PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Mr Speaker.
We gather again today in unusual circumstances, during extreme times to consider extraordinary responses to the twin crises our nation faces – to our nation’s health and TO our economy. What we do today is what Governments have always done in such circumstances, when our nation is under threat that previous generations of Australians have done before us.
Today we act to protect our nation’s sovereignty. When Australian lives and livelihoods are threatened, when they are under attack, our nation’s sovereignty is put at risk and we must respond. As a Government, as a Parliament, as a nation, together.
Nurses, teachers, drivers – cleaners, doctors, police, and paramedics – factory workers, engineers, bankers – grocers, miners and farmers – pastors, priests and imams – politicians, union officials, even lawyers – mums, dads, grandparents, kids, families. All of us.
Our sovereignty is measured in our capacity and freedom to live our lives as we choose in a free, open and democratic society. We are not a coerced society. We act through our agreement and our wilful support of the national interest, through our many institutions, including this Parliament and the many others around this country. And we will not surrender this.
Our sovereignty is enabled by having a vibrant market economy that underpins our standard of living that gives all Australians the opportunity to fulfil their potential. To have a go and to get a go. And we will not surrender this. Our sovereignty is demonstrated by the quality of life we afford Australians, with world class health, education, disability, aged care, and a social safety net that guarantees the essentials that Australians rely on.
We will not surrender this.
And above all, our sovereignty is sustained by what we believe as Australians, what we value, and hold most dear, our principles, our way of doing things. We will never surrender this. So make no mistake, today is not about ideologies. We checked those at the door.
Today is about defending and protecting Australia’s national sovereignty. It will be a fight. It will be a fight we will win. But it won’t be a fight without costs, or without loss.
Protecting our sovereignty has always come at a great cost, regardless of what form that threat takes. And today will be no different.
So today, we will agree to pay that price, through the important measures we will legislate today. But today, as a Government, I want to commit to all Australians as Prime Minister, that once we have overcome these threats – and we will – we will rebuild and restore whatever the battle takes from us.
As a nation we are working together nationally, especially through the National Cabinet. And I wish to again place on record my thanks to all of our Premiers and Chief Ministers. We have come together to lead together in a new way through these crises.
I thank all my Ministers, who I lead together with the Deputy Prime Minister and the Treasurer, and we are all together ably advised by our experts and officials in the Australian public service, and I particularly want to acknowledge Professor Brendan Murphy and his team.
I thank all of my colleagues on the Government benches for their input and leadership in their communities, as I do all members of this House and the other place. I thank the Opposition leader and his parliamentary team and all of his staff.
And I extend my thanks to businesses large and small, to unions, to the banks, to the media, to the not for profits, welfare and charitable organisations, indigenous leaders, and churches and other faith groups for their prayers, support and the many efforts they are making.
Together, we have now established the key baseline supports and protections that have bought us much needed time in this crisis, to get us through in these place. And I will speak of those actions today. But there is a long way to go in this fight.
This has been our road in. We will now lead the country on the road through. And then the road out and beyond.
Mr Speaker it’s been 16 days since the House last met. As of this morning, 5,956 Australians have contracted the coronavirus. Thankfully, thankfully 2,547 have recovered. 294 are hospitalised. 92 in intensive care and 36 are on respirators. Sadly, there have been almost 50 deaths in Australia. Tens of thousands more have died across the world.
One of those was the Member for Cooper’s father-in-law. On behalf of the Government, and the Parliament, I extend our deepest sympathies to the Member for Cooper and her family – as they are with all who have lost loved ones, both in recent times here and overseas and are fearful of that event occurring in the future. And as a nation we especially send our best wishes to our good friend Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson. Get well soon Boris, we need you.
When the House last met, new cases were growing at more than 20 per cent a day. In recent days, it has averaged two percent a day. This is very encouraging. We are flattening the curve. We are buying ourselves precious time in this fight.
And I want to thank the overwhelming majority of Australians for doing the right thing, you are saving lives, you are saving livelihoods. But we have to keep up our efforts. Progress can be easily undone as we have seen in other places around the world.
We are only days away from Easter. The time that should give us great hope. And the message is clear though. Stay home. Don’t travel. Don’t go away. We can’t let up now.
Mr Speaker, as I’ve said many times, we are facing twin crises. A health crisis and an economic one. And we must deal with them simultaneously – and in real time and so often they work against each other. But that is the balance we must achieve.
Since the Parliament last met, we have taken many action on many fronts.
People coming back from overseas now have to self-isolate for 14 days in a designated facility. The National Cabinet has further tightened restrictions on public gatherings. And these are taking some time to get used to. We’ve expanded the coronavirus testing criteria to include people with fever or acute respiratory infection under key categories.
Australians should be proud, very proud, that we have one of the most comprehensive testing regimes in the world. We have one of the highest rates of testing in the world.
Today some 313,000 tests for the virus have been conducted across Australia – this is more than double the number since we last met and I commend the Minister for Health on his efforts in this respect. Since the Parliament last met, we have strengthened the preparedness of our hospitals and are working with the states to triple our ICU capacity.
We’ve changed medical indemnity rules to encourage retired health workers to return to practice. We’re supporting up to 20,000 registered nurses to get online training to better prepare them to deliver care in high dependency and intensive care units. We have finalised an historic partnership with private hospitals – ensuring that over 30,000 hospital beds and 105,000 skilled workers are mobilised to work in conjunction with the public hospital sector.
The Government will guarantee the viability of all 657 private and not-for-profit hospitals across Australia through these challenging times. Because we need them. To preserve critical resources, we’ve acted to suspend all non-urgent elective surgery. Of course, we know many Australians still need to see their doctor during this time, and they should, and to get the medicines they depend on for their health.
So we’ve expanded Medicare-subsidised telehealth services. And we’ve given extra incentives for GPs and other health practitioners so that their practices can stay open for face-to-face services where needed. We know Indigenous Australians are at great risk from COVID-19 and we are making $123 million available for targeted measures to assist Indigenous communities and businesses.
We are supporting those Australians with a disability through the efforts of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
We’ve taken action against those who would seek to profiteer from this health crisis. By buying goods like face masks, hand sanitisers and medicines and re-selling them at big mark-ups, or exporting them in bulk overseas. It’s not on. These products should be for Australians, first and foremost. We have invested an initial $74 million for mental health support.
And to counter the greater risk from domestic violence, we have committed an additional $150 million to support Australians experiencing domestic, family and sexual violence.
And while we have continued to build our National Medical Stockpile. All this time, over 30 million masks have arrived over recent days, with great help from groups like the Minderoo Foundation, with more than 500 million masks on order, and domestic production also underway.
Mr Speaker, our Government has moved decisively to address the economic storm that also confronts us. This is the greatest economic crisis to afflict the world in many generations.
We have responded with the biggest economic lifeline in Australia’s history that we will consider today. And I want to thank the treasurer for his leadership as these measures have been brought together. Working together, I should say also, with the treasurers of the states and territories on so many other measures.
So far, more than 200,000 additional JobSeeker claims have been finalised over the past few weeks. With the COVID-19 supplement doubling our safety net support. Thousands of extra workers have been recruited to ensure we can move through the claims still outstanding as quickly as possible.
Today, we will put before the Parliament our JobKeeper package. JobKeeper will keep Australians in jobs and it will keep the businesses that employ them in business, both know and into the future. The $130 billion economic life-line will provide payments of $1,500 per fortnight to an estimated six million eligible workers through their employer.
As of yesterday afternoon over 700,000 businesses have registered for this support, and this number continues to grow. It is the equivalent, this payment, of around 70 per cent of the national median wage. For workers in accommodation, hospitality and retail services, some of the most affected by this economic crisis, it equates to a full median replacement wage.
We also have extended the partner pay income test for those on JobSeeker. The partner test is being changed from about $48,000 to just over $79,000. As well, we want those working with children – and particularly our essential workers – to have confidence in their child care arrangements.
The Government is providing business continuity payments to support child care services to stay open. This means around one million Australian families will be able to receive free child care. The investment complements the more than $1 billion the Government expects the sector to receive through the JobKeeper payment. Managing our workforce is a critical part of keeping the economy going. So we have announced changes to temporary visa holders – including for international students, temporary skilled visa holders, and working holiday makers.
We are also relaxing the visa conditions for our Seasonal Worker Programme and the Pacific Labour Scheme so that participants can stay for up to one more year. This is essential for our agricultural sector, who for the first time in a long time are seeing rain.
These extensions are subject, of course though, to labour market testing, allowing local job seekers, Australians, the opportunity to work. The Government knows that many Australian businesses are under pressure – and we won’t allow a fire sale of Australian businesses to foreign interests. The Treasurer has announced temporary changes to the foreign investment review framework to protect Australia’s national interest. This means all proposed foreign investments will now require approval, regardless of the value or nature of the foreign investor.
With businesses and families under stress, the National Cabinet has agreed to a moratorium on evictions over the next six months for commercial and residential tenancies in financial distress.
Yesterday, the National Cabinet agreed that states and territories would implement, legislate and mandate, a mandatory Code of Conduct for commercial tenancies. The Code sets out the good faith leasing principles for these tenancies. It means that businesses will be able to emerge on the other side and start trading again, not weighed down by disabling debts that would otherwise keep their doors closed forever.
We are all in this together. I know that some families coming into this health and economic crisis were already doing it tough. That’s why we are providing an additional $200 million to help vulnerable Australians pay bills, food, clothing and petrol. Additionally, we are providing almost $60 million to assist older Australians with food and other essential items.
To mobilise the full resources and talent of the private sector behind this national mission, we have established the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission under the leadership of Nev Power and I thank all of those commissioners for their service.
This is about government and the private sector working together to solve problems for our nation. All the measures I have detailed today are measures that we have announced since we last met over the past 16 days.
Mr Speaker, we have a long way to go. Through the actions we have taken to date, we have bought valuable time, to chart a way out over the next 6 months.
But there are no guarantees, and it could well take far longer. Our country will look different on the other side. But Australians will always be Australians.
We have now navigated the road in and we now can see some encouraging signs.
We do stand in a place, today, far better than most nations around the world, because of the efforts of all Australians. Flattening the curve. Buying more time. Time other countries haven’t had and we’ve seen the devastating effects on those nations and their people.
Preparing our health system for the challenges to come.
Putting in place the big economic lifeline and buffers for Australians in this, their toughest ever year in 2020.
We are charting the road through. We are all in. Our institutions are strong. Our people are strong. Australia is strong and will continue to be strong.
We will respond to this challenge, and we are up to the fight. We will pay the price needed to protect our sovereignty, and we will chart our way out.
We will get through this, together, Australia.