Press Conference Parliament House Canberra, ACT

17 Jun 2022
Prime Minister
National Cabinet meeting; COVID funding; health system; NATO; GPs; energy; climate change; Territory rights; visas; COVID pandemic; skill shortages

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Today we've had a successful National Cabinet meeting, the first of which have had the great honour and privilege to chair. It was conducted in a very good spirit, a spirit of engagement, one that recognised our common interests and our common purpose to serve people in our respective state and territories, but from my perspective to serve people around the nation.

There was a focus, of course, on the response to the health pandemic which we know is ongoing, and in recognition of the pressure that health and hospitals continue to be under, the Commonwealth has agreed to extend the COVID funding arrangements until the 30th of December this year. There are some arrangements in place as well about some of the measures not being continued beyond September because it was agreed that they were not necessary. Importantly, we've agreed as well that the First Secretaries led by Glyn Davis, the Head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, will conduct a process of review of health funding and health arrangements, looking at health reform. What that’s about isn't necessarily additional dollars. What it's about is a recognition that our hospital system at the moment has people who should be looked after by their local GP, but GPs just unavailable. That the lack of nurses and health professionals in the aged care system means that many people who should be either looked after at home or looked after as aged care residents end up in the hospital system as well, putting further pressure on the system. It’s recognised as well that a number of the measures that we put in place during our election commitments, including our urgent care clinics that are aimed at taking pressure off emergency departments of hospitals, so we will co-operate including in locations of where they are in states and territories around the nation. I saw this as a very positive measure going forward and as a priority for all of our governments.

The second issue that we dealt with today was the issue of skill shortages. It recognise that we need to train Australians for the needs of today but also the jobs of tomorrow and we need to work on a national skills plan in order to deliver that. But it's also recognise that short-term shortages mean that we need to one, work on clearing the backlog that’s there from people who have visas that have been granted and they’re waiting 12 or 18 months before they are actually able to take their place in workplaces around the country. That's placing pressure in construction, in infrastructure, leading to increased costs, also putting pressure on service delivery. And short-term, migration will need to be a part of the solution to skill shortages and we will work with the business community as well as working through cooperatively to address those issues. The Council on Federal Financial Relations which is chaired by the Federal Treasurer, Dr Chalmers, will also provide advice for the next meeting on pressures on the Commonwealth and state and territory budgets including the anticipated fiscal pressures with a focus on areas of joint funding responsibility. The Commonwealth is prioritising productivity reform and economic reform and that was well received by the state and territories. It's something that's dropped off the agenda in recent times, and as part of that, will be a review of the former COAG processes that are used to exist that were replaced by the National Cabinet as a result of the National Cabinet being formed during COVID as a response to the pandemic. Some of the COAG processes were really worthwhile to drive the productivity of reform, to drive efficiency, to remove duplication, a lot of that has just dropped off. So, what we will have for the next meeting as well is first secretaries providing advice on the role of the Ministerial Councils in progressing national priorities but with a particular focus on how do we improve productivity, how do we get those gains through.

Can I say as well that the states and territories expressed their support for the Commonwealth's commitment to progress a referendum for a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament. As one of my colleagues here said, ‘if not now, when?’, and we're very concerned that five years after the Statement from the Heart, this reform will just drop off. It is something that's got to be progressed this year, this term. And that is why the support of the states and territories, of course, constitutional change requires four out of the six states with the majority across the country in order to be improved, and that will be an important reform and an important moment for the nation moving forward. We had reports from Dr Steven Kennedy, the Head of Treasury on the state of the economy and also senior national security officials also provided appropriate briefings, to the National Cabinet.

The National Cabinet also noted further challenges that the nation faces including the challenge that's there from energy markets which are well-known at the moment, I note on that, the support of the National Cabinet to the shared commitment to our revised nationally determined contribution that we signed yesterday with the support of the Business Council, the Australian Industry Group, the National Farmers Federation, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the ACTU the Australian Conservation Foundation, across-the-board and now the support as well of states and territories. And tonight, I will be the fifth speaker at the Advanced Economies Forum being convened by President Biden where we will be further announcing our program of the new commitment that we have submitted to the UNCCC.

Disaster recovery funding arrangements, we have to make sure that they are consistent, streamlined and equitable and Murray Watt will lead the work on that. The National Cabinet agreed as well that we will invite a representative of local government to a future meeting of the National Cabinet and the Treasury body once a year to each of those meetings, to ensure that all levels of government are able to be involved. The National Cabinet has agreed to meet a minimum of four times a year or as necessary. We’ll meet prior to the Federal Budget which will be handed down in October 2022. Can I just thank the Premiers and Chief Ministers on their constructive contribution? I have known most of these people for quite a while. I got to meet the Premier of Tasmania for the first time last night. Everyone came to this meeting with a great spirit of cooperation, with a determination to put the national interests first while representing appropriately their state and territory interests. And myself and the Premiers and Chief Ministers are happy to take a few questions

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, last year when you had a freedom of information request for National Cabinet documents blocked, you said it was an extraordinary decision and Scott Morrison was obsessed with secrecy. Did you suggest ending National Cabinet secrecy today and if not, what changed?


JOURNALIST: What changed?

PRIME MINISTER: You got to ask one question.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on the cost of living pressures, your Government has committed, and Labor did commit, to cut household energy bills and business energy bills by $275, obviously in a timeframe by 2025, is that still possible or is that out the window? And on that macroeconomic reform agenda, what are those keys to unlocking productivity that you are discussing there, what’s the time frame in that agenda?

PRIME MINISTER: Well on the first question, obviously we are dealing with a circumstance which is a direct result of a failure to give business the certainty that they needed to invest. So we have problems with the National Energy Grid as well that isn't capable of having transmission that is fit-for-purpose for the 21st century. Our plan of Powering the Nation is supported by the business community because they understand that it is certainty that they require to invest. Can I say that the States and Territories across the board, across the political spectrum have understood this and have been investing, including in whether it’ renewable energy zones that have occurred in New South Wales in places like the Hunter Valley and New England. Whether it be South Australia's lead over a long period of time, the work that is taking place across the States and Territories. The WA Government have made significant announcements just this week. So we are very confident that as we move forward, that certainty will enable much better outcomes, and that is why business has endorsed our plan and we’d say to those people who, I read today who are opposed to that plan, people want to end the climate wars. They want to move on and to make sure that we get better outcomes going forward.

JOURNALIST: First to Premier Malinauskas, if I could. You overnight became the first Australian Premier or Chief Minister to be sanctioned by Russia. What is your response to that? And Prime Minister, Ukranian President Zelensky has asked to meet you when you are over in Europe later this month, when you consider going to Kyiv to meet him?

PETER MALINAUSKAS, PREMIER OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA: I am very grateful for the fact that Vladimir Putin has paid attention to the leading role that South Australia is playing in trying to stand up for the democratic values that we collectively as a country hold dear. Very quickly, upon coming to Government, my Government has sought to do a number of things to send a very clear message that the people of South Australia stand firmly with Ukraine, as does every State and Territory, and I am just grateful for the fact that Vladimir Putin took notice. My heritage, Malinauskas is a Lithuanian last name, my family knows all too well the human tragedy that can occur in the face of unacceptable Russian aggression and I am very proud of the fact that my Government has played a leadership role and I look forward to doing that in the future.

PRIME MINISTER: On the visit, I read about that this morning in the paper. I will take appropriate advice. And obviously, there are security issues as well in terms of such a visit. I appreciate the spirit in which it has been offered and one of the reasons why Australia has been invited to NATO is that Australia is the largest non-NATO contributor to give support to Ukraine in its defence of its national sovereignty against Russia's illegal, immoral invasion and we will continue to stand with the people of Ukraine.

JOURNALIST: Could we just get the State Premiers and the Chief Ministers' perspective on the extension of the COVID funding? Whether, for example, it is sufficient for you, Mr Perrotet, I think you were asking for 12 months? And then also to the South Australian Premier, you’ve got concerns about the proximity to GP services to hospitals that you can't encourage people quickly to look elsewhere for  services if there is a long wait inside the hospital. But please, jump in

DOMINIC PERROTET, PREMIER OF NEW SOUTH WALES: Well, first, I think this is a great start. I mean this is something we have been discussing at National Cabinet for some time so to have the first meeting today, and for this matter to be resolved in some degree to be extended to December, I think is incredibly welcome and was supported by every State Premier and Chief Minister. But also, I think in addition to that today, what is incredibly pleasing is a real focus of working with the States and Territories in relation to substantive health reform going forward. This is something that has been in the too-hard basket for too long. We certainly got a sense today from the Prime Minister that we’d come back to a National Cabinet before the Budget. That is reassuring in the sense that there are quick areas where we can provide further support for our health systems right across the country. They are all going through a challenging time, not just through COVID but obviously the impacts of that going forward and the lack of integration between the GP network and primary care and the public health system is a challenge that every jurisdiction is facing. And working closely with the Commonwealth Government, I think there is great opportunity for substantive reform in that space. As the Prime Minister has said this is not about money, it's about working together on substantial reform and I thought today's National Cabinet was refreshingly collaborative.

JOURNALIST: Does anyone else want to comment?

PRIME MINISTER: If they want to, it’s not compulsory, if anyone wants to add anything, Anastasia?

ANNASTACIA PALASZCZUK, PREMIER OF QUEENSLAND: I would just like to add it’s a refreshing change to be able to discuss health. Previously, we have tried to get this on the agenda. We’ve got a Prime Minister who listens and understands that health is a big issue and it is a national issue that’s affecting everybody across our nation. So, we absolutely are united in this and we welcome the extra funding today and also the announcements that the Prime Minister made during the election campaign.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, could I, just on energy discussions, with the extra demand for gas at the moment as is Premier Andrews, is it too late in your view? You've been criticised by some quarters in recent days about the lack of exploration in Victoria, or the moratorium and how it’s behind, do you see it as conceivable that that onshore conventional gas will ever be extracted in Victoria or is it too late for that? And do you, Premier Perrottet, Narrabri, can you ever see that gas field being developed by Santos? Is there anything your government can do to fast track that or do you have a desire to not have that happen?


DANIEL ANDREWS, PREMIER OF VICTORIA: I would say that there are processes to be gone through and if gas is found and if someone comes forward with a proposal then there is nothing ruling that out, so, no. But we don't apologise for doing exactly what we said we would do. We sought a mandate, we don't have fracking in a state and we are very, very proud of that. If I want to be criticised for delivering on the election commitments I took to the people of our great state, then, you know, fine. That’s a really important thing for me and my team. Can I just very quickly, on the other issue, which really is the issue of the day, on behalf of every nurse, every ambo, every doctor, every patient in Victorian public hospitals I want to thank the Prime Minister. Politics was put aside at this meeting and we’ve put patients first and that is the most important thing. Now, the test for all of us will be to work hard in the weeks and months to come, to come up with practical ways in which we can make the system work as a true system. GP Primary Care, as well as hospitals, NDIS clients, aged care residents. I think we can do that in really practical terms. This was a meeting of goodwill and a meeting where we have put patients first and there is perhaps nothing more important than that.

PERROTET: Just quickly on that we are completely committed to Narrabri and working with Santos to get that project off the ground and a key component of that agreement, and the work we have committed with Santos, has been that there be a reservation policy attached to that project, of which they have supported and agreed to. So we are completely committed to the Narrabri project.

JOURNALIST: Again if I may, was there any discussion today in the nuts and bolts of the meeting about rolling out fourth shots of COVID vaccines more widely to the general population and also, to kids aged, I think it is six months to five years that has been approved, two shots have been approved by the FDA in the US, did either of those topics get canvassed?

PRIME MINISTER: Just that those issues are under consideration by the appropriate bodies.

JOURNALIST: With the health funding arrangements outside of COVID, is there a timeframe you would like to see that implemented and will there be key targets for what you would like to see happen in the hospital system across States? And just to the Chief Ministers, did you bring up Territory Rights and is there a timeframe you would like to see that implemented?

PRIME MINISTER: No and no are the two answers in terms of those issues weren’t raised.

ANDREW BARR, CHIEF MINISTER OF THE AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY: Certainly we are confident there is a pathway forward for Territory Rights.

NATASHA FYLES, CHIEF MINISTER OF THE NORTHERN TERRITORY: (Inaudible) Territory counterpart while I was here, and we have had those discussions so at the appropriate time we will certainly progress them.

PRIME MINISTER: And I am on the record about those issues.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) what is first concrete step that will now be taken to deal with it and will you provide more funding to Home Affairs to deal with the backlog and perhaps the Premiers and Chief Ministers would like to say something too?

PRIME MINISTER: I can report, as I did to the Premiers and Chief Ministers, that I’ve already done that. We have put people from other duties into trying to clear the visa backlog. That clearly is something that is required, is necessary and is the easiest way to make an immediate difference.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the question to all of you, it's material to everybody about whether we are still in a pandemic or are we coming through the pandemic as the previous Prime Minister said and almost through it? Or is it over because it obviously affects your agreement on health funding and so many other things, that declaration. Australia was one of the first countries to declare we are in a pandemic. When do you as a National Cabinet foresee Australia being through this pandemic and beyond it?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, clearly, the decision that we made today to extend the funding is a recognition that there are currently around about 3,000 people in hospital as a result of COVID. It is still having an impact which is why the Commonwealth failed at it as a reasonable proposition being put forward by the States and Territories for increased Commonwealth funding on the basis as well that States and Territories will continue with the funding that they had committed in their budgets based upon the cessation of those special arrangements being 30 September this year. So what that means, if you like, in simple terms, is there is more than 100 per cent of funding going in for this period. The basis of our increase won't be then a withdrawal because that wouldn't help the circumstances. So, that is an example, I think, of the cooperation and goodwill that was around the table last night and around the meeting room this morning, but I’ll leave it if colleagues might want to add?

JOURNALIST: What is your advice on when this pandemic is over?

PRIME MINISTER: We’ll get advice, it clearly isn't over yet and it would be very brave to suggest that you can make that projection. Omicron arrived, in a way that wasn't foreseen. What governments have a responsibility to do is to respond to what is in front of them and that is what we have done today.

PERROTET: The extension of the agreement is important, less so in terms of what the position is on the pandemic, but there is no doubt every hospital around this country is still facing the impacts of hospital presentations in relation to COVID. But in addition to that, the long-term impacts that we have seen over the last two years of COVID on our systems. So, there has been a substantial delay in elective surgery, and those matters in the public health system, that have been put off to support COVID, so it is a combination of those two things and that is why I think the decision today was certainly welcomed by every State and Territory.

PRIME MINISTER: We’ll just take a couple more because people have planes to get on.

JOURNALIST: Premier Andrews, about a year ago now, the Morrison Government struck down an MOU, your Belt and Road MOU with the Chinese Government, now there's been a change of government in Canberra, is it something you've been looking to revisit, and Prime Minister if it is revisited what would be you approach if revisited?

ANDREWS: No, those matters have been settled.

JOURNALIST: People are still catching COVID and being hospitalised due to COVID. Come December, funding arrangements will be extended beyond that?

PRIME MINISTER: No, it doesn’t mean that at all. It means we've come to an agreement today based upon the circumstances which we face in the health system. What it means is that in June you can't answer questions about December. It means we’re responding specifically to the circumstances which are there, the pressures on the state and territory health systems but also, I've made very clear that the Government has inherited $1 trillion of debt, the idea that we are in a position to continue to offer more funding across a range of issues that are necessary, there are physical pressures on the Commonwealth which people understand but at the same time, that is why I was very hard and by not only the positive response to our extension on the agreement to December but also the debate that we had which wasn't about dollars as Premier Perrottet said, it was actually about how you get reform. It was, how you get efficiencies, how do you make sure that patients are at the centre of the system. Patients, that's what it's about, making sure that Australians get the healthcare that they need when they require it. Last one.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you mentioned the skill shortages and you said short-term migration will need to be part of the solution. Beyond the visa backlog that you're sorting out, are you flagging any changes the migration program there, and Premier McGowan, given the skill shortages in WA, do you like to see any more on the more immigration skilled workers coming into Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: We are working on those issues. We are a Government that have been in place for a matter of weeks. Just weeks. So, we're working on issues with the department appropriately and I've discussed with the Minister for Home Affairs as well as the Minister for Immigration as well as Brendan O'Connor, who has the response and skills and training, on how we deal with these issues. In the immediate sense though, straight away in the week that I became Prime Minister, I directed before even ministers were appointed to those jobs, I directed the departments to look at the backlog and indeed the meetings that I had prior to the election, I foreshadowed to departmental heads that was something that we needed to address in the meeting that I had the day I addressed the National Press Club, I had a range of briefings that we’ve put in place with the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the visit to the QUAD Leaders’ meeting but other things are well, without being presumptuous, we got departments ready to act. Premier McGowan.

MARK MCGOWAN, PREMIER OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Obviously, it’s one of the biggest issues facing Western Australia, as you know our economy is very, very hot and very, very strong, very low rates of unemployment, very high participation rates so attracting more people into the state is very important for the economy not just of the state but also of the nation. I appreciated and support what the Prime Minister has done to put more resourcing into dealing with the visa issues. And I think that's a great contribution both to Western Australia and all the other states that are having the same issues as well. We obviously want to work cooperatively on that but we also run campaigns in our friendly states in the east to attract people from the east as well to work in industry and Western Australia. Basically based on the fact you can get a very high-paying job and a house which is half the price of a house in Sydney and Melbourne so there's a lot of appeal to coming and living in Western Australia. I think I've just wrecked the bipartisanship.

PRIME MINISTER: With that ad for the great state of Western Australia, with its four new house and reps members, we will leave it there.