Press Conference - Sydney

14 Sep 2022
Prime Minister
National Cabinet, Long COVID, Electric Vehicles, National Anti-Corruption Commission, Regulation of Casinos, Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, Currency, Mandatory isolation, Norco, War in Ukraine

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Thanks for joining me. Today, the National Cabinet has met virtually to discuss the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and received an update from Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly. First Ministers agreed to extend the pandemic leave disaster payment at current rates beyond the 30th of September. The payment will remain available for as long as mandatory isolation periods are applied by all states and territories. The principle essentially agreed to by all First Ministers is that while the Government requires mandated isolation, the Government has a responsibility to provide support during that period, for the appropriate period which is designated currently at five days, except for people in aged care, disability care etc, which remains at seven days. We remain obviously of the view that if people are sick, whether from COVID or from other health issues, they should not be at work, and that is important. National Cabinet agreed the Commonwealth and States and Territories will continue a 50-50 cost sharing arrangement for the payment, this has currently cost some $2.2 billion in payments that have been made during that period. We will make some changes, three payments over a period of six months would be the maximum, unless there has to be quite extraordinary circumstances of why that's the case. There is some evidence that Services Australia identified that since the July 20 2022, 2.6 per cent of all claims received triggered real-time fraud checks in the system, and of those, more than 50 per cent were subsequently rejected and some 15 per cent were subsequently withdrawn by the claimant. Services Australia data indicates, also, that over the six months to June 30 2022, 60 per cent of claims were made by individuals who claimed more than once. Of these, about 13 per cent were claimed four or more times, that is a claim every six and a half weeks or more. We also received a report on monkeypox. Internationally there have been some 57,000 monkeypox cases. There have been 130 cases in Australia. The numbers are reducing internationally. In the UK, for example, they were receiving some 40 cases a day, that is currently down to five cases a day. The vaccine that we have made available is rolling out and there has also been evidence of behaviour change from vulnerable sections of the community. The National Cabinet also considered the national statement that we will make, available to you on the National Day of Mourning that will occur on the 22nd of September next Thursday. A copy of the statement is available on All First Ministers, Premiers and Chief Ministers, will travel to Canberra and be present on that day next Thursday, which is part of the plans that have been in place for some time. It has been designated to be the National Day of Remembrance for the life and service of Queen Elizabeth II.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, when would you like to see mandatory isolation rules end?

PRIME MINISTER: We will have a discussion about future arrangements on the 30th of September, when the National Cabinet will meet in person. We’ll take advice at that time. Of course, there are different arrangements in place in countries, but what we are seeing is gradually a move towards COVID being treated like other health issues. Clearly, we saw with the reduction that we made last time from seven days to five, we are making some preparations as well, over a potential wave during the northern winter. Those preparations and how we will respond to them will be a source of further discussion from Chief Health Officers. But there was no discussion about the detail. As to changes, we will take advice on that and we will make a decision at an appropriate time.

JOURNALIST: So just for clarity, was it discussed today?

PRIME MINISTER: Not in detail. In general, there is a recognition that the idea that you will continue to have the same mandates that you had in place a year ago while the risk factors are being changed as people go out and get themselves vaccinated. It was, I think, quite a positive statement from the Chief Medical Officer today. He spoke, for example, that the infections in aged care are a quarter of what they were at the end of July, the lowest that they've been all year. That was part of the evidence which is there. But we need, obviously, to continue to take advice and to make decisions appropriately. We will have another discussion in September as to a pathway towards whether a decision is made about further reductions or a timeframe for it.

JOURNALIST: Monique Ryan has called for a National Action Plan on long COVID [inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the Chief Health Officers are doing it. With respect to Dr Ryan, I certainly respect her views, Chief Health Officers throughout the jurisdictions are working very hard on all of these issues: including examining long COVID, including examining the potential of what will occur in the northern winter and making preparations for it.

JOURNALIST: In her maiden speech to parliament, Sophie Scamps advocated for making electric vehicles affordable for all Australians. At the time she did not disclose a financial interest in Tesla. What’s your view on Dr Scamps’ ongoing participation in the debate and votes on EV policy?

PRIME MINISTER: All those who drive a petrol car, are they allowed to vote on those issues as well? I think we need a bit of serious analysis in my view.

JOURNALIST: There is a financial interest.

PRIME MINISTER: Well there’s an interest, perhaps, in people who have a petrol car or what have you. As long as these issues are declared. That's the issue, it’s transparency. But it's a matter for Ms Scamps. She is not a member of my Government. She has a responsibility to declare any interest that she has and people will make their own judgement. But from my perspective, the idea that people only support electric vehicles because of a financial interest is, in my view, a misread of what is actually happening globally.

JOURNALIST: Just on transparency, the NSW ICAC can investigate breaches of the Ministerial Code of Conduct. Will Labor’s new Integrity Commission investigate recent breaches of the Ministerial Code of Conduct by your Ministers over their shareholdings?

PRIME MINISTER: There haven't been.

JOURNALIST: There have been calls for a national regulator for casinos, do you support this?

PRIME MINISTER: I think it's pretty obvious that the state regulators are doing it pretty good job of holding the casino operators to account, that's my observation. I'm not in favour of regulation for the sake of it. And I think it's pretty hard for anyone to argue that either Crown or Star are not been held to account at the moment.

JOURNALIST: Are those regulators powerful enough in their current form?

PRIME MINISTER: These are state-operated regulators and it's up to the states to respond to that. But quite clearly, what we've seen is regulators taking strong action and foreshadowing further strong action.

JOURNALIST: Have arrangements for Pacific leaders going over on the Australian plane to London for the Queen’s funeral been finalised? And who has taken up that offer?

PRIME MINISTER: We offered passage to senior representatives from all ten Pacific countries which are Commonwealth members. Final lists are being settled. To date, four countries have accepted today and they are the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu and Samoa.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask on the five dollar note: what your view is on what should happen to the five dollar note?

PRIME MINISTER: My view is that Queen Elizabeth's funeral is next Monday. Queen Elizabeth’s funeral is next Monday. My focus isn't on who is on the $5 note.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, August had the highest death rates for COVID-19, so should lifting the isolation period even be considered when the death rate is so high?

PRIME MINISTER: We didn't consider further restrictions being lifted today. We will consider in September and we will receive advice on that and then the eight Premiers and Chief Ministers will have a discussion on the 30th of September.

JOURNALIST: Can you reveal what those state and territory leaders currently feel about mandatory isolation?

PRIME MINISTER: I wouldn't be so bold as to pretend that I can speak on behalf of Premier Andrews or Premier Perrottet or Premier Palaszczuk, or other Premiers or Chief Ministers. What I can do is indicate to you what we determined today in what was a short meeting. Today it lasted less than half an hour and I've indicated, with full transparency, everything that we discussed today and nothing that we didn't.

JOURNALIST: It's been announced from Norco that they’re going to lay off 170 employees at their Lismore factory, is this okay given they’re being offered millions of taxpayer money?

PRIME MINISTER: Well they have received in excess of $30 million of taxpayers’ money, shared between the Commonwealth and the state. I would hope that Norco look after their employees. I’ll continue to work with Premier Perrottet on these issues. I realise that the Northern Rivers has suffered greatly, including businesses, but we have provided substantial support.

JOURNALIST: There are reports that the Labor Government may cut funding for major Coalition infrastructure proposals. The Nationals are pretty unhappy with that and saying that you’re not committed to regional Australia. Are you committed to all of the projects promised by the Morrison Government? And if not, how many projects and how much spending will be reprioritised?

PRIME MINISTER: That’s a bold question. Thank you, Barnaby. Can I say this: the National Party are committed to pork-barrelling. They’re not necessarily committed to good infrastructure projects. Where projects are good, we’re very positive about them. But the sort of idea that we’re bound by what often is projects that benefit private sector interests, which are competitive with other private sector interests, are just extraordinary. The National Party, in terms of the way that they view taxpayer funds has been the same as Liberal and National Party funds, is not the model that the Labor Government will follow. We will fund projects, including in regional Australia, that stack up, that represent good investment for taxpayers. The Nats were obsessed with looking after their mates, sometimes looking after private interests, and it’s not a model for any government to follow.

JOURNALIST: So are they under review?

PRIME MINISTER: I just answered the question, I can't be more clear than that.

JOURNALIST: Will your Federal Integrity Commission be able to investigate potential breaches of the Ministerial Code of Conduct?

PRIME MINISTER: The Ministerial Code has been complied with.

JOURNALIST: But just generally?

PRIME MINISTER: When the legislation is dealt with, it hasn’t been introduced yet. I look forward to it being introduced to the parliament in September. People have had access to the debate. The Attorney-General has been very consultative with crossbenchers and also with the Opposition, as I have been. We will introduce the legislation, people will work it through. It will be in accordance with the commitments we made, which is that it will be strong, and people will have the opportunity to look at the detail when it is introduced and debated in the parliament.

JOURNALIST: On that aspect -

PRIME MINISTER: I just answered the question.

JOURNALIST: Presidents Putin and Xi Jinping are meeting this week. What do you want to see from the meeting?

PRIME MINISTER: When it comes to Russia, what I would like to see is that anyone who meets with Vladimir Putin reminds him of the obligation that international leaders have to uphold the international rules of law. What we've seen with the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a breach of that. It is the invasion of a sovereign state in contravention of international laws. The idea that there would be a land war in Europe of the type that we are seeing is something that we had hoped we had consigned to the past. It is an opportunity for me to once again reiterate our support for the sovereign State of Ukraine, to reiterate my praise for President Zelenskyy and the people of Ukraine in their courageous struggle against Russia and against this brutal invasion. It's coming at great human cost to the people of Ukraine. They are engaged in an inspirational struggle which is in the interest not only of the people of Ukraine, it is in the interest of all who believe in an orderly global process and the international rule of law.