Press Conference Australian Parliament House, ACT

Transcript
29 Sep 2020
Prime Minister
E&OE

Prime Minister: Good morning, everyone. I'm joined by the Treasurer, before what will be one of the most - if not the most - important Budget since the Second World War. But before we go to the announcements we're making today, today is Police Remembrance Day. There are 798 names on the police memorial. In particular, this year, we remember four officers were Victoria who lost their lives while on duty. Leading Senior Constable Lynette Taylor, Senior Constable Kevin King, Constable Glen Humphris and Constable Joshua Prestney. I think all Australians would be thinking of them today in the context of Police Remembrance Day as our thoughts move toward that issue. Our police, each and every day, face things the rest of us don't. They see things they can't unsee and they carry that with them. They hear stories they can't unhear. And this affects them, not just those who we've lost in the line of duty, but those police officers who carry the burdens of their service through each and every day of their lives. They are an amazing family, the police family, and today we honour them. We respect them. To all of those who have lost colleagues, families who have lost fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, we remember them too, as they think about those who have been lost. And we think about those, in particular, who continue to struggle each day with the cost of their service. So I want to thank them all for that, for their service to their community, first and foremost, to their service to their states and to the service to their nation. 

Today also we pass a milestone that no-one would want to have ever seen passed and that is a million lives lost to COVID-19 around the world. And it is a reminder that we are living in the midst of a global pandemic. This is a pandemic that has been visited upon Australia from outside our shores and is one that has impacted on us greatly. In Australia, 882 lives have been lost to COVID-19, 670 of those in aged care. This is a heavy blow when it comes to the health impacts of the pandemic and it has been a daily challenge to ensure that we remain, as best as we can, ahead of the challenges of this pandemic, and in Australia we have fared better than almost any other country in the world. That is particularly the case when you combine the challenge we have with the COVID recession that has stemmed from the pandemic and our task has always been to manage both the health impacts of the pandemic and the economic impacts of the pandemic. And Australia sits amongst a handful of countries that have been able to limit the economic blow as well as limiting the health blow to our country and that is a great credit to all Australians in what they've been able to achieve and the way that they've demonstrated resilience and, in particular, the people of Victoria and especially the people of Melbourne, who have most significantly undergone the heavy burden of those restrictions in recent months and together they have flattened that curve for Australia once again. I said Australia will not win until Victoria wins and I believe Victoria is now beginning to win and that's good news for all Australians and we thank Victorians for their great sacrifice over these many months to ensure that Australia can move forward together. 

This Budget will be, as I said, one of the most important, if not the most important, since the Second World War because we find ourselves in unprecedented times when it comes to the effect of a global pandemic on a modern, globally interconnected economy. The Budget will confirm once again the strong plan we have for recovery, for economic recovery, from the COVID-19 recession and to build our economy for the future, to continue to cushion the blow, to continue to recover what has been lost, the jobs, the livelihoods, the hours, the incomes, the customers, the clients. But also to take new ground, to emerge stronger, to build our economy for the future. That's what this Budget is about. In these unprecedented times, we have cushioned the blow. The economy burden, Treasury advises us, could have seen 700,000 additional Australians without a job on measured employment in this country, were it not for the blow-cushioning measures that our government undertook - JobKeeper, JobSeeker, cashflow support and the many other measures. And we are recovering what has been lost, although there is still much ground to take. Some 760,000 jobs that were either lost or reduced to zero hours have already come back into our economy and that is great tribute to the resilience of our economy and the Australians who make it work every day. And we are building for the future through the JobMaker plan that I began outlining many months ago. Affordable and reliable energy, particularly for heavy industries and households. Lower emissions into the future. Skills development through the JobTrainer program and the supporting of apprentices in this country. $1.5 billion alone from the Commonwealth, also backed up by the support of the states in the $1 billion JobTrainer fund. Fixing problems in our industrial relations system so we can employ more people. That's what it's about. Unions coming together with employers to find ways that they can work together better to employ more Australians and we grow into a recovery. Record investments in infrastructure through our three grids - a transport grid, a water grid and an energy grid . Making it easier to do business, cutting red tape, streamlining approvals, particularly for major projects, and the reforms to the EPBC Act that we flagged. 

But we need to go further than that and in the Budget we will, particularly in this area of making it easier for people and businesses to do business in this country and that means supporting businesses to thrive in the digital world. And making it easier and safer to deal with government when it comes to the digital economy. This saves time and it saves money and that is good for our economy and it's an important part of the change program we need to see Australia's economy build for the future. So today we outline our JobMaker digital plan to support growth in our economy and to support jobs in our economy, firstly by significant investment, some of which had been noted last week on the NBN and earlier on cybersecurity, together $1.67 billion on cybersecurity and a $4.5 billion further investment in the NBN. In addition to that, accelerating the uptake of 5G technologies across businesses, we’ve invested a further just under $800 million in a range of programs. Infrastructure and a security that can underpin business's engagement in the digital world. Secondly, skills and capability in digital. Digital skills, tools and training support across businesses, drawing on the JobTrainer fund but also in new programs to build business skills to take up the technologies that are there. Australia has arguably the most advanced real-time payments system in the world. That is the digital infrastructure through our new payments platform that enables people to get paid instantaneously. Not seven days, not two days, within seconds. But for that to happen, we need our businesses to be online. We need them to be digital businesses and in recent months we have seen through COVID a rapid acceleration, produced by necessity, of businesses really engaging and upgrading their digital capabilities. What we're announcing today will build on that, will strengthen that and it will accelerate it. And thirdly, it's about gutting the red tape. The red tape of dealing with government and going digital greatly unburdens both individuals, households and businesses in how they deal with government. But we've both got to be on the same page, both government and house-holders and businesses. 

So the announcements we're making today on accelerating our work in the fintech sector, the consumer data right, upgrading regtech which is basically automated regulation compliance, the end of phone books full of forms, where things can be done online and digitally, remembering your previous answers so you don't have to go through and fill out the forms later. Business registers being upgraded, a digital identity that enables people to have a seamless interface with government and e-invoicing, in particular, making that a key part of ensuring that we pay businesses quicker and on time and seeing that uptake by businesses more broadly which means, at the end of the day, small businesses getting paid on time and ahead of time and injecting much-needed cashflow into our economy. So these are the announcements we're making today as part of our digital plan. It sits together with the many others I've outlined in recent months and the Treasurer's outlined over recent weeks as well. These will all be added to in next week's Budget and later this week I'll make further comments on our plans in the manufacturing sector for advanced manufacturing. But it's all about three things - it's about cushioning the blow, it's about recovering what was lost, and it's about building for the future. 

Treasurer.

The Hon. Josh Frydenberg MP, Treasurer: Thank you very much, Prime Minister. Firstly, can I join you in acknowledging the service of Australian men and women who wear the police uniform. Every day, they put their lives on the lines so that our lives can be safer, and those four distinguished police officers who lost their lives in Melbourne included members of a local police station in my electorate and I joined members of the community to go and lay a wreath in their honour. So a very big thank you to every Australian man and woman who serves in our police force. 

As we all know, COVID-19 has changed the world. COVID-19 has changed Australia and COVID-19 has changed the way businesses do business. 9 out of every 10 Australian businesses have used technology to adapt. Indeed, it has been said that we have made five years' worth of gains in advancing the use of technology in this country and around the world in just a matter of eight weeks. Zoom meetings have replaced air travel, telehealth consultations have replaced GP visits and e-commerce, which was already gaining pace, has moved to the next level. Now, the Morrison Government made a number of temporary changes to our regulation through COVID to ensure that businesses could continue to do business and people could continue to stay in jobs, despite the virus. Today we're making an announcement that a number of those changes have become permanent, as well as going further in other areas. 

The distribution electronically of documents will now be much easier to undertake for businesses. We're enabling the execution of documents to now be undertaken digitally and we are also enabling AGMs to be held virtually. For example, last year, Telstra printed and posted 650,000 notice of meetings at a cost of around $1 million. No longer will that be required. We're also moving to e-invoicing by Commonwealth agencies. This is when the supplier and also the buyers' systems are automatically connected and it reduces the cost of an invoice by around two-thirds. And this is really good for small businesses who will be able to be paid a lot quicker. So if you are a fruit and veg supplier to an army barrack, if you are an IT consultant to a government department, by moving to e-invoicing, we will be able to ensure that you get paid a lot faster. 90 per cent of small businesses today still use paper-based invoices and if you take the Commonwealth, together with the states, governments are responsible for around 10 per cent of all business invoices. And this was an issue that I raised with the state treasurers as recently as last week and it is hoped that the Commonwealth, by taking the lead to e-invoicing, will lead to states - and I know New South Wales already has measures under way - other states following the Commonwealth's lead in this respect. 

The other initiative worth mentioning is around the consumer data right. Prime Minister, when were Treasurer, you were promoting and pursuing the electronic exchange of consumer information in a secure and trusted way in order for consumers to get more choice and to get a cheaper product. And we have already implemented the consumer data right through open banking, as it applies to credit cards today, but we're also extending it to mortgages and personal loans by the end of this year. What this means is if you have a $250,000 mortgage on your home and you're a trusted customer of a bank, long-standing customer, you may be paying $1,000 too much for the variable interest on your loan compared to the best market offer that is otherwise available. And we're extending the consumer data right also to the energy sector and why is this important? Because, again, if you are on an established paying system in one state, you may be paying $400 more for a medium set of energy supplies than you otherwise could get if you got the best median market offer, if you got the best market offer available. 

Finally, we should all see digital transformation as an opportunity, not as a threat. We want existing Australian businesses to transform by using the digital opportunities available to them. We want new businesses in Australia to be born digital and, in doing so, we will help Australian consumers and Australian businesses alike.

Journalist: Prime Minister, in relation to the hotel inquiry that’s been going on in Melbourne, obviously on March 27, you stood in this courtyard and announced that program. You gave the states a very short period of time to get it up and running. The consequences of that short period of time have been discussed during the hearings. That put a great deal of pressure on the state public servants. So I have a couple of questions. Do you take any responsibility for the consequences of those time pressures? Should they have been allowed more time? Do you accept the suggestion of counsel assisting the inquiry that while the offer of the ADF was made that it doesn't necessarily need to have been taken up and no findings should be found against the Victorian Government as a result of that? And given there are no concerns that some of those people may have been held unlawfully, should National Cabinet consider some sort of hybrid model where you basically have a triage system, check out whether people should be kept in hotel quarantine and let them go to their own homes?

Prime Minister: First of all, I remember the National Cabinet meeting very well. It was actually the states and territories that were most urgent in moving forward and they made the recommendation to move so quickly to establish hotel quarantine and we supported that. That was a, quite a lengthy discussion and the states were very keen to move forward and get this in place so that was a genuine decision taken by National Cabinet and at the initiation of the states and territories to actually move as quickly as they did. I welcomed the fact that they were so keen to move so quickly and to get those quarantine arrangements in place. In all other states and territories, I think the experience has been quite different to Victoria, and that is a great shame in Victoria. But, you know, that is what has occurred and that's all plain for people to see. In relation to the second question, well, the offer was made for the ADF to be available. It was taken up by most states, not by some, and that was a decision for the states and territories, so how best that was to be done was a matter for those states and territories to determine and so I will leave it to the inquiry to make their own recommendations. 

Thirdly, in relation to issues of home quarantine - which is largely I think what you're referring to - if we recall back in sort of February and March of this year, that's how it was working, we were having home quarantine and I've got to say particularly amongst the Chinese Australian community, where the risk was greatest, where people were returning from mainland China and even Wuhan at one point, that home quarantine was followed incredibly assiduously by our Chinese-Australian community and that, as I've said on many occasions proved absolutely vital in Australia's success in managing the impact of that first wave. Now, I think home quarantine can play a role in the future and it's something that is being considered by the AHPPC and particularly as we sort of move beyond the phase we're in now and we do look to see, to have others, our borders open up at some point to safe locations whether it be New Zealand or parts of the Pacific or places like South Korea or Japan or countries that have had, I think, a much, high rate of success, then there are opportunities to look at those alternative methods, a triaging if you like. And many countries do this. I mean Denmark operates on a traffic light system which goes along those sorts of lines. In Greece, they have an algorithm which triages people based on where they've come from and where they've been and that quantifies the risk. Because at the end of the day, the answer to your question is really about how you're going to manage risk and how you're going to identify it and then apply the right solution to the risk that presents and I think as time goes on, we will need a more flexible approach that gives us more options for managing this, so I think that is something that is under active consideration, when it comes in, well that will obviously be determined principally by the health advice that can provide a green light to those sorts of options again but I'm hopeful it's something we can move to.

Journalist: A question about what's going on on the waterfront at the moment with the go-slow action in response to seeking a pay rise and some other conditions, the... Sorry, the Industrial Relations Minister yesterday floated the prospect of some sort of intervention. How serious is the Federal Government on that? And what would you be looking at?

Prime Minister: Well, I'm very serious. There are 40 ships, and I'm told there's some 90,000 containers out there. That includes medical supplies. I mean we cannot have the militant end of the union movement effectively engaging in a campaign of extortion against the Australian people in the middle of a COVID-19 recession. I mean this is just extraordinary, appalling behaviour. And they as much as admitted it on morning television this morning, with what they claim are ambit claims. That is just straight-out extortion. It is reprehensible. Now, as I made some remarks on Saturday when I was in Adelaide, I thanked the union movement, I thank the ACTU. I thank Sally McManus for the way that she has brought the union movement to sit down as part of this, I think, good-faith process that the Attorney is leading and I find what's happening with the MUA in Port Botany so at odds with that good-faith spirit. I would think that the union movement would want to distance itself from that behaviour as much as certainly the government does in condemning it. This is certainly - whether it's ever a time for extortionate demands, I would never say there's never such a time but certainly not when Australians are doing it so tough. I mean it is just absolutely galling. Now, the specific measures the government may undertake, well, I'll keep that to the counsel of the Attorney at this point, but I want to assure Australians that we don't take this lightly. It's not on, and we will take what steps are necessary to ensure that this can be brought, I think, to a more meaningful and swift conclusion.

Journalist: Prime Minister yesterday at the hotel quarantine inquiry, counsel assisting said that three departmental secretaries had failed to brief their ministers about major developments relating to the program, giving serious questions to whether the Westminster system had, of ultimate ministerial accountability, had been unsettled. Do you have confidence in the Victorian bureaucracy's response to the pandemic?

Prime Minister: That's really a question to the Premier. I mean I'm responsible for many things but I'm not responsible for the State Government of Victoria. That's a matter for the Premier and he's initiated an inquiry into this, given the seriousness of the matter and that report has not yet been brought down. I note that there's been counsel assisting who have made comments but the final report will come down and I'm sure the Premier will address that in due course.

Michelle?

Journalist: A theme through a number of your recent announcements has been deregulation and the need to free up things from controls. I'm wondering whether you are really confident that this, in the end, won't be counter-productive in some cases. I'm thinking particularly of your announcement on credit the other day, which it does seem could lead to some people in the end being worse off, undertaking obligations that they really can't afford.

Treasurer: We had no less authority than the Governor of the Reserve Bank, Michelle, talk about how the responsible lending laws had led to a risk aversion when it came to lending and - 

Journalist: I'm talking about the banks, though, not the consumers.

Treasurer: This is all about the consumer. This is all about increasing access to credit for the consumer, be it for a credit card, be it for a home loan and I note that industries such as the motor vehicle industry, the housing industry and others have strongly welcomed this proposal from the government. We already have APRA as the prudential regulator with a lending standard, which will continue as it applies to the banks. And it requires the banks to verify the income of the customer and their ability to pay. But what has happened over the last decade is that these regulations, which started as principle based have become overly prescriptive, costly and complex. It's leading to delays in loans being made available. It's leading to loans not being available as they otherwise should, as the risk aversion on the part of the banks cuts in. So what we're seeking to do here is to boost Australia's economic recovery by reducing unnecessary red tape, by encouraging and facilitating lending as appropriate but, of course, with the necessary consumer protections in place.

Journalist: Prime Minister - thank you, Prime Minister - childcare for…

Prime Minister: You've had your hand up for 20 minutes. I thought I'd give you a break.

Journalist: Freezes on childcare fees were lifted in every state but Victoria yesterday. Given what we know about how families are doing it tough, what's your message to centres? And is it correct that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is looking at policy options for childcare?

Prime Minister: Well, a couple of points. For everywhere other than Victoria, the situation is quite different, and the Treasurer may want to comment on this particularly, what we are seeing around the country is Australia's economy recover. Now, there's still a long way to go but when you look at the most recent job numbers that we've seen nationally and on the measured employment alone, more than 400,000 jobs have come back, more than 400,000. Now, it was even more than that around the country when you take out the impact in Victoria, which saw the number of jobs go down. So we are seeing many of the other- all the other states and territories get themselves back into a much stronger position. We always said that our supports would be temporary, that they would be targeted and that they would be proportionate and we can't stay stuck in the same gear when it comes to our response to the COVID-19 recession. We've got to keep moving forward. We need to keep leaning into the next step to see our economy strengthen and not have it held back by keeping support measures in place for too long. So what we want to see is the economies continue to restore and as the economies continue to restore, then households' budgets will be further strengthened, the job prospects will be further strengthened. Businesses and incomes will be further strengthened and that will enable Australians from all around the country to get back to as close to a COVID-normal position as is possible. So where there have been measures in the past, there does come a time for them to move on. Where there are particularly difficult situations, like the situation in Victoria, then we've shown the flexibility and I think the common sense to make exceptions and arrangements in those cases. But in other cases where we're moving ahead and in Western Australia, for example, the Premier will tell you, I'm sure proudly, that Western Australia, which is looking at even having a Budget surplus this year, the idea of maintaining many of those sorts of support in that environment, I think, would be quite counter-intuitive. So it is important we keep moving on and not stay stuck in the same gear when it comes to economic recovery. 

But Josh?

The Hon. Josh Frydenberg MP, Treasurer: Thank you, Prime Minister. The Australian economy is operating at two speeds. There's Victoria and then there's the rest. Outside of Victoria, the jobs have come back, as the Prime Minister said. 458,000 jobs in the last three months, 60 per cent of which went to women and 40 per cent of which went to young people. And in the most recent job numbers, we saw 42,000 jobs being lost in Victoria, whereas jobs were created in the other states. We saw the unemployment rate fall from 7.5 per cent to 6.8 per cent, the single biggest drop from more than 30 years. This is why it's so important to get the virus under control and then restrictions can be eased and that's why the Prime Minister, myself, the Health Minister, have been calling for the easing of restrictions in Victoria, in a COVID-safe way, so people can get back to work. Because, as Treasury as estimated, some 60 per cent of the people who will be on JobKeeper in both the December and March quarters will come from Victoria.

Journalist: Prime Minister, in 1949, the Labor Prime Minister Ben Chifley sent the troops into the coal mines to break a strike. Given that Australia is in a national emergency, would you consider something similar on the docks?

Prime Minister: Well, I'm not going to pre-empt any of those sorts of things. We're still at a stage where I think that sort of thing would hopefully be unnecessary and that it would never come to something like that. My simple message today is to get it sorted and stop the extortion and to think 

of your fellow Australians and get back to work.

Journalist: On the waterfront, the MUA said that they offered to get medicine off the ships but were rebuffed by Patricks. What more could they have done? And why should they give up the right to take industrial action when politicians are still getting pay rises?

Prime Minister: Well, they're not.

Journalist: Politicians aren’t still getting pay rises.

Prime Minister: No, they're not.

Journalist: Not in federal or state government?

Journalist: Not in federal government, no. So, we’re not.

Journalist: Why shouldn't they be able to take lawful industrial action, though?

Prime Minister: We're in the middle of a COVID recession and there are supplies on ships that need to come ashore. It's extortion and I won't put up with it.

Journalist: Prime Minister, you talked about the need to build and you’ve talked previously about the importance of infrastructure into the future. Do you agree that with the Western Sydney Airport, do you agree with your Deputy Prime Minister that $30 million was a bargain for that piece of land?

Prime Minister: Look, I agree with the Auditor's report. And these events are not things I'm happy about. There are clear lessons that need to be learned within the Department and they will be. And there is a review going on presently within the Department and I understand why Australians would feel very disappointed in that. I'm also disappointed in it and I don't think it's something that I would ever like to see repeated and I know the Minister at the time feels equally disappointed about that. I agree with the Deputy Prime Minister that the Western Sydney Airport is going to be one of, if not the biggest game-changer we've seen in infrastructure in the Sydney basin in a very, very, very long time. I agree wholeheartedly with him on that. It's an absolute jobs machine, the Western Sydney Lady Nancy Bird Walton International Airport and the logistics hub and technology hub that will continue to be built around that with the rail supports. This is a megalithic project for Western Sydney and for Sydney more broadly and the country. So the Deputy Prime Minister and I are completely on the same page when it comes to that. But when it comes to the processes that led to that decision, I'm not happy about it. The officials understand that. This happened some years ago, as you'd appreciate. Now that it's come to light and it’s been brought to our attention, we'll be ensuring it doesn’t happen again.

Journalist: Back on the waterfront, Prime Minister, if Patrick were to form a rival workforce, would you support such a move?

Prime Minister: I'm not getting into hypotheticals about how this is going to  be resolved. I think I've made the point fairly clearly and I'm imploring that there be a lawful resolution to this situation, because I cannot have Australians who need what's on those ships being held on those ships, 40 of them out there. You can go down to Port Botany or down to Kurnell and have a look out there and you can see them lining up and every single one of them lining up is being held back from Australians getting what they need in the middle of a recession. So whatever differences that people have on the waterfront about this, I would ask them to put it aside, think of the national interest and get back to work.

Journalist: Prime Minister, you've made two observations today - that jobs are coming back in the economy in some places but people are still doing it tough. A lot of those families who are doing it tough are on the edge and with JobKeeper and JobSeeker now tapering off, a few hundred dollars could be the difference between meeting the mortgage or meeting a rent repayment and literally living rough for a lot of these families. So there's been speculation about maybe a supplement for pensioners in this Budget coming up. Will you give something for those families who are on the edge of being thrown out of their homes, looking at a very bleak Christmas, in this Budget, in some form of supplement payment or support?

Prime Minister: The Budget will be next week so I’m not going to make further announcements about what we're putting in the Budget for next week and the Treasurer will do that at that time. Let me give you a scenario here. Someone who is receiving JobKeeper at a rate of now $1,200 per fortnight may also be eligible for a part payment for JobSeeker of $276 per fortnight, which includes the coronavirus supplement, bringing their total taxpayer-funded income back to $1,476 per fortnight. Now, my point is that JobKeeper and JobSeeker work together to provide essential income supports and it was the same analysis we did when we looked at the less than 20 hours and the more than 20 hours. If people are working less than 20 hours, and they’re on $750, which I remind people is paid to the business and the business then pays the employee. Now, that business is not restricted to paying that employee $1,200. In fact, what we are seeing when I talk about 760,000 jobs coming back in, that's not just the more than 400,000 that have come back in terms of measured employment, that is about 300,000 or thereabouts of jobs that were reduced to zero hours. So those people would have been on JobKeeper. Now, those JobKeeper recipients are now getting more hours, so their actual incomes will be being supplemented by their employer, not just the taxpayer. That's a good change. And so yes, JobKeeper is transitioning, as is JobSeeker, but equally there are more jobs coming back into the economy and more hours coming back into the economy so people's incomes, increasingly, will be supported by their jobs, not just by the taxpayer, particularly when it comes to JobKeeper as a payment. And JobSeeker is there to support and buttress what is otherwise happening with their income supports and so the two will work together and you will see people being able to get further income support where they're in the sorts of situations that you're talking about.

Journalist: Prime Minister, 11 days ago, you flagged that you wanted to see a national network of contact tracing systems right across the country. How long do you expect that to take to be set up? And can I ask both you of you, given what you said in your statement on Sunday and where Victoria's cases are at now, with an average of eight a day over seven days, do you have faith in Victoria's contact-tracing system so that restrictions could be eased now or in the next couple of weeks?

Prime Minister: Well, a couple of points. Dr Finkel is leading that taskforce that I announced after the last meeting of National Cabinet. That's already under way. He's in Canberra now and leading a team drawing from a whole range of different disciplines to start - it already has started - the work of pulling together that digital overlay that can connect the contact-tracing systems between the states and territories. One of the reasons that's so important is because it enables your contact tracing resources in other states and territories to swarm onto particular problems. That was one of the challenges we had when Victoria hit their second wave. While there were plenty willing and able to assist the systems, and the system in Victoria at the time when it first hit is very different from what it is now. In large part, there were paper-based systems in Victoria at that time. That has radically transformed since that time and I would say - and I commend the Premier on this - that it is now going beyond that with the modernisation they're applying to bring the system up to what I would call the New South Wales gold standard and now they're looking at further improvements beyond that system. Now, they've come a long way in a very short period of time and the key to being able to open up your economy, as New South Wales has demonstrated, day after day, week after week, month after month, has been about the capacity of your contact tracing system and your testing regime. Those two combined with outbreak management, maintaining COVID-safe behaviours, that's how you keep your economy open. That's how you live with the virus, not have the virus tell you how to live. And so it is very important that that work continue and it builds. Now, you make the point where is it now? Well, I made the point on the weekend with the Treasurer and the Minister for Health that Victoria now is at a similar state when it comes to the number of cases that New South Wales has been at over recent months and New South Wales has a very different level of restrictions. Now, they are matters at the end of the day that are for the decision of the Victorian Government and, of course, the Victorian Government and the Premier does take responsibility for the decisions they make about restrictions and the path that they're on. Obviously, as a Federal Government, we have sought to work with them to highlight areas where we think we could move more quickly but we do that behind the scenes, working in good faith with the Victorian government. Do not take an absence of commentary from this platform as an absence of engagement between officials or otherwise. And that's a good thing. That's how it should work. I don't intend to have those discussions in a public setting. We want to support the Victorian government to move forward as safely and quickly as they possibly can. Ultimately, the calls that are made, I respect are made by the Victorian Premier and the Victorian government and, of course, the implications of that also rest with that government.

The Hon. Josh Frydenberg MP, Treasurer: As the Treasurer, I'm very focused on businesses reopening and people getting back to work. But as a Victorian parent, I'm also very focused on my children and other people's children getting back to school. I note that that timetable has been accelerated for some of the year levels but I cannot see why all students can't get back to school in Victoria now. Not just for their educational development, because so many of those students have lost nearly a year of study, not just for their educational development in the classroom, but for their wellbeing. I've read letters from well-regarded doctors and GPs, open letters to the Premier of Victoria, and they speak of the mental health state of young people in Victoria as a result of the lockdown. And the number of cases they are seeing through their doors skyrocketing, providing antidepressants to kids as young as 12 and 13 as a result of this lockdown. So I say to the Premier, follow the medical advice but please get Victorian children back to school at all levels.

Journalist: The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission published data showing it had barely got to a quarter of aged care homes in April and June for non-site visits, so done remotely. How can Australians have confidence that the regulator has effectively been toothless throughout the pandemic? Will the Government consider beefing up its powers, not just with resources, but empowering it to go into aged care homes more often and do more site examinations in and also the Aged Care Royal Commission is due to hand its COVID report to you tomorrow, will you commit to making that public as soon as possible?

Prime Minister: Well, we'll wait for the Royal Commission to come down. It's a Royal Commission. It will make its report. It will make its report. We've invested around $1.5 billion in boosting our support for aged care. In aged care, this has been the area where Australians have been most vulnerable. That's the case all around the world. So it's not surprising that what you've seen is as the case numbers steadily increased in Victoria, with the second wave that has flowed because of the community outbreak, which was obvious to all, those numbers also rose in aged care. Now, as the number of cases in the community have fallen in Victoria, so have the numbers of cases in Victorian aged care. There has always been a direct link between what has been happening in the community with what has been happening in aged care facilities and predominantly, the aged care facilities within Melbourne are not publicly run facilities. They're privately run, or not-for-profit-run facilities. So obviously, where the community outbreak has been greatest, that's where it is going to affect those centres and that's why we've seen predominantly what we have seen. There will be many lessons to be taken out of what has occurred during the COVID period. Many lessons have already been taken in how we would respond in other states and territories and they've been discussed candidly at National Cabinet and the Aged Care Response Centre, which continues to operate successfully in Victoria as a crisis response. That has been formalised to a level that would enable it to be stood up very quickly in other states and territories. I note there's been a call that it should already be stood up in other states and territories. Those states and territories are adamant that they do not want such a centre stood-up in other states and territories, that this needs to be done in partnership. They believe the arrangements that exist in other states and territories are satisfactory for the current threat and risk that presents. But, should that change, then both the Commonwealth and the State where a situation may arise can move immediately to put those things in place.

Rosie, and then I’ll go to,

Journalist: Farmers are crying out for thousands of workers to pick Australia’s fruit and vegetable, particularly with harvest around the corner and Christmas, what will you do to encourage more Australians into the regions, when will you announce that package because we haven’t seen it yet? Are you open to expanding the seasonal and Pacific workforce programmes as well?

Prime Minister: The answer is yes and soon. 

Yes?

Journalist: The Public Service Commission has decreed that all 250,000 public servants should return to work, if it’s safe to do so. Obviously you agree with that,

Prime Minister: I do, as Minister for Public Service in particular.

Journalist: I assume you might have a message for corporate Australia about whether or not they should see their staff return to the usual workplace? And can I just ask, in your deliberations on the Budget coming up, did you have a concern that some extra boost for aggregate demand might actually not work? That it might take a bit for effort to flow into the economy?

Prime Minister: You might want to unpack that last bit, I mean of course we’re only going to consider things that we think is going to work.

Journalist: Well just in terms of spending, it might actually not get your bang for buck because people might have to save it or indeed they might not be able to spend it because of businesses being restricted.

Prime Minister: Obviously with every measure we’ve undertaken, and particularly since the COVID crisis hit, it has always been one of our assessments - temporary, targeted, proportionate. Targeted means, it’s going to go somewhere where it works and has the best effect. That has been one of our principles the entire time. When we went into this crisis, we thought it was really important to set out what the principles would be and indeed I did that at the AFR Summit back in March, where we were very clear about what the rules were for framing the economic measures that we would introduce and we have held fast to all of those, and we will continue to hold fast to all of those, so I think that probably answers your question. Of course, of course we would consider the effectiveness, that is the point with every single measure and aggregate demand measures are important in this recovery phase. Very important in this recovery phase. As the tide has gone out on so much other investment or activity, then it is an essential response in these unprecedented times that we would have a Budget like the one you’re going to see next week. How do we respond and claw back from that position and that Budget? By growing our economy. That’s how you do it. You don’t do it by putting up taxes, you don’t do it by risking essential services that Australians rely on, you do it by growing your economy. And that’s why today’s announcement along with the so many others we’ve made, whether it’s on insolvency reform, or credit reform, or whether it has been on the JobTrainer fund, or affordable, reliable energy with lower emissions, all of this is designed to grow your economy. Now when you grow your economy, you can build your revenues again. And that’s how Australia comes back from the Budget that we will have to announce next week, and the measures that we are putting in place are designed to achieve those ends. I mean today, we’ve announced reforms that are effectively upgrading the circuit board of our economy with this Digital Plan. That’s what it’s about today, making the arteries if you like, of our economy to borrow on another analogy, to be able to be cleared and able to ensure a much more healthier economy for Ausrtalians.

Now on your other point, and I’ll address your other two points, on the issue of the public service, of course I support that measure, and it is important whether it’s here in the ACT or in Sydney, or in Brisbane or Perth or anywhere else, where the health advice enables it, obviously VIctoria is still in a different position right now, for public servants to be back in their offices, buying their lunch at the local cafe, and doing all of those things which support particularly those CBD economies. And it’s a matter that I’ll continue to pursue, I think very positively with the other state, with the state Premiers and Chief Ministers who I know will also, I'm sure, wanting to be seeing their own CBD’s revitalised. And when I say CBD, I’m not just talking about the Sydney CBD in NSW, I’m talking about Parramatta, I’m talking about Liverpool, I’m talking about Sutherland, I’m talking about all of these places, and Hurstville, and the many other similar suburban CBD’s that are around the country, Box Hill and the like. So it’s important that I think we get people back into their offices in a safe way, I think people have learned an enormous amount over the last 6 months about how to do that in a COVIDSafe way, and it’s time to get our CBD’s humming again. And I think the Commonwealth Public Service taking the lead in that regard is a good thing and we’ll seek the encouragement of other state public services and I know the NSW Premier, sorry Treasurer Dominic Perrotet has made similar comments. In relation to business, I would encourage them to do the same thing. For example, if your head office is in Melbourne, that doesn't mean that your office in Perth should be operating on the same COVIDSafe plan to the one in Melbourne. And I know that's a point that the Western Australian Premier has made on a number of occasions. We also have large multinational companies that are running their COVIDSafe arrangements based on what’s happening in Paris or New York or in London. And those rules are probably very appropriate in all of those places. But they don’t make much sense in Adelaide. So I think it is important that we always have customised home-grown COVIDSafe plans here in Australia, targeted to the locality because that is the best way to get our economy opening up again because an economy opening up again safely means jobs, it means livelihoods, it means incomes, and it means that we will recover and we will grow.

Thanks very much.