Q&A– CEDA’s State of the Nation Conference

15 Jun 2020
Prime Minister

MELINDA CILENTO, CHIEF EXECUTIVE CEDA: Thank you, Prime Minister. I think it probably goes without saying that for the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia, we’re pretty excited to hear about a series of investments in infrastructure but also I think, you know, the points you were making about and acknowledging the things that people have been able to do, that businesses and governments have been able to do. I think you talked about changes of attitude, I think that’s absolutely a really important call out and we at CEDA by virtue of this forum you can see doing things differently are there are a whole bunch of things we are hoping to do differently in the future as well. But I think the point I wanted to make is that I’m hearing from a lot of businesses that obviously as they deal with the COVID crisis, there is a lot of new cost coming into their business. So having a deregulation agenda that will help to manage that and to be more agile is critically important.

I mentioned we are doing things a little bit differently. We have got people on livestream as well so we are going to ask them to ask questions. Just a quick reminder to those of you that are on livestream. Also we are looking for a question from the room. I’ve got Ellen Derek, who is the Deloitte National Leader of Public Sector and Public Policy to ask the first question. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thanks, Linda and thank you Prime Minister for your remarks and it was great to hear that portfolio of announcements, both click ready digital projects and shovel ready, so thank you. Given we are at CEDA's state of the nation, audience is a number of organisations, cross section of business and academia, and given we are on this country’s growth adventure together, do you have a particular ask or call to action for us today, particularly given that we're kicking off this great day of debate through CEDA?

PRIME MINISTER: What has set Australia apart, I believe, in the last few months, what we have been able to achieve where others have not, is I have not experienced, at least in my time of public life, a coming together, whether it is regulators, business, employers, employees, unions, scientists, medical professionals, manufacturers, defence forces. This has been a time, I think, of great togetherness, more than just the issue of isolation with our families at home. There has been a broader bringing together and that has been a high priority for me, to bring people together. Now, of course, there are some who will chip from the sidelines and choose not to participate and that is for them. But I think the broader experience has been one of coming together and that is what we need to maintain. There is an active debate about the path we are taking forward and I think I have set out this morning some clear direction on that path, as I did when I was last here in this room just a few weeks ago. The JobMaker program is all about the enabling parts of our economy. Sure in the short-term, certainly, we have significant fiscal supports that are in place to support demand in the economy and that has a role to play, particularly given that monetary policy is more or less spent. We understand the role fiscal policy has to play but that does not always have to take the form that it began with and our investments in pharmaceuticals and hospitals and major new agreement we have just announced in the infrastructure and all of these, the tax cuts are still rolling out. That is an important fiscal support to the economy, not just now but when we announced that, we're several years into that plan now and that extends over the next five years and synchronises nicely with the JobMaker plan. That is all fiscal supports. But the supply-side reforms that we are talking about and we are seeking to pursue collaboratively, I think will be important for the next generation. So I would encourage CEDA to do what it has always done, and those in the room, to continue to engage and find the common ground on some of these changes. The Government, obviously, at the end of the will have to make calls on them, and we will and we will not delay because we need to move forward on it. But in the first instance I am very keen to bring as much out of the community as we possibly can. My job is to bring Australians together wherever we can but ultimately as a Government to make a call and get on with it.

MELINDA CILENTO, CHIEF EXECUTIVE CEDA: Thanks Ellen, Prime Minister one of the questions we have gotten through the livestream audience I think follows on nicely from that which is really, picking up of bipartisanship of all in this together with, throughout the crisis. A lot of the things that  you’ve announced today really require that to continue. National Cabinet is working well. I'm really interested in how you see that cooperation continuing going forward? And if you look at, even on infrastructure, you have the [inaudible] bodies around the country, you’ve got different departments you’ve got states, you’ve got federal, you’ve got the transport and infrastructure council, how do you see that all knitting together and what role are you going to play in trying to kind of, keep everyone on the straight and narrow, so to speak?

PRIME MINISTER: Well our role federally, and my role as Prime Minister, and Josh’s as Treasurer, Michael as Deputy Prime Minister, and the ministers of my Cabinet, is to set the direction. When we announced the changes to, moving past the COAG era and into the National Cabinet and National Federation Reform Council era, the big change is that there will be much stronger direction coming from the leadership. Not just from obviously from the Federal Government but from states and territories as well. What we’ve seen through the actions of the National Cabinet has been an elevation of state interests into a national interest and so when Premiers and I get around a table it is not to discuss the parochial concerns of one jurisdiction but what the national task is and how they all can play a part in it. I think that is a big shift and, frankly, I think, look the bipartisanship issue, there isn’t a lot of that. There is great difference of view about the economic pathway forward and that is politics. That is part of our democracy. What I have sought to do is brought together the institutions of government and society, whether it be our scientific community, our medical community, our state and territory governments, local governments, indeed as Michael and his Ministers, colleagues and the National Party have been working with local governments, this has been very important. We are bringing people together who have very serious jobs to do and are responsible for things. And that occurs whether it is Larry over at the CSIRO or anyone else. And the COVID-19 commission which will translate into a new mode soon, that has proved to also be a very valuable contributor to our thinking and I see a broader role from that and a broader participation in that. It operated in an early phase of a very small group but I see that group having an onward life and having a few more voices included in it which I think will be productive. It started off as a tactical problem-solving group because we had problems with getting food to grocery stores, that had to be fixed. Now they have been working closely with us on the very things we have been talking about today, the broader industrial relations changes that we are working with people to achieve and so it is providing those opportunities and those platforms for people to come together. We are doing that. But it is also about providing the clear direction and leadership on top of that so those processes can be guided and they just don’t meander off forever. There is a time for having the discussion and then we will make a decision and then we’ll get on with it.

MELINDA CILENTO, CHIEF EXECUTIVE CEDA: Unfortunately we are out of time, I think. I’ve got a long list of questions here. If you don’t mind, I’m just going to give you a bit of a flavor of them.


MELINDA CILENTO, CHIEF EXECUTIVE CEDA: I’m sure in future statements and in future work you will address them, but just so you get a sense of what people are interested in, obviously really interested to see how the infrastructure projects play out, people sort of talking about youth unemployment and obviously very concerned about making sure we get the jobs for young people and I think people are probably mindful of some of the experiences we saw in Europe after the global financial crisis and are really keen to make sure that the stimulus flows through to young people and also women who have had drops in employment faster than others in the community, so that’s a bit of a sense I think lurking beneath that. There is some interest obviously of course, the Treasurer, what we do with JobKeeper and JobSeeker in due course. That is really a couple of the key themes coming up and then not surprisingly people in business want to understand how we rebuild manufacturing in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let me touch on a couple of those. We absolutely acknowledge and I think you have seen that from, identifying it in the slides that I put up, it has been younger people and it has been women who have been more impacted in the initial shock of this crisis so much and this recession is quite different from the last in that respect. It was often those going through structural transition and was middle-aged males coming out of older industries and things like that that were mainly impacted in that. This one is different. And I think though, that also is a sign of the times and that our workforce is completely different today, we are at record levels of female workforce participation. The lowest gender pay gap we have seen in this country, before the Covid-19 crisis hit, so we were making great, great gains there. And that, those jobs have been hit very, very hard. And so that is obviously a key focus. Now, as I said, as the economy, particularly in those industries which are heavily employing of women, start to revive again, then we would hope to see at least an initial improvement in that situation. But we will need to maintain a key focus on our women's economic security plan, which we were the first to introduce. And that will get a refresh, on top of that the focus we need to put on on youth employment, and we already have a number of programmes in this area, the apprentices wage subsidy was the first thing we did together with the first stimulus package we put back in several months ago because we knew it would be young people who would be worst hit. And particularly things like the HomeBuilder programme and things like that will support young people into jobs. But young people, I remember this from when I was Social Services Minister. You've got to get young people into jobs before they're 22 and no later than when they’re 25. Because the simple analysis of it is, if you don't, the chances of spending a lifetime on welfare go through the roof. I'm very conscious of that. That has been a statistic, the first time I heard it I was Social Services Minister, that has never left my head. And so, how our social services operate, how our employment services operate, how our welfare system operates, has to get these young people back into jobs for their own sake, for their family's sake, but also for the nation's economic state and its fiscal state, because the impacts of lifelong welfare dependency are crippling. And so we are very conscious of those issues. And I'm sure the DPM will be taking many opportunities to tell the country about how this programme is going to roll out, particularly with the states and territories. But let me finish by thanking Melinda, and thanking CEDA for the opportunity to be here today. I thank my colleagues for joining me here this morning. And look forward to working together on the road back.

MELINDA CILENTO, CHIEF EXECUTIVE CEDA: Thank you very much, Prime Minister. Please join me in thanking the Prime Minister of Australia.