Press Conference Canberra, ACT

Transcript
22 Nov 2021
Prime Minister
E&OE

Prime Minister: Well, good morning. I’m joined by the Minister for Home Affairs. It’s good to have you here with me, Karen. I like the mask too, Australian made. Australians are looking forward. They’re looking forward to Christmas, they’re looking forward to being at the Ashes, they’re looking forward to coming together, they’re looking forward to 2022. Australians are looking forward. And there is much, of course, that we've been through together as a nation over these recent years. There has been much that Australians have had to sacrifice and there have been many decisions that governments, including my own, have had to make over these past few years. Necessary decisions, but difficult ones.

But together, we have achieved something that few countries have, particularly developed economies. We have one of the lowest fatality rates from COVID in the world. We have one of the strongest advanced economies going through COVID in the world. And now, we have one of the highest vaccination rates of countries in the world. These are extraordinary achievements by Australians. I believe we have achieved this because we’ve kept looking forward, we’ve kept looking at every challenge that has come, we've assessed it on its merits, we've been very clear and got good advice from the best possible health and medical and economics experts, we’ve considered this situation and we’ve made decisions in Australia's national interest. We have made sensible, practical, balanced decisions.

And by making sensible, balanced and practical decisions throughout this pandemic, we have saved lives and we have saved livelihoods. And, so, Australians can look forward to the future. Australians can look forward to this Christmas and holiday season, in a way that few around the world can. And that is why my Government will continue to keep focused on making those sensible, balanced decisions about how we continue to manage our way now out of this pandemic, and most importantly, to secure Australia's economic future as we emerge.

Our National Plan, which I brought to the premiers and chief ministers back in June, was about opening safely so we can remain safely open. And we are making great progress on that Plan. We have sensibly and safely taken governments to a position where they are getting out of people's lives. That’s what the National Plan was about. The National Plan was not about entrenching government in people’s lives. It was about getting government out of people's lives. That’s what we agreed to do - not just once, but twice. And to keep going down that path. And I thank the states and territories for the journey that they’re taking us on to that outcome, but let us not forget that was the point. The whole point of the National Plan was to move forward, to look forward, and to ensure that the many sacrifices that Australians had to endure, that their side of the deal that they have kept by getting vaccinated, and now, we have a more than 85 per cent double dose vaccination. That is extraordinary. An extraordinary achievement right across the country. And we look forward to those states joining that 80 per cent club. South Australia, not far away. Not far away at all. And I have no doubt that Queensland and Western Australia will soon follow suit.

So, this National Plan enables governments to step back and Australians to step forward so they can look forward, and today, we are taking another step forward, a very important step forward. It's another win for Australians who have got vaccinated. It's another win for Australians who want to see Australia to return to some form of the normality that we once knew pre this pandemic. The steps we are taking today are about securing our economic recovery. The steps we’re taking today about, are about Australians looking forward, and the steps we are taking today is about taking Australia forward.

From the 1st of December 2021, fully vaccinated eligible visa holders will be able to come to Australia without needing to apply for a travel exemption. Eligible visa holders, including skilled and student cohorts, as well as humanitarian, temporary, working holiday maker and provisional family visa holders.

In addition to the introduction of the travel from Singapore, which only started on the 21st, from the 1st of December 2021, Australia will also welcome back fully vaccinated citizens from Japan and Korea. Under these arrangements, citizens of Japan and Korea who hold a valid Australian visa will be able to travel from their home country quarantine-free to participate in that programme where states and territories are providing that opportunity, without needing to seek a travel exemption.

The return of skilled workers and students to Australia is a major milestone in our pathway back. It's a major milestone about what Australians have been able to achieve and enabled us to do. It'll mean a lot for the economies of our, of our, of our country, right around the, right around the country who need those workers and want to see those students return. And, so, we're looking forward to that occurring from the 1st of December. We have done this in an orderly way. At first we said, let's get Australians home who are fully vaccinated, and that's been occurring since the first of this month. And, so, from the first of next month we will start welcoming back the students, we’ll start welcoming back those on skilled visas that are desperately needed to ensure we are able to take full advantage of the economic recovery that we’re working to secure.

I'll ask the Minister for Home Affairs to make a number of points about how this is all working in practice, but before I do that, just let me also note that today we’re taken another step forward in relation to the AUKUS agreement. The purpose of the Agreement is to establish a legally-binding framework for the disclosure and use of information related to naval nuclear propulsion amongst the Governments of Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. This is the first time that the US and UK will have shared this information with a third country, ever. That was something worth securing. That was something that Australia has long sought, and our Government has secured. It was worth securing access to this important defence technology and information.

The Agreement will provide a mechanism for Australian personnel to access invaluable training and education from our US and UK counterparts, necessary for learning how to safely and effectively build, operate and support nuclear-powered submarines. It will enable Australian civilian and military personnel to receive access to critical training and education from the United States and United Kingdom counterparts, necessary to learn how to safely and effectively operate a capability for Australia. The Agreement will also enable Australia to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to create a world’s best practice regulatory and safety regime to guarantee the safe operation of nuclear, naval nuclear propulsion, and ensure compliance with Australia’s international obligations, including under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Now, this is not a defence alliance or security pact, as I've made clear on numerous occasions. Australia will fully and absolutely meet all of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as I've made very clear to many leaders around the world, as we’ve discussed this issue in recent weeks. This is, this is an important, a very important agreement for Australia’s future security.  There are plenty of, there seems to be plenty of others who who don't want to see this go ahead. I think that tells you why it’s so important that we do. Minister for Home Affairs, Karen.

The Hon. Karen Andrews MP, Minister for Home Affairs: Well, thank you, Prime Minister. Australia is reopening to the world, and today's announcement is yet another step forward for Australia. Since the 1st of November, we have been safely welcoming Australians back in far greater numbers than we have been able to during the course of the pandemic. Now, from the 1st of December this year, fully vaccinated visa holders can come to Australia without needing to apply for a travel exemption.

So, I’ll just take you through some of the detail in relation to today's announcement. So, from 1 December 2021, fully vaccinated eligible visa holders can come to Australia without the need to apply for a travel exemption. Now, eligible visa holders include skilled and student cohorts, as well as refugee, humanitarian, temporary and provisional visa holders. A full list of the eligible subclasses is now available on the Home Affairs website.

Now, in order to be able to access the new provisions, travellers will need to be fully vaccinated. They will need to provide proof of their vaccination status, and they will need to present a negative PCR test, that has been taken within three days prior to their departure.

Now, also, as the Prime Minister has said, from 1 December this year, we will also be welcoming back fully vaccinated citizens of Japan and South Korea who hold a valid Australian visa, and they will need to look at the website in terms of what the visa status is for eligibility to travel here. To be eligible though, in addition to travel here from, for Japan and Korean citizens, they will need to depart from their home country. They will also need to be fully vaccinated and they’ll need to provide proof of their vaccination status. They will need to hold an eligible visa and they will also need to have a negative PCR test within three days, 72 hours, of their departure.

So, all of the information has now been updated on the Home Affairs website, so I would encourage all people wishing to access any of those provisions to look at that website so that they are clear on what the criteria is. Look, these changes are crucially important to Australia as we go through our reopening phase. It is, as I've indicated, another step forward to us. Australians are looking forward to what the future holds for them in a post-COVID world, and the Morrison Government is doing all that it can to ensure that we are working in a timely but safe manner to open Australia's borders.

Prime Minister: Thanks, Karen.

Journalist: [Inaudible] getting access to nuclear propulsion technology. Do you mean it was worth the French President saying that he thinks that you lied to him publicly? And also just on the detail of this announcement today, it says that there will be about a million tourist visas issued at a date yet to be determined. Is that likely to be next year? And with Europe blowing up with cases at the moment, are we unlikely to be issuing tourist visas to people from Europe? 

Prime Minister: Well, on the second matter, we will take all these issues in turn, and that's why we've taken the very stepped and calm and methodical approach to this, taking the best advice, looking at the situation as it presents. And I said that back in October, when the decision was taken to move to quarantine free travel, and I said, well, we'll start with Australian citizens and residents returning first. Take our time, see how that has progressed. And I've got to say it's progressed extremely well in New South Wales and Victoria and here in the ACT. And I commend all of those working in both states and the ACT for how that has worked so successfully. And so we will now monitor how we move to this next stage. I think Australians are very keen to see us take this step by step approach. They've been through a lot and they've sacrificed a lot to ensure that we can open safely so we can stay safely open. And that's what we'll continue to do. If we're able to move on international visitors, which we are already doing in relation to Korea, Japan and Singapore, that's an important first step, that involves tourists coming from each of those countries, Japan and Korea and Singapore. They are all very important tourist markets for Australia. And so we're welcoming them back with open arms and whether we can extend that to others over the course of between now and the end of the year, well, we'll look very carefully at that. That is our predisposition. But we will act cautiously, take the best advice and make those decisions when we can. On the other, I simply make the point that there will be plenty who will be opposed to decisions we take from time to time. But I take those decisions in the national interest. And the national interest is above all others. 

Journalist: PM, you've said that people have had a gutful of governments telling them what to do. Can you point to a single lockdown, which you didn't endorse? First of all, and second of all, why didn't you move on opening up to fully vaccinated visa holders a month ago when the New South Wales Government wanted it? 

Prime Minister: Well, don't don't confuse the issues, Andrew. Our government has had to make decisions that has had to reach into people's lives, and that was very necessary in the midst of that pandemic. I'm not speaking against those decisions whatsoever. See, what we've done as a government is we haven't been driven by ideology. We've been driven by the practical situation that the nation has faced and our government has had no greater like of doing those things than Australians liked them having been done. See you've got to deal with the situation as you find it. And the situation when you have a pandemic raging through, when people's lives are at risk, well you have to take decisions to protect those lives. As the circumstances change, then it's time for us to move back, which is what the national plan was designed to do. So I just don't buy this binary proposition that somehow you're either for or against this at all points in the cycle. Times change over that, circumstances change, and governments that are interested in balanced, practical, sensible decisions will make them in the moment with the circumstances they have to face. Since I became Prime Minister, I've always made it clear there are those who are going to drag me over here and there are those who want to drag me over there. I know where Australians are. They're not at those extremes, the vast majority of them. They're looking for people just to make sensible decisions, weighing up all the best evidence and make sure we stay right there in the middle where we're able to ensure that we can keep Australians safe, we save lives and save livelihoods. And I think that's what they expect of a prime minister and government. Not to be distracted and dragged from one side of the binary debate to the other. I don't see it in those terms. 

Journalist: Prime Minister, do you think it's reasonable that the same Sydney Golf Club who refused a memorial for four children who died after they were hit by a drunk driver is now looking to plan a 193 units on that same site. And just on vaccine mandates you've had five government senators cross the floor on the One Nation bill. What does that mean for the government's legislative agenda, if the those members of your own government threaten to block anything you bring into the Senate over the next two weeks? 

Prime Minister: Well, on the first issue in relation to the Abdallah and Sakr families, I am with them, very distressed, Jenny and I are very distressed about that. We've through these awful events have become family friends, particularly with the Abdallah's and Sakr's. To Bridget and Veronique's father Bob. This has been such an ordeal for them and both families have shown such grace and forgiveness that it's humbled all of us. And I think their simple, honest, humble request that they should be able to memorialise the children that were taken from them, I think is entirely reasonable, and I would certainly hope that a fair outcome can be achieved here for them. Premier and I have been in discussion about these issues. Danny and I were texting each other again this morning and I know that the Premier is working with them to hopefully achieve something positive here, and I certainly hope they do. I think that's only fair. I think the loss of their children has touched the lives of many Australians, and I know, particularly a lot of Sydneysiders, and they've certainly touched mine and and Jenny's lives and not just the loss, but the incredible way in which they have responded and I think shown an example to so many others about the true meaning of faith. They are very faithful people. And I think they've demonstrated their faith in a way that has just been absolutely beautiful in the most awful of circumstances.

On the other issue. Well, in the Liberal Party, in the National Party, we don't run it as an autocracy. We don't kick people out of our party if they happen from time to time to disagree on issues on which they feel strongly. The Government opposed the bill that was in the Senate today, and the bill has not been successful. We don't agree with the with the measures that were in that bill, which would indeed threaten funding for hospitals and schools to states. A bill that would seek to centralise power more in Canberra. That's not something Liberals and Nationals traditionally are in favour of, but I respect the fact that individual members from time to time will express a view and they'll vote accordingly. And that's what's happened today. We're a big, we're big parties. We can deal with any differences of views that occur from time to time. 

Journalist: How many visa holders are expected to come in by the end of this financial year? What's the estimate? And then if there are 150,000 Afghan nationals applying for 3,000, I accept that's a floor, but 3,000 more visas, how many of the humanitarian visas will be set aside for Afghan nationals? 

Prime Minister: Well, Karen might want to comment on this as well, in terms of the numbers, my understanding is we're expecting probably around about 200,000 or thereabouts that fit into the skilled and other visa categories that we would hope would take this up. Whether they take them all up in December or they take them up in January, well, we'll see. But I have no doubt that the airlines will be responding positively to this and that will see more planes in the air. Planes in the air means also jobs on the ground and people coming back to Australia will also mean jobs on the ground right around the country. So we're looking forward to that because that will secure that economic recovery. 

On the issue of Afghan visa holders. It's our highest priority in the refugee and humanitarian programme and I've always seen 3,000 as a floor, not a ceiling. I've made that, I think extremely clear and provided we can work through the relevant processes and and while you quote that number, I think I mean, this is across many different countries. And one of the things we've been doing through our special envoy on this issue in Qatar is working with other countries to ensure that where we're lining up with where applications are being considered in some countries in Australia, was a topic of conversation I had with quite a few leaders when I was overseas, particularly in the UK and in Canada. And so we're all just working together on what is a very challenging issues. And as you know, I was at AMAB on the way back when I came to Australia and was able to thank all of those Australians who did such an amazing job getting 4,100 people out of Afghanistan. But not just that, because that work has continued since and we brought hundreds and hundreds more out of that region and they're on their way to Australia, too. Karen, was there anything you want to add to that? 

The Hon. Karen Andrews MP, Minister for Home Affairs: Well, thank you, Prime Minister. All I will add is that we are envisaging that there will be many international students wanting to come and study here in Australia, there are many skilled workers who already have visas who wish to come to Australia as well, too. So we're working on a figure of 200,000. It may well be more than that, but we will be actively looking to bring as many people into Australia as soon as we possibly can. What is important to note is that those visa holders will be under the quarantine arrangements at the state or territory in which they enter and subsequently move too. Now, at this point in time, the arrangements for the quarantine around Australia are very different, and New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT have various arrangements in relation to quarantine free travel for visitors coming into their states and territories. It's quite different in other states such as Queensland. 

Journalist: Prime Minister, China and Taiwan have both, are both going to seek entry into the CPTPP. What are your comments on the relative merits of both of those applications? 

Prime Minister: We'll work with our other partners in the CPTPP as we work through those issues. I've already had quite a few discussions, particularly with Japan, both their former Prime Minister Suga and Prime Minister Kishida. The CPTPP sets a very high benchmark on what people have to be able to achieve, and so it's important that those who are seeking to become part of an arrangement like that wouldn't want to have a track record of of coercing other trade partners. Thanks very much, everyone.