Jul 21, 2020
Scott Morrison Australia COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript July 21
Prime Minister Scott Morrison held a press conference on July 21 with COVID-19 updates for Australia. He announced the status of the extension of the JobKeeper program. He also blew up on a reporter for asking about the next election, saying “no one cares” about his question and “people are dying.” Read the full transcript here.
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Speaker 1: (00:00)
Minister Scott Morrison is speaking.
Scott Morrison: (00:02)
[inaudible 00:00:02] health officer, there’s a set of correspondence which we can make available to you to explain but again as I’m looking out at this crowd could I please ask you to observe the social distancing arrangements? Shouldn’t really have to keep reminding people about these things, and it’s very important that that occurs whether we’re meeting in the courtyard or any other place so thank you for your cooperation with that. Welcome treasurer.
Scott Morrison: (00:28)
It’s nice to have you here and to everyone in particular in Melbourne, across Victoria. We continue to stand with you each and every day and while today is about making announcements in relation to JobKeeper and JobSeeker I can confirm that I’ve spoken with Commodore Hill overnight and Lieutenant General Frewen again this morning, the ADF resources are in place in Victoria now, working closely with the Victorian government, making some real ground in terms of the arrangements they’re putting in place. I intend to speak to the premier later today and have been in regular contact as you would expect, but today, it is to address the other significant element of the crisis and the challenge that our nation faces. We have always been addressing this crisis as a dual-headed one, the health crisis and the economic crisis, the COVID-19 recession that it has become as well as the COVID-19 pandemic and our national response to both of these challenges.
Scott Morrison: (01:31)
All throughout these crises, we have maintained a disciplined focus on the principles that we have set out for dealing with each of them. In the economic area, ensuring that our measures are scalable, that they’re targeted, that they’re measured, that they’re temporary, that they’re addressing the information as we know it. One of the great challenges that all countries are facing in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and the recession that has been consequential to that has been that things change and they change quickly and there is always new information and while you seek to give as much forward planning as you possibly can to help businesses and individuals, households, families to be able to plan for their future, I think there is a genuine understanding in the community that this is a virus that will plot its own course and it will wreak its own havoc where it will choose to do so.
Scott Morrison: (02:31)
What we are in charge of is our own response and we need to calibrate that response carefully and to ensure that we’re using the best possible information and advice to do that when we’re making those decisions and it is always a trade-off by giving people as much time as you can but also waiting to ensure you get as much information as you can in to assist the effectiveness of your measures and how you can appropriately adjust them for the next phase and that is indeed what we’ve sought to do here. As a government we’ve been very focused on providing practical problems to practical … Practical solutions I should say to practical problems. That has been our focus. All options are put on the table. Careful consideration is applied, and we will deliver what is practically needed, whether that’s directly from the federal government at a commonwealth level or it is providing the supports into the states and territories as they need it to deal with the challenges that they are facing.
Scott Morrison: (03:31)
Another important principle has been that we’ve been working together. Sure, there will be differences from time to time between states and territories and there have been those, but we’ve also demonstrated is a federation that has been prepared to work together through some of the most difficult times and to provide the support that is needed, to share the information that’s necessary, and to give each other the encouragement and support and that is true as a national population as I know [inaudible 00:03:56] the people live in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Tassie, right across the country, they are as equally I believe concerned about the welfare particularly of Victorians and those across the border towns at the moment, across the Murray, and in those outbreak areas that we’ve seen in New South Wales.
Scott Morrison: (04:13)
What we’ve also said is that we don’t sit and forget when it comes to these arrangements. We continue to look at them and we continue to calibrate them to ensure they’re being effective and where they need to change, we’ll change them. Where they can work better, we will make those changes, but where they’re proving to be effective we will maintain them and we will respond to the circumstances as best as we understand them and we will seek to understand where the direction is heading so that we can respond as needed. It’s also important to note that these are very complex issues. There is no one thing that can remove from us this heavy burden that is on the country at the moment. All things have to be pursued, all partners have to be worked with to ensure that we can put Australia in the best possible position that we possibly can, and it is true to say, despite the hardship that is being felt particularly in the southern states, in Victoria, New South Wales, that Australia’s performance has been a standout around the world, both from a health perspective and from an economic perspective because we have always seen the task to address both of these issues and we will continue to do so going forward.
Scott Morrison: (05:32)
Finally before I come to the measures, I said this yesterday. Australia is a country that just doesn’t look to survive these things. We don’t go through challenges with our heads looking down, overwhelmed by the circumstances. That is not who we are. Who we are is an innovative, adaptive people, supporting each other, reaching out to each other, drawing us all through not for survival but to be on the other side in a position where we can emerge strongly. We’ve been saying that since the outset, and we’re seeing that in the responses of Australian businesses, their employees, families, health professionals, bus drivers, checkout workers right across the country, they are all doing their job and they will keep doing their job.
Scott Morrison: (06:23)
Now something that’s been doing it’s job in recent months has been JobKeeper and that is what the JobKeeper review found. JobKeeper is doing its job and will continue to do its job through the decisions we are announcing today. Already, just over $30 billion has been provided in support through the JobKeeper program to almost a million businesses, 960,000 thereabouts, supporting some three and a half million employees. The review has found and I’ll allow the treasury to go into more of the details of this that it has been well-targeted, that it has been effective in stemming the loss of business closures and job losses, that it has saved businesses and it has saved livelihoods. That is the feedback that I’ve been getting direct as I’ve spoken to Australians, employees, employers all around the country. It has been the game changer for them. Their businesses would not be here, their jobs would not be there were it not for the intervention and the way it was undertaken so quickly and so effectively.
Scott Morrison: (07:28)
The report recommends that we should continue JobKeeper and we shall, but it needs to be done in a way that is responsive to the circumstances, that it needs to be done in a way that is aligned with changes that we make to JobSeeker, and it needs to be reflective of the conditions and how they can change and we have built always in the design of JobKeeper that potential. When I was asked here a little while ago about what was occurring in Victoria and would we be having a specific set of measures of Victoria, well there was no need because JobKeeper is designed to reflect where businesses are hurting the most, and that’s what the extension of the JobKeeper arrangements do today. Whether you’re in far north Queensland and have been hit by the devastating impact of the loss of the international tourism business, whether you’re in the entertainment industry, whether you’re in the business events industry which I was meeting with yesterday, whether you’re in the film business, it doesn’t matter which sector you’re in, the aviation sector, JobKeeper is designed to find its level with those businesses who need it most and the employees who need it most, and it has been apparent to us for some time that there will be businesses who will continue to be affected heavily by those restrictions, and as a result, they will be in a position to continue to get access to JobKeeper going forward.
Scott Morrison: (08:49)
The changes that we’re making, several. The first of those is to apply the JobKeeper test for the 30% turnover reduction across the past two quarters and into the next quarter for continuing eligibility out to the end of March of next year. So there will be the next quarter after September and then there will be the March quarter, and in both cases, businesses will have the test reapplied in relation to their turnover and we’ll be looking at their performance over this first six month period of the program and that will provide where it’s needed the gateway into the next phase of the program. The payment for JobKeeper will be reduced to $1,200.00 per fortnight and there will be a [inaudible 00:09:38] payment for those working less than 20 hours a week of $750.00 at the changeover period towards the end of September. That will be revised again for the March quarter down to $1,000.00 for full rates at 20 hours a week or more and $650.00 for less than 20 hours a week.
Scott Morrison: (09:57)
Now I want to address this issue of the dual payments. One of the reasons JobKeeper was so successful is it was designed to be done as quickly as possible using existent payment methods. Even to deliver the two payments that we have here, there are still several months of work that need to be done by the Australian Tax Office to enable a two-tiered payment system to be put in place. That was not available to the government back in April. We needed to move quickly and get these payments in place, but I’d also say that we made the conscious decision to have a flat rate payment because we understood at that time that people were losing second and third job. The report points out some 39% loss of income from other jobs and JobKeeper was designed to only be provided through one employer. So you couldn’t go and get it from all your employers if you had multiple jobs. You could only get it from the one employer and so that meant we could concentrate the delivery of income support to people who are losing second and third jobs by ensuring that they got their income support through one employer.
Scott Morrison: (11:10)
Now this also had an important aggregate demand impact of ensuring that we were channeling those payments at a flat rate right across the labor force. It was also [inaudible 00:11:23] that in supporting that aggregate demand, that had a broad impact across the economy. We were also focused on ensuring that we did not get the crash on the Centrelink system, on the Services Australia System and we were effectively using private payrolls to deliver Social Security support to Australians. If people who had been on reduced hours and part-time employment had otherwise not been receiving that job-keeper payment, they would have been linking up at Centrelink and they would have been receiving an 1,100 payment and possibly more because of the other payment supports that were there. Ensuring that we had one flat payment across the entire labor force ensured that we were protecting our Social Security system and you will all remember the great strains that that system was under early during the crisis. So a key part of the design was to ensure that we leveraged private payrolls to ensure that we did not crush the Centrelink system. Had that system not been able to stand up and record levels of assessments and payments, two years worth in the space of months, meant that we could get that support to people, we could continue to build up the system.
Scott Morrison: (12:41)
Now we’re in a position where we can run a two-payment system and we can also ensure that people can make applications earlier in the JobSeeker arrangements which enables them to move on. So it was simple, it was deliverable, it protected the Social Security system. It ensured that a level of income support that would otherwise have been provided through other methods was coming through a single method, and at the time of course we were very concerned about where the economy was heading at that time. There were no jobs and so this was about just getting income support to people that were in desperate circumstances.
Scott Morrison: (13:20)
So there are the changes that we’re making to JobSeeker, JobKeeper I should say. Let me move to JobSeeker. The changes we’re making there, and we would otherwise be joined by the Minister for Social Services today but because of the restrictions that are in place and upon us today she sends her apologies but will be available for interviews later. For JobSeeker, we are increasing the income-free area that is available to those who are on JobSeeker to $300.00. That means you can earn $300.00 without it affecting any of your JobSeeker payments. We are adjusting the COVID supplement down to $250.00, so that means you can earn $300.00 where you might have been getting $550.00 before, you can earn $300.00 and then there’s the $250.00 supplement that will come through the COVID supplement and that will run out till the end of this year. We will be reintroducing mutual obligation in two phases. From the fourth of August, we will be requiring people to connect again to employment services, and to undertake four job searches of a month, and the penalties regime will kick in if people refuse a job that has been provided and offered through that process. So if there is a job to be taken and a job that is being offered, then it is an obligation, a mutual obligation, for those who are on JobSeeker to take those jobs where they’re on offer. This is important as we move through the next phase.
Scott Morrison: (14:56)
In the second phase which will be at the end of September, we will be moving to a higher rate of job search. We will be reintroducing the assets test for eligibility for those payments and will be reintroducing the liquid assets waiting period at that time. We will be maintaining these restrictions around [inaudible 00:15:18] for their eligibility for JobSeeker. We will be retaining that support for people to access it to a part-time and casual. We will be maintaining the waiving of the ordinary waiting period waiver and we will be maintaining the partner income test thresholds that were introduced earlier as part of our response, and so they’re the changes we’re making to JobSeeker. We will make further decisions about JobSeeker closer to the end of the year or potentially even in the budget. It is our intention that we would expect that there would be likely a need to continue those supplements post-December, but there is a difference between JobKeeper and JobSeeker. JobKeeper requires that six month period for employees to be able to plan. For those who are on JobSeeker, their plan is there, and that is for us to assist them where possible to get them back into employment, but as we announced last week with the job trainer program, to get them into skills training and skills training will obviously satisfy those mutual obligation arrangements.
Scott Morrison: (16:26)
Our plan for those who aren’t in a job is to help them get into a job or train them for a job. Our plan for those who are on JobKeeper in a business that is still eligible for that is to maintain that support, but we are expecting to see fewer businesses on JobKeeper because they’re making their way out. We’re looking forward to the time when they won’t need it. When JobKeeper is not necessary, that will be a good day for Australia because that will mean our economy is getting back to a much higher level of performance and businesses are able to support their employees. I should also stress that the existing arrangements for all of those who are watching who are on JobKeeper now and on JobSeeker now, these arrangements run out that you are currently on towards the end of September. So you will continue to get those current arrangements now. If you’re in Victoria and worried about being shut down, or you’re unable to go to work or earn, the arrangements you’re getting right now for JobSeeker and JobKeeper will be in place till the end of September and that was also a recommendation of the review.
Scott Morrison: (17:32)
Now I apologize for the lengthy introduction and the treasurer has even further comments to make so I’ll allow him to do that, but this is about ensuring that we move to the next phase, we take the next step. This is the next step in our journey and it’s the step on the journey that is back to keep Australia in a position where we have been able to mitigate, we have been able to prevent the worst of the impacts of this crisis wherever possible, and we will continue to work night and day to ensure that is the case. Treasurer.
Josh Frydenberg: (17:59)
Thank you Prime Minister. Well coronavirus has hit the Australian economy harder than any other event in the last 100 years. Between February and May, more than two million Australians either lost their jobs or saw their hours reduced. Now the official unemployment rate stands at 7.4%, but the effective unemployment rate is at 11.3% when you take into account those who have left the workforce or those who are on zero hours. As we stand here today, five million Victorians are in lockdown and it’s against the backdrop of that very difficult and challenging economic environment that we are announcing the extension of JobKeeper. JobKeeper 2.0, together with the extension of the coronavirus JobSeeker supplement, will assist Australians right around the country.
Josh Frydenberg: (19:04)
As the prime minister alluded to, Treasury undertook a review of the JobKeeper program at the midway point. It was legislated for six months, and they undertook a review at the midway point. They found that JobKeeper, which is the single largest economic measure that any Australian government has ever taken, has supported some 960,000 businesses and three and a half million workers. It comprises around 30% of the pre-COVID private sector workforce, and Treasury’s review found that JobKeeper met its three primary objectives, namely to save jobs and businesses, to maintain the formal connection between employers and employees, and to provide income support. It cited ABS data that 44% of businesses on JobKeeper said that JobKeeper influenced their decision to keep their staff on. It has a number of cameos from various businesses on JobKeeper who have said that the JobKeeper program is why they remain open today. Importantly, the review also records females made up 47.1% of the recipients under JobKeeper, compared to 44.9% of the private sector workforce, and that JobKeeper helped stabilize the loss of jobs across the economy. In the four weeks to mid April, payroll jobs decreased by 8.1% and after JobKeeper, jobs started to stabilize.
Josh Frydenberg: (21:03)
So today as the prime minister has said, we’re extending the JobKeeper program for another six months until the 28th of March 2021. It comes at an estimated cost of around $16 billion. JobKeeper 2.0 will provide a two-tiered payment at a new rate, depending on the hours worked. It was a conscious decision to introduce the flat $1,500.00 payment as it enabled us to get money to people who needed it most as fast as possible. However one of the consequences of the flat payment equivalent to the minimum wage was that some recipients were receiving more under JobKeeper than they were pre-COVID. The two-tiered payment better reflects the pre-COVID income of these recipients. From the 28th of September until the 3rd of January next year, the two payments will be $1,200.00 and $750.00, with the lower payment for employees who worked less than 20 hours a week in the month of February pre-COVID. From the 4th of January to the 28th of March, the two payments will be $1,000.00 and $650.00.
Josh Frydenberg: (22:15)
To be eligible for the initial phase of JobKeeper, businesses have to see a reduction in turnover of 30 or 50%, depending on their size, and charities a 15% reduction. These tests remain the same but they will be reapplied at the end of September and again at the start of January. Employers will need to demonstrate that they’ve met the relevant decline in turnover in both the June and September quarters to be eligible for the JobKeeper payment in the December quarter, and employers will need to demonstrate that they have met the relevant decline in each of the previous three quarters, ending on the 31st of December 2020, to remain eligible for the payment in the March quarter of 2021.
Josh Frydenberg: (23:02)
As the economy gradually improves, Treasury expects that the number of JobKeeper recipients will reduce substantially, with around 1.4 million people remaining eligible in the December quarter 2020 and one million in the March quarter 2021. We know that the economic pain caused by COVID will end, and that many businesses now struggling will be viable once again, and this is why we’re extending the payment to buy time to get businesses and employees to the other side. In conclusion, JobKeeper is the largest single economic measure any government in Australia’s history has undertaken. It’s come at an extremely difficult time, but the Australian public know that the Morrison government has their backs.