Press Conference - Australian Parliament House, ACT

18 Jun 2020
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: The past three months have seen many hard days. This is another very hard day. 38 months of job creation, gone. 838,000 Australians having lost jobs. 227,700 in May. As heartbreaking as all of these lives, stories are that are represented in these numbers, the sad truth is is these numbers are not surprising in these circumstances. We are very aware of the significant blow that Australians are being hit with through the course of this pandemic. This recession will be written in the stories of those who are experiencing terrible hardship and these statistics today are a reminder to all - not that we need one - that with all the other noise about whatever else is going on, our task is simple. And that is we must get Australians back into work. We must maintain our focus on them. All 838,000 of them, but we know there will be more in the months ahead. These figures were taken at a time, just before actually, the opening up of this three step plan that the states put in place, and that is of some comfort that we will see some Australians finding their way back into employment but I would not be seeking to overstate that. There is some comfort that can be taken from the fact that we are making our way back and we are on the road back and that we are taking steps, every single day. We can take some comfort from the fact that Australia has put in place the biggest measure of income support the country has ever seen to cushion the blow, but the blow is still devastating and great. And while Australia is doing better than almost any other developed economy in the world, if you have lost your job, that is no comfort. So, we cannot set our expectations on what is happening elsewhere in the world. Our expectations, the Treasurer and I, together with our Government, is getting these Australians back into work, to getting business doors open, to continue to give Australians the hope and confidence of the road back that we are charting together, as a Government, together with other governments around the country.

These are our dark times, but I can see that ray of light, and I'm sure Australians can see that, too but we have to keep moving towards it and we’ve got to keep working harder each and every day. We will not rest. We are working with some of the biggest economic challenges this country has ever faced and your Government is working day and night to get the balance right, to get the right supports in place, the ones that will work, the one that will support, the ones that will encourage, the ones that will open business doors up again, the ones that will get Australians back into work. I can’t tell you how focused we are on this and how disciplined we are as a team. Cabinet met for hours and hours and hours last night on these issues, as we have every week, for months, working through the data and there will be more data and we will need more data before we make further important decisions. And that is how you can expect your Government to respond and to behave and work diligently for you to get back into work. Young people have been most affected in these numbers. But my hope is that, equally as the economy opens up, they will hopefully also be the first to benefit from that economy opening up. As retail doors open again, as food courts are open again, as shopping centres are fuller again, we hope to see more of those young people back into that work but that task will be great. And our application will be there, our determination will not waver and in the spirit of cooperation and partnership we have worked hard to build over these many months across governments will continue. And we give Australians our pledge on that.


THE HON. JOSH FRYDENBERG MP, TREASURER: Thank you, Prime Minister. These are devastating unemployment numbers. They reveal the true pain and hurt that Australians are going through as a result of the coronavirus. In the month of May, 228,000 jobs were lost. In the last two months, over 835,000 jobs have been lost. These are not just numbers. These are our friends, family members, workmates and neighbours. The participation rate fell to 62.9 per cent, the lowest level since 2001. The underemployment rate is at 13.1 per cent. Female employment fell by 118,000, making up 52 per cent of the jobs lost in the month of May. Young people, youth employment, fell by 103,000, making up 45 per cent of those jobs lost in May. Youth unemployment is now at 16.1 per cent.

These numbers reveal the scale of the challenge we face and the mountain we have to climb. And it is why the Government put in place $260 billion of economic support. It is why we provided a cash flow boost to business. It is why we provided cash payments to households. It is why we have provided the biggest income support measure this country has ever seen with the JobKeeper program, supporting more than 3 million workers. And it is also why we have started to see signs that the confidence is coming back. Consumer confidence has regained 93 per cent of its lows, business confidence has regained 70 per cent of its lows. We still have a very, very steep mountain to climb but as the Prime Minister said, we are working day and night to get Australians back into work.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] 8.1 per cent. Given that these figures were taken before the three step plan came in place, as you just said, doesn't this give even more justification as to why WA’s borders should open up?

PRIME MINISTER: Every state government, every territory government, the Federal Government, every local government, all of us must do everything we can to open up our economy and get Australians back into work. There is no surprise in that position from me. That has been my position all along, subject to the health advice and let's not forget that our success on the health front means that we have been able to open up our economy and we are doing that carefully to ensure that we don’t risk a second wave because a second wave would obviously have a disastrous impact on the economy. I have just met with groups from the entertainment industry in a roundtable meeting with them and they are obviously doing things very tough and their challenges will endure longer than most. But a further wave would cause even more devastation to the economy. So it is about getting these decisions right and the health advice on those issues that you raised is clear, and if we want Australians back into jobs then we need Australia open.


JOURNALIST: The numbers as you said are terrible, but unsurprising. How does it factor into your thinking on JobKeeper and JobSeeker and the future of those programs?

PRIME MINISTER: This is important information and we will have more information on this before the economic statement is handed down in late July. There is other information that we are gathering to better understand what the right balance of the supports are. Supports will be important. What we have been careful to do is to work through and get this right and get the balance right. I mean, we put these arrangements in place for six months to give us this time. We put our supports in place, income supports, JobKeeper and JobSeeker, and we put that in for six months so we would have that time to properly move for the next step, to change gears again, because anyone who can tell you they know exactly what is going to happen in September, in this COVID crisis, is having a loan of you. The information you have to be patient for, to make sure that you design the next phase of our response carefully, and that is exactly what we're doing. We are carefully doing it, getting ourselves the best possible information and more comes in every day, as sadly this information has, but as you note, Phil, the loss of 227,700 jobs is beyond, I think, some market expectations, certainly. The rate is different again but that is because of the change in the participation in rate. I suppose one of the most upsetting elements, and there are so many upsetting elements of this, but as I said, while devastated by the number, I'm sadly not surprised and we will have to brace ourselves, I suspect for further news going forward.


JOURNALIST: Hearing what you said about the data gathering phase and you are assessing what the best approach is for income support going forward, but conceptually, is the best way of getting Australians into a job, which is your stated objective, is that a wages subsidy that ties a person to a job or is it topping up income support, topping up the old Newstart payment which is the conventional income support while people find work?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, these are the questions, Katharine, and these are the questions which we are continuing to pull all the information together and to get the right balance of all of those decisions. But what we have done is we have given ourselves the time to be able to do that. We have set a timetable to make that decision and that would mean handing it down in the July statement. And these are the very issues we are wrestling with. I mean, as you know, both with Josh and myself but I can say for myself - I have dealt with some of the hardest policy problems you could... many of them you would not want to have dealt with, in many different portfolios. In social services and in immigration and in Treasury and I can tell you, we have never had to deal with a more complex policy problem than this. And that is why I am not going to be rushed on it. I'm going to be careful about it. I am going to take the advice. I am going to grill the data. I am going to listen to people, as I have just come from listening to them now, again. And we're going to weigh these decisions very, very carefully.


JOURNALIST: Anthony Byrne has been…

PRIME MINISTER: Can we stay on the economy please?

JOURNALIST: The economist Warren Hogan, he’s told Sky News that we have an effective unemployment rate of 11.5 per cent, which I guess goes with the 830,000 jobs you were talking about losing. Do you agree with that assessment and just to be blunt about it, what are you going to do about it?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, again, like I did when the unemployment figures with the Treasurer last time, I indicated that the unemployment rate I think does understate where things are on the ground. That is why I made no reference to the rate, I made reference to the fact that 838,000 jobs had been lost because that is what has actually happened out there. And how that, you know, adds up in the various, you know, economic measures there will be different views on that and so I am not seeking to have a debate about that. But what I know is 838,000 people have lost a job and that is what we have to turn around and that is why our JobMaker plan has two components to it. There are the necessary demand supports that we have in place and that we will continue to calibrate going forward which provides support to the economy now, both to try and keep people in employment and remembering that keeping people in employment is not just about JobKeeper, it is actually the industrial relations flexibility arrangements that are around JobKeeper that have enabled employers to keep those people in jobs. But there is also, and I believe this was the point you were making, Katharine, there is the work that we do through JobSeeker and JobSeeker is the place where, if you have lost your job, JobSeeker is the place where you can connect to other employment services. To training opportunities. And last Friday in the National Cabinet, I may have remarked upon that in the press conference. One of the issues I was talking with the states about, and they were raising with me, is how better we can integrate state support services with federal support services and connecting them to these people who have lost jobs and I think that is a great idea and I can tell you we are working on that right now. So that is the immediate. But there is the longer term. As I indicated in my presentation on Monday, we're looking at around two years to get the economy back to where it was before COVID hit it and let's make no mistake about this, this recession is a product of the coronavirus pandemic. Our economy was strengthening, stable and sound. Coronavirus is the reason people have lost their jobs and it will take us, we estimate, around two years to get back just to where we were when it happened and I believe we can, over five years, seek to catch where we were planning to be and that requires the JobMaker plan of reforms to skills, of investments in infrastructure, deregulating our economy, making sure that our energy system and particularly we get the gas for a gas-fired recovery which supports manufacturing, our defence manufacturing, and defence industry policies, all of this are a part of our JobMaker plan. Now, I have already outlined quite a bit on skills and industrial relations, deregulation and infrastructure. I will have more to say about energy, I will have more to say about our manufacturing sector. These are important further bricks in the wall for the Government's plan but what I can tell you is we have got a plan and we are implementing that plan and it is a strong plan. It’s a plan that runs for the next five years and we have demonstrated the ability both to balance the budget and create 1.5 million jobs before and we can do it again.


PRIME MINISTER: I'm dealing with people who have lost their jobs today. I will come to Labor's scandals in a second.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, it was only a matter of a few days ago the Treasury Secretary was saying that unemployment would peak at 8 per cent. Is that overly optimistic now, given Warren Hogan's assessment of it actually being around 11 per cent?

PRIME MINISTER: I will let the Treasurer answer.

TREASURER: We will update the numbers when it comes to the statement on the 23rd. But clearly, the employment market is very, very difficult. And as the Prime Minister laid out, there is a plan to get people back into work but we are also putting in place sector-specific supports, like what we have done in the housing sector which has been really important in getting tradies back into a job. So we will update those unemployment numbers on the 23rd July.

JOURNALIST: Just on youth unemployment, these figures are the worst we have seen in 23 years. You did say you were hoping that young people would be the first to benefit but then you also said it would be about two years before we got to pre-corona levels. Would be time to potentially consider youth-specific employment measures, things like JobPath being expanded, things that could really focus on entry-level...

PRIME MINISTER: Everything is on the table here, everything is on the table here. On Monday, I highlighted the great risk of if you have young people not in a job before they are between 22 and 25 and how that can lead to a lifetime welfare dependency. Now, that is just not a sickening loss to the person themselves and a great waste of human capacity, but the longer-term effects for the nation are just as significant and it's always been my view and I have had a great passion when it comes to getting young people into jobs and that is why, whether it is what we're doing in the workplace relations, in the industrial relations area or the Youth PaTH initiatives or the apprenticeships, I mean, that was one of the first things we did as we went into this crisis is we amped up what we were doing on apprenticeships and Michaelia Cash as Minister particularly in the skills sector, and small business, these are things where we are focusing a lot of our attention on, so you are absolutely right. You know, getting people back into jobs right across the board, and we have got to look at everything we can do.

Yeah, Shane?

JOURNALIST: Treasurer, the participation rate has fallen 3 points in 3 months. It is unparalleled. The last recession it fell by about 1.2 over the entire 3 - 4 year period. Are there people who have lost jobs in the last few months who will never work again?

TREASURER: We believe we can get all people back into a job. But ultimately that number that you say, that participation rate, is the lowest it has been since January 2001. But it is the combination of the supply-side reforms as well as what we are doing in terms of income support on the demand side.

JOURNALIST: It’s been two weeks almost since the Black Lives Matter protest took place,

PRIME MINISTER: I’m happy to go to other issues, okay?

JOURNALIST: Are you receiving any information to suggest that there needs to be a slowing of the easing of the national baseline of restrictions that would impact people's ability to get back to work as a result of that gathering?

PRIME MINISTER: So far the news, despite the fact that we have had a number of people that have tested positive to coronavirus who took part in those mass gatherings, against health advice, so far, thankfully, so good. And at this point I am not aware of any states seeking to ease up on the pace of reopening their economies. But we will keep watching the data and they are taking advice from their chief health officers, as I am from mine.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister obviously nothing is settled until after the review but can you confirm that the government's disposition is that JobSeeker can’t return to $40 a day in September?

PRIME MINISTER: I can confirm that the economic statement will be handed down at the back end of July and that is where we will consider a series of matters that relate to the next step in the government's programme of support to get people back into work and to give them the support they need to get through the crisis.

JOURNALIST: On JobSeeker, are you going to extend further the obligations that people have?

PRIME MINISTER: Again, we will be coming back to all of these issues as part of the considerations that are currently underway.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister for the last two months we have seen the worst falls in the unemployment figures on a monthly basis since the records began back in in 1978 but as of right now though, how many people would be out of work without JobKeeper payments?

PRIME MINISTER: Treasurer? I mean, there are over 3 million people on JobKeeper.

TREASURER: Yeah, there’s over 3 million people currently getting the jobKeeper payment. But what we do know is that some people are not, are working significantly reduced hours or no hours at all but are maintaining that formal connection between their employer and employee. Now some of that is as a result of the restrictions that are in place, particularly the international borders and the airlines and the like. So it’s hard to quantify that at present. What we do know is it is playing a very important role.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister just on that, the underemployment rate, i.e. People who want to work more hours but can’t at the moment, is 13 per cent. As you look forward, how are you going to weigh up trying to get people more hours versus people, getting unemployed people back into jobs?

PRIME MINISTER: This is a very, very important question, John. I mentioned before the importance of the industrial relations arrangements that sit around JobKeeper. Now, businesses are going to have some difficult decisions. And they are going to need flexibility. And that means ensuring that more people can stay in jobs and if we have rigid systems then that could see people needlessly losing their jobs. We are not in usual times. We are not in usual economic circumstances. And I don’t just mean that because of the recession that we are now in. But it is the nature of the recession we are now in. The nature of the recession we are now in is because of a global health pandemic and a series of artificial restrictions that have been placed on the economy that effectively put a glass ceiling on the economy. And as a result, we need to have arrangements, both in the income supports that the government provides but also the arrangements that are available in workplaces that can maximise the number of people that we can keep in real jobs going forward. Real jobs going forward. Where people are actually able to do work and generate income for the businesses by the work they do. And that is very important. And so, you know, John, that is effectively the issue that not only the government needs to wrestle with but employers and unions and employees need to wrestle with and there needs to be more coming together to ensure we can have arrangements that mean more people can stay in their jobs, not just because of JobKeeper, but because there is an actual job and because there is the flexibility to enable people to remain in work. I don't want to see people needlessly lose work as a result of those arrangements and that is why I am asking, and the Minister for Industrial Relations, the Attorney, is also asking and working to try to get the right set of arrangements that can keep more people in jobs. And look, those arrangements, it is hard to say how long they would need to extend for because of the nature of the COVID crisis we find ourselves in, but are going to have to keep doing things that we are not used to doing in the national interest and in the interest of these 838,000 Australians, and I fear more, who will be added to those numbers in the months ahead.

JOURNALIST: Can you get IR reform through the Senate? Do you believe you can get the sort of reform you need? Through that chamber?

PRIME MINISTER: It is a test for all Australians and it’s a test for the Parliament but I can assure you the government will not be failing that test.

Yes, yeah sure, Greg?

JOURNALIST: Anthony Byrne. Andrew Hastie said yesterday it is a matter for you and Anthony Albanese, who serves on the security intelligence committee. Do you have faith in Anthony Byrne as being the deputy chair of that committee, given there were covert recordings out of his office and his phone calls were also recorded?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I would take a recommendation from the Leader of the Opposition as to who the Labor Party would like to have represented on that committee, in the first instance. Let me, you’ve asked your question, I would take a recommendation from the Leader of the Opposition as to who he believes should be serving on that committee in the first instance. And I would wait to see what his recommendation would be. That is the fair and appropriate thing to do, in the way that the Parliament works. The Labor Party nominates who they would have to serve as the deputy chair of the committee. I don't nominate that. That is done by the Leader of the Opposition. So the question is really one to the Leader of the Opposition. But you make reference to these issues. And I note that it is, it is Anthony Byrne who has described this as a corruption investigation. A corruption investigation. That is not what the Liberal Party is calling it, or the Nationals, this is what the Labor Party themselves have defined what is occurring in the Labor Party at the moment. They have defined it as an investigation into corruption and you are right to raise these issues because Australians might be sitting at home and think, Prime Minister what has this got to do with me and my job? I have lost my job, and that is why the priority in questions today has been on that. But there are weighty things that are considered by members of Parliament and the national security agenda of the country is one. And where you are raising questions about a member who, by his own admission, is saying that the events that are being enquired into is a corruption investigation. And whether, and you're asking whether they should serve on a committee of that seriousness. So there is very serious implications. I am disappointed that the Labor Party is focused on themselves and fighting amongst themselves. The Treasurer and I and my government, we’ll keep fighting for jobs.

JOURNALIST: Are you worried there are national security implications?

PRIME MINISTER: The Government will continue to manage Australia’s national security interests with the strength that we have. It is an important committee, though. It is a very important committee which facilitates, on occasion, bipartisanship on important national security issues and it is a very important committee, as indeed all the Parliamentary committees are. It has an important role to play. So it really is a test for Mr Albanese as to whether he believes that Mr Byrne should continue to serve on that committee. I’m leaving it for Mr Albanese to make a judgement and make a recommendation. He may wish to continue with the current arrangements. That’s really a matter for him, I'm not getting into a speculation game. It is a matter for Anthony Albanese to make a judgement on that.

JOURNALIST: On international borders and the pandemic, we have heard it is unlikely for the borders to reopen for tourism this year. Is it likely, though, to open for business travellers and can you give us an indication on how that might work? We’ve got a trial in Canberra that is about to begin for international students, do you welcome that?

PRIME MINISTER: I do, and we are working closely with the ACT Government on that, as we are with the South Australian Government and there are proposals that are coming forward from other states. I'm looking to get our economy as close as back to normal as we possibly can and to push the envelope in every possible area. If that means I have the odd dispute here and there with people I work closely with, I know they don't mind, because we are all trying to achieve the same thing. I will push the boundaries, as I have done for many months now, to get the economy as open as possible and to be as innovative and practical about how we can achieve that while at the same time managing the health issues. So when it comes to facilitating the ability of people to move in and out of Australia who are involved in important employment or work or investment or whether it is students or others, and I've just had some of those issues raised with me by the entertainment industry about tours and promotions and artists and so on. These are very practical issues that go to the reopening of the economy and I can tell you, we are fully immersed in all of these decisions. That is why the Government is working night and day. That is why I am not going to be distracted by the many other things that are there, as important as some of them may be. My job is to get Australians back into jobs. That is my pledge. I've done it before and we will do it again. Thank you.