Chief Minister and the New South Wales Premier, they might be able to resolve those matters.

JOURNALIST: Mark McGowan on the weekend said the border might be closed to the end of this year, middle of next year. Now, what is your response to that? Do you have any concerns about what something like that might mean for Australia as a whole?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we have no quarrel with Mr McGowan on these matters. I mean, we think any of these border arrangements, as I've written to him, should be done collaboratively. We should work together on these things. We should continue to assess what the medical situation is and make very transparent decisions about those matters and I think that aids its constitutionality. And we're working with the McGowan government to that end. But I've been very careful not to get too far ahead on what might happen in December or March. Of course, we've extended out JobKeeper out to the end of March, but I think we have to take these issues one step at a time. And if circumstances change and certainly if they change in the way we hoped they would, well, I would welcome it if by Christmas, if it were possible. But I think it's unlikely that we were able to move back to a restriction-free society. But I doubt that is going to happen. I doubt the medical position will enable that. And so you've just got to follow the medical evidence on all of these, whether it's borders or whether it's the restrictions on trade or of local businesses or whatever it happens to be. It's important that we just, you know, look and test, interrogate the medical evidence and make decisions based on that and nothing else and be transparent about it.

Katharine?

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, over the weekend, Josh Frydenberg, some of your other Victorian ministers, are becoming much more pointed in their criticisms against Daniel Andrews and the Victorian government's record in managing COVID. Also over the weekend. Mike Baird, another Liberal, former Liberal premier of New South Wales, went out of his way to praise Dan Andrews, saying that we're all in this together, we all need to rally. So which is it? Are we all in this together or are we criticising Victoria for their record on…

PRIME MINISTER: I don't know, Katharine, if I share your binary analysis of that. I think that's a little simplistic, with great respect. What my colleagues have done has simply said that there must be accountability for decisions that are made and a transparency in explaining what has occurred. I don't find that an extraordinary position to take. Equally, it is important that as the Treasurer also said, that there is nothing to be gained in slanging matches between levels of government and I don't believe he is engaged in that at all. And so we will continue to work constructively and positively with the Victorian government. But that does not provide me or the Victorian Premier or any other Premier or Chief Minister with a leave pass to scrutiny. That's entirely appropriate. You'll do your job. We'll do ours. And I think the country's stronger for that.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister on accountability, the Ruby Princess enquiry is still going on and it has not heard directly from two federal officials who were there that morning when the passengers disembarked. You promised full cooperation with that enquiry. Shouldn't you want those two federal officials to actually speak directly to the enquiry, not just in emails being released or documents being released and submissions made, but in actually answering questions either online or face to face about what happened that morning? Why don’t you encourage them to come forward and actually testify?

PRIME MINISTER: I said we would cooperate with the enquiry as we have with other enquiries, and that's exactly what we've done. And so that's what we continue to do.

JOURNALIST: They have not answered direct questions?

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, this morning Aged Care and Safety Commissioner Janet Anderson revealed that she'd found out that her, sorry that the commission had been made aware of the outbreak at St Basil’s 4 days earlier than she'd previously said. Given how deadly this virus is and we know how bad that outbreak’s been and given that that bungle caused a massive delay in the federal government response, can we be confident that the federal government is now dealing with outbreaks properly? When did you become aware of this bungle?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that was brought to my attention in the last, today, over the last little while,  yesterday- late yesterday, I think it was. And you must, you will know that the Aged Care Commissioner is an independent statutory office and operates separate formally from the Australian government. And I am concerned about that breakdown in the communications. My understanding is that the survey had been conducted and those conducting the survey had formed the view that given the facility was aware of the processes that were required to advise the public health unit in Victoria, that they had indeed done that. It turns out that that had not been done. And so there'd been a breakdown in that communication. And that's not good. I understand the processes that led to that have been changed, and I'm undertaking further enquiries into this. And as I know that the Minister for Aged Care is also. The operation of an independent statutory officer and the government obviously means that the government can't instruct that officer as to what they do, and nor are we privy to the information that they have. That's the purpose of having an independent statutory office. But that said, I welcome the role of the enquiry that has been undertaken in the Senate that has drawn attention to this issue. I want to be really clear, where there are breakdowns, where there are issues, I want to know about them and I want to fix them. And so we'll be very open about that when that is occurring. And that's what we're seeking to do here on this matter. So there was still, you know, the delays that occurred back through the system in terms of the advice back to, our federal direct government authorities that could take action on this. But I can tell you one of the most important things that's been done through the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre is bringing all of this into the one room. They're all in there in that one room and now we are actually getting advance notice that we actually know in aged care centres when people are even doing tests, not when we find out whether they get a positive or not. Even at the stage for both staff and for residents, because of the integration of those activities, we're finding out now even before the test results come back, which enables us to move to ensure we can plan for workforce disruptions, should they occur, or the appropriate cohorting of people in the aged care facilities. So to the question of confidence, then, there have been issues here that have been identified and should be and there have been very significant changes to the procedures we've put in place to guard against what could otherwise occur. But in the case you referred to, we will be following that through with the Commissioner. And at the end of the day, they're an independent statutory office and they know their responsibilities and they need to live up to them.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, today Palaszczuk threatened to end the Tweed travel bubble if Sydney continued to have coronavirus cases. You've consistently said that Premiers need to explain the medical reasons for their border closures. Is the government satisfied with Queensland’s excuse of Sydney for shutting off New South Wales, ACT and now possibly even that border community as well? Or would you like to see further explanation, given the economic impact it will have?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm just simply saying that premiers need to explain the decisions that they make and they need to explain the advice upon which they're acting. And it's for others to judge whether they're doing that sufficiently or not. I'm not the arbiter of that. These are things that states are conducting and I just encourage them to do it on that basis. If there are issues to be sorted out between states and territories when it comes to borders, well, they need to sort them out. And if they need our assistance to do that, I assure you they will ask them for us. The New South Wales and Victorian government have sought our assistance when it comes to the management of border towns and things of that nature and we have provided significant assistance. So where they require our intervention, then we will certainly provide it. At the moment, we're not being invited to comment on those things or play a role. But if we were, then we would seek to do so very constructively.

Thank you all very much.