Virtual Address NSW State Council

29 Nov 2020
Prime Minister

The Hon. Philip Ruddock, NSW State President: Ladies and gentlemen, we are now in a position to welcome the Prime Minister of Australia, the Honourable Scott Morrison to address the meeting. Scott, you are welcome. We greatly admire what you and your team have been doing and look forward to hearing from you.

Prime Minister: Well, thank you very much, Philip, and I join you here from iso in Canberra after a very successful meeting with one of Australia’s greatest friends and partners in so many things in Japan. It was quite a privilege to go to Japan and reflect on the fact it was a Menzies government all those years ago that put in place that commerce agreement in the late 50s, of course, followed by so many other great advances in our relationships within the region, but one that is often forgotten. That is one that started, in particular, out of the great work of the Menzies government and all of the Liberal governments that followed. So in many ways, I believed and felt as if I was continuing what is a very strong Liberal tradition, one Philip, that you're very familiar with. And so the price of that in the short term is 14 days here at The Lodge and being able to engage with so many of the other commitments that we've had, whether that's at APEC or the East Asia Summit and the G20 and many other bilaterals that we've had over that period of time. And next week, that will include, of course, joining the Parliament for the first time in Question Time remotely. So we do live in different times, but very enabled times too, which is a positive because it means I can join you all this morning. 

This morning, I'm joining you from Ngunnawal country. So I acknowledge their elders past, present and future. I also acknowledge, as I always love to do, the amazing work and service of our serving men and women and our veterans. And I particularly want to acknowledge them at this very difficult time and thank them for their service and we respect their service. That respect has been earned in the most arduous and demanding of circumstances. And for that reason we, particularly at this time, recognise them and their wonderful service to our country and to any veterans or servicemen and women who are joining us here on this link up and in the meeting I particularly thank you also, as I especially acknowledge the many veterans who serve in our parliaments around the country. 

Can I also obviously acknowledge you, Philip and Chris Stone and the great work you do in stewarding our great party in New South Wales and a very happy 75th birthday to all of us as we gather for this State Council in these unusual circumstances. I also acknowledge my colleague Gladys Berejiklian, Premier of New South Wales, who has always been a great colleague as we've worked closely together over many, many, many years in different roles that Gladys and I have shared and have formed a great friendship and a good working relationship as well to boot, particularly when we served as treasurers and now as Prime Minister and Premier. And she's been an invaluable support and contributor when it comes to the National Cabinet process we've been engaged in. But I'll return to that. 

To all my fellow Liberals, to the members and the volunteers and the supporters. Thank you so much for maintaining your belief in our great cause and our great movement and how we believe things should be done in this country. And right now, in particular in New South Wales and federally, we have an opportunity that we've been able to execute now for a period of time, which we believe is making New South Wales stronger and is making Australia stronger because of the Liberal values and principles that we hold. And to that end, I thank all of my colleagues, whether in the Cabinet or more broadly in the federal parliament, and particularly at this time I want to acknowledge our next most senior member of our federal team in the federal parliament from New South Wales, and that's the Foreign Minister, Marise Payne. These are challenging times, I'll also return to that. But Marise's steadfastness, her consistency, her professionalism, her incredible work ethic has secured many achievements for Australia in this and her previous roles. But working closely with our consular team, with our diplomatic officials, other agencies of government, the return of Doctor Kylie Moore-Gilbert this week was a moment of pure joy. It was one of the really good days. And Marise's efforts in leading that effort to secure Kylie's release and see her come home to Australia is just absolutely tremendous. My other colleagues, of course, I welcome and I thank them for all of their great contributions, too many to name or single out at this time. But they are all doing an absolutely fantastic job, keeping our country safe, keeping our country together and keeping our economy and our country more broadly strong at a time of great challenge. 

Can I as well as acknowledging the Party's history, I also at this time want to acknowledge, as I'm sure you have today, Philip, acknowledge again the sad passing of former premier and former federal finance minister John Fahey. John was an extraordinary fellow, and it was a great personal and professional, I must say also, privilege to be able to join with Colleen and her family at John's Memorial Service at St. Mary's. It was a very moving ceremony, a very moving service, which reflected on John's deep faith, his great conviction and his passions and his sense of service. Values that we all share and we saw exhibited in John. And we are thankful for John's life and we are thankful for his service and we are thankful for his leadership. And it's appropriate for us all to mark our great respect for John and Colleen as well and thinking of her and her terrible loss. They were an incredible partnership. You know, serving in politics in whatever role you have, whether as a volunteer, whether as an office bearer, indeed as a member of parliament or indeed a minister or prime minister or a premier, wherever you're doing it, you need the love and support of those around you and John certainly had that from Colleen. And she shares in all of his significant achievements and I'm sure all Liberals across New South Wales would acknowledge that.

Can I also recognise the outstanding work of our now retired federal president, Nick Greiner. Not only did he do an outstanding job for New South Wales as a very successful premier, but Nick backed up in his service by taking on the role of federal president at a very important time for our Party. And that led, of course, to supporting and doing a great role in our most recent federal election victory. Nick has now retired from that position and has been succeeded by John Olsen. Once again, Nick, I've had the opportunity to say this in many forums, but thank you very much for your great service to our federal party, of course, coming from New South Wales. 

We have been going through a great storm this year, friends, a great storm. And our response has been one that has taken the notice of the world. Just to put this year in perspective. Firstly, the human scale of the loss. The human scale of the loss of COVID-19 around the world is arguably without precedent when we think of the sheer scale of lives lost as a result of a global pandemic. In terms of volume, obviously the Spanish Flu of 100 years ago as a proportion of global population, well, the mathematicians can make the comparisons. But whichever way you look at it, the sheer human cost and scale of that cost has been absolutely devastating all around the world. Here in Australia, we have avoided the worst of those impacts and I'll touch on that in just a moment. When I reflect particularly on this, I think about the situation in the UK where around 55,000 lives have been lost. That is more than were lost during the Blitz during the Second World War. That is a very sobering figure. Now, of course, the causes were very different and the devastation inflicted more broadly through the Blitz and the destruction and the other non-fatal casualties were extreme and those circumstances were very different. But we do have to take into account the context here. Our relative success here in Australia sometimes shields us from the sheer scale of the devastation that has occurred elsewhere around the world and perhaps can cause us not to fully appreciate the strength of Australia's response in these circumstances. 

But it hasn't just been on the health side, on the physical human toll. It has been on the economic side. And to put this in context, in terms of previous economic hits. During the global financial crisis, world growth fell by 0.1 per cent, 0.1. This year, the OECD expects global growth to fall by4.5 per cent. The economic crisis we have been dealing with was 45 times worse than the global financial crisis and one of the reasons that is the case is because this recession globally has reached literally every corner of the Earth. The GFC had far more devastating effects and was more focused on the North Atlantic. Here and all around the world, COVID has had its brutal impact. But here in Australia, because of the measures, because of the resilience, because of the effectiveness of the actions taken principally in the economic area by the federal government, but ably supported by the New South Wales government and the other state and territory governments as well, I should hasten to add, there has been a very bipartisan effort at a state and federal level to ensure together as leaders of governments, Gladys and I working together. But with all the other premiers, of course, there's been disagreements here and that's only natural. It's the Federation. 

But at the end of the day, you must assess the effectiveness of these things by their outcome. And the outcomes in terms of cushioning the blow, where we have seen in particular falls in GDP in the UK of almost 20 per cent and here in Australia that was limited to less than half of that. When you look at the debt situation that we currently face, where we are sitting in a position which is still the envy of the rest of the world. Net debt as a share of the economy will peak at half of what it is in the United Kingdom, a third of what it is in the US and a quarter of what it is in Japan. So even though, yes, we've taken on quite a load and necessarily so, what was the alternative other than to see Australian lives and livelihoods crushed? There is a time for government to act in these ways, but that time is quite specific and it has clear start and end points. And this is where I think Liberal governments understand that. That being a Liberal and having an economically conservative view about how we deal with the country's fiscal challenges is about understanding the necessity of action, but also the limits of that action and how you have to both gear in and gear out of these rather unusual periods of time. And I think Australians have responded well to that. None of us likes the fact that we have had to take on now such a heavy load. But it is necessarily so and I think Australians have heavily supported us in that, which means we will seek their support as we then put that load on a sustainable footing and so that it can be carried by a stronger economy into the future.

I also want to note that it's been the twin managing of these challenges that has been successful. The economic and the health going together. Certainly, there are countries that have done mildly, arguably better than Australia when it comes to health, but that is actually a very contestable space. Indeed, New Zealand has had a very strong health response to the crisis, there's no question of that. But their economy, their economy fell by 12 per cent in the June quarter, almost twice what happened in Australia. So balancing these economic and health interests with great success, I think has been the mark of Australia's response. It has been a response led by the federal government, of course, but one done in total partnership and synchronisation with the state governments and in particular New South Wales, who have understood and I want to pay credit to New South Wales and to Gladys in particular, and to Dom Perrottet and to Brad Hazzard and to all of the New South Wales team. They, more than any other, I feel, have understood that you have to work your way through this crisis. And I mean that.

Keeping people at work, the health issues and the health challenges in New South Wales have been greater than any other state or territory, greater. No doubt about that. The major single point of entry into Australia, the key point of vulnerability for the virus to come into Australia through Sydney. And so the risks of outbreaks in Sydney, the risks of New South Wales going the way of all of so many other countries in the world and the great cities of the world, whether it be New York or whether it be Paris or whether it be right across the world in other great cities. That risk was greatest in Sydney, it was greatest in New South Wales. And so in proportion to the significance of the challenge, so has been the response in New South Wales, steadfastly building up the resources and the capabilities to respond and to stay on top of every challenge that came their way. Sure, like with every other state and territory and federally, there were things that had to be learnt along the way. There was no rule book or guidebook here for Gladys or I or anyone else. We had to make our way through together and that involved a constant stream of communication. It involved learning from mistakes where they were made quickly and making sure that only made our response more strong in the months that followed, where the challenges became even more intense. And so to you, Gladys, and all of your team. I want to say thank you. Thank you very much. Not just for what you've achieved. Because if New South Wales had fallen like other states, particularly Victoria had, then that would have been a blow to our national standing, our national wellbeing, our national economy. That was frankly unimaginable. And so New South Wales held that position at the most important front line there was for our nation and for our economy. And that remains the case now as Gladys and I fully understand, and that's why we are so supportive of the efforts they're taking and balancing again, keeping New South Wales open safely so it can remain safely open, not just for the people of New South Wales, but for the entire country. 

Our response, you know well more broadly, it ranged from the outset of putting in place the international border controls which remain to this day through the building up of our health system, some $18.5 billion invested by the federal government to shore up everything from our mental health supports to respiratory clinics and supporting with personal protective equipment. And there is a long list, and I won't delay the meeting with running through that list. But it was a great national effort and a great national undertaking. And the same work was being done and matched with significant expenditure by the state government as well in particularly building up that ICU capacity early on in the period which required an industrial effort and innovation which pulled together not just health ministers and premiers, but I know many others as well. It also meant understanding what the challenges may be different in regional areas, and shoring that up as well. And the work that has being done by Commissioner Fuller in coordinating effectively that emergency response for the New South Wales government working with the Premier and the Deputy Premier, I think has been an exemplar for all other states and territories to follow. As I said, New South Wales is and has been and continues to be the gold standard when it comes to how this crisis has been managed at both a health and economic level.

Our economic response in supporting New South Wales, almost $20 billion provided to businesses in New South Wales on JobKeeper, some 350,000 businesses in New South Wales. $9.5 billion in cash flow boost to some 280,000 small businesses. 740,000, just under that, accessing early release of superannuation. It's their money. They needed it and they needed it right then and now to ensure that they could lean on their own resources, as well as those provided by the Commonwealth government and the state government to ensure that they could see their way through and put themselves in a position of resilience. You know, we've protected the homes of some half a million Australians, it has been estimated by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute. Half a million Australians still have their homes today because of the economic interventions we undertook. Some 700,000 Australians never lost their job because of the economic interventions that we put in place as a government. And on top of that, we've now seen 75 per cent of the jobs that were lost as we move to the pit of that point of the pandemic recession, they have now been recovered. The effective unemployment rate, which is different to the measured unemployment rate, which is usually quoted, that has fallen from its peak of around 15 per cent at the worst part of the crisis. That takes into account people who had to walk away from the job market, whose hours were reduced to zero. It takes all of that into account and we had around 15 per cent of our labour force and more that were out of work. That has now halved to 7.4 per cent in the space of these months that have followed that pandemic.

That is the evidence of a strong set of economic and health policies that has seen Australia pull through. The coronavirus supplement has been a necessary temporary measure. But along with JobKeeper and the many other things that we've done that has to gear out as it has geared up and what we have seen as we've gone through that well considered, thought through staged process of that support changing is we've seen businesses graduate. We've seen them and as I've met them around the country and in New South Wales, proud of the fact that they no longer need that support. Businesses don't go into business to be supported by the government. They go into business to support themselves. That is one of the great entrepreneurial values of Australians. That's why they do it. They don't want to be dependent on someone else for a job. They want to make their own way. They want to make their own future. They want to realise their own opportunities. It is not the mindset of Australians who run businesses, set up their businesses and work with them tirelessly, with their families and take on risks and do all of these things. They don't do it to be dependent on the government. They do it to be self-reliant. And that's why they are the great heroes of our economic recovery and our economic success that will continue to come in the future.

So we look forward to next year with great optimism because of the hope that has been built through our efforts over the course of this past year. Optimism is something I feel very strongly about. I am a naturally optimistic person. That is my disposition. But hope is something better, hope is something different, hope is something that is built on an achievement. It is built not just on the aspiration that things might go well, but a confidence and a knowledge that is rooted in the assurance of the way we plan to get to where we want to get to. And a key part of that plan and the qualities that we have as a nation has delivered a programme of vaccines for next year, which is exceeding our expectations. We are invested heavily in four vaccines, all of which are progressing extremely well. This basket of vaccines, the Novavax, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and of course, the University of Queensland vaccine. The UQ and AstraZeneca to be produced in Australia in an historic agreement will also see our vaccine production capability in Australia greatly enhanced, one of the legacies of this COVID period. They are all testing well. They still have to pass the final tests of the Therapeutic Goods Administration, the TGA, because we need a safe vaccine, not just a vaccine, and we are working to achieve that. And the Health Minister and I and Professor Brendan Murphy, who heads up our expert medical panel that is advising us on vaccines, are very confident about where this is heading. They should roll out in the first quarter of next year and roll out over the course of the year. At our last meeting of National Cabinet, we agreed the national policy on vaccines and we are now working through the more micro strategy of the rollout plan and so there is still time for that work to come together. But I want to assure you and all Australians that that work is going exceedingly well and is setting up a 2021 which will be very different from 2020, which I think will be a great relief for all of us. A year when we acted to save lives and to save livelihoods, those twin goals, driving all of our directions, bringing Australians together in an unprecedented way, has enabled us to get to where we are now.

So once again, Australia and Australians have proven their resilience this year. We have proven it. I said at the outset from the Prime Minister's courtyard that we like to think we're a strong people. But this year that will be tested and Australians have passed that test. And I'm sure Gladys would join with me in our gratefulness, the big thanks that we have to offer for the outcomes of this year is indeed to the people of Australia and to the people of New South Wales. Their patience, their tolerance, their care for each other, their understanding, their adaptability, their strength in dealing with difficult circumstances has been extraordinary and I think has been guided by that same spirit that existed in previous generations of Australians and those from New South Wales. So this will be something that won't be just required for a short time. Because as we emerge from the pandemic and the comeback has well and truly started and we are making our way once again, next year will prove to be even stronger. But I want to say that that does not mean that the world will present fewer challenges in the future. Of course, it will continue to present great challenges for Australia. There are great uncertainties out there and we are resilient people. And we need to be to meet those challenges that are ahead and are even present now so we can secure our opportunities and we can secure our future.

The world is and remains an uncertain place. Since the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, this has been an exception, I think, to this rule. A new era of stability and certainty, sadly, has not been the product of that time. There has been a pause, a relative pause in the level of uncertainty that is experienced at a global level and that has brought about a great prosperity and has brought about a great connectivity in the world. But we are now seeing and have seen for some time now the return to the uncertainties that Australia has always had to deal with. Global competition and tensions we see again. Strains on our rules-based order around the world. All of this requires the careful engagement of Australia, consistent with our values and our national interests. But this is not new for Australia. There's nothing new about this. Australians have dealt with these things before. We have dealt with the economic shocks of global oil crises. Indeed, Australia has dealt with in the early 70s and it took some time with the establishment of the European Common Market, which massively disrupted Australia's trading outlook and the markets upon which Australia relied upon for our future. But Australia adapted. Australia got better at what we were doing, and we were able to create new opportunities and we were able to move forward.

We've dealt with the booms and busts of resource cycles and commodity cycles. That has been a part of Australia's history since John MacArthur and Elizabeth MacArthur started running sheep out in south western Sydney and other places. This has always been part of Australia's experience, to manage the cycles in which our economy moves, some states more than others. We are no stranger to that. We are no stranger to the need to adapt to these things and should never feel in a way that these things can overwhelm us. They don't. They never have. And I have great confidence that they never will. We have dealt with Cold War tensions in the past for protracted periods. This was one of the great successes, particularly I think, of the Menzies governments and those that followed. A careful and deliberate positive engagement with the world, building up new friendships like the one I mentioned with Japan, but maintaining incredibly strong alliances. It was the Menzies government that signed ANZUS that we will celebrate the 70th anniversary next year. I would suggest probably the greatest achievement of that government and one that I think we as Liberals can rightly understand our place in that great relationship between the United States and Australia. It was a Liberal prime minister and a Democratic president that signed that arrangement. It will be a Liberal prime minister and Democratic president next year which will mark that anniversary. That relationship with the United States goes beyond politics. It is deep, it is enduring, and it is based on a common set of values about our societies and that is what sustains it and it will continue to be sustained into the future. 

We have dealt also with regional conflicts as a country, whether it be Vietnam or other places. These things have caused great upheaval to our country. But at the same time, through all of these challenges, Australians have remained resilient. We have remained true to who we are. We have remained true to our values. And together we have always been able to come through and find our path. So for us as a government in supporting the resilience of Australians during what are difficult times and will continue to be in the international setting beyond this pandemic, our plan is to continue in accordance with these values and principles that have made Australia so resilient and strong. We will remain an outward-looking, open and trading sovereign economy in the world. We have moved our country from a position where 26 per cent of our two way trade was covered by agreements to facilitate that trade around the world to 70 per cent. That has opened up the path for diversification that Australia has never known before. Most recently, the conclusion of the agreement of the IA-CEPA as it is known with Indonesia, the digital agreement with Singapore. Just the other week we concluded our participation in what is effectively a new regional economic community through the RCEP agreement. We continue with the work and I have met just in recent days with the European Union over our free trade agreement with Europe, as well as are moving quickly with a new agreement with the UK as it pulls out of the European Union. There has not been a government more committed to opening up and developing myriad trade opportunities than the government that was elected in 2013 and continues to serve strongly to this day. And I acknowledge the trade ministers, particularly Andrew Robb, who did so much of that groundbreaking work. But that follows through to Steven Ciobo and Simon Birmingham, all of whom have continued down the consistent path that was set out under the Abbott government when we began in 2013. We have provided those pathways. Those pathways have proved to be more important now than perhaps we first understood when we went down that path together as we sat around that cabinet table and I remember it vividly in 2013, knowing that this is where our future lay to continue to broaden and deepen the nature of trading relationships that we have around the world. 

We will continue to leverage and build on our strengths. Our energy strengths, our advanced manufacturing strengths, the skills and ingenuity of our people. Programmes like JobTrainer, the technology roadmap for developing new energy technologies. The manufacturing strategy that was in the Budget, some $1.5 billion built on an economic platform of productivity. This has been well received and it's timely and I commend the ministers for their work in this area and the support that it's received. We will continue to pursue policies that provide equality of opportunity and reward for effort. The fair go for those who have a go. That's what I promised at the last election. And through lower taxes, support for small business, increased training opportunities, some 30,000 new university places that will be available next year. We are living up to that promise. Providing the support and opportunity that is needed for all Australians to achieve their potential where they're prepared to step up and seek to realise their potential. 

We will continue to do all we can, all we can, to ensure that our economy is match fit and competitive in what is a competitive trading world. And our productivity reforms which were outlined in the Budget, many of which I've already mentioned around energy and manufacturing and skills training, our infrastructure programme, working with the states. All of this is designed to ensure that Australia is match fit. Our digital transformation strategy, some $800 million announced in the Budget to lift our economy into the digital world so we can compete as strongly and better, hopefully, than any other nation when it comes to enablement digitally. And then, of course, that we will care for those, we will care for each other as a country through the guarantee of essential services that we all rely on that are made possible by a strong economy and the hard work of Australians and that we’ll care for our country. Whether that's in our absolute commitment to ensure that we can achieve net zero emissions as soon as possible, but not through higher taxes, but through smart technology and innovation that sees us achieve what is a worthy aspiration, a worthy goal, but not at the cost of our industries, not at the cost of jobs. This is not a cost that has to be paid to achieve those things. We can do it smarter than that. And that's what we're seeking to do, working with partners around the world. Or it's indeed the landmark work we've done on recycling technology and recycling efforts, the removal of plastics from our oceans and all of these important environmental objectives, which Sussan Ley is leading so well and making our country more resilient to the great environmental challenges that we have. The Black Summer bushfires only underscored these things. Australia is no stranger to bushfires, but as the Royal Commission demonstrated, the risks that present are locked in and we need to continue to build our resilience, not just to ward off against great natural disasters, but we're very familiar with those in this country. And we will continue to work hard together with the states to build our resilience and our recovery capacity in response to those events when they inevitably occur. 

So, friends, we do all this by upholding our values, never trading them away, making sure that they always light our path for the way forward to ensure that Australia remains the resilient and successful country. Seeking to make our own way, having our friends, having our partners, but seeking to make our own way as an independent, sovereign nation, based on those liberal democratic market-based values that have secured our success for a very, very long time and will into the future. As Prime Minister and my government, we are custodians of that and we do that consistent with the Liberal Party's values, which are so rooted in that notion of resilience and respect for our institutions and respect for the values that are served so well by our defence forces and are exhibited so well by our small business people who go out there and try and make Australia a stronger place every single day.

So I thank you for your shared commitment to these things. I appreciate your patience as I've run through what are some very important issues today and be confident that the faith that you have placed in our government and the people who run it is respected, is appreciated, and we won't let you down. Thank you very much for your kind attention.