AFR Business Summit

AFR Business Summit

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A year ago I spoke at this very summit   and said ‘whatever you thought 2020  was going to be about, think again.’ I said we ‘confronted a new, complex, hydra-headed  and rapidly-evolving challenge. COVID-19”. On that day, a year ago, there were  113,210 cases of COVID-19 globally,   across 108 countries, and more  than 3,975 lives had been lost. Already at that time, even a year ago, that number  of lives lost exceeded SARS and MERS put together. Today, there are more than  375,000 additional cases   and 20,000 additional deaths occurring  every single day around the world. Now, in recognising we were not immune a year ago,   I said that we were taking decisive  and timely action to get ahead of this.

The National Incident Response Plan had been  activated in mid-January, including standing up   the National Incident Response Centre in Canberra.  The Chief Medical Officer at the time, Professor   Brendan Murphy, was convening daily meetings of  the National medical expert panel, the AHPPC. The National Security Committee of Cabinet  was meeting regularly, under my direction,   to direct our national response to the pandemic.

The National Coordination Mechanism, within the  Department of Home Affairs, had been established   to address economic and supply chain issues,  particularly in critical medical equipment   and supplies. And this would later be joined  by the National COVID Coordination Commission   to ensure greater private sector  involvement led by Nev Power. We had officially called the pandemic two weeks  before the World Health Organisation in Australia   and we were one of the first countries to  move to close our borders to mainland China. And by the close of the very week I stood  here a year ago, we had announced the first   of our three major economic responses  and we had formed the National Cabinet. We were getting ahead of this.

But to stay ahead, I warned,   ‘we had to work together and continue  to take decisive and timely action’. ‘Our goal’, I said, ‘was to protect the health,  the wellbeing and livelihoods of Australians   through this global crisis, and to ensure  that when the recovery comes, and it will,   we are well positioned to bounce back strongly  on the other side’. That was the mission. That is what we did and that  is what we continue to do. It has been a tough 12 months.  In fact, it’s been the toughest  

our country has seen since the Great  Depression and the Second World War. But here we are,   leading the world out of the global  pandemic and the global recession it caused. Our health system withstood the pandemic storm.

Our federation and our policy-making institutions  adapted to bring about unprecedented cooperation. Business, the research and scientific and medical  community and expertise from all sections of   society, finance and so many, came together to  support this common purpose in a national effort. And above all, Australians, in millions of acts of  patience, of caring, kindness and responsibility,   stood up, looked after each other, did their  bit, and succeeded in pulling Australia through. Australia’s remarkable performance in saving  lives - the third lowest mortality rate from   the pandemic among G20 nations - is the  first point of conversation when I speak   with foreign leaders, I’m proud to say.

But we’ve been equally successful  in protecting livelihoods,   better than almost every other  advanced economy in the world today. The actions of Government have been  critical to Australia’s success. At this summit a year ago,  I set out the principles   that would guide our Government’s  economic response to COVID-19. Our response would be proportionate,  timely, scaleable and targeted.

I said it would be aligned with other policy   arms, in particular monetary policy and we had  fantastic collaboration with the Reserve Bank. It would use existing delivery mechanisms,  to avoid implementation failures of the past. It would be temporary and have a clear  fiscal exit strategy, and wherever possible   it would favour responses  that boosted productivity. They were the principles.

A year on, we have remained faithful  to those principles and that strategy. And that strategy is working. Emergency policies such as JobKeeper and  the COVID supplement for JobSeeker provided   the bridge that Australians and the economy  needed as we looked into what was an abyss. This was supported by our emergency  cashflow payments for small and   medium sized businesses and wage  supports to retain apprentices. Economic stimulus payments of $2,000  individually to Australians in the   welfare system were injected. The last  $250 payment was made during the past week.

There was our targeted support to the aviation   industry to keep planes in the  air and ensure our exporters   could continue to service their international  customers in the bellies of those planes. We provided grants even to  zoos to feed their animals. Our push for the states to adopt emergency  commercial tenancy arrangements for small and   medium sized businesses, avoided nationwide  evictions and unsustainable tenancy debts. The Treasurer worked closely with the banks,  and I want to pay particular credit to Matt   Comyn who is with us here today, and  I want to thank him for his leadership   during this crisis, to ensure repayment  relief to both businesses and households.   The Treasurer and the financial community,  Josh and that team, worked closely together.

And we gave Australians emergency access  to their own money, their own resources,   their own savings, their superannuation balances,  to help see them though the worst of the crisis.   And this doesn’t include the increased  federal expenditure on child care,   mental health, critical medical  supplies, aged care, state hospitals,   a 50/50 deal on COVID related expenditure in  state public hospitals and the thousands of   defence force personnel who are deployed  around the country, just to name a few. All up the Australian Government, as at the  last fiscal update, has committed $267 billion   to our COVID-19 response, that is 13.5  per cent the size of our economy, of GDP.

On the direct economic support alone  it’s 12.6 per cent, some $251 billion,   and this rates as one the most significant  COVID responses anywhere in the advanced world. In Australia it has also been a united  effort with the states and territories,   who have also significantly  added to this economic response,   with an additional $122 billion  or around 6 per cent of GDP.

But, I think even they  would say, it is fair to say   that the heavy fiscal lifting has been done  by the Commonwealth over this past year. Australian Government funding for  the response has more than doubled   the combined investment of all the states  and territories put together, and some. And even when considered as a share of revenue,   the federal response eclipses those of each and  every state and territory and those combined. So, it has been federal taxpayers that have  underwritten Australia’s COVID response,   at every level of Government in this country. Our Government does not take issue with  that – none whatsoever. That was our job,  

that was our role, that was our responsibility  to see Australia through. And so we have. Thankfully, we are now entering the post emergency  phase of the COVID-19 response. We can now   switch over to medium and longer term economic  policy settings that support private sector,   business-led growth in our economy. Because you simply cannot run the Australian  economy on taxpayers’ money forever.   It’s not sustainable.

So since October last year, as the economy  began gearing up, we have been gearing down   JobKeeper and the JobSeeker COVID Supplement. Both measures will now cease as  planned at the end of this month.   And that is consistent with the  principles that I set out a year ago. For those who are in need of ongoing  income support because of unemployment,   this will now be delivered through the newly  increased Jobseeker safety net payment. This   is the first time Jobseeker has been increased,  above indexation, since 1987. Not a small thing.

And we make this transition, and as we do  so, it is also reassuring to know that the   unprecedented support we have provided to  the Australian economy during this past year   will continue to support activity once  these emergency measures come to an end. Our $251 billion in direct economic support, while  largely delivered in 2020, has a very long tail. As the chart shows, treasury estimates direct   support measures will see expected economic  activity 5 per cent higher in the current year   and 4.5 per cent higher in  2021-22, compared with no support. We can see our economy’s remarkable  comeback in the latest National Accounts. The Australian economy grew by 3.1  per cent over the December quarter,  

led by the private sector – outperforming  the G7 and the OECD average. Household consumption was strong –  backed by confident Australian consumers   whose incomes have been supported through  the crisis, also increasing retail spending. But it also includes ongoing support, such  as the over $50 billion in lower personal   taxes for 11.6 million Australians  announced in the October Budget.

The rise in private business investment was  supported by government investment incentives   worth over $30 billion. In particular,  our supercharged instant asset write-off,   the instant expensing, has encouraged firms  to start investing again. And I see it   on shops floors all over  the country where I visit.

An example of this has been the strong rebound  in vehicle purchases - every time you see a   tradie driving a new ute, it is further proof  that the Australian economy is on the comeback. But it is not just small businesses that are  benefitting. Visy Glass in Western Sydney, out at   Emu Plains, a couple of weeks ago announced that  they were bringing forward $380 million of capital   investment because of the Government’s accelerated  depreciation policies and our commitment to   recycling as one of the priority sectors under  our $1.5 billion advanced manufacturing strategy. This forms part of a $2 billion commitment  by Visy to Australia over the next ten years.   That’s a great vote of confidence and a real  shot in the arm for the Australian economy.

Residential building approvals  and dwelling investment also   grew strongly – supported by our  Government’s HomeBuilder program   which has seen almost 90,000 applications and  driven private housing approvals to record levels. This has all meant more jobs. The unemployment rate has fallen down from 7.5  per cent in July last year, that’s the measured  

rate, down to 6.4 per cent in January. That’s  814,000 jobs I’d say recreated since May of 2020. Even more striking,   as I was noting at the time, was the fall  in the effective rate of unemployment,   that takes into account exits from the labour  force and hours that had been reduced to zero. Now the effective rate of unemployment peaked at   around 15 per cent in April last year  and it is also now at 6.4 per cent. By January around 94 per cent of the 1.3  million people who lost their job or were   stood down on zero hours in April  were now back at work as of January.

As a result our labour force participation  rate has already recovered to record highs. Job ads are now well above pre-pandemic levels, up  more than two and a half times from the bottom of   the downturn. There are more than 20,000 more job  ads per month now than there were pre-pandemic. Business and consumer confidence has rebounded. This confidence is critical to further   unlocking business and household  balance sheets in the months ahead. In the June National Accounts we saw the household  savings rate increase to a record 22 per cent.  

Australians were understandably taking  shelter from the storm. By December this   had fallen to 12 per cent, which is still  above the peak reached during the GFC. So just as was the case at the beginning of  this crisis, confidence remains key. This is   how we can encourage Australians, by boosting that  confidence to open their storehouses once again   and drive the next phase of our economic comeback,  through increased consumption and investment. So what are the next steps? While  there has been significant progress,   we know the job is far from done yet.

The impact of the COVID economic shocks   will continue to persist for specific sectors  beyond the end of JobKeeper. We understand this. That is certainly true of the international  aviation, tourism and travel sectors   that will remain severely impacted as long as  international borders remain effectively closed,   and certainly if arbitrary  state border closures continue. So while it is necessary to draw JobKeeper  and the JobSeeker COVID Supplement to a close,   we do understand that ongoing targeted  measures will be necessary to maintain   our aviation and travel sectors, while  assisting those regions that are heavily   reliant on international tourists by boosting  domestic tourism demand in those areas. We will be saying more about that in coming days. We also recognise that, while the  labour market is strengthening,   there are still Australians out there  looking for work and who need to upskill.

We have never forgotten those  Australians. Never once. At the outset of the pandemic,  Minister Cash and I, we made   keeping apprentices in their jobs one of our  first priorities. In addition to Jobkeeper,   used by so many companies to keep their  apprentices in work, our Supporting Apprentices   and Trainees Programme has successfully  kept over 122,000 apprentices on the tools.

These apprentices would have been the first to  go. Such a loss would have been devastating for   our economy, as years of training would have  been lost and, I suspect, never recovered.   By holding onto those apprentices, we have kept  them on their career path and we have maintained   the emerging skills pool that was building, that  will be much needed for our economy in the future. This was backed in by our JobTrainer  programme, creating a $1 billion fund, shared   with the states and territories agreed in record  time through National Cabinet, to create 320,000   new training places. So, when you combine  that with the 30,000 extra university places   we put in place this year, this meant school  leavers entering a post-recession economy,   they had options and a future to look forward to. But just holding onto existing  apprentices, we didn’t think was enough.

Through wage subsidy programs like Boosting  Apprenticeship Commencements, our Government   is helping employers retain and take on new  apprentices and trainees as the economy recovers. In less than five months, we have already  reached the target of 100,000 under this program. 40 per cent of those new apprentices and  trainees have gone to small businesses,   with the largest take up in the construction,  food and beverage, administrative, and repair   and maintenance sectors. Around one-fifth of  the new apprentices were over the age of 35. Today, I am pleased to announce that the  Government is removing the cap on eligible   places and extending the duration of this  program support under this program to 12 months   from the date the apprentice  commences with their employer. The timeline for eligibility is  out to end September this year,   and that aligns with the JobMaker Hiring  credit initiative announced in the budget. Now, this will ensure an apprenticeship  place is there for any Australian   and every business who wants  one as our economy recovers.

It is also important to acknowledge that our  continued economic recovery is inextricably linked   to our ongoing success in combating the virus. Our $6.5 billion vaccination  programme, now underway,   marks the start of a new phase of  Australia’s comeback from COVID-19. Now, rather than rushing headlong into this,  as many countries were frankly forced to do   because of their circumstances, we have  worked carefully to put our portfolio of   vaccines together, to secure our supplies and  prepare our vaccination programme for rollout. This week we will have vaccinated, we  estimate, some 100,000 Australians from   our first priority group of frontline health  care workers, aged care and disability residents   and staff and those working  in our quarantine system.

This week Australia is also on track to have  received one million doses of COVID-19 vaccines,   secured notwithstanding tight   international supply chains that we’re  facing, particularly out of Europe. We’re still getting the job done,  we’re still getting the vaccines in.   I particularly want to commend the work that  DFAT and the Department of Health has been doing.  

Minister Payne, but of course, Frances  Adamson is here today from DFAT. Most importantly, Australia is one  of the small number of countries   to have sovereign domestic vaccine manufacturing  capability. CSL will be ready to supply one   million doses every week from late March as we  move to the next phase of our vaccination rollout. The scientific evidence from Israel and the UK  on vaccine efficacy is very, very encouraging,   especially the ability of vaccines to prevent  serious and severe illness and transmission.  

This is good news. In other words, with  sufficient vaccination of the population,   we can start treating COVID like a bad flu. And if we can continue to manage new strains  of the virus, this changing risk profile will   allow for controls to be further relaxed, as  we recently discussed at National Cabinet. But to the future – in July last year, I addressed  the National Press Club about our JobMaker plan,   setting out our longer term agenda to  rebuild the Australian economy post COVID. Today I want to briefly highlight what I consider  to be key priorities of this plan once again.

Our workforce, what I call D&D - data  and digital - and ensuring reliable,   affordable and lower emissions energy. Firstly, workforce. Building the scale, capacity  and skills of our workforce,   I believe, is the single greatest  economic challenge our country faces. It is why we established JobTrainer  and are working closely with the   states and territories to develop a new  and reformed National Skills Agreement. We need a VET system, a training system,  that’s more responsive to the private sector   and its needs for the future. We need a  better, more granular understanding of where  

the jobs of the future will be, and  the skills needed to do those jobs. It is why we established the National Skills  Commission under Adam Boyton’s leadership,   which is doing fantastic work. As well as dealing with immediate needs,   the Commission is also undertaking detailed  long-term analysis of the skills our country needs   in the future to inform the significant investment  we’re making in our programmes and policies. For example, Australia will require almost  one million direct care workers by 2050 to   meet the growing demand for aged  care. That’s aged care alone.

This is almost triple the existing  aged care workforce and is in addition   to the rising demand for care workers  in the health and disability sectors. Now, part of its initial response  to the Aged Care Royal Commission,   we recently announced that it will be investing  $92 million to train an additional 18,000   skilled personal care workers by mid-2023. But more will be needed to  establish a strong longer term   pipeline of skilled and professional  care workers for our country. That’s why I have tasked the National  Skills Commissioner to undertake a broader,   in-depth study into the factors affecting  the supply and demand for care workers both   in the near-term and out to 2050. Now that’s just one sector. The Commissioner  will finish his report in September this year  

to inform the Government’s  care workforce strategy,   but getting a handle on the skills we need is  critical to economic policies for the future. Training and skilling our workforce  though is one thing, but the scale   of our workforce and getting access to that  workforce is proving to be completely another. The retreat of backpacker, student and  seasonal labour from temporary visa holders   during COVID has exposed large gaps in our  workforce, particularly in the agriculture,   tourism and hospitality sectors, and  especially in regional Australia. These workers are also an important workforce   source for the care sector, including aged care  and nursing, where demand for workers is acute. Seasonal and Pacific work visa holders alone  provide a standing workforce of around 12,000   people a year ready and willing to work.  These workers are complemented by tens   of thousands of backpackers who would  normally be working in regional Australia.

ABARES estimates that the impact   of COVID has resulted a workforce shortfall of  around 22,000 workers in horticulture alone. Now, despite targeted measures  to incentivise Australian   JobSeeker recipients to relocate to where the jobs  are – $6,000 to move there and take those jobs –   unemployed Australians are simply and  regrettably not filling these jobs. Right now there are 54,000 jobs  going in regional Australia. Michael McCormack, the DPM, will tell you that, if  you give him half a second on any day of the week   and he’s right. 54,000 jobs are out there right  now in regional Australia that they can’t fill. And every day we hear the stories of  employers, especially in regional areas,   unable to fill positions.  It’s got way past anecdotal.

The knock on effect of critical  skills shortages also forces up prices   for consumers, increasing the cost of  living for Australians in our cities.   That’s how it impacts  Australians at home right now. If we can’t get the workers in our regional  areas, then the price of your groceries goes   up. And so it’s in all of our interests  to address this very important issue. Our responses are twofold. Firstly, to strengthen the mutual obligation  requirements for job seekers receiving the   JobSeeker payment. Now, we recently took  this action to announce several weeks ago   by the Minister - Minister Cash - in tandem  with the recent increase in the Jobseeker   payment. And that’s a fair exchange. If there is  a job available, and you are able to do that job,  

then it is reasonable for taxpayers  to expect that you will take it up,   rather than continue to receive benefits. And  if you don’t, then payment should be withdrawn.   But that won’t be enough to fix this  problem. This problem goes pre-pandemic. We must also re-look at the role the temporary  visa holders play in meeting our economy’s   workforce requirements, where Australians  do not fill these jobs. Of course we want   Australians to fill these jobs, of course that is  our first priority. But we also need to understand  

that by looking at this area we need to see  that rather than taking Australian’s jobs,   we need to instead appreciate how filling critical  workforce shortages with temporary visa holders   can actually create jobs elsewhere in the economy  and, in particular, sustain growth and services in   our regional economies, and that Australians get  a net benefit. It’s a value add to the equation. I assure you this issue will not  go away when the pandemic ends.   It’s a thorny issue for us  to deal with and we must.

We must become a world leader in D&D. In  just the first 8 weeks of the pandemic,   consumer and business digital  adoption vaulted five years forward. Post COVID, we need to keep our  foot on that digital accelerator. Now, this requires Governments to adopt  a different mindset to regulation. Modernising regulation, whether around  competition, consumer protection, finance,   safety or security – these things shouldn’t   be seen as a hand brake on innovation. Through  smart regulatory design, working with the sector,   the challenge is to open up new economic  opportunities in the private sphere,   while ensuring the benefits of the digital  era deliver broader public goods is our aim.

Now, our Government successfully took  on this challenge, most recently,   through the news media bargaining  code with the Big Tech platforms.   Plenty of people said ‘you can’t  get that done’. Well, we have. But it’s not only the regulatory  frameworks we need to consider. Data needs processing, just as oil needs refining. Data will power much of the  transformative technology of   the future – artificial intelligence, machine  learning, automation and predictive analytics. Data doesn’t need huge refineries,  but it does need smart people   and businesses and digital infrastructure.

And that’s why our digital infrastructure program,   but also most importantly, our  skills agenda is so important. It’s also why we have progressed  so many other initiatives - the   regulatory sandbox for FinTech, the  Singapore Digital Economy Agreement,   the world’s leading Consumer Data Right, the  rollout successfully of the NBN, support for 5G,   e-invoicing, digital identity, single-touch  payroll, the 2020 Cyber Security Strategy   and the eSafety Commissioner. We  haven’t been still on this issue. The next instalment of our plan, the  Government’s digital strategy, is now being   worked on by the new Minister for  the Digital Economy, Jane Hume.  

And we’re looking forward to  receiving that later in the year. Now thirdly and finally – affordable,  reliable and lower emissions energy. The world’s response to climate change is  simultaneously reshaping the global economy,   global politics and the global energy system. As Daniel Yergin wrote in his recent book,  The New Map, which I highly recommend to you,   he said our response to climate  change will “bring continuing changes   in how energy is produced, transported and  consumed; in strategies and investment;   in technologies and infrastructure; and in  relations between countries.” Very true. We are preparing. Australia is preparing.  The Australian Government is preparing  

for this new geo-politics of energy and  climate change. It’s gone into another gear.   We must address the threats and we must  realise the opportunities for Australia. We are committed to doing so in  a way that preserves the jobs and   livelihoods of communities right across the  country, especially in regional Australia,   while ensuring Australia is  part of the new energy economy.   We want both and we can get both. And by backing  technology to drive that change, not taxes.

This includes our commitment to  investment in energy infrastructure,   some $35 billion invested in  renewable energy from 2017 to 2020. Our investment in Snowy 2.0 and supporting  development of all major priority electricity   interconnectors identified by the  Australian Energy Market Operator. Our gas fired recovery plan, and I  acknowledge Andrew Liveris for his   part in driving that strategy for the Government,  ensures that Australia’s record investments   in solar and wind have the firming support  needed to drive reliability of energy supply,   while also critically supporting the feedstock  needs of our manufacturing industries to advise   to drive our advanced manufacturing strategy. Renewable energy, hydrogen production, critical  minerals – they’re all part of our agenda   and likely to generate significant investment and  jobs for regional and remote Australia. A good  

example is the Asian Renewable Energy Hub  in the Pilbara, supporting 3,000 jobs when   fully operational – and some 20,000 direct and  indirect jobs during the construction phase. Our Technology Roadmap aims  to leverage some $70 billion   in investment in low emissions  technologies over the next decade. Now, as Bill Gates set out  in his new book, Greg Hunt   recently joked with me that after I had  my vaccination that I was talking about   Bill Gates all the time, but anyway, I just  read his book. You’ll get it in a second.   He sets it out – it’s about driving the  nexus between innovation supply and demand.   That’s his key point. And  that’s what we’re seeking to do.

And we will play our part, not just in Australia,  but we’ll do it as part of a global effort. Australia’s former Chief Scientist, Dr Alan  Finkel, has been commissioned to lead this work,   reporting to Minister Angus Taylor. And we have set ourselves an ambitious timetable  to establish new energy technology partnerships   this year with major partners, including  the United Kingdom, the United States   and Japan. And I acknowledge the ambassador today. Affordable and reliable energy will continue  to be an important focus of my Government as   we transition to a low emissions economy and  we move towards net zero as soon as possible,   and preferably by 2050.

So, ladies and gentlemen, with each  passing month, Australia’s comeback   and economic recovery from COVID-19 is  building and we are leading the world. We are making our own Australian way through  this challenge and I remain confident   that we will emerge stronger, safer and  more firmly together on the other side.   And at the same time, we’re preparing for  a world and an economy beyond the pandemic. Our success though will depend,  as always, on the strength,   resilience and on the ingenuity and  decency of the Australian people. And on that score I am nothing but  filled with confidence for the future.

Phil Coorey:   Thanks very much, Prime Minister. My name is Phil  Coorey and I’m the political editor at the AFR.   We’ve only got time for a couple of  quick ones. So if I could just ask you   about I think an interesting aspect  of your speech about the migration,   your comments on migration, temporary visa  holders. Would you, I mean it is early days, but  

would you let us into your thinking, would you be  looking at changing the overall migration cap to   allow in more skilled temporary migrants or just  changing the migration mix? What’s your thinking? Prime Minister: Well, temporary migration isn’t  capped, it is demand driven and always has been.   But it is really about the design of the classes  of the visas and the Ag 2030 Strategy which has   been developed by David Littleproud, I think will  play a key role in particularly in how those visas   can address workforce challenges in the ag sector  in particular. But it is not just about the ag   sector. Anyone who runs a hospitality business  will be aware of these issues and particularly   if they’re operating one in regional Australia as  well. I mean, backpackers play an important role   in that process but our systems to date have  not been as direct as they might be. So all I’m  

saying really is that I’ve got a very open mind  on this. We have tried in the past to first get   Australians into these jobs and having tried to  do that with any number of incentives, and I’m   sure Peter Costello remembers the things  they were trying back two decades ago. It has   been incredibly difficult and we have to call it  as it is. And that is, when Australians won’t do   the jobs, the jobs still need to be done and I  can’t have, as is occurring, horticulturalists   ploughing their produce back into their  fields because they can’t get the workers.   That is a tragedy for our economy and particularly  for those producers. So this is a clear area where   I think we are going to have to lean more forward  on. Not at the expense of Australian workers,  

as I said. If you’ve got a missing link in your  workforce, then that actually impedes growth   of your economy, which costs the economy jobs.  It’s cost those businesses those opportunities   and so I see this as a value-add at the end of  the day and we’re going to have to make our case   on this but the regional members of my team,  my Nationals colleagues who sit in the Cabinet,   the Liberal members from right across regional  Australia have been very consistent on this view. Coorey: Would there be conditions tied to these  visas, though? You’d have to go to the regions,   would there be the lure of permanent  residency perhaps at the end? Prime Minister: I think you have all of  those options that you have to consider   and you need to think about their broader impact  on population growth. I mean, obviously, we’re  

not seeing any of that at the moment. But yeah,  that conditionality is one of the great advantages   of the temporary visa system. As a former  Immigration Minister, I know it pretty well.   You can’t put conditions on permanent  visas about where people can live. Rightly,   you’re a resident. You’re a citizen, you’re a  citizen. You can go wherever you like. But if   you’re on a temporary visa, you’re here on  conditions. And those conditions can help us   direct where people can go which can ease  population pressures in metropolitan areas   but also hopefully create  opportunities in regional areas.

Coorey: PM, you’ve announced another $1.2 billion  for apprentices. Since March last year, I think   this is your fourth announcement on wage subsidies  for apprentices and trainees. We’re up to   nearly over 300,000 positions now. Is there  an assurance, because it is a wage subsidy for   the first 12 months of that apprenticeship.  Do you have an idea of what the completion   rate would be in terms of getting value for  money? I mean, I know you can't prescribe. Prime Minister: It would be difficult to  predict in the current environment, Phil,   and one thing I've learnt during COVID-19 is  don't get too far ahead of yourself about what   the economic conditions are going to be. But, you  know, I don't think businesses lightly take on  

young people into their businesses. I  think they do it with intent, taking   those people into their employment, particularly  in small and medium sized businesses. These are   predominantly family businesses in many cases,  so many of them in regional parts of the country.  

And so I don't think they see this as a short term  measure. I see a lot of confidence out in these   businesses as I move around the country. I was up  at a quarry service business just the other day   and up in the Hunter and they're growing their  business, they're taking on apprentices. I mean,   other apprentices that started in the  middle of COVID and at the start of COVID   and they know the reason they're still in  that business is because of these programmes.   Those businesses want to take them on because  they know they need them and they need to build   up those skills. But as we know, when you're  in those early parts of the skills development,  

apprentices won't add as much value  as they ultimately will. So by sharing   what is the heavier part of that load  in the early parts of their training,   I think we're giving business the leg  up to give them a long term future. Coorey: You spoke on the vaccine. You talked about  hopefully we'll get the results coming out of the   UK and Israel and so forth, the efficacy and we’ll  be able to treat this hopefully as a bad flu in   the not too distant future. But we're still not  there yet. And a lot of people in this room I know   and outside this room will be worried about the ad  hoc nature of border closures and the inability of   the Federation to come to an agreed set of  rules for shutting them. Isn't that just   the way we're going to be for the next six  to eight months as the vaccine comes out? Prime Minister: Yeah, look, I understand the  frustration. Believe you me, I've shared it on  

many occasions. At the end of the day, I think  one thing we've learnt during the past year is   that states have some sovereign responsibilities  and they’re responsible for the decisions they   take and they have the authority and  power to take them. Wherever possible,   we seek to try and get some consistency on  that. And we've had some great success on  

that in some areas, but regrettably,  on the borders that has not occurred.   What we're now doing this year, though,  I think is very different to 2020. The   2020 response to COVID-19 must be different in  2021. Why? Because the risk has changed. I mean,   when you don't have a vaccine, when you're  building up your health system and you're   highly vulnerable at the start of a pandemic or  running the quarantine system under great stress,   well, you're going to be more cautious because  as we see with an outbreak in an unprotected way,   then it can have catastrophic effects on your  economy. So that is that is understandable. But   if you go back to the start of COVID, what were  we most concerned about? Thousands upon thousands,   upon thousands of Australians dying an undignified  death in ICUs right across the country,   potentially without ventilators in an agonising  and horrific scene. We saw those scenes overseas.  

These are not made up scenes. We  saw the mass graves in New York,   we saw the large tents in fields in the UK where  the bodies were just lined up, one after the next.   Let's not kid ourselves how serious this was.  And this year is different. This year that risk   with the vaccine means that serious and severe  illness don't become that risk. That is changing   every day, around about 25,000 or thereabouts aged  care residents have already now been vaccinated   with their first injection. That's about 270, I  think, facilities that have already been reached.  

They are our most vulnerable. They are the  Australians who would be most likely to be   victims of COVID-19 without these protections. So  once you're able to protect the most vulnerable,   once you're able to vaccinate your quarantine  workforce, once you're able to vaccinate your   frontline health care and aged care and  disability care staff, well, it changes.  

And so the parameters for the decisions that  premiers are making this year are different   from last year and the justifications for  actions will need to be different. Now,   good news is it has opened up a lot more this  year. You can even get the West Australian now.   There you go. That’s great. I hope to get  there soon. It's been a long time since I've   been to West Australia and for most people.  But, you know, those decisions I understood.  

But this year is different and Phil Gaetjens  has been tasked together with all the director   generals of the premier's departments to develop  a new risk management framework for the states   and territories and the Commonwealth to inform  these decisions this year. And so that means,   you know, it's not just about the health because  the health risk is diminished. It's about the   economic risk, the impact on livelihoods, the  impact on regions. And it's important that all   premiers, chief ministers, prime ministers  make decisions that are very commensurate   with the new risk framework that we are facing  this year, which is different to last year.   And so for that reason, I expect the decisions  made this year should be different to last year.

Coorey: And just finally, PM, I must ask you about  the current issues of the day. Issues surrounding   your Attorney-General and the Defence Minister  does go to workplace culture and they are things   people in this room, CEOs and so forth, have had  to deal with themselves in their own internals.   A couple of questions. Is it still your  view you don't need a separate enquiry   into the allegations against your Attorney? And  he's also your Industrial Relations Minister.   Senator Cash is now doing that. What's it mean  for the IR Bill, the Industrial Relations Bill,   which you were hoping to have next week? Is that  now going to spill over into the Budget session? Prime Minister: Sure. Well, first of all,  I believe in the rule of law. I believe  

in equality before the law. I believe every  Australian should face the same legal processes   as any other Australian. And on that basis, I see  no justification for any extra judicial inquiry   that might be set up by a prime minister or  any other politician. All Australians are equal   before the law. We have competent and authorised  agencies to deal with these matters, both through   the police and through the courts. And that's  where I will make my assessments of those matters,  

and that's where it should be done. You don't  have to go too far from this place to see   countries where the rule of law doesn't operate  and the chaos on the streets and the mayhem that   that can ultimately lead to. So I don't take  the rule of law for granted in this country,   and I would never do anything that would undermine  the rule of law in this country. It is the  

basis of our democracy. It's also the basis of  our strength and stability of our economy. And so   for all of these reasons, I'm not entertaining  that proposition. Coroners should follow their own   processes, they should make their own decisions  and if there should be a coronial enquiry, then   that is, of course, the process. And I'm happy  to see those processes proceed as coroners see   fit. On the other matter, the great thing about my  team is one of my team, in this case, the Attorney  

or indeed the Defence Minister, if they're unable  to do their duties currently for health reasons,   then I have wonderful people I can turn to. In  Defence, I can turn to Marise Payne, the first   ever female defence minister in this country  who understands these issues up and down and   backwards and frontways. And she's all over it as  am I and we will continue to address those matters   each and every day and we won't skip a beat.  But I can also say in Industrial Relations and   matters of the Attorney-General, I can turn to  another great woman in my cabinet, Michaelia Cash,   a very accomplished lawyer in her own right, and  a former industrial relations minister who has   got some experience in getting important  industrial relations reforms through the Senate   on other occasions when she previously had that  portfolio. So once again, we know what our job is.  

We know what issues are serious and important,  and they're important issues to deal with and the   sensitive matters raised in Canberra over the  course of this last month. But I also know what   Australians are relying on me to do, and that  is to lead us out of this COVID-19 pandemic   and to lead us out of this covid-19 recession  and that's exactly what we're going to do. Coorey: Thank you, Prime Minister. Prime Minister: Thank you.

2021-03-10 17:32

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