Apr 16, 2020
PM Scott Morrison COVID-19 Briefing Australia April 16
Prime Minister Scott Morrison held a press conference for Australia coronavirus today, April 16. He said there will be no change to the tough social distancing and self-isolation measures. Read the full transcript of his statements right here on Rev.com.
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Scott Morrison: (00:00)
Today has been another successful meeting of the national cabinet. Again, I want to thank all the premiers and chief ministers for the incredibly good-faith way they continue to engage in the national cabinet. The issues that we deal with are not simple. There are difficult considerations. There are a lot of trade offs that have to be made, a lot of issues that have to be considered on the ground. Every state and territory has very different scenarios that they’re facing at the moment and I do want to thank them again very much for the spirit in which they remained so committed to the national cabinet process.
Scott Morrison: (00:35)
Having made some real progress over the past month in getting the virus under control as reflected in the data that you have been seeing, and Professor Murphy will be taking you through some more of that data today, and also getting the key economic supports through programs like job keeper and job seeker out there and being implemented, our attention as the national cabinet has now been turning to the road out, having worked through the road in and that road to recovery on the other side. Importantly today at the national cabinet, we received quite extensive briefings from Dr. Lowe, the governor of the Reserve Bank, and Dr. Kennedy, the secretary of treasury. At those briefings it was reinforced again to the national cabinet, on a point that we strongly concur with, the need to synchronize our health and economic responses to the virus. We must consider these responses conjointly and understand the impacts of each. Whether that’s in the modeling work that we’re doing with the responses and measures we’re putting in place, this has to be considered together and understood together.
Scott Morrison: (01:55)
There was also very welcome support from the governor for the fiscal policy responses that had been put in place by the commonwealth and the states and territories. You may have seen them, I think it was the Grattan Institute work that was done, which outlined as a percentage of the economy the scale of Australia’s fiscal response to this crisis, which is sits on pretty much on the top of the leaderboard around the world.
Scott Morrison: (02:22)
They also highlighted, though, need to ensure that on the other side of the bars, as we make our road out, that any sense of business as usual when it comes to the policy frameworks that we had prior to the election will need to be reconsidered on the other side to ensure that we can achieve the growth that will be necessary in our economy to get people back into work, to get our economy back on track. It will be a different world on the other side of the virus and there’ll be many challenges.
Scott Morrison: (02:54)
The national cabinet has a very good appreciation of this. There has been some talk about its role on the other side of the virus, and that is a discussion for another day. But between now and as we continue to work through the impact of the virus, the national cabinet will also have on its agenda the types of things and policy measures that we can take together working at federal and state level to ensure we can give our economy every support and importantly every freedom to be able to get on and see businesses grow on the other side. That cooperation at a federal and a state level will be very important and there’ll be a sense of urgency and I think a shared purpose on that front across the national cabinet. Again, I thank them for collectively understanding that opportunity we have together.
Scott Morrison: (03:50)
Also we’ve noted of course that today’s unemployment rate showed only a modest change from the figures in February, but as we all know, those figures were largely based on the middle of March and that was in particular before we put in place the restrictions across the economy towards the back end of March. While that figure is welcome, we know that is the best figure we’re going to see for some time. We know what the expected impacts are going to be on unemployment and from the figures you’ve already seen released from treasury and the RBA have similar views as we’ve also seen in some of the IMF reporting as well. That is a figure which we can note, but is not one that we could expect to be held going forward.
Scott Morrison: (04:35)
In saying that, we really do need to prepare ourselves as a country for some very sobering news on the economic front in the months ahead. I think Australians understand that. I think Australians are ready for that, but it is always difficult to receive that news and that’s why it’s so important that as a national cabinet that the Australian public understand that we are working on that road out and that we are working on that road ahead and that recovery piece that will see people getting back into work and Australia getting through this and to the other side.
Scott Morrison: (05:09)
The G20 met last night through the finance ministers and central bankers. This was an initiative that actually Australia recommended some weeks ago that the finance ministers and central bankers should meet regularly. I thank the G20 for continuing on with that practice. The treasurer joined them last night. There is some eight trillion so far that has been put into a government fiscal responses and other responses around the world and, as I said, Australia features prominently in that.
Scott Morrison: (05:40)
Importantly, they agreed that G20 nations would be moving to provide reliefs from and deferral of payments to loans to developing countries. We have only one such loan and that is with Papua New Guinea. In fact, pretty much all of the support that we provide in the Pacific is done through the form of grants. But I spoke to Prime Minister Marappa just before this press conference and let him know we will be certainly honoring that agreement last night. We have one facility with him at the moment, some 300 million US, and so we’ll be differing. There was an interest only loan and those payments will be deferred until the end of the year. They’re obviously pleased with that decision.
Scott Morrison: (06:22)
Also, on finance, we were advised today that markets are finding a new normal in this COVID- 19 world, but that new normal and that relative stability, and everything’s relative now, will depend very much on continuing to achieve a stable health outcome. Australia is well placed on that front, as well as being able to set out the forward economic plans and the implementation of the measures that we’re already putting in place.
Scott Morrison: (06:54)
On bond markets, 13 billion was raised yesterday on a syndicated offer which had some 25.8 billion of bids, and that follows up to the five billion raised just the previous week, which had a coverage of over four times. Since the 20th of March, some 28 billion has been raised by the Australian Office of Financial Management. This should give Australians a sense of assurance and confidence that the significant financial commitments that we have made, we are being successful in raising those funds on markets. Some 68% on this latest syndicated offer was from domestic investors and that was predominant by banks, but we are finding ourselves in a situation where Australia’s bond issuances are being well-received. That is because of the relative strength and the relative positive impression that markets have in relation to Australia.
Scott Morrison: (07:52)
Turning to the health issues considered today, we remain formally after receiving advice today again from the AHPPC in what we describe as the suppression phase. We’re not in an eradication mode, nor we are we in the other mode which would just see some sort of herd immunity approach. These are not the approaches that we are following in Australia. We are not in the Sweden end, nor are we at the New Zealand end when it comes to how we’re approaching things. Our data and our experience shows that in that phase we are doing relatively very well, particularly over countries that are in, using even more extreme forms of lockdown. But we can’t overstate this success. There is a high number of internationally acquired cases and that means that we need to look at the numbers in that context, but it is pleasing to know that it is estimated that more than half of those who have contracted the coronavirus in Australia have actually overcome it. That is also good news, in terms of the actual number of people are currently suffering from the coronavirus.
Scott Morrison: (09:04)
On the road out, there are important metrics, important benchmarks that were advised today by the AHPPC that will inform the national cabinet’s decisions about the easing of restrictions when that is to be possible. The most important of those is what’s called the Effective Reproduction Rate. Now, I’m not going to give you a lecture on that, I’m going to let professor Murphy do that and take you through what that means and how that works, but there is some encouraging signs on that front and we need to halt our performance in relation to the effect of reproduction rate, and we’re looking at that by state. That is the most important way to look at how we’re tracking in relation to those statistics. In order to understand how and when we can move, then those metrics are important to give us a guide. But we agreed today on the basis of the advice, and it’s something I’ve been talking about for a few days.
Scott Morrison: (10:01)
There are three things we need to get in place. The first of those is I’m more extensive surveillance or sentinel, as it’s called, testing regime, so beyond just those who are symptomatic. If we were to move to a different phase when it comes to the restrictions, we need an even broader testing regime than we have at this point. Now we have one of if not the most extensive testing regimes in the world today, but we need to do even better than that to ensure that we can have greater confidence that when we move to a lesser restriction environment that we can have confidence that we’ll be able to identify any outbreaks very, very quickly and respond to them.
Scott Morrison: (10:48)
The second part of that is ensuring that we have an even greater tracing capability than we have now. Now I want to commend the state governments. This has been the real heavy lifting they have been doing over the last several weeks in really boosting their capability to trace cases. They are a team of Sherlock Holmeses is out there at the moment and they are doing a fantastic job on tracking down these cases, but we need to lift that to an industrial capability and we need to do that using technology and we need to do that as soon as we possibly can and will be needing the support of Australians. If we can get that in place, we get our tracing capability up from where it is, then that is going to give us more options and Australians more freedoms.
Scott Morrison: (11:33)
The third area is that we need a local response capability. We’re seeing this in part right now in northwestern Tasmania where we have an outbreak. The Australian defense forces, the hazmat teams working together with state authorities have been moving very quickly to contain that outbreak. There will be other outbreaks in other parts of the country and in all states and territories. We need that ability to move very fast, to be able to lock down and outbreak where it occurs and to ensure that it does not transmit more broadly within the community. If you’re going to move to an environment where there are fewer restrictions, then you need these three things in place. The national cabinet agreed today that we will use the next four weeks to ensure that we can get these in place and the baseline restrictions that have been set some weeks ago will remain in place until we’re able to achieve those three goals and we will be revering that in the next four weeks.
Scott Morrison: (12:36)
A positive thing to say is that we’ve often found ourselves as we have now in a better place ahead of time, and if we’re able to achieve that, well and good. But we want to be very clear with Australians that the baseline restrictions that we have in place at the moment, there are no plans to change those for the next four weeks.
Scott Morrison: (12:54)
In terms of states that have gone beyond the baseline restrictions, and that includes how they may be enforcing measures or there are some restrictions that are put in place and some states and not in others, those states will take the advantage over the next few weeks and they will make their own decisions whether they want to change any of those arrangements on their own circumstances. I would refer you to this individual states and territories where they may choose to do that over the next few weeks.
Scott Morrison: (13:22)
One of those areas which we’ll be considering again on Tuesday is the issue of elective surgery. There’s a bit more work to do on that, but we’ll be considering elective surgery next Tuesday.
Scott Morrison: (13:33)
Finally, on the health issues, on six months, we’ve often talked about what is the six months, when did it start, when does it end? This is the June and September quarter. I’ve always considered the six months the period in which we’ve been operating and will be operating these lifeline measures into the economy, which is job seeker with the job seeker supplement and job keeper. They run for those six-months periods. We have bought that time to find the road out. Now whether we do or not now, no country has at this point, but this is our goal to ensure that we can get the economy at a level which would not require those extreme levels of income supports and the economy would be able to support people on those incomes in a self-sustaining way. We have bought that time for six months, and we intend to use it wisely.
Scott Morrison: (14:28)
We would expect that there would be restrictions in some form or other running over that entire six-month period, but the degree of those and how much they can be relaxed or changed over that period, well, that will very much depend on the circumstances, the health and the economic advice at the time.
Scott Morrison: (14:44)
On schools, you should have a list of seven principles that have been agreed today in relation to schools and the advice that it was adopted from the medical expert panel on protections and practices that can be employed in schools to support those environments. This is a state and territory issue. I want to make this really clear. Commonwealth does not run public schools, state schools. They are run by state governments. They set the policy. They set the rules. All states and territories are operating within the principles that we’ve set out here in these seven statements, and rather than go through them with you on, because I know you want to get to questions, they’re there before you, there’ll be posted.
Scott Morrison: (15:32)
Secondly, there is a lot of very helpful, I think, instructions and advice from the medical expert panel for schools that deal principally with the safety of teachers and other staff. The health advice has always been consistent that this virus behaves very different with children than it does with adults. For children, the health advice has been very clear that schools are a safe place for students to be. I think where the confusion arises is that for teachers they are more likely to correct to, teachers are more at risk in the staff room than they are in the classroom, when it comes to how the health advice plays out and the impact of this virus on children as opposed to teachers. That means that we need to have proper range in place for teachers and other staff in schools, obviously to protect their work environment. But at the same time, that doesn’t lead to the same rules applying for students because they have a different level of risk. That is the advice of the medical expert panel and that is contained in the principles and in the advice that is tabled today.
Scott Morrison: (16:45)
The national cabinet also agreed to the COVID-19 operational plan for people with disability, and that builds on the $1 billion in financial assistance for NDIS providers to support increased costs and to maintain business viability, particularly over this period. I also note that as we’re seeking-
Scott Morrison: (17:02)
…this period. I also note that as we’re seeking over the next four weeks and beyond to move to a different phase after that period that we’ll be seeking, and I’ll be raising this with the leader of the opposition at our regular meeting with the leaderships of both the opposition and the government this evening, that we’d be looking to have a trial week of Parliament in May and that would be returning to the normal business of Parliament, that would not be the Parliament coming together to consider necessarily COVID related measures, but if there are such measures, that need to be considered then of course they can be. But we want to send a very clear message that we are well ahead of where we thought we might be at this point and that would mean that we might be able to, I’d say will be able to, move to having the Parliament meet again on a regular basis. But obviously, we just need to trial how that is going to work. We’ll have to work, obviously, within the new arrangements that we were able to establish a few weeks ago. There are a lot of logistical issues we have to overcome. There aren’t so many flights running now, which will make it difficult. But there are also some border closure issues for a number of states which also have to be resolved. I’m sure we’ll be able to deal with that through the national cabinet as well. But it’s important that Parliament goes about that work. We’re in a position to do so and I think we definitely will be, then I look forward to Parliament being able to resume and continue to do the legislative work that it does.
Scott Morrison: (18:36)
But I would stress this to people at home, just because the Parliament isn’t meeting does not mean your members of Parliament are not working very hard every single day. You would have seen them, the support they’re providing in the community on COVID-19. Of course the ministers and the government have been extremely busy on the COVID-19 response. Politicians, members of Parliament, are working very hard for their communities. Another part of their work is obviously the legislative work that is done here in Parliament and we would envisage coming back in that trial week sometime in May. It is my hope that we might then be able to establish a pattern beyond that which is workable.
Scott Morrison: (19:19)
Just before I hand over to professor Murphy, the more we do the right thing now, the easier it will be in the longterm for everybody. We still have a difficult road ahead of us at this point, despite the successes that Australians have achieved in the weeks that we’ve just gone through. The more we keep it under control, the more we all enlist in the sorts of things we need to do to help those who are tracing the virus and identifying it and reacting to it, if there are outbreaks, well the more we might be able to at some point return to easing of those restrictions. And we’ve stayed ahead of it, we’ve got to keep ahead of it and we can’t allow our patience to wear off.
Scott Morrison: (20:06)
I know it’s a very anxious thing for Australians and when they see the really good results they go, “Well, can’t we all just go back to how it was?” None of us would like that more than any of us here, but let’s look to the experience of what’s happened overseas. If you ease off too quickly, too early, then you end up making the situation even worse, and I don’t just mean in a health terms. If you move too early and the health response gets out of control, then the economic consequences will be even worse. And so we need to keep and finally balanced, that’s what we’re seeking to do. And I’m going to ask professor Murphy now to take you through his report and the numbers, which again I find very encouraging. Thank you. Professor Murphy.
Brendan Murphy: (20:51)
Thanks PM. So today we have 6,457 cases. Unfortunately, 63 people have lost their lives due to COVID-19. We’ve got 42 people still on ventilators across the country. So we’ve got to remember that there are some people who’ve suffered gravely with this disease.
Brendan Murphy: (21:15)
As the PM set out, numbers are looking very encouraging. At the moment. We’ve had less than 50 cases a day over the last few days. Many of those cases are return travelers or contacts, but as before there are small numbers of community acquired cases where a source is not known.
Brendan Murphy: (21:36)
As I’ve said on many occasions, this disease can spread rapidly undetected for very easily and we’ve seen that in other countries of the world. In fact, we’ve seen a small outbreak in Northwest Tasmania recently where very rapidly a large number of cases appeared over a course of a few days. It’s been expertly handled by the Tasmanian Health Authorities and have an exemplar way of bringing an episode under control.
Brendan Murphy: (22:07)
But as the PM has said, if we relax the distancing measures that are stopping or reducing that community transmission, that will inevitably lead to some more outbreaks of community transmission. Unless we are prepared as a nation to detect those outbreaks really early and get on top of them and control them and isolate the cases and quarantine the contacts, we could end up with large community outbreaks that could lead to situations like we’ve all seen every night on the nightly news in high income countries with good health systems like the USA and the UK.
Brendan Murphy: (22:55)
We cannot afford to do relaxation until we have a public health system which is so finely tuned that it can detect and respond to any outbreak. That’s the message that we gave to the national cabinet today. Like anybody, HPPC is very keen to see some of these distancing restrictions removed, but we’re not confident just yet that we have a public health system that is so completely prepared that we can guarantee the government that we’ll be able to deal with any outbreak. Our public health system is one of the best in the world and I’ll show you some data on that in a minute, but we just have to hold the course while we get ourselves completely ready so that we can live through these next difficult months together.
Brendan Murphy: (23:46)
What I’m going to do now is show you some of the modeling. As we’ve agreed, we’re going to be showing all of the modeling that the university of Melbourne modeling team working for HPPC and the Commonwealth department are doing. And they’re going to release a paper this afternoon using some early Australian data. And I think you’ve all got a handout showing these slides, so we’ll just go through it.
Brendan Murphy: (24:11)
So what we’re showing you now is some modeling that’s based on real Australian data. And this is the sort of information we’re going to use to understand this epidemic as it progresses over the next months. We’re going to start using a concept of now casting instead of forecasting, which is able to use current data to identify what’s happening at the moment and what’s likely to be projected to happen in the next fortnight. We’ll be able to review the effectiveness of our current measures and be prepared to respond to future changes.
Brendan Murphy: (24:50)
We have the next slide. So you’ve all seen these graphs and you can see the flattening of the curve and you can see the progressive drop in numbers of new cases. A very gratifying outcome, but again one about which we cannot be complacent.
Brendan Murphy: (25:08)
Next slide. So two measures we’re looking at today. One is some a model that’s developed by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to assess countries on the effectiveness of symptomatic case detection. This uses a model which you can get in the paper when it’s published this afternoon to show how likely it is that a given country is actually detecting its cases. And as you will see as we come to this, we are doing very well and that’s probably one of the major reasons we have done so well in controlling the early phases of this pandemic.
Brendan Murphy: (25:51)
The other bit of data we’re going to show is the prime minister referred to the effective reproduction numbers. You all now familiar with the Arnaut, the basic reproduction number of the virus, and we think it’s about two and a half for the coronavirus. But the effective reproduction number is the number of people each case effects after we’ve mitigated and controlled it, and obviously if we get that below one, we can control and reduce the outbreak. So it’s a very good measure of our mitigation and control strategies.
Brendan Murphy: (26:23)
Next slide. So this is showing across Australia the symptomatic case detection rate. And according to this model which will be published today, we are detecting in a model sense only, we could be detecting 100% of all cases, but their estimate is we are detecting within the margins of error of this model, about 92% of all symptomatic cases. And you’ll see that there are different projections for each state. These are showing four States here, but they’re all very high.
Brendan Murphy: (26:56)
Next slide. These are the other States and all of our States and territories have a very high symptomatic case detection rate. What that tells you is that our testing regimen, our surveillance regimen is highly effective. And to show you that more starkly, we will look at the next slide, you see it’s very hard to read. People on TV probably can’t see it, but right down the bottom of that slide is Australia which is ranked the highest in this model of all of those countries in its symptomatic case detection rate. The estimates are showing that we are the most likely country in the world in this modeling of the countries shown here to be detecting our symptomatic cases. And their estimate showing that Australia has an estimate of 84% on this model. So that was very reassuring about our public health surveillance.
Brendan Murphy: (27:53)
Next slide. And this is this effective reproduction number that I talked about before, and we’re showing it here for all States and you can see there that South Australia, I think the other two States have dropped off the bottom there, but you can see Tasmania down the bottom there is showing a little KickUp, and we expected to see that because of that little outbreak in Burnie. That shows how sensitive this measure is. That’ll drop away very quickly as that outbreaks brought under control and you can see them the other three States in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia that the effective reproduction rate is well below one, showing that the epidemic is reducing.
Brendan Murphy: (28:35)
Next slide, and this is showing Victoria and WA again below one. So what we’re showing here is the measures that are being used to monitor the outbreak on real Australian data. The measures that we’ve got to reassure us that our public health surveillance is good and our response measures are good. But as I said earlier, our public health response has to get even stronger if we are going to be able to relax distancing and take us through this pandemic with the least amount of social disruption but the best possible public health control. Thanks PM.
Scott Morrison: (29:15)
Thanks Brendan. We’ll start on this side this time. Mel, did you want to go first? Or you’re just going to move across?
Thanks PM. Could you elaborate on what you were saying that we won’t be able to return to the old days in terms of… I think you were saying in terms of fiscal policy, that they’re going to have to be changes there. Have I misinterpreted that.
Scott Morrison: (29:36)
I was talking about general policy settings, both at state and a federal level. On the other side of this virus and leading on the way out, we are going to have to have economic policy measures that are going to be very pro growth, that is going to enable businesses to employ, people that is going to enable businesses to invest and businesses to move forward. Our government sees business at the center of the economy. We do not see government at the center of the economy. In the middle of an emergency crisis such as this, of course government has to protect Australia’s sovereignty, must step in with these sorts of emergency measures. But going forward we need to see a revitalization of the private sector economy and that means we need policy settings at both the state and federal level that will encourage that growth, that encourage that employment, that’ll encourage that investment and there’ll be an opportunity I think for federal and state governments to work together and initially and potentially beyond as part of a national cabinet process to do that.
Scott Morrison: (30:33)
Now Commonwealth government, federal government will be doing its thing. There’ll be a budget in October and equally the States will be doing what they need to do, but there was a very clear message from the economic advisors this morning, particularly Dr. Lowe and that is that if we thought we could just grow the economy under the old settings, then we need to think again.
Speaker 1: (30:57)
You say in your principles that with the teachers and schools that you want to ensure the health and safety of teachers. At a practical level, how is that actually going to work particularly when maybe a lot of students might actually go back to school in term two?
Scott Morrison: (31:13)
Particularly given? I missed the last part.
Speaker 1: (31:15)
When students actually go back to school in term two, if we do see a lot of students go back.
Scott Morrison: (31:21)
I’m going to ask Professor Murphy do talk about the advice that the medical expert panel have given to schools, they’re releasing today. I think we need to appreciate that because of the term structures that are so different in different states, then there is going to be some variations and that’s understandable. But effectively what you’re seeing in Victoria this week is what you were seeing in new South Wales just a week or so ago as they are coming into the term break, and Queensland coming back I think next week and states will move at different times.
Scott Morrison: (31:56)
I think what you see in these principles is an understanding that of course, face to face learning in a classroom on campus, that’s the best way to deliver education, it’s an obvious statement. But in times like this, then alternative models are being used principally to protect the safety of teachers in this environment.
Scott Morrison: (32:19)
And so these models will be used for a time, but ultimately at some point we’d obviously like to get back to that other arrangement. Now that’s certainly what the federal government’s view is and we’ll continue to work with everybody to that end. But States are going to have to set their own rules around that. But we need to be very clear as the States and territories have, this is not a health issue for kids, this is a health issue for those who are working in schools. And as I said, they’re more likely to be at risk in the staff room than they are in the classroom. Brendan.
Brendan Murphy: (32:51)
So as Pam said, obviously the most important thing is to protect teachers, so we’ve recommended that older teachers and teachers with chronic disease, not be working in the classroom, but we also are recommending that there’s a range of measures that teachers can take to reduce the risks. So clearly right across the school environment, reducing the size of groups. Teachers can practice social distancing with each other. We know that children don’t seem to be transmitting this far as to any great extent in schools, but clearly some children have picked up this virus, a small number, mostly in the family. So we’re recommending that teacher’s practice good distancing, particularly with other adults, but also some distancing in the classroom, that children practice very good hygiene and there’s a whole range of measures that will be released this evening in how to make a school safer.
Scott Morrison: (33:47)
It’s practicing good hygiene and it’s all of these issues. And as I said, they say it out there, first aid arrangements it’s a pretty exhaustive list so you’ll have that very, very shortly.
Scott Morrison: (33:58)
Just hang on, I’m working down the room [inaudible 00:17:01].
Speaker 2: (34:01)
Prime Minister Winston Peters flagged…
Scott Morrison: (34:03)
Around the room everyone, we’re good to go.
Speaker 3: (34:03)
Prime Minister, Winston Peters flagged a more relaxed border arrangement between New Zealand and Australia on television this morning. He called it a trans-Tasman bubble. How far have those arrangements gone and is that how you imagine border controls will be loosened over time, New Zealand first and then staggered by a country to country basis?
Scott Morrison: (34:22)
Well, we’re aware of their interest in that. It hasn’t got much beyond that. I mean New Zealand at the moment has been in a state of even more extreme lockdown there in New Zealand. That’s been their process, and so we’re aware of that, but we’re not at present contemplating any border changes at the moment. We’ll obviously work closely with New Zealand. We have all along through and our measures have largely mirrored each other. New Zealand decided to go a lot further, but I’d note that the outcomes we’re getting are actually on a per capita basis actually better than what’s happening in New Zealand. That’s not a criticism. It’s just to say that while following different practices where we pitched it has managed to get as good if not a better outcome. Yep, here.
Speaker 4: (35:07)
Prime Minister, will the government-
Scott Morrison: (35:08)
Sorry, I’ll go from the back and work forward. No, no, you’re it. Go ahead.
Speaker 4: (35:13)
Will the government bail out Virgin?
Scott Morrison: (35:15)
I’ll just give the same answers I’ve given to this question each and every time, and that is, we as a government appreciate the value of two competitive viable airlines in the Australian economy. We’re in a very unusual period at the moment, but that is a good outcome to have in the Australian economy that any responses that the Commonwealth government is going to have will be done on a sector-wide basis and that’s the way we’ll continue to pursue those issues. I’m aware that there are many market-based options that are currently being pursued and I would wish those discussions every success.
Speaker 5: (35:57)
And Professor Murphy, the Actuaries Institute has done some modeling. They estimate that there might be 20,000 cases in Australia, and if broader testing was used including random samples, those numbers might be found. Would you have a response to that?
Brendan Murphy: (36:12)
Our sense is that’s unlikely. We can’t be absolutely sure. One of the challenges is that it’s pretty clear now that there are some asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 that don’t present for testing, but we have done some pretty broad-scale testing in a lot of states now. South Australia is testing everybody with respiratory illness. New South Wales has broadened its testing. Victoria has broadened its testing. We have existing what we call sentinel surveillance, which has been going for weeks, so a range of general practices which tests every single person with respiratory illness. We’re testing every unusual pneumonia in every hospital. If we had that level of undetected cases, I think we would have found it by now, but we are definitely going to broaden our testing and surveillance and that’s the reason we want to put broader surveillance in before we relax our measures, but I think that estimate is likely to be too high.
Scott Morrison: (37:07)
I would refer you to two numbers. When you look at Australia’s positive test rate on those tests, which is one of the most comprehensive in the world has a positive test rate of 1.7%. Now you compare that to Sweden at 14%, or even Japan at 8.5%. I think that gives you an idea of the level of precision we’re currently getting. The other one I’d refer you to is the rather morbid statistic of the fatality rate, which is at just under 1% at the moment. Now when you look at the mortality rates, you’re seeing elsewhere in the world, I mean, the United Kingdom, you’re seeing that rate up at almost 13%. And in Spain it’s over 10%, France, over 13%, in the Netherlands, it’s at 11%, and they’ve got a population of 17 million.
Scott Morrison: (37:57)
One thing I think we can be very sure of in Australia, and this is why I think Professor Murphy said in the courtyard the other day, the one set of numbers we do believe is Australia’s. And that is because I think we’re pretty confident, particularly sadly, where there’s been fatalities, where they’ve been COVID related. And overseas, I don’t think they can have that same level of confidence. Phil?
Just with respect to your comments on business as usual, on economic policy on the other side of this and the need to drive business productivity and investment. Does that mean we can expect from a federal perspective at least to see changes, the lowering of taxes that are seen as impediments like corporate taxes and changes to IAR laws and things like that? Is that whether we’ll be looking in that sphere?
Scott Morrison: (38:40)
Well, I think it’d be premature to speculate on that at this point, Phil. I think the advice from the governor and the advice from treasury is very much that we couldn’t expect the higher levels of growth if we were to continue with similar policy settings. So, that’s something we’re going to be examining very, very closely and I want to do it very closely with the states and territories because they have a big role to play in all of this as well. I mean, one of the things that the transport and infrastructure ministers are working on right now, I think they’re meeting now led by the deputy prime minister, is how we can get some of these projects going again. I mean, one of the areas of the economy which hasn’t been restricted is our construction sector.
Scott Morrison: (39:22)
I mean, New Zealand they have shut the construction sector down. And the construction sector, I want to see more roads built, I want to see more bridges built. I’m wanting to see more roads fixed. I want to see those things happening now because that’ll be good for the economy. It’ll be good for employment, and it can be done in a COVID economy. So that’s one of the things that the transport ministers in particular are working on at this very moment. Yeah, I’ll start at the front and go to the back.
Speaker 6: (39:49)
Just on schools, you said it’s very jurisdictional. Are there just differing views state to state on what is best to be done and what should be done in this sector in their own jurisdictions? And on child care, is anything changing in this? I mean, you said we’re ahead of where we thought we’d be, Parliament’s going to resume sooner rather than later. Is child care going to return to normal sooner than expected and what does that mean for the funding arrangement that the government’s put in place meant to last six months?
Scott Morrison: (40:14)
I’ll start with the second one first. Child care is the arrangements were put in place for child care, or universities, or private hospitals, job keeper, job seeker, these are all on that six month timeframe I mentioned before and that’s over the June and the September quarters. And you can anticipate that they will stay in place for that period of time. In terms of schools and the views of individual jurisdictions, well, I think the principles that we’ve released today and that we’ve agreed, I think summarize the general position that all the schools should be following in each jurisdiction. But of course there’ll be differences. I mean take the Northern Territory for example. In the Northern Territory, they’ll be back next week and they’ll be back exactly according to normal. There’ve been virtually no cases. I think there’ve been actually no cases, and for some time now in the Northern Territory.
Scott Morrison: (41:08)
And so they’re doing that from next week, I understand. But more broadly in Victoria you know the arrangements there. In New South Wales, I know they’re working on a range of different options about how they might come back. And Western Australia, the same. In South Australia as they went into the break, they had attendances of over 50%, and at one point up to 80% so I think you’re seeing differences between states about how parents are engaging, how schools are acting. And I would expect to continue to see that because schools are delivered at a state and territory level. But these principles I think set out quite clearly what the priorities are and where we would like to ultimately be. Sam.
The principles that you’ve outlined here, I think we all respect the fact that your position on schools is really clear, the principles are as clear as mud. They’re full of the poly waffle language we’ve come to know and love from COAG.
Scott Morrison: (42:05)
[inaudible 00:42:05] Sam?
They do accept that they do accept that the states-
Scott Morrison: (42:07)
That’s unlike you.
… Are in charge. So what are parents to make of this? Do you accept as Victoria has proposed that it is a risk to have parents doing drop off and moving around the state? How soon will your own children be going back to school? And what’s your response to Malcolm Turnbull’s book where he claims that you’re a Machiavellian plotter and that the finance minister, Mathias Cormann, didn’t think that you’re up to the job?
Scott Morrison: (42:32)
Well, the last point, I’m not interested in any distractions. I’m focused on the safety and health of Australians, and I think that’s what you’d expect me to say. And it’s certainly my position. I don’t share your rather cynical view about the principles, Sam, I really don’t. In terms of these principles, what we’re setting out is that of course you want in the best of arrangements for children to be able to be taught at school by professional teachers. That’s the clear objective that we would all want. Sorry?
That’s not in [inaudible 00:43:07].
Scott Morrison: (43:07)
It is, it’s principle one. It says, “Our schools are critical to the delivery of high quality education for students and to give our children the best possible start in life. Our education systems are based on the recognition that education is best delivered by professional teachers to students in the classroom on a school campus.” Principle one.
[inaudible 00:43:28] flexible and distance learning.
Scott Morrison: (43:29)
Well it says that, “It is accepted that during the COVID-19 crisis, alternative flexible, remote delivery of education services may be needed.” Now that’s not going to be happening in the Northern Territory as I just said, so I think this does provide a very clear objective of where you’re seeking to get to. And in relation to drop offs and pickups, I agree with the Victorian premier. I think we do have to be very careful about the interaction between parents on drop off and pickups because that’s where the potential infection occurs, but those things can be accommodated. They can be addressed. I don’t think that’s not something beyond the wits of most schools and parents. I mean, at the drop off of my own kids’ school, you’re not allowed to get out of the car. You’re not allowed to see the principal who was there, the kids get out, I can’t even go around to the boot and get their bags out. They have to do that themselves.
Scott Morrison: (44:19)
So there’s no contact between any adult there. And that was before COVID-19. And in relation to my own kids that you ask about Sam, I want my kids to go back to school and to be taught in a classroom by a teacher. That’s what I want to see happen. And when a school in New South Wales that they go to can deliver that for them, then I will happily have them back there in a heartbeat. That’s what I want them to do. I don’t want them to just go sit in a school hall and look at the internet. I want them to go to school and learn and be taught by a teacher in accordance with principle one of these principles. And when that’s on offer, then I’ll certainly have them there in a heartbeat. But whether they’re sitting in a school hall or they’re sitting at home at the moment, the outcome’s going to be the same.
Scott Morrison: (45:06)
But I would prefer obviously for my own children as I was having them attend school up until the last week before school break because the internet arrangements they put in place meant there was no difference between them learning at school and learning in the classroom. Regretfully, they were no longer getting classroom teaching at that school, and that’s what I’d like to see happen again. Yeah?
Speaker 7: (45:32)
Prime Minister, you mentioned the road out, no decision for another four weeks as to when those restrictions might be eased. You said a six month timeline into the end of the September quarter for the economic material. Can you elaborate on what you think the road out looks like? What your strategy might be for easing what and when, and can you switch that economic lifeline support off after six months if you haven’t achieved what you set out to achieve?
Scott Morrison: (45:59)
I think the six month timeframe gives us a ticking clock basically on this lifeline, and it gives us a clear goal to work towards to ensure that we find that road out with this restrictions eased ideally, and for the economy to lift to a level of activity where people’s wages and incomes can be supported again, where they can get the hours, where they can get the days, where they can be back working again, and be able in a position to support themselves and not relying on job keeper or job seeker or things of that nature. That’s the timeframe that we have bought through those economic supports, so you got to work backwards from there. Now, there will be, I imagine, baseline levels of restrictions that will be changed over that period of time.
Scott Morrison: (46:43)
Just like we’re saying in about a month from now there’ll be some changes to those baseline restrictions that we put in place a few weeks ago.
Speaker 7: (46:50)
Scott Morrison: (46:51)
That’s what I was just about to get to. So when we hit a trigger basically on this F provision that statistic, when we get to that and when we’ve got in place the broader testing regime for surveillance, the automated contact tracing regime in place, and we’ve scaled up our capacity to respond to outbreaks, that’s what we’re looking to do in the next four weeks. Build that up and then what the states and territories and ourselves are working on are what you’d call high value, low risk economic activities that we will be able to start to open up more of.
Speaker 7: (47:34)
[inaudible 00:47:34] the road the same way you came in effectively. Is it working backwards?
Scott Morrison: (47:39)
In broad terms, I don’t think that’s an unfair assumption. But the specifics of it are being worked through. I think it will be some time. I think social distancing, the washing of the hands, the doing all of those things. That is something we should do until we find a vaccine. So those sorts of things, the one and a half meters, being conscious of your distancing with each other, that is something we’re going to live with for the foreseeable future. But when it comes to specific economic restrictions that have been put in place, well after the next month, then there will be the opportunity to review that and potentially make some changes if we meet those other benchmarks. But within the next four weeks, states and territories that went further than those baselines, both in enforcement and with some additional measures of their own, they have indicated today that they will be reviewing those in the meantime.
Scott Morrison: (48:34)
As I said, next week on Tuesday, we’re going to be considering the issue of elective surgery, which could see some immediate return in that area, which would be very positive. And I’ve already talked about schools. Yeah?
Prime Minister, aren’t you effectively describing aggressive test, trace, isolate, and when you’re happy that that’s working, we’re on the road out?
Scott Morrison: (49:02)
I mean, I think that’s a good summary, Tim. That is exactly what the advice has been and what our own policy view I think has been as my cabinet here federally as well as the chief ministers and premiers. You’ve got to have the assurance that you can deal with outbreaks, because they will happen, and that could be a bumpy road on occasion. You can’t rule out increasing potentially restrictions at some point if things got a bit out of control because the virus writes its own rules. It doesn’t work to our rules. But getting those protections in place, and I want to stress this about the automated contact tracing, you’ve heard about the fact that we’re working on a tracing app that people can be involved with and there is some still issues that we have to work through on that. The privacy issues on that had been worked through very thoroughly. But the more people we have that ultimately take that up, when we’re in a position to launch it, the better the tool we have, the more able we are to be able to get down that road back. Michelle?
I’ll take you to the issue of debt and deficit, which worries particularly some of your own supporters. Would you anticipate being able to set out before the next election a roadmap to deal with those issues into the future?
Scott Morrison: (50:26)
Well, there will be a budget in October. And that budget in October I think will begin that very process that you referring to. Debt and deficit concerns me greatly. And my concern about debt and deficit is based on the fact that I’ve been part of the government for six years. That has worked incredibly hard to get the budget back into balance and a growth in debt reduced from 30% to zero in the space of that six years. And so when you go through that process, you particularly are sensitive to the issues of increased debt and-
Scott Morrison: (51:03)
… Italy are sensitive to the issues of increased debt and deficit.
Speaker 8: (51:04)
Technically earlier rather than later.
Scott Morrison: (51:06)
We’ll have a plan to deal with it. Just like we’ve had a plan to deal with it over the last six years. And I think Australians can take some comfort and confidence from that. That as a government we have already demonstrated our ability to deal with debt and deficit in the past. But you will recall, that for almost all of that period of time, this was a time when we went to record levels of health and education spending.
Scott Morrison: (51:31)
This was a time when we went to engage in the biggest recapitalization of our defense forces and growing us to 2% of GDP on defense spending. That is the highest level we’ve seen, and turns it around from of pre second World War levels when we came to government. So what we will do is ensure that we will be growing that economy to support our budget and to ensure we have the right settings in place around living within our means as a budget, to deliver the right outcome to get debt and deficit under control. Yeah.
Speaker 9: (52:01)
Prime Minister, regarding that mobile phone app you’re developing, can you confirm that for those who have downloaded it, it will require the phone to capture the phone numbers of anyone who they spend more than 15 minutes with, over a rolling period?
Speaker 9: (52:13)
So it will require those to be collected. And will you consider less privacy intrusive options such as the model advanced by Google and Apple?
Scott Morrison: (52:22)
Well, I would contend that that model that you’ve suggested would be less invasive. I’d suggest that your thesis is incorrect. I would. I’m familiar with both options-
Speaker 9: (52:35)
Well the Google and Apple one uses beacons.
Scott Morrison: (52:37)
And I think the permissive option around a trace app that enables people to elect to do exactly the same thing that you’re proposing. The Google and the Apple proposal does exactly the same thing. It’s just it’s not a consent based model. The trace app which has been put in place in Singapore is a consent based model, and the reason we’re not quite ready yet is we’re still working through ensuring that the privacy protection’s robust and up to a standard that we believe is necessary for the Australian context.
Scott Morrison: (53:09)
And that’s what the attorney general in particular is working on right now. It’s a complex area but it is a tool that Australia will need if we’re to pursue the road out of this that we would like to pursue. We’ll go right at the back and then we’ll come back to you here.
Speaker 10: (53:26)
Prime Minister, in addition to the elective surgery that you’re going to be reviewing, might you also include IVF procedures? Obviously that’s been a concern for parents who have been told, well, prospective parents have been told they can’t do that.
Speaker 10: (53:37)
And if I may, a technical question for Professor Murphy. About a week ago you started publishing recovery data. Do we actually have a nationally standardized way of determining when a person is considered recovered? Is that being applied by every state and territory?
Scott Morrison: (53:55)
I’ll let Brendan do with both of them actually because that was the intention.
Professor Brendan Murphy: (53:57)
Yeah, so I think IVF is definitely something that would be considered an elective procedure and something that was paused during the elective surgery cessation and it’s something that the state and territory health departments will be considering along with the other range of elective activities. It’s very important if we do restart elective activity, that we only do it within the confines of our available PPE supplies.
Professor Brendan Murphy: (54:27)
So it would have to be fairly gentle because we have to ensure that we have enough protective equipment. So that modeling is been done at the moment. At the moment, recovery, we have stopped doing clearance testing after people have recovered. So a recovery, people are allowed out of isolation two weeks after diagnosis if they’ve been completely symptom free for 72 hours.
Professor Brendan Murphy: (54:51)
And we are making an assumption in our modeling that people who are released from isolation and now recovered, there’s no longer, unless you’re a healthcare worker, in some states we’re doing tests to make sure that you’re not still carrying the virus. So we are working towards a nationally consistent algorithm to determine recovery at the moment.
Scott Morrison: (55:13)
I’m going to go to Brett and then.
You sort of opened today by saying that the states and territories have agreed that there’s a need to synchronize the health and economic response. There will still be a lot of parents tonight who won’t know whether they should send their children to school.
Are you frustrated that there isn’t that synchronization in terms of education? And to both of you, the big announcement today in terms of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities testing and care. Can you perhaps elaborate on just how important that is in those communities where you’ve said before you’ve been most worried about COVID-19 taking hold.
Scott Morrison: (55:48)
I’ll let Brendan deal with the second part of that. Look, on the first part of it, I wouldn’t agree with your assessment of how I would feel about it. The principles I think do set out very clearly what we all agree and what we’re all sort of working towards. I mean parents should follow the instructions that have been provided by their state premiers and their state education ministers and for the arrangements putting in place.
Scott Morrison: (56:13)
See if you’re going to school in Victoria, there’s only one person you need to listen to and that is the Premier of Victoria as to what you should be doing in Victoria. Likewise, in New South Wales, you should listen to what the Premier of New South Wales. You don’t get the choice to go to school in Victoria one day in new South Wales the other, even if you live in Albery-Wodonga. But if you’re looking in the Northern Territory, then it’s what the Chief Minister there is saying and they have the arrangements which are different again.
Scott Morrison: (56:38)
I mean, we’re a big enough country with very different geographic and different case scenarios that are occurring in our states and territories for there to be some differences. But those differences I think all accord with the principles that we’ve set out today. So I think it’s very clear that the medical expert advice is children are safe to go to school. But there are issues within each state about the delivery of education, which they’ve had to take into account, which means that they will be operating on slightly different bases. But I think consistent with these principles. Yep. [crosstalk 00:06:16]. Oh sorry, on the indigenous, yes please.
Professor Brendan Murphy: (57:21)
From the outset of this pandemic, we’ve been very concerned about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. They are a high risk group, particularly in remote communities. If this virus got in it could do significant damage. So we’ve had from the outset a community owned and informed strategy, which is unlike other communities perhaps with the exception of aged care, it’s focused around keeping the virus out at all costs. And that’s why many of those communities have set up very, very strict isolation and prevention of people coming in, but also programs to health screen and check people who might have to come in and work in those communities.
Professor Brendan Murphy: (58:04)
And clearly there’s now a broadened testing program. We’re going to be using what we call a remote testing kits that can go into community. We’ve used them in sexually transmitted infection diagnoses in the past. We’re getting the test kits to be able to have mobile testing. But the key issue is to prevent the virus getting into those communities at all costs.
Speaker 11: (58:28)
Why is Australia not trying to eradicate the virus given our progress has been so strong?
Speaker 11: (58:33)
And if we’re not at the New Zealand end of the scale yet, is it possible we’ll get there some point in the near future?
Scott Morrison: (58:39)
Well as we observe today and Professor Murphy will touch on this as well, a byproduct of the approach that we’re taking may well be what you say. That could well happen, but the eradication pathway involves an approach which would see even more economic restrictions than are currently in place. And that is not seen to be a wise, in our view, trade off on how we’re managing the two crises that we’re facing.
Scott Morrison: (59:15)
The economic one and of course the health one. Now we’re doing well on the health one. I want to do better on the economic one. And so the suppression strategy which we’ve been following, that’s basically what we’ve been following now for about a month. I think that has set well within the groove of Australia’s ethos and how we live and what we’d hope. I think it’s rubbing at the edges a bit in parts of the country and that’s understandable.
Scott Morrison: (59:43)
We like our freedoms. We like to be able to do what we want to do. We like having the barbecue, we like going out, we’re very social beings, Australians. And we really miss it. And we miss our kids being able to get together and go to school and be with their friends, we miss all of that. But the suppression path I think is the best Australian path. And as I’ve said throughout this, the solutions we’re putting in place are the right solutions for Australia. We’re not looking to copy anyone. We’ve got the right plan for Australia. Brendan.
Professor Brendan Murphy: (01:00:16)
Yeah, so it’s quite possible we could eradicate the virus in some parts of the country. We’ve had some states that have had no cases for some days and very small numbers of cases, all imported. We’re on the same trajectory as New Zealand, which is aiming for eradication. And if we achieve a complete lack of transmission and no cases, that would be great but we don’t know then whether there are asymptomatic medic cases circulating.
Professor Brendan Murphy: (01:00:41)
You cannot relax your surveillance and control mechanisms just because you have for a period of time not detected new cases. So essentially there’s not a lot of difference between an aggressive suppression strategy and an eradication strategy with the exception that we don’t feel the need to hold the country very seriously locked down until we have no cases. But if that happens with the measures we’re doing now, that would be fantastic.
Scott Morrison: (01:01:09)
Yep. Last question.
Speaker 12: (01:01:10)
Am I allowed to, because I waited until the end?
Scott Morrison: (01:01:16)
We’re all Australians.
Speaker 12: (01:01:16)
Just to follow on from Brett’s question, if things progressed as anticipated by national cabinet, when would it be business as normal do you think in terms of going back to school for families in every state?
Speaker 12: (01:01:28)
And just one question of Jobkeeper as well. We’re hearing reports of employers asking workers to give back some of their Jobkeeper payment. Is there a penalty for employers that rip their workers off?
Scott Morrison: (01:01:41)
Yeah, look, I’m going to follow… I can’t tell you the precise penalty off the top of my head and I’m happy to get that to you. But that sort of behavior where that’s occurring by employers, that’s disgraceful. And it’s illegal and they should be reported to the police and the ATO to ensure that that can be followed up. It’s not on. It is really appalling behavior and we will move quickly on that and so we will seek the cooperation as we do on any law enforcement issue when it comes to those matters.
Scott Morrison: (01:02:14)
I would expect that in the over the next month or so and into May, I know each of the states are looking at different arrangements. I mean Victoria has only just gone back. So they set their arrangements for going back now and that’s fair enough. Queensland will go back next week. New South Wales after that and new South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia, have a bit more time as to how they will conceive what they might do in a few weeks time. ACT, the same. As I said, Northern Territory’s has already made its decision for when they go back.
Scott Morrison: (01:02:47)
The principles that we’ve set out today, I think they’re not just what they agree to, but there’s an aspiration attached to them, which I think is important. I don’t think anyone wants to see us not have schools operating like they used to. Of course we want to get back to that. And I believe all States and territories will be taking the right decisions that they believe are appropriate to them to get them back to that point. How long that will take? Well we may see better things on that front by in May sometime, about the same time that we’d be seeing the Parliament coming back. And I think that is an indicator of us trying to get back on to at least some form of new normal when it comes to this.
Scott Morrison: (01:03:26)
It won’t be like it was before, but our experience over the next few months, will be very much that iterative, step by step… There won’t just be one day where it all goes back to where it was before. That’s just not how this is going to work. It’s going to be step by step. There is going to be some trial and error. This is completely uncharted territory. No country in the world has worked this out yet. I know Germany today, they’ve outlined that their schools will be coming back in May. There are changes and we’ll obviously how they’re planning that. I know France is looking at different issues, so we’ll all work together and I think we’ll all find the way through now.
Scott Morrison: (01:04:05)
Now, just before we finish, I know there’s been some commentary about the World Health Organization. Now of course Australia is always going to consider where we put our funds and we always want value for money and those things are always under review. And indeed, when I announced at the Lowy Institute that we were reviewing how we’re engaging with all of these organizations, that included the World Health Organization, I should stress. And that’s a process that’s been going on for these many months since then and there is a report coming back very soon.
Scott Morrison: (01:04:34)
And while I’ve had my criticisms of the WHO as had many other leaders and I think they’re very valid criticisms, we’ve got to remember also that while they might have had a few poor outings lately, there is also some very important work that they have been doing. And I do want to make reference to it. I mean the WHO has responded in our Pacific family here to over 300 requests from the Pacific, 68 shipments of PPE to 20 countries and territories, 35 deployments to countries, assisting Fiji in particular with their testing capability, establishing COVID-19 isolation facilities [inaudible 00:01:05:14].
Scott Morrison: (01:05:14)
And this is the same WHO that was there in the Samoa measles outbreak of last year. The polio outbreak in PNG in 2018. And they do work in the Western Pacific on eliminating measles, rubella and tetanus, maintaining high levels of polio, vaccination, the safety of essential medicines and vaccines, eliminating mother to child transmission of HIV and hepatitis and preventing and treating diabetes and hypertension.
Scott Morrison: (01:05:42)
So look, I know they’ve had their criticism and frankly I think it’s been quite deserved. And of course we’re frustrated, but they do important work. They do do important work, and they do do important work here in the Pacific. And we’ll keep working with them, but it won’t be uncritical. Thanks very much.