Statement On Indulgence - Australian Parliament House, ACT

24 Aug 2020
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I join with the Leader of the Opposition in welcoming the Member for Eden-Monaro as well and to her family, I welcome you also here to this place today.

Mr Speaker, today, like the rest of our country, our Parliament meets with rules and restrictions and innovations that were unthinkable months ago.

It's important that we meet to assert our hope for the future.

To take further action needed to protect the lives and livelihoods of Australians.

And to affirm that whatever we face as a nation, our parliamentary democracy will function. And demonstrate our shared commitment across this chamber to the welfare of the Australian people.

COVID-19, a highly contagious, relentless virus unlike anything we have seen in roughly a century has taken a terrible toll since we last met here in this place.

Around the world, there have been over 23 million confirmed cases and more than 800,000 confirmed fatalities from COVID-19. But we know the figure is likely far higher than that.

In Australia, there have now been almost 25,000 cases of COVID-19, and very sadly, more than 500 deaths. More than 400 of those in Victoria alone. 

This is a heavy toll. 

Millions of Victorians are now enduring a winter of isolation, anxiety, and too often, terrible personal loss.

But while they are isolated, Mr Speaker, we gather to say to your fellow Victorians, you are not alone.

We have deployed more than 1,700 Defence Force personnel to assist on the ground in Victoria. A further 1,700 ADF personnel are deployed across our nation as part of Operation COVID Assist.

We have sent hundreds of Commonwealth officials and other public health experts to Victoria. Together they are leading efforts to support aged care facilities, support testing and tracing, help out with control points, doorknocking and assist with planning and logistical tasks.

We have also injected on top of other supports an extra $33 million to the Victorian childcare sector to secure places for families, to protect jobs in the sector and keep these centres viable,

And we have made supporting the mental health of Victorians a priority. Especially young Victorians, who are finishing school, or at university or out of work and are concerned about their future.

And there's a further $50 million package of support that is now under way.

I'm pleased other states and territories have also stepped up too, and I thank the premiers and chief ministers of those states for their prompt assistance, sending nurses, testing, and tracing support, and other help to our friends in Victoria. 

Despite our many challenges, especially in Victoria, we can take heart from the unswerving commitment of so many Australians from all walks of life, waging this daily war to suppress and ultimately defeat this virus.

Nurses, doctors, care workers and other front-line health professionals. Cleaners and truck drivers, police officers, farmers, shearers, retail staff.

All keeping our country running.

Public servants, I thank also. Including health officials, border officers and other army of staff, processing benefit payments to give their fellow Australians support and hope.

Every day and all day we make decisions and we take actions necessary to keep Australians safe.

We do so in an environment unprecedented in our lifetimes.

We do not claim infallibility. We do not pretend to perfect information, foresight or results in this pandemic, nor do we deny the high expectations that are rightly set for us as Australians.

But we openly acknowledge the honest truth that on some days, the virus does and will get the better of us and we fall short. Not a unique experience in Australia in these times.

And on those days, we're asked for patience and understanding, and I have been overwhelmed by the encouragement received from a generous Australian people, who quietly understand the challenges and difficulties of these times.

And I'm thankful to all of them, for their messages of support. Indeed, for their prayers, from the youngest to the most senior in our communities.

All who are engaged in this great effort in government are giving it their all.

Whether they be prime ministers, premiers, or ministers, making decisions, or public officials giving the best advice they possibly can in a constantly changing and challenging environment.

Our efforts seek to match those being made by the Australian people, impacted by these twin crises of the pandemic and its recession.

On those days, when our efforts fall short, none are more sorry than I as Prime Minister.

We do not let those days, however, dampen our hope, nor distract nor discourage us from the task that remains at hand. We learn from those days, we lift our heads, and we get back at it the next morning, and each and every day.

That's why our nation, Australia, has done and continues to do better than most of the developed nations in the world today.

The United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, Ireland, Israel, all experiencing case and fatality rates well in excess of Australia, and in some cases, more than 30 times per head of population.

And importantly, we maintain a strident hope for the future as recent days of disappointment are once again beginning to turn in our nation's favour.

In seven states and territories, we have continued to be highly successful in suppressing community transmission, especially in New South Wales.

And in Victoria, we have turned the corner once again. The daily sacrifices and efforts of Victorians are making a difference each and every day.

Australia will only succeed when Victoria succeeds as well.

Yet the outbreak in Victoria, its re-emergence in countries like New Zealand, and second waves across Europe, the United States, and Asia, including Japan, have clearly shown this virus is patient and it continues to stalk.

It's an enemy that will continue to probe for weakness. To live alongside this virus, to reopen our economies and bring down our internal borders and return our lives to as normal as possible, we must keep to the staples of successful containment and suppression of the virus.

Strong international border protection and quarantine measures.

Rigorous testing and tracing capabilities.

An ability to respond decisively to localised outbreaks and isolate hot spots appropriately defined, without shutting down our economy.

And consistent hygiene and social distancing behaviours, including wear a mask when required, and if you're sick, stay at home, and get tested.

We must also continue to focus on protecting the most vulnerable, and we are doing so.

Sadly, there have been 335 deaths, 335 deaths in residential and in-home aged care.

Where loved ones have succumbed to the virus in Australia. Once again, we send our sincere sympathies and condolences to the families of all those bereaved in this way.

There are 2,706 residential aged care facilities in Australia. In 92 per cent of these facilities, there's been no infections among residents [and staff]. This compares sharply to many countries around the world, such as the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain. In Victoria, where there has been high levels of community transmission, 126 of the 766 residential aged care facilities have outbreaks among residents and staff.

Of those facilities that have experienced infections across Australia, the impact has been significant in 16 cases. And in 4 cases, the impact has been severe, and completely unacceptable. Again, I offer my apologies to the residents and families of those affected in those facilities. It was not good enough.

Investigations and reviews are under way as is appropriate, including by the Royal Commission into Aged Care that I established. As of this morning, the number of significantly impacted facilities has been reduced to 3. The situation in these facilities remains fragile as I'm advised, as early this morning, but stable.

We will continue on with the task, having so far committed more than $1 billion in aged care supports. We'll continue working to address the many challenging issues in aged care, from waste management, to infection control, staff support, communications with families, the issues are many.

We are learning and applying the lessons of our experiences. We are continually updating our plans, working with our partners, the states, and territory health systems and aged care providers, such as through the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre. We're on the ground, not just in Victoria, but across other states and territories, bolstering preparedness and to put in place even stronger arrangements in the event that our response needs to be scaled up to counter any new threat that presents.

Mr Speaker, we are also facing a concurrent economic crisis as I’ve reminded the house on many occasions as a result of this pandemic. Between February and May, more than 2 million Australians either lost their jobs or saw their hours reduced.

The national measured unemployment rate is now expected to peak at close to 10 per cent in the December quarter of this year. But the effective unemployment rate is expected to reach over 13 per cent.

Our job is to protect jobs.

Wherever we can get as many Australians back into jobs as possible, we will. Wherever we can protect those jobs, we will. And we're making our way back. As the Treasurer has reminded us today, more than half of the 1.3 million Australians who had lost their jobs or been stood down to zero hours have found their way back in to work. This is a great start.

Through our collective health and economic actions we have avoided the scale of economic pain experienced elsewhere around the world, the decline in our economy at the start of the year in the March quarter was smaller than most of the developed world. Subsequent forecasts by the OECD and the IMF have suggested that Australia's economy will be less affected than almost any developed economy in the world.

In the June quarter, we've already seen falls of 10 per cent in the United States and Germany, 14 per cent in France, and more than 20 per cent in the United Kingdom. We'll receive our data for Australia's economic performance next week. Our contraction will be substantial and heart breaking, of course. But we're confident it will be much lower than the countries that I have mentioned.

Alleviating this pain, our government is providing an unprecedented level of economic support to Australians, at more than $300 billion and more than 15.3 per cent of Australia's economy. It is support that is being updated and adapted as circumstances require.

Last month, we announced the extension of the JobKeeper programme until the end of March. The single largest economic measure any Australian government has ever undertaken at a cost of more than $100 billion alone. This week, we will legislate those changes. This will keep more businesses in business and more Australians in jobs.

As well, last month we announced the extension of the JobSeeker coronavirus supplement until the end of 2020. Many other supports and reforms are being rolled out as we both cushion the economic blow from COVID-19 and prepare the ground for economic recovery through the JobMaker plan I announced several months ago. They include the bringing forward of infrastructure investments, a major skills and training package through JobTrainer, together with the states and territories, faster approval processes and further steps to reduce barriers to job creation and investment, and initiatives to lower gas and electricity prices to support, in particular, our manufacturers.

We'll have more to say on those issues as the Treasurer brings down the budget in October, when he'll give further details on our JobMaker plan to take Australia out of the COVID-19 recession.

Mr Speaker, there's still a long road ahead when it comes to this COVID-19 crisis, but the key to a post-COVID world has always been a vaccine. And there is hope. Our arrangements with AstraZeneca are working towards securing a COVID-19 vaccine for 25 million Australians. The vaccine is being developed by the University of Oxford and is currently in an advanced stage of development. If trials prove successful, safe, and effective it could be available next year.

We welcome that development, Mr Speaker. Every single Australian would be able to receive the vaccine for free. And it will be rolled out in accordance with expert medical advice.

We're also in advanced discussions with other vaccine candidates and these include our very own CSL - University of Queensland molecular clamp vaccine amongst others, and we're backing our brightest and best to find a vaccine. In total our government is investing $250 million in vaccine medical research.

Mr Speaker, in conclusion, early this year I said that for many, this would be our toughest year ever. And sadly, this has proven true. But together, we have also proven our strength, and we're staring down this challenge, right across our generations. And together, we will see better days ahead.

So today, let us now claim the hope, Mr Speaker, let's lay hold of that hope and press forward together, stronger and safer and always together.