Press Conference - Australian Parliament House, ACT

10 Nov 2020
Prime Minister

Prime Minister: Over the course of this year, our Government has been providing the leadership and the certainty and stability that Australians have needed in one of the toughest years of their lives. We've acted decisively in relation to the global pandemic and the COVID-19 recession that has followed. We've acted effectively and in a timely way to support Australians as they've confronted the challenges that they've had to face in their own communities, in their own homes, in their own families, in their own workplaces. We have been there each step of the way, each and every day. Whether it's the significant programs like JobKeeper, the doubling of JobSeeker to support Australians through, cash flow support for businesses and the many other measures. While that has provided very important practical support to Australians, in addition the $18.5 billion of extra health investments that we've made to support our hospitals, to support respiratory clinics and testing reagents and the PPE requirements, all of this. What it actually has meant to Australians over these many months is that this Government has had your back in the course of the worst pandemic we've seen in a century and with that assurance they've been able to get through each day. It's been tough, no doubt. And mental health and anxiety and pressures on families, economic and otherwise, have been extraordinary, but knowing that each day the Government would be there and provide the support that was necessary and has not held back, I think, has provided in the feedback that I've received from Australians around the country a peace of mind that has been very important during the course of this crisis and, of course, the challenges continue. 

This is the third successive day now we've had no community transmission in Australia. That's very welcome but it can't be taken for granted and the challenges of the pandemic and the COVID-19 recession don't just end. They remain challenges for some time yet to come and the approach we've taken up until now is the approach we will continue to take. We will be responsive. We will be targeted. We will be proportionate. We will calibrate the supports that are needed when and where they're needed. The first part of that plan has been to cushion the blow and the blow has been great, but the support that has been provided has cushioned that blow, for individuals, for businesses right throughout Australia. But we cannot allow the lifeline that has been extended to also now hold Australia back as we move into the next phases of recovery. We've always been clear that we would move through various phases and we've announced changes to other elements of the supports that have been put in place by the Government. Those cushioning the blow supports were not only important to those individuals, but they bought Australia time. They bought the states and territories time. As states have had to close down their economies, it has been the Federal Government that has underwritten those measures. They would not have been possible were it not for the underwriting of the Federal Government and I know Premiers and Chief Ministers understand that. We took those decisions together. They understood that we were stepping up in the same time as them stepping up to do the things they needed to do. 

But as we go forward, we are seeing confidence return, whether it's on the NAB measures just released today, the ANZ measures showing confidence getting above where it was pre-pandemic or the Westpac figures that were released for last month. Confidence is returning. Australia is safely reopening and it needs to remain safely open. Jobs are returning. Job advertisements have doubled since May on the most recent figures in October and we know that employers are looking for people to come back to work and we need to ensure that we have the right settings in place to support that. 

Today, we are announcing the changes to JobSeeker supplements, the COVID Supplement that we introduced at the start of the pandemic, and we will be extending that supplement for the three months after the end of December. We will be changing the rate of that supplement down to $150 for that period, out to the end of three months, and this will come at a cost to taxpayers of some $3.2 billion over that three month period. Not a small measure, a very important measure, to ensure that that support remains. I was very clear that when we made the changes to JobKeeper, we would make a later decision on JobSeeker, taking into account what was happening in the labour market and we would go through that process. That will need to be legislated before the end of the year, so Cabinet has considered it, it has now gone through our party room this morning and legislation will come to place later this week. And I will ask Minister Ruston to take you through the other details, because many other aspects of the COVID supplement and eligibility arrangements will also be maintained over that three month period. 

But you know we cannot stay stuck in neutral in this country. We have got to keep moving forward, like the emblems on our national crest, the kangaroo and the emu, they only go forward, and that can be the only plan for Australia. That is what we tell the kids when they come here to Parliament House. That is what Australia is all about and our COVID recovery plan is exactly the same. It's about continually going forward, not taking steps back. And today's announcement to gear through the changes in the JobSeeker payment, as we are doing at the same time with JobKeeper, will see more and more Australians, will see more and more businesses graduate from the economic supports that were so essential over these many months. I will ask Anne to go through the further details and we can take questions on that, and I have no doubt on other matters you would like to raise.

Senator the Hon. Anne Ruston, Minister for Families and Social Services: Thank you very much, Prime Minister, and today we're here to announce the extension of temporary measures, as we see our economy gaining confidence and momentum to start to build. So we are making announcements today not only about the increase in, sorry, the extension of the temporary coronavirus supplement payment but also a number of measures that will be extended from the 1st of January through to the 31st of March. These measures also allow more Australians to be able to get access to payment, as we stand side-by-side with Australians who have been hit by the COVID pandemic but we will continue to monitor the economic conditions to make sure that we strike the right balance between providing elevated levels of support for people who need it but at the same time creating incentives for people to re-engage with the workforce. 

The particular measures contained in the extension from the 1stt of January to the 31st of March 2021, as the Prime Minister said, the extension of the coronavirus supplement at a rate of $150 per fortnight. In addition, we will be extending the income free area, which is currently at $300 per fortnight, because we want to encourage Australians to dip their toe back into the jobs market and test their ability to get work, because we know that people who report earnings are twice as likely to actually come off payment in the short term than those that do not report any earnings at all. We will be maintaining the elevated level of the partner taper rate, which means that people whose partners are earning up to $80,000 per year will also still be able to gain access to payment. In addition, the expanded eligibility criteria will cover people who are sole traders, people who are self-employed, those that have been stood down but remain connected to their workplace, people who are in isolation and people who have to care for somebody in isolation. We will also be extending some of the waiting periods to make sure that people have got quick and easy access to payment. 

So, as we go forward and as the jobs market starts to open up and as our economy starts to recover from this extraordinary pandemic, we want to encourage all Australians to re-engage with the workforce. Over recent months we have put in place social security measures to support all Australians through this pandemic, but now our focus has to be on supporting Australians back to work.

Prime Minister: Thank you, Anne. Questions on the announcement today?

Journalist: [Inaudible] a decision on the base rate of JobSeeker at the end of March to coincide with the end of this extension?

Prime Minister: We haven't made a final decision on that, Mark. What we are focused on right now are the emergency measures that need to be in place for the pandemic. There are issues that relate to the question you have raised, they are certainly there but right now what matters is the supports that will continue to be provided at these elevated and temporary levels. That is where we have applied the focus. What we have learned throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and recession is things can change quickly, and we need to be very responsive to the conditions on the ground economically, and otherwise. We are getting a lot of feedback from around the country, and particularly in regional areas, about employers who are just trying to get people to fill jobs. And we know there are many people out there for those jobs and we need to connect them into those jobs. The mutual obligation arrangements have been reintroduced and they will soon again be reintroduced in Victoria as well and an announcement will be made about that at the appropriate time. But I’ve got to tell you those mutual obligation arrangements are also being enforced. There have been close to 260,000 suspensions, and for the 4th August to the 31st of October there have been 242 payment cancellations. So the mutual obligation requirements are there and we are serious about them. But we are also serious about the support we need to provide to Australians, so we will consider those other matters at a later time but right now we are focused on the delivery of the supports that are needed here in the middle of the recession.

Journalist: No decision has been made, does that mean that you could continue the $150 fortnightly supplement indefinitely? And is there recognition that JobSeeker cannot return to the rate of $40 a day?

Prime Minister: My answer is the same as I just gave to Mark. What we are announcing today is what we are doing for three months at a cost of over $3 billion to taxpayers, to extend a higher, an elevated level of support for JobSeeker out until the end of March, that is what we have announced today. I have not speculated on any other questions.

Journalist: [inaudible] Alan Tudge and Christian Porter…

Prime Minister: Before we go on to those other matters, let's stay focused on JobSeeker and the support we’re providing to Australians during the pandemic.

Journalist: But it could be extended beyond March, so which is it?

Prime Minister: What we're doing is what I have announced today. If we make are to make another announcement at another time about other issues, we will do it then. 

Any other questions on JobSeeker, the recession, the pandemic? Yep, John?

Journalist: You are saying we will sort of move forward here, just seen a new president elected, there is good news on the vaccine today. 

Prime Minister: Yeah there is good news.

Journalist: Do you feel we are at some sort of turning point in the last few days?

Prime Minister: I think we are in another, we have been on a turning point and moving forward again now I think for some time, it is still tough for so many Australians. I remember, I was asked in this courtyard a while back when we were talking about national accounts figures and where the economy was, well we will know about that later in this year in December, prior to the mid-year statement with the National Accounts tell us what happened in the September quarter. But that’s what the numbers will say, the lived experience on the ground I know is still very different for many Australians, and that is why we have been clear about extending the support through JobKeeper and JobSeeker, and that is why the JobMaker hiring credit is in the Budget, that is why instant expensing arrangements are there in the Budget and the loss carry backs for COVID losses to support the recovery of the Australian economy, that’s why HomeBuilder is in place, that’s why JobTrainer, which delivers 340,000 additional training places is there, that is why there are 30,000 additional university placements for next year, that is what Australia needs, that is what the government is providing and so, yes I do believe we are well on the road to recovery, the comeback for Australia has certainly begun and we want to see that accelerate. We are seeing Australia reopen. It was great to be down in Tasmania as it reopened to people from New South Wales on Friday and Saturday and I think we will see that continue, National Cabinet is meeting later this week and we will get a further update on our goal of getting there by Christmas, and I think we are making very good progress on that. You mentioned the vaccine, I don't want to overstate it, but that is welcome news, it is one of four vaccines that Australia is involved in and these results are very promising and I am optimistic and hopeful about next year, about the rollout of those vaccine programs as the Health Minister said yesterday in the House, manufacturing has begun of the AstraZeneca vaccine and that is subject of course to TGA approval and all the necessary health checks and approvals. The vaccines that will be made available to Australians will be done so first and foremost on the basis that they are safe. That they are safe for Australians to take, and that is our commitment to Australians and that is our very robust process.

Journalist: Are you concerned about reports from charities and social organisations, ACOSS, for instance, worried about a rise in issues like poverty, like homelessness like people not being able to afford food, based on a lowering of the JobSeeker rate of the coronavirus supplements.

Prime Minister: This is why we are extending it. This is why we are extending JobSeeker, this is why we are extending JobKeeper, this is why we are getting people into jobs. This is why we have a JobMaker hiring credit. This is why we are doing all of the things we can to get Australians into jobs as we see the number of job advertisements and places become available again. We can’t stay stuck in neutral, we do need to move forward and there is other forms of cash and emergency assistance, and Anne, you might want to comment on those, that is available to people through the normal channels. I mean Australia has a strong social safety net. What we did at the start of the crisis was to strengthen that even further for how strong the blow was that we would have to withstand. But as the economy starts to move back and confidence lifts and jobs come back, we can’t allow our safety net to hold people back. We can't have that. That's not good for them. We want them to be able to bounce back and be able to get back into the jobs that are increasingly becoming available, but Anne did you want to talk about emergency cash assistance?

Senator the Hon. Anne Ruston, Minister for Families and Social Services: Certainly. Through the COVID pandemic we put a number of measures in place including the support package that we have provided, a $200 million package that is over and above the support that we give to emergency relief providers and our food relief providers to support Australians who have found themselves through difficult times through this pandemic. But we have to remember, this is in addition to elevated levels of support that were already in place for these measures, including, significant increase in the amount of funding that was provided to victims of domestic violence during this pandemic. In addition to the unprecedented $340 million that is, that sits behind the Fourth Action plan, an additional $150 million has been provided to domestic violence front-line services to support particularly women and children who found themselves victims of domestic violence during this pandemic. So there are a number of measures that are in place in addition to those that are already in place to support Australians.

Journalist: The recent surge of the virus across the northern hemisphere, what is your view on when the international borders might open again and what plans you are putting in place to try and do that?

Prime Minister: It is a topic that we will discuss again on Friday. Not to the point of a decision on that, but I think to further assessment where things are at. We continue to hold these discussions with countries like Japan, we have had them before with Korea, the Pacific nations of course, New Zealand has already been open for travel into Australia without quarantine arrangements, and I welcome the fact that in Hobart those flights will be able to go there directly. So I think we proceed cautiously. There are countries that are doing obviously far better than what we are seeing of course in Europe and the United States. The situation in Europe and the United States is awful and obviously that presents great risks for people coming in from those parts of the world to Australia, but out of many parts of Asia, particularly in North Asia, places like Taiwan and I would also say parts and provinces of China, Singapore, we, you know, are looking at what alternative arrangements could be had to channel visitors through appropriate quarantine arrangements for low risk countries. That is a process that other countries are doing as well. We are open to that but we have not come to a point of decision on that. I mean we are now three days without any community transmission, that is welcome so, the risk going forward for us, with the pandemic is twofold. That we take the success for granted and fall back into old habits and I would say particularly in those states that are reopening now, and I hope will open more in the future like Queensland, is to ensure the COVID safe plans are in place for businesses and particularly hospitality businesses. I haven't finished yet. And they ensure they are practising them and the QR code registration in premises, that all of this is done very, very tightly and that the social distancing practices and the COVID safe behaviours are enshrined and the necessity to wear masks on public transport all of that, if we lose our commitment to that then we put ourselves at risk. The other risk of course is people coming back from overseas and we have Australians who are still coming back from overseas that we are looking to facilitate through both direct flights and lifting the caps to enable them to come back, the quarantine arrangements and then the outbreak management beyond that, is how we continue to manage this this but I am looking forward to a different environment next year Chris, and we assess this at every meeting about what is possible.

Journalist: Will you launch an investigation into the alleged behaviour of Christian Porter and Alan Tudge? And how do you respond to allegations of a culture of misogyny here in Parliament House?

Prime Minister: Well, I think the issues that have been aired in relation to this matter are very important and when the former Prime Minister made the announcement that there was a need to change the ministerial standards to address this, he had no greater supporter in that than me. And I am pleased he did. And I believe that was a very important step in changing a culture. And that culture you will all know, is not restricted to Government or Opposition, to Labor or Liberal, or frankly the media in this building. It is important that everyone should feel safe in their workplace. That everyone should have proper channels through which they can deal with any issue about which they are uncomfortable. I think that is incredibly important. I think the change in ministerial standards introduced by my predecessor were important. I note that at the time that they were mocked including by many media commentators, I note that they were mocked by the Labor Party, I note that the Labor Party has still not embraced them. They have still not adopted them. I think they are very important. And I ensured after becoming Prime Minister that they were maintained and upheld and they will continue to be and I think that is a good thing. I would hope they would be a permanent feature, not just in the workplace, that happens just in my office, or any other Minister's office, but in your office, in legal firms and accounting firms, in hospitals, in schools, in whatever your business is. That should be a normal standard. I think there are many businesses that have moved in that direction for a long time, and that's great, and I am pleased that under my predecessor those standards were applied to his Cabinet and they apply to mine. And I would hope that they would be applied in many other places to provide that safety, whether it is in this building or anywhere else. But I do take this issue extremely seriously. In terms of the individuals who were the subject of the report last night, those matters were addressed by my predecessor at the time, and they relate to issues that predated that ministerial standard and as a result he dealt with them at that time.

Journalist: [Inaudible] anything further in relation to what was aired by Four Corners last night?

Prime Minister: They relate to circumstances that occurred that were known to the Prime Minister at the time, and they were appointed to the Cabinet and the Ministry and those matters were dealt with then.

Journalist: Does it raise any questions for you about Alan Tudge and Christian Porter and their fitness to hold officers as ministers?

Prime Minister: What it raises to me is that there is considerable cost and hurt and we are all accountable for our own behaviour and we apply standards to ourselves, and should. I am not one that seeks to judge others on these things, and I know that many particularly in the media do not think it is their job either to judge on these things. What is important is there are standards and the standards are adhered to and under my administration, under my government, I take that code very seriously and my ministers are in no doubt about what my expectations are of them, absolutely no doubt, about my expectations, and I expect them to be lived up to. But, you know, when you get past all the other issues around this issue, all I know is there are a number of families that have been broken, and there are some people who are really hurting over this. And I know that  the people involved in these issues are working really hard to try and restore what has been terribly lost. And there is no greater thing that breaks my heart than the breakdown of a family. It breaks my heart. And frankly, that's the thing that moves me most and we've all got a job to do to ensure we do everything we can to keep families together and we all have personal responsibilities in that regard.

Journalist: It is the Attorney the right person, is the Attorney-General now the right person to be prosecuting your integrity agenda vis-a-vis the corruption commission and that sort of thing, given this controversy?

Prime Minister: Well, these are matters that were dealt with by the former Prime Minister years ago and so no, I don't hold any issues regarding that matter. I mean, I welcome the great work he has done in pulling this proposal together and working with colleagues. I think that would be quite a leap.

Journalist: Prime Minister, there is clearly a group of women who don’t feel like this matter has been dealt with, which is why we saw the allegations we did, last night. Will you launch any sort of investigation, moving forward, given that these are now Ministers sitting in your Cabinet and have you spoken with either of these Ministers this morning about the allegations or last night?

Prime Minister: I have spoken to both Ministers, I’ve spoken to them, speak to them quite regularly as you would expect including about these matters and in terms of what their conduct is as one of my Ministers, since they have served in my Cabinet, there are no matters before me regarding their conduct while they have served in my Cabinet and indeed I am not aware of any conduct nor was the previous Prime Minister after the introduction of those standards. See, our Government responded by putting in place standards that do not exist in many of your newsrooms. They don't exist. Those sort of standards between employers and employees don’t exist in many workplaces around this country. I tell you what they exist in mine. I have imposed them. They are there and they will be adhered to.

Journalist: Minister Ruston, can I ask you as a woman in the Government your reflections on the culture inside has it gotten better, worse, or no change since the bonk ban era?

Minister Ruston: Well Phil the only thing that I can,

Prime Minister: Sorry, how this ban is referred to I think is quite dismissive of the seriousness of the issue Phil and I would ask media to stop referring to it in that way. We took it very seriously and I think constantly referring to it in that way dismisses the seriousness of this issue, it’s a very serious issue. Thanks, Anne?

Journalist: [Inaudible] What are your impressions? 

Minister Ruston: Well Phil, I can only reflect on my own experience since I have been in this place since 2012, and I have to say that I have always felt wholly supported while I have been here and I particularly note that since becoming a member of the Cabinet and a member of the ERC there is nobody who has provided me more support and shown greater respect towards me as an individual than the Prime Minister.

Journalist: [Inaudible] The code of conduct only refers to the behaviour of Ministers with their own staff. Do you think there is any case for expanding that to the behaviour of Ministers with staff, generally, in the building?

Prime Minister: Well, what it goes to, and when it was introduced by the former Prime Minister, and I had a hand in it as well as we discussed it, is dealing with what happens in your workplace and in all of these offices here. In my office and Ministers' offices there is that direct employer - employee relationship that it is seeking to address. It is not what I’d call some sort of moral policeman or code more broadly, what it is about is dealing with genuine workplace issues in a workplace and in a Minister's office, that is the workplace and this is incredibly important and I think it has had a big impact on the understanding of the culture that is expected in Ministerial offices. And since its introduction, I think it has been a very positive thing and I would hope that those who didn't support it at the time would now support it and I think increasingly that is the case. I thought it was a very wise act by the former Prime Minister, a very wise act and I appreciated it very much.

Journalist: The ABC Managing Director yesterday told a Senate hearing that he had been copied in on emails from Federal Government staff members relating to whether this was in the public interest or not. Why did your government raise concern with the ABC about this story?

Prime Minister: Well I am not familiar with the emails you are referring to but all I can say is as I said yesterday, the ABC has to uphold its charter, and I think that is reasonable. I think that’s totally reasonable. I mean the matters that were aired last night it’s for others to form a perception about whether that was done in a way that focused on one side of politics rather than another I won't offer a commentary other than to say it only focused on one side of politics and if anyone who has had any experience around this place thinks that issues in the past are limited to one side of politics well, honestly, you reckon? You really reckon? And so I think it is an important issue for all of the Parliament and it doesn't matter if you work in a Shadow Minister’s office or a Minister's office, I think the same standard should apply. I know it applies in my Ministers’ offices and I think it should apply in the Opposition as well.

Journalist: [Inaudible] ABC charter, you referred to it yesterday as well because you have twice referred to it what is your belief, do you believe that that story reflected the responsibilities of the ABC under its charter and what are you going to do about it?

Prime Minister: What I found interesting and I expect many viewers did also was the dismissal of the idea that there should have been no investigation into anyone other than Government members, Government Ministers. I mean people in this place will know there have been a lot of allegations over time and I really don't want to go into those to be honest because that is not what I am seeking to do. I think there is a standard we have set that should be upheld. I am not one that’s suggesting that there should be some kind of pouring over the coals of every person in this place going back over many many years, I suspect if they did there would be a lot to write about and there’d be a lot to report, but the suggestion that is implied that there were, there are no matters of this nature that are potentially subject to investigation by an independent report outside of the Liberal Party is absurd.

Journalist: Will you rule out any disciplinary action against Christian Porter and Alan Tudge? 

Prime Minister: Well what are you suggesting? 

Journalist: Are you going to take any disciplinary action against them.

Prime Minister: As Prime Minister they have engaged in no conduct as they have served in my Cabinet that is in breach of the code. I expect them in their behaviour as of all of my Ministers, and myself included, to abide by the code and to live by that code as Ministers, that’s what I expect of them. If there are breaches of that code, that is how you deal with it. I have considered breaches of the code in the past. Not on this matter, I should stress on other matters which you are familiar with.

Journalist: Do you think it passes the pub test? Do you think Australians are looking at Christian Porter and Alan Tudge and think that they should be in the Ministry right now?

Prime Minister: I think Australians understand more about human frailty than perhaps you are giving them credit. You know, family breakdown and individual decisions of people, and there is also no suggestion here of anything unconsensual, I should stress. These things happen in Australia. They happen in people’s lives and people greatly regret them and they do tremendous damage to people’s families and the lives of many others, and I know there would be deep regrets about that. And I think Australians understand human frailty and I think they understand that people who work in this place are just as human as anyone else and are subject to the same vulnerabilities and frailties as anyone. And I think some sensitivity to that, perhaps I have a better opinion of Australians. I think they are far more understanding when it comes to human frailty and their understandings of what happens in their own lives and their own communities. Of course they want standards. That is why the standards are there, that is why the standards were introduced. The action was taken under the former Prime Minister one that I strongly supported and one that I uphold to this day and will continue to in the future.

Thank you all very much.