Press Conference - Australian Parliament House, ACT

Transcript
03 Aug 2020
Prime Minister
E&OE

PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon everyone, I am joined by Professor Kelly who will be speaking of the ongoing work that has been done by the medical expert panel, the AHPPC, on the scale and the terribly devastating situation in Victoria. This has been another heartbreaking day for Victorians, which means it’s a heartbreaking day for all Australians. I know that across Victoria, many today, frankly, would have reached breaking point trying to come to terms with what has happened in their state, what it means for them, what it means for their family, what it means for their businesses. They've worked so hard for their jobs, for their livelihoods, for the care of their children and their education. It's heartbreaking. This pandemic, this virus, is taking a heavy toll. And now is the time, as it has been throughout this pandemic, that we continue to provide support to one and other, that we look out for each other, we offer an elbow of support. I wish it was a hug, but we know that's not going to help. But that offer of support being there for each other at this time is incredibly important. If you've got friends in Victoria, call them. Cheer them up. Encourage them. Let them know you're there for them if you're in a state in a much better situation which, thankfully, all other states and territories are. Offer whatever support you can. We've asked so much of Australians over these many months and we've asked even more of Victorians. And now we're asking, through the Victorian Premier, even more. We know that we have to help them push through because Australia's future depends on these weeks and months ahead. 

So today, I'm here to do nothing more than encourage people. You've heard what the announcements are from the Victorian Premier. You've heard what the additional restrictions are that the Victorian government has decided to put in place with the additional workforce measures that have been announced today. And I expect there will be some frustration and some further clarity that will be needed to be provided in the days ahead on the list that have been provided by the Victorian government today. And we will need to work through that together, the Commonwealth government, similarly, we'll have to do that on important issues like childcare and the like, and we're doing that right now. But, right now, here, today, it is a matter of just helping each other absorb what is another devastating blow. 

As we work to come to terms with how we respond to the list which has been provided today, and I do want to thank Premier Andrews over the weekend, in particular, there's been a lot of consultation that's been going on as our agencies and departments, particularly the economic departments, the industry departments and so on, Prime Minister and Cabinet have been working with the Victorian government to provide our input as to where they went to from here. The Victorian government has considered all that and sent out the list that they have today. But we will need some further clarity on a number of matters and I'm sure that will be forthcoming. The Commonwealth Government has been providing considerable support to Victoria, as the Treasurer said this morning, some $14 billion of support already there. The additional mental health support advised by the Health Minister yesterday is particularly important at this time. 

The JobKeeper program, the JobSeeker program, is all there and available now. Businesses affected by today's announcements that previously may not have been on JobKeeper can apply now, based on the prospective impact of these announcements on their business in the months ahead. They can apply for JobKeeper now. People can apply who are affected, potentially, by loss of employment, can apply for JobSeeker now. And those payments run at their current level, as you know, out until the end of September, which is beyond even the period of restrictions that the Premier has announced and that will continue. Mutual obligation arrangements for JobSeeker for Victoria have been suspended in the way that they have been done previously to ensure that people can continue to access those payments.

Now, last week, I indicated to you that we were working on a plan and consulting and discussing these issues of pandemic leave and we've been able to come to a conclusion on that today, which I was awaiting the Premier's press conference before announcing. And so, for that reason, that explains the lateness of the hour as to why we're here making those announcements this afternoon. What we will be doing is establishing a pandemic leave disaster payment. Earlier this year, when we were confronting the bushfires, we made a number of additional disaster payments, particularly for children and families affected by bushfires. What we're dealing with here is a disaster and we need to respond on the basis of the way we provide support in the midst of disasters. This pandemic is a disaster and we need a disaster payment when it comes for people who have to isolate for a period of 14 days through no fault of their own, regardless of what job they're in or employment they're in. They need that support. Those who are already receiving JobSeeker, they are already getting income support. Those who are already getting JobKeeper, they are already receiving income support if they're in those circumstances. So what we'll be putting in place is for those who have no more sick leave available to them, that they will be eligible for a $1,500 payment for the fortnight. That payment will be modelled on exactly the same set of criteria that the Victorian government has put in place, those payments will be principally made to those on short-term visas, so those who are not permanent residents or citizens of Australia who otherwise wouldn't have accessed Commonwealth payments, the Victorian government will continue to provide that support, we will make sure that everyone else who finds themselves in this situation and they don't have that leave available to them through their sick leave because it's been exhausted will get a $1,500 payment for that fortnight. That payment will be made in the same way that Disaster Recovery Payments are made. People would only need to ring the number 180-22-66, I'm advised from Wednesday, and will be able to update that between now and then if there are any changes to that time frame and they'll be able to make applications over the phone, which they can do for other disaster-type payments, and that should be turned around fairly quickly. That means that those who need to self-isolate as a result of an instruction by a public health officer, there is no economic reason for you to go to work. We are also encouraging the Victorian government to ensure that there are appropriate penalties in place for those who do break those public health notices and they're told to self-isolate and do go to work. They're putting their workmates at risk. They're putting their employer's business at risk. They're putting the broader health at risk. 

But today is not the day for those types of instructions. Today is a day for letting Victorians know that we are there to support you. And we will be there to support you with a $1,500 payment in the same way that others receive JobKeeper that, if you're put in that situation, you can have that support for that two week period. So that has gone through the Expenditure Review Committee of Cabinet today after formulating this proposal over recent days and we're very pleased to be able to do that. The cost for this, obviously, will be shared on the basis that it is currently being done between payments by the Commonwealth and the state. The state will be proposing, and I've already discussed this with the Premier, will continue to pick up the costs for those who are short-term visa holders, and the Commonwealth will pick up the costs for Australian residents and citizens as a result of this payment. People can actually access the payment multiple times if, unfortunately, they're in a position where they have to self-isolate as a direct requirement on multiple times and hopefully, that won't be too often, and hopefully people will only have to go through that on the single occasion but we know that isn't always the case.

So that's where we got to today. Before I hand you over to Professor Kelly, I just want to assure Victorians, again, that I know it's a really tough day for you and I know you've had some really heartbreaking news. The idea that, in this country, we'd be living at a time where there would be a night curfew on an entire city of the size of Melbourne was unthinkable. But, frankly, as we've moved through this pandemic, we've had to deal with a lot of unthinkable things. But I'll tell you what - we will deal with it. Victorians, I know, are up to it. I know they will support each other. And I know that other Australians will support Victorians. I just want all Victorians to know that, here, your Australian Government will continue to stand with you with all the support we can provide because you will get through this and we will get through it together once again. 

Thank you, Professor Kelly.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, ACTING CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Thank you, Prime Minister. This pandemic continues to reverberate around the world, not only here in Australia and not only in Victoria, but particularly today, our hearts are with our Victorian families, friends and colleagues. So globally, almost 18 million cases now, close to 700,000 deaths. This is a huge, huge thing in terms of a health disaster or health emergency. Here in Australia, 18,318 cases now, including, sadly, 221 deaths. So, 444 new cases since yesterday and 13 deaths, most of those related to aged care. We continue to have, therefore, almost 7,000 active cases, most of those, almost all of those, are in Melbourne, and other parts of Victoria - mostly in Melbourne - and a growing number of unlinked cases. So these ones that we can't make clear connections to known clusters or outbreaks. These are the reasons why these new restrictions have been announced today. I can say that I had a very good and fruitful conversation with my colleague, Professor Sutton, on Friday night, together with Professor Murphy and also Professor Alan Cheng from Victoria, the Deputy Chief Health Officer down there. In that conversation, they laid out exactly what they were seeing from the first three weeks of the lockdown in Melbourne and considering what we knew from the modelling, particularly that R effective number that we've talked about many times before. That’s hovering around about 1. It shows that Stage 3 lockdowns have been effective to a point but, if we were to continue in the way we're continuing in Melbourne at the moment, those large numbers we're seeing at the moment would continue. On average, every person that has the infection infecting one other person. Because that would mean that this would prolong those Stage 3 lockdowns, it would prolong the issues of large numbers of cases and what we're seeing there in terms of unacceptable illness and even deaths, as well as the seeding into other jurisdictions and the rural areas of Victoria, there was a need to do something else. 

And so what was announced today was very proportionate and based on the general principle that the virus does not move by itself. It moves with people. So if you decrease the movement around a city like Melbourne, you will get on top of this virus spread. Decreasing that mixing of people and that close interaction, that is the way we stop the spread, we flatten that curve by decreasing that R effective number. And I'm really convinced that this will happen. It will take time. These things always take about two weeks or so, sometimes longer, to show that they are effective. But this will be effective. And so it has to be, of course, related to all those other things we've talked about in terms of personal issues of hygiene, cough etiquette, if you're sick, stay at home, everyone should be staying at home, particularly those who have tested positive. Seek a test if you are sick. Make sure that isolation is really taken into account. That, together with the ongoing engagement with the community, I'm sure that the Victorian authorities have done the right thing today, and the Australian Health Protection Committee is absolutely behind that. 

I'll leave it there, PM.

JOURNALIST: On the pandemic leave payment, is this something you're prepared to make available to other states, even though they're not in crisis like Victoria?

PRIME MINISTER: No, this is a disaster payment. So if another state were to be in a position and God forbid they were that there was a disaster of the scale that we're seeing in Victoria, then a disaster payment of this nature, of Pandemic leave, would be entered into, but that would be done on the same basis of what’s been, will be established with Victoria. So this is to deal with a disaster.

JOURNALIST: There wouldn't be a pre-emptive element to make it available to other states?

PRIME MINISTER: Sorry?

JOURNALIST: Wouldn't it be a pre-emptive element, you could head off outbreaks in other states by making this available?

PRIME MINISTER: The advice we have - and Paul can come in on this as well the number of cases in other states, and the way that's being handled and remember, there are other payments available under the JobSeeker program already to persons who find themselves in this situation. I should also note, this dates from the time of them getting the notification that they need to self-isolate. There is already a payment the Victorian Government makes in relation to the period, waiting between when you take your test and when you get your test results back. That's already in place. So what we're seeking to do is supplement and support. I'll be proposing to the Premier it's up to them whether they wish to take this up that we can consolidate what the Victorian Government is doing and what we propose to do into one single-payment process but the first step is to ensure that we roll this out as well and so those two systems will run in parallel at first, but I imagine that we can move fairly quickly to streamlining those as quickly as possible.

Lanai?

JOURNALIST: Will this payment only be available for six weeks of the Stage 4 lockdowns? And also given the devastating situation in Victoria, do you concede that it is correct for the WA border to remain closed given 96% of Western Australians want it to remain closed?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I addressed it on the weekend Lanai  so I've got nothing further to add to the letter that I've put in writing to the Premier. But in relation to the other matter, you'll just have to remind me of the first part of the question?

JOURNALIST: Will this be only be available for six weeks?

PRIME MINISTER: It'll be there for as long as the Government says it is there as a disaster - we've left it open-ended at this point. Once the pandemic disaster is, has we hope, returned to the sort of situation you're seeing in other states currently, then that's when disaster payments traditionally are no longer applied. But we anticipate that this payment will be needed for some time, and it will be made available until for as long as it's necessary. 

Andrew?

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, there's been a steady rise in the unlinked cases. Have you got a stronger handle on what's gone wrong with the contact tracing in Victoria? Perhaps Professor Kelly could jump in there as well. Secondly, Prime Minister, I understand you intend to bring Parliament back for two weeks. How's that going to run, given that you're going to have potentially scores, if not hundreds of people, coming from a pandemic disaster zone into the ACT?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, in relation to your first question, we've been focusing on how we can help to make it right and to make it as effective as possible, and that's where we've been applying our efforts, particularly through the Australian Defence Forces and the work that Commodore Hill has been doing directly with the Public Health officers in Victoria, and that work, I know, has been improving the situation, particularly the work, also, that the ADF have been doing in the direct doorknocking, which, that presence has been expanded, and that's also been very effective. But it's also highlighting weaknesses of even where people have been tested, have been traced, that isolation is not necessarily being complied with. And so we're supporting. I mean, our job is to help them do it as effectively as possible with all the supports and resources we're providing them, and it's for the Victorian government to be responsible for the overall management of that program. 

Paul, did you want to?

PROFESSOR KELLY: Yes so on contact tracing, the numbers are enormous. Any contact-tracing effort anywhere in the world would struggle with the sort of numbers we've seen in Victoria over the last little while to make that very detailed forward and back assessment about where people might have been before they got sick and the ones that may have been in contact afterwards. So it’s not, it doesn't surprise me that they're now finding ones that they can't make those links. In terms of parliament,

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah Parliament, an important one, I’ll offer comment on this as well, there has been a working group working with the Presiding Officers, and the Government has been contributing to that. I'll be providing further information, advice to them tomorrow. Parliament will come back. It will meet. I always said it would meet. And I meant that when I said it. We'll be putting in place arrangements that would comply with the advice that we receive both from the Chief Health Officer here in the ACT, and we've also sought further advice from the CMO. Ultimately, the Commonwealth Government will respond to the advice from the CMO, and they've been working closely together to ensure that the appropriate protections are put in place for any people who would be coming here from Victoria. There are two issues here. Most importantly, public health. If you bring together over 200 people plus staff into one place from all around the country, then obviously you've got to be very careful about the onward transmission from infected parts of the country and how that could then potentially operate going out into other states. So we will have some very strict protocols around that, and seeking the full compliance of all members with that process. But it is important that Parliament continues to meet. When we made the decision about Parliament not sitting when it was next scheduled to meet, there were a lot of uncertainties. We've got a clearer view now, and we know the situation has actually become even more serious, but we believe we can put arrangements in place. 

Paul?

PROFESSOR KELLY: So the Prime Minister's correct, we've, I’ve had a lot of discussions with my colleague in the ACT, Dr Coleman, and others, and we'll have to work through those issues. But it is a risk for, within the building to ACT and also, as parliamentarians come from other parts of the country and back to their parts. But that risk can be mitigated and it will be mitigated.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just in relation to what we've seen in Victoria how is that impacting what you're planning on doing with JobKeeper beyond September? Does it make any changes to what you envisioned?

PRIME MINISTER: What's important is that those businesses and employees who have been impacted particularly by these decisions will continue to get the support of JobKeeper, and I believe they will. They'll qualify for JobKeeper now. And so I'd encourage them to make those applications if they're not already on JobKeeper. We have a large number of businesses that are on JobKeeper in Victoria already. And so they will continue to get that support, and those who haven't required it up until now and will need it will be able to apply immediately for it and get access to it. And the same goes for JobSeeker as well and those supports being in place. So if there are any issues around eligibility that need to be looked at more closely, the Treasurer's already doing that. I flagged that with you last week. And so that process will continue. But remember, that is at the end of September.

Sorry? 

JOURNALIST: Do you delay reducing the rate, given what we're seeing in Victoria?

PRIME MINISTER: Well look, we're talking about something 2 and a half months from now. 2 and a half months from now. We’re talking about, sorry, well, 2 months from now, we're into August, it's the end of September. So we're talking about something many weeks from now, and we'll be making further assessments of that. But the JobKeeper program is a national program. It applies in Cairns. It applies in Bunbury. It applies in Brunswick. So it will continue to run as a national program, and any specific issues that are relevant to Victoria, we would seek to meet together with the Victorian government.

JOURNALIST: On hydroxychloroquine, can I ask you both, if I might, first Professor

PRIME MINISTER: Not a subject I'm an expert in, so I'll have to leave it to the Chief Medical Officer.

JOURNALIST: Chief Medical Officer, if I could ask you, Professor, if you're happy with the current settings that prevent prescription of the drug in Australia. And Prime Minister, can I ask you if you're happy with your MP, Craig Kelly, promoting it to the point where he says Dan Andrews could be jailed because he bans the drug in Victoria?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm not going to get onto what people talk about on Facebook on a day like this but, on the medical issues, I'm happy for the Chief Medical Officer to speak to it.

PROFESSOR KELLY: So Hydroxychloroquine has been used for many, many years for various things, including for malaria prevention. I took it myself for many years when I worked in Africa, and very safe for that particular way of using that drug, and other things currently involved in terms of arthritis and other matters. But in terms of its use for this particular disease, the jury is pretty much out it doesn't work.

PRIME MINISTER: Last one.

JOURNALIST: Free childcare for essential workers in Victoria does there need to be a reintroduction of JobKeeper for childcare workers?

PRIME MINISTER: I spoke to the Education Minister this afternoon. It's still a little unclear what is meant by ‘permitted worker’ in the table that was released this afternoon and we're seeking some further clarity around that. It's very important that we keep these facilities open so they're available to people who will need them and there are a number of ways we can do that and that's what the Education Minister is working through right now. We're very committed to ensuring those facilities remain available. They'll be very important for especially those who are health workers or otherwise unable to provide arrangements for their children as they're earning income. Even if that means they're working at home. So there are a lot of questions that are still unanswered and we'll be seeking those answers from the Victorian Government so we can work with the sector to ensure that we can keep those facilities open, support the workers who are in those facilities, in the same way we'd be seeking to support workers in all facilities and all businesses that are impacted by the announcements today. It's obviously a change to the set of factors we're dealing with when we made those last set of announcements. I mean, the rest of the country, the situation is unchanged. But in Victoria, I suspect we'll need to make some changes, but I won't be announcing those until they've been properly worked through and we get some greater clarity from the Victorian Government about who permitted workers are and what that will mean for demand at facilities and then how that can be worked through with the sector to ensure that they remain open, their businesses remain viable and that their workers are supported.

JOURNALIST: Just on regional Victoria, some of your Nationals colleagues have today have expressed dismay that they're now under stage 3 restrictions when just a few weeks ago, or yesterday they weren't, but just a few weeks ago, they had almost no cases. They said that they're concerned that the Government was unable to stop Melburnians moving across the border of metropolitan Melbourne into the country and spreading the virus. As Paul Kelly said, the virus only spreads with people,

PRIME MINISTER: True.

JOURNALIST: Are you at all concerned that the Victorian Government wasn't able to stop that virus and do you still have confidence that they can stop it spreading further?

PRIME MINISTER: I understand people's frustration. I understand their anger. In some cases, I certainly understand their fury. But I also understand their tears and their deep disappointments. And I think that is the array of very difficult emotions people are going through. Whether they're in metropolitan inner Melbourne or they're out in regional Victoria where there are very few cases. The challenge of dealing with this pandemic is not fair to people. It's very unfair what's happening to people. It's the pandemic and the virus that is doing that, and it means that the Premier obviously has to make some difficult calls and not everybody is going to agree with every call he makes. And he will have to apply his best judgement to the decisions that he's made, and I have no doubt he understands that and understands the accountability for those decisions and I am absolutely sure that he hasn't taken any of them lightly in the many conversations that I've had with him. They're tough calls and he knows he has to make them. He sought to consult, he sought advice, including from the Commonwealth, and we've offered our views and I think the challenges in Victoria are going to be hard to cop. But they're going to be necessary. 

There's been so much, in fact, everything that people have had to do is hard to cop over these many months. But it's what we have to do. It's what's necessary. And even if we find it hard to agree with on occasions, or can't understand it, or wish it wasn't happening, or say this didn't need to happen if X and Y were done, none of that really at the end of the day stacks up to what has to be done. And we know what we need to do now. And I know Victorians know what needs to be done now, and I know that many will find it really hard. But we're all counting on them to do it, and we're all in it with them as best as we possibly can. And what I've announced this evening on this disaster payment support with pandemic leave, the $14 billion that has already been put in, the many other measures that are there to support, it's all there to help them get through. I'm backing Melbourne. I'm backing Victoria and I know they will get through this. Thank you very much.