Daily Bulletin


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  • Written by Scott Morrison



Australian governments met today as the National Cabinet to take further action to slow the spread of coronavirus to save lives, and to save livelihoods.

 

We will be living with this virus for at least six months, so social distancing measures to slow the spread of this virus must be sustainable for at least that long to protect Australian lives.

 

We need to ensure Australia keeps functioning, to keep Australians in jobs. 

 

The Chief Medical Officer Dr Brendan Murphy provided an update on the measures underway on the latest data and medical advice in relation to coronavirus. 

 

There are more than 5,315 confirmed cases in Australia and sadly 27 people have died. 

 

Testing keeps Australians safe. Australia has one of the most rigorous coronavirus testing systems in the world with more than 270,000 tests completed. 

 

It is clear the epidemiology curve is beginning to flatten. But it is too early to determine whether such movements will be significant or sustained. 

 

Leaders thanked all Australians who have acted responsibly towards their fellow Australians and have been undertaking social distancing and isolation measures. 

 

These measures are helping to slow the spread of the virus, ensure the strength of our health system and save lives.

 

National Cabinet stressed the critical importance of continuing to adhere to self-isolation, social distancing and quarantine arrangements for returned travellers. Leaders also highlight the importance of people who are self-isolating registering on the COVID-19 app.

 

National Cabinet noted that Australia was now in the suppression phase of the response, which will last for some time. Restrictions will be reviewed regularly and planning for the medium to long-term has begun. 

 

Governments are working together to increase supplies of personal protective equipment such as masks, hand sanitiser and gloves. New supplies for the National Medical Stockpile are continuing to be sourced from overseas suppliers and domestic manufacturers.  

 

The Prime Minister and the Secretary of the Commonwealth Treasury also provided an overview of the economic outlook and the medium and longer term financial risks.  

National Cabinet agreed to meet again on Tuesday 7 April 2020.

 

Religious Services

 

Churches and other places of worship, will be considered places of work so that services can be live streamed to the community. This will ensure that religious services, including Easter services, remain accessible to congregations. National Cabinet agreed that providing access to services is important for a sense of continuity and social connection.

 

Services may be conducted and live streamed providing only essential staff are present, the venue/facility remains closed to the public, and social distancing principles are adhered to.

 

Any church wishing to conduct religious services, including Easter services, must use the minimum number of participants required to deliver and live stream the service, which may include a priest, attendants, organist, videographer and sound recordist.  

 

Easter Holidays

Social distancing is slowing the spread of the virus in Australia. These measures are saving lives and livelihoods. National Cabinet reminded Australians that social distancing must continue at Easter and agreed that Australians should stay at home this Easter and not undertake unnecessary holiday travel.  

 

Commercial Tenancies

 

National Cabinet made further progress on the issue of commercial tenancies. They have agreed that a mandatory code of conduct guided by certain principles will be developed and subsequently legislated by State and Territory Governments to apply for tenancies where the tenant is eligible for the Commonwealth Government’s JobKeeper assistance and is a small- or medium-sized enterprise (less than $50 million turnover).

 

The principles that guide the code will be:

(a) Where it can, rent should continue to be paid, and where there is financial distress as a result of COVID-19 (for example, the tenant is eligible for assistance through the JobKeeper program), tenants and landlords should negotiate a mutually agreed outcome

(b) There will be a proportionality to rent reductions based on the decline in turnover to ensure that the burden is shared between landlords and tenants

(c) There will be a prohibition on termination of leases for non-payment of rent (lockouts and eviction)

(d) There will be a freeze on rent increases (except for turnover leases)  

(e) There will be a prohibition on penalties for tenants who stop trading or reduce opening hours

(f) There will be a prohibition on landlords passing land tax to tenants (if not already legislated)

(g) There will be a prohibition on landlords charging interest on unpaid rent

(h) There will be a prohibition on landlords from making a claim to a bank guarantee or security deposit for non-payment of rent

(i) Ensure that any legislative barriers or administrative hurdles to lease extensions are removed (so that a tenant and landlord could agree a rent waiver in return for a lease extension)

 

For landlords and tenants that sign up to the code of conduct, States and Territories have agreed to look at providing the equivalent of at least a three month land tax waiver and three month land tax deferral on application for eligible landowners, with jurisdictions to continue to monitor the situation. Landlords must pass on the benefits of such moves to the tenants. In cases where parties have signed to the code of conduct, the ability for tenants to terminate leases as mentioned in the National Cabinet Statement on 29 March 2020 will not apply. Mediation will be provided as needed through existing State and Territory mechanisms.

 

The proposed code of conduct will be discussed at the next meeting of the National Cabinet on Tuesday 7 April.

 

Childcare and Education

 

National Cabinet welcomed the Australian Government’s Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) relief package, recognising that the sector is key to supporting essential workers and vulnerable children, while also underpinning economic recovery by allowing parents to work, study and volunteer. The relief package will provide families with free child care, while also offering certainty to ECEC services at a time where enrolments and attendance are highly unpredictable.

 

National Cabinet also supported the agreements made by Education Ministers on 2 April 2020 to reduce the regulatory burden on early childhood education and care. Amongst other things, it was agreed that ECEC services will remain open for all families who require care and any future decision regarding ECEC services will be consistent with advice of AHPPC (noting families who require care include all essential workers and vulnerable cohorts).

 

The current AHPPC advice is that ECEC centres are essential services and should continue at this time, but with risk mitigation measures in place. National Cabinet agreed with AHPPC advice that alternative care arrangements should be considered for those children who are highly vulnerable to adverse outcomes if infected with COVID-19 and that parents seek medical advice for these children.

 

The previous advice on schools has not changed. Education Ministers will work with medical experts to determine how the school year can be conducted.

 

Local Governments

 

National Cabinet agreed that states and territories were best placed to address issues related to the impacts of COVID19 and local governments.

 

Information on Coronavirus COVID-19 in Australia  

 

To improve access to timely information on COVID19 National Cabinet agreed to the Commonwealth Department of Health releasing a national daily dashboard of data and key facts. The dashboard will shortly be available on www.health.gov.au

 

National Cabinet will review up-dated health system capacity modelling on Tuesday 7 April 2020. This modelling will look at the trajectory of the outbreak in Australia, the capacity of our health care system and the measures put in place to suppress the spread of COVID19.


PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon. The National Cabinet has met again this morning. 

 

The National Cabinet now is moving into a new phase, having established the many baseline supports and measures that we've put in place to suppress the spread of the virus, and we're now moving into a new phase where in our regular meetings we'll be able to review the data and in particular review measures on a regular basis and make such adjustments as is necessary as we move through this next phase. 

 

But I can say this, that had the virus kept growing at the same rate it was 12 days ago, we would now have more than 10,500 cases in this country. There'd be over 5,000 more cases. And in fact, some commentators who were doing the maths were suggesting that we would have had 8,000 cases just as recently as last weekend. That is a tribute to the work that has been done by Australians in getting around and supporting the very sensible measures that are being put in place all around the country by the state and territory governments. But we must continue to do this. It doesn't matter what the temperature is. If it's a warm day, don't go in masses down to the beach. That's a simple instruction that all Australians expect other Australians to abide by. It isn't just the government asking you to do this. It's your fellow Australians asking you to do this, because by complying with those arrangements and supporting those arrangements, you're supporting your fellow Australians. 

 

We need to continue to keep the pressure on. We need to continue to suppress the virus. We are now at single digit rates of growth, but we need to do more. The changes that you are making Australia are working and we need to keep making those changes and making sure we can make those changes on a sustainable basis in our daily lives. 

 

We also must continue to get the balance right. And that's why, as I said, the National Cabinet will be regularly reviewing the data and all the baseline supports and the baseline restrictions that are in place to ensure that we're only doing what is necessary to protect the health of Australians and at the same time ensure that we continue to keep our economy running and the income that is available to people through their work will be available to them, and not unreasonably taken from them. This is the road ahead. This is the road that we're making into this virus, but the National Cabinet is also very focused on the road out as well. We've talked about six month periods and that is true. They're not a guarantee, it could be longer. We pray it’s shorter, but a six month period should give people a good indication of what they have to ready themselves in terms of the changes they're making in their daily lives. 

 

So we are in what we describe today, as a National Cabinet, as the suppression phase. We are now in a place where we're seeking to put the pressure down on constraining this virus in Australia. We then need to look at the recovery phase, which is beyond. And I want to assure Australians that the National Cabinet is very focused on those issues as well. But in these early phases, the work has had to necessarily focus on establishing all the rules, establishing the restrictions, putting the economic supports in place, particularly through arrangements like JobKeeper and JobSeeker to ensure we were getting the additional resources into our health system, supporting initiatives in areas of community supports, domestic violence, mental health, all of these things putting in place the supply lines to ensure that we can get access to the medical tests, to the PPE equipment, the personal protection equipment, and all of the upgrading of things like ICU’s. And that work has been going at a great pace to ensure we have the contact tracing. And one of the most pleasing figures that the Chief Medical Officer and I have been observing each day is that great job the states and territories are doing. And they have employed an army of people to do this in their ranks, to be going out and tracing the contacts of those who have picked up the coronavirus. Those figures of untraced cases has fallen dramatically over the course of the last couple of weeks. And that is a great effort from the states. And I want to thank them for the tremendous work that each of them are doing on the end of that phone, ringing people up, tracking down where they've been. It's painstaking and frustrating work, but they're doing it and it's saving lives and it's saving livelihoods. 

 

The National Cabinet having put those controls in place, and will now continue to assess these measures on an ongoing basis. Today, we had a further report on modelling work that had been done, that modelling work is not yet complete. That modelling work looks at different scenarios. So we can be confident to an acceptable level that the potential course of the virus in Australia will run at a pace in which our health systems will be able to support the Australian population. The early news on some of this early modelling is that at the current rate, if we keep doing what we're doing and we keep doing the work to upgrade our ICU capacity and secure the extra ventilators and all of the things we're doing right now, then right now that trajectory is promising. It's encouraging, but there are no guarantees I want to stress, this virus writes its own rules and we have to seek to try and understand them as best we can and respond as best we can to the pressures that we face. Now, that modelling will have further work done over the course of the next few days. It will be reviewed again by the National Cabinet when it next meets next Tuesday morning. And then following that, the Chief Medical Officer and I will be conducting a briefing on that information and sharing that with the nation. The good news, though, is that on the scenario planning we have at the moment, we are tracking well, but we can take none of that for granted. 

 

Also agreed today was a range of very practical issues that we believe that are necessary at the margin and to address issues that have arisen in the community. We have from this afternoon we'll be releasing a daily dashboard on all the key statistics with a very straightforward and simple summary by the Chief Medical Officer about the key features of that data that will be done on a daily basis. Of course, that will be of great use to the media. Much of the data you'll already be familiar with in the media, but that information will be available on health.gov.au and people can look that up on a daily basis. It will be published in the afternoon because that is the period of time in which all the information has come through from the states and territories. You will note many of the Premiers are updating their information again the following morning, but that afternoon report is a daily baseline on where things are at on each and every day. 

 

We also agreed today, that for Easter and religious services, given all of these religious services now where they are continuing are being done in a streaming or broadcast mode. That the places where the broadcasts and the streaming is taking place from, most usually in a place of worship, they will be considered as workplaces. Now, what does that mean? It means that the same rules that apply to a workplace for those who are participating in presenting the service, conducting the service, will apply as they do in other places of work. That means particularly for orthodox religions, where particularly when it comes up around Easter, there are additional canters and there are additional other religious ecclesiastical roles that are played in those services. That means there can be additional people that are taking part in the celebration of those services, not people going to church. It's the priests and the others formerly involved in the conducting of the ceremonies. That way they can be faithfully relayed to the faith communities around the country. So it doesn't mean, churches are not open, places of worship are not open. I want to be very clear about that. But we've had a lot of feedback from religious communities that there are ways that these services are conducted and they'll be able to do that respecting absolutely the four square meters per person rule that applies in those workplaces and that and that should be followed.

 

Also on working holiday maker visa holders. Now, there are many of them still in Australia. Many have returned to their home countries. There are particular places that in the agricultural sector that rely on those workers each year as you go into the seasons, either for planning or for harvesting or for fruit picking and so on. And it's important that those businesses and those producers are able to continue to conduct their business. Now, of course, Australians who want to do that work, then please do, get out there and do that work. And there'll be opportunities there. For working holiday makers who are looking to engage in those occupations as they regularly do. They will be required to self isolate and to go on to Australia.gov.au and register for self-isolation and do that where they are now for a period of 14 days before they transfer to another part of the country out in a rural or regional area. At that time, their employer will be looking to see that they have conducted that self-isolation before they would be employed in that work. Now this is important to ensure that we don't get a lift up of the virus that might be in many metropolitan areas and it gets transferred to more vulnerable areas in rural and regional communities, which as yet are not experiencing the same level of the virus being transmitted in those communities. So this is being done to ensure that those producers can get the work done, but also to ensure that the communities are protected. At the same time working through the states and territories and local governments. We will be working to ensure that the workers accommodation that would be in those places is also respecting strict health requirements. You can't have 6 backpackers in a caravan up out in rural parts of the country. That's not on. Not gonna happen. You need to have more strict rules around that and local governments and shires will be observing those health rules and working with their states and territories to put those conditions in place.

 

On the economy. We are continuing to do everything we can to limit the impacts wherever possible and to provide all the necessary supports. And JobKeeper and JobSeeker are critical to those plans. In relation to JobKeeper, in discussion with the states and territories today, local governments and their support will be provided by the state government so that local government employees are no different to state government employees in these arrangements. Local governments are not eligible for JobKeeper from the Commonwealth government where there is support necessary, if there is support necessary for local governments that will be provided by the state and territory governments, not the Commonwealth government.

 

On commercial leases. As you know, we've been working on this issue for some time and I have, had hoped we'd be in a position to have finalised this today and we are very close to doing that. And the National Cabinet considered the proposals that came forward. An industry code of practice for commercial tenancies, including retail tenancies, has been worked on by the various stakeholder groups representing tenants and landlords over the course of the next few days, that industry code as the the National Cabinet reviewed that today, has not got to the point that we believe it needs to get to to ensure a sufficient security for tenants and landlords that are affected by these arrangements. What we are seeking to have happen is for the industry to complete their code and that code will be made a mandatory code, incorporated into state and territory legislation where appropriate. Where it will be mandatory for tenancies. That is the tenant and the landlord, where they have a turnover of less than 50 million and they are a participant in the JobKeeper program. As you know, the JobKeeper program has a threshold which has a 30 per cent loss of revenue. If you're in that situation and you're a tenant, then we will be working to implement a mandatory code of practice regarding the negotiations, the discussions that you will now have with your landlord to ensure that both of you, the landlord and the tenant, can get through this next period and on the other side be able to go back to business as usual and enable those businesses to succeed. And the landlord also to succeed in the future. What is important as part of this code is that both parties negotiate in good faith, that there is a proportionality principle that needs to be in this code. And that proportionality principle is simply this, that the turnover reduction of the tenant needs to be reflected in the rental waiver of the landlord. Now, how that is done inside the lease is up to the landlord and the tenant. There are many different ways you can achieve this. If, for example, there was a 3 or 6 month rental waiver because a lessee, a tenant would have had to close their doors and there's just simply no money coming in. Then one way to achieve that is to extend the overall lease by 6 months on the other side, if they're going to give a rental waiver. Similarly, they could agree to a different level of rent over the entire term of the lease. And that was shared over a longer period of time. These are things that we do not wish to be prescriptive about. What we want to do is have landlords and tenants in the room to ensure that they can work these issues out between them, so they can have an arrangement which enables them to get through this period and to get to the other side. The banks will need to come to the party as well. The banks are not parties to those arrangements. And so that makes it legally a little more difficult. But banks are already moving to providing all sorts of new facilities and arrangements to their customers. And we would expect banks to be very supportive of the agreements reached by landlords and tenants who would be working under this mandatory code. But I stress, again, I, we would like as a national cabinet for this to be done by industry and for them to finalize a code with this proportionality principle as quickly as possible so we can move to have that adopted into state and territory regulation as a matter of a mandatory arrangement. Now, if you're in that arrangement, which you would be required to enter into, if you're in the terms that I said, then you would be, have that protection of of issues around evictions. You would have the protections around claims on penalties or acting on guarantees of interest protection on rent, on all of these matters, you would be protected. Also, the landlord will be protected in that the lease would not be able to be terminated on those grounds. So there's give and take on this, give and take, those tenants and landlords are being encouraged to sit around that table and get that done now. The mandatory code would require it. And if you sit outside the mandatory code, then you are leaving yourselves out in the cold. So with those measures, we are looking forward to make further progress. States would also, under those arrangements, be looking to provide various exemptions and and waivers and reductions to some of their fees and rates. But we're looking to see that industry code come in place to ensure we can make progress more quickly. And that was the arrangement we came to today. And National Cabinet will consider this again at the latest on Tuesday morning. And if we're able to come to an arrangement before then, then we would convene to make that possible.

 

With those rather lengthy, but again, I thank you for your patience, remarks. I'll pass over to the Chief Medical Officer. 

 

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Thanks, Prime Minister. 

 

So worldwide, we've now passed 1 million reported cases of COVID-19. We believe that the true number is probably five or 10 times as much as that, because we know that judging by the death rate, the testing rate, in many countries, they're not detecting all the cases. There are some countries that don't have the capacity to test. In Australia, we're now reporting 5,274 cases. But in Australia, we're pretty confident that our testing has been probably the best in the world and that we are very confident that whilst there will certainly be some undetected cases, we have a pretty good idea of the size of our outbreak. 

 

As the Prime Minister has said, the growth rate has been falling. It's about 5 per cent a day at the moment. The border measures have had good effect. We're still detecting return travellers. We're still detecting contacts of return travellers. But those numbers are reducing. We still have cruise ship people to come home. We still have a lot of issues with people that have contracted the virus from overseas, but we are in control of those issues. The issue that worries all of us, and I've said this on many occasions, are those community transmission, those cases which have been passed from person to person in the community without a clear epidemiology link. We know there are over 300 of those in Sydney, about 60 in Melbourne, 30 in Brisbane, and smaller numbers in some other states. That means that there are people who have COVID-19 or incubating it who don't know it. And that is why we introduced these social distancing measures that we've all been taking to heart really well. And I, like the Prime Minister, I'm truly delighted at the way the Australian public has embraced these measures, which are all about stopping, slowing that community transmission so that when cases are identified, they can be tested, they can be dealt with by the public health units and we can continue to suppress this virus. So we are quietly pleased with the direction we're going, but we can not stop because those community transmissions have been growing and they are still growing slowly. And we have to keep doing these measures to bring them under control. Thanks Prime Minister.

 

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. We’ll start this side and we’ll come around. Greg?

 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, [inaudible] relatively low. People are going to be wondering you know, is it all worth it? So Donald Trump has told Americans that social distancing could potentially save 2 million lives, if Australians were just getting about their lives as normal, you know, how many lives are we saving through social distancing? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, as I said at the outset, had we not taken the measures we'd already taken just twelve days ago, there'd be 5,000 more people with the virus right now. Now we'll be sharing more information on our modelling next week. And I think that will go more to the issues that you're raising. But I can absolutely assure you that social distancing, combined with the many other measures we've put in place, is saving lives and it is saving livelihoods. Now, one of the things the National Cabinet is very keen to do now we've got through and I'm sure you would agree, there has been a massive amount of work that has had to be done to put in all the measures and arrangements we have done over the last several weeks. $200 billion worth of economic supports, investments in our health system, our childcare system, our mental health system, our emergency relief. All of these things, don't happen by themselves. There's been an enormous amount of work. The restrictions, the regulations, the state and territory governments have been putting in place as the National Cabinet has come together, has been to get us to this first stage of establishment to get the baseline of the protections and supports. Now, what we are looking to do is let Australians know what our next target is and what we're hoping to achieve in the weeks ahead so we can work together to achieve those goals. So you can expect me to be saying more about what our goals are, whether it be in what we're trying to do on the spread of the virus or what we're doing on our targets on ICU beds and things like this so we can share with Australians how we're getting there along the way. And I think that's an important point. Australians are making big sacrifices. They want to know what it's achieving. I can tell you what it's achieving right now. You're saving lives. You're saving livelihoods. And if you want to know how much, you only have to look overseas and see what is happening in other developed countries around the world. That is not our experience in this country. And we're doing everything we can to ensure it does not become our experience. No, just just one each I think.

 

JOURNALIST: If churches are workplaces that can safely be attended by those conducting a service, why can't the Australian Parliament sit if parliamentarians observe the four-square metre rule? And what do you say to calls for a joint committee to scrutinise the Government's response on Covid-19?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Parliament will resume this week and Parliament will be called and will do the work it needs to during the course of this crisis. And that will be done promptly, as you will see next week, and will be done on the modified rules that respect the social distancing and other practices that are needed. In terms of other arrangements regarding oversight, the Government doesn't have any issues with that. The Senate provides, I think, very good mechanisms for doing that and we discussed that with the Opposition last night. 

 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on the JobKeeper program, it is set up so that employers could, with confidence, pay their employees $1,500 a week - a fortnight - this month knowing the Government would reimburse them in May. Many employees have been stood down or are being reportedly told that their business, their company just doesn't have the cash flow to provide that money now. What should those people do for the next month if they're not being… if they're not going to go onto JobSeeker but they aren't able to get that $1,500 a fortnight from their employer before May 1?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the employers need to talk to their banks straight away, because what we're providing under the JobKeeper program is an absolute guarantee you can take to the bank. Because those payments will be made for each of those employees and that should enable them to put a facility in place with their bank so they can make those payments to their employees. Now, where a business chooses to not go into the JobKeeper arrangements, I mean, it's not a mandatory program. It's there to provide support. Then those employees will be able to go and make applications through the safety net process of the JobSeeker program. 

 

JOURNALIST: Just on international students, they’re not covered by any of the support measures that have been announced so far, is that something that the Government's looking at? We're hearing that a lot of students are struggling to keep their accommodation. If they're kicked out, that obviously causes a lot of other social issues and could more be being done by the Government to communicate to people who speak languages other than English? A lot of the feedback from communities is that these measures they're trying to keep on top of them, they want to do the right thing, but it's very difficult for them to understand in their own language.  Is that something that the Government can look at as part of his daily dashboard?

 

PRIME MINISTER: The communications program that has been running on people's screens now for us for some time, that also has a languages component to it, which has been rolled out around the country as well. And even in my own communications, whether it's WeChat or other arrangements, we've been pretty focused on communicating through the various language media to achieve that end. In terms of students, the Immigration Minister, well, Acting Immigration Minister i should say, will have more to say about other visa holders and the arrangements the Government is coming to for those. And I'll leave that to him to make those announcements in coming days. People should know, though, in particular for students, all students who come to Australia in their first year have to give a warranty that they are able to support themselves for the first 12 months of their study. That is a requirement of their visa when they come to that first year. And so that is not an unreasonable expectation of the Government that students would be able to fulfil the commitment that they gave. Now, these visas and those who are in Australia under various visa arrangements, they're obviously not held here compulsorily. If they're not in a position to be able to support themselves, then there is the alternative for them to return to their home countries. We still have quite a number of people who are here on visitor visas. My simple, as much as it's lovely to have visitors to Australia in good times, at times like this if you're a visitor in this country, it is time, as it has been now for some while and I know many visitors have, to make your way home and to ensure that you can receive the supports that are available where they are in your home countries. At this time, Australia must focus on its citizens and its residents to ensure that we can maximise the economic supports that we have. But there are many students who are in Australia. That's why we lifted the hour restrictions on student nurses, for example, some 20,000 additional student nurses then became available into our health system. That's very important. For those backpackers in Australia who are nurses or doctors or have other critical skills that can really help us during this crisis, then there'll be opportunities for them as well. But our focus and our priority is on supporting Australians and Australian residents with the economic supports that are available.

 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you said the National Cabinet has moved from the containment phase to the suppression phase. Can you give us an insight into what the benchmarks were for making the decision to move to the phases and what the benchmarks are for moving to the subsequent prescribers like that? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: I wouldn’t describe it like that and if that's how it came across, then I apologise. What I'm simply saying is in our first few weeks, we've been establishing getting all these measures in place. That is also part of the act of putting the pressure down on the virus and having those restrictions and those limitations and those controls and then the economic supports that are necessary to cushion the impact of those across the community. That's what the suppression phase is and we'll be in this for some time. We'll be in this for some time. There will be a recovery phase and we are working at the same time on the road out, not just the road in. And Nev Power, as you know, heads up the Coordination Commission. There is important work being done as part of that body's work, particularly by people like Andrew Liveris and others who are thinking about the next phase and what will have to do to get the economy back up and running again on the other side of that. And then there'll be a phase after that which will be a return, hopefully, to some form of business as usual in Australia as we once may have known it. But that is quite a way away at the moment. And so right now, we are focused on keeping that pressure down on this virus and ensuring that the measures, the restrictions, the supports that we have are sustainable. I can't stress how important this is. You can't do that forever. The Budget is only so big and the restrictions that people live under can only be lived under for so long. And so that's why it's important that we continue to look at it all the time as a National Cabinet and that we calibrate these things to how the country is moving, how they're responding, and that's why we are so grateful for their support. Mal.

 

JOURNALIST: PM, can we take from your comments that the National Cabinet has deployed or at least identified the major measures of the response and that subsequent meetings are going to be more progress reports than the deploying of something significant. 

 

PRIME MINISTER: I think as a general rule, Mal, that's a pretty reasonable summary. That doesn't exclude us from considering additional measures. The Commonwealth Government, through our Cabinet, will continue to consider those. But over these last few weeks, I think we've put the big rocks in the jar in terms of our response and that's important. That doesn't mean there won't be others, though. I mean, yesterday's announcement on child care, I think was incredibly important. The work we've done on domestic violence. And while I've said it on a number of interviews in the last 24 hours, people should go to esafety.gov.au. Your children will be online more than they ever have been and that means they are at risk more often than they ever have been online. And I encourage all parents to go to esafety.gov.au and check out the very helpful hints that will help keep your children online safe as so many of them now are engaged in distance learning. So that, I think, is a pretty good summary of where we're at, Mal. We will be looking very carefully at the data and ensuring we're being driven by what that's telling us, what the medical experts are telling us, but also in the area of education. We had a good discussion about education again today. The work is already underway about what schools should look like on the other side of the school holidays. And while I'm on that, people should not be going away for Easter holidays. This is Easter at home. We put the Easter decorations up in the house yesterday with Jenny and the kids. It might actually keep them occupied for at least an hour or so if they're painting Easter eggs or whatever. But this Easter will be at home. People should not be getting in their cars and going to other places. But beyond that, on the other side of school holidays, the education ministers around the country will be working with the medical experts to further inform how the rest of the school year can be conducted. We do not want our children to lose a year of their education. John. 

 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what do you say to a minority of noisy critics out there who believe or don’t understand why the Government may be unnecessarily causing economic destruction to save the lives of predominantly older Australians?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Every Australian matters. It doesn’t matter whether they’ve just been born or they are approaching the end of their life. Every Australian matters. They matter to me, they matter to my Government and all of the members of Parliament in this place, every state and territory premier and chief minister. Every Australian matters. That's my response. 

 

JOURNALIST: PM, you've given us an update on the commercial tendencies. There’s a lot of confusion out there from residential landlords, is it a situation that their deals with their tenants are being dealt with on a state by state basis and not the National Cabinet and what can you tell us?

 

PRIME MINISTER: The priority has been on the commercial tenancies, given the business issues involved and the many business closures. And so that's where the National Cabinet has put its first attention and all of the state and territory treasurers. On residential tenancies, you'll recall that we already announced that there was a moratorium on evictions. That doesn't mean there's a moratorium on rents. It means that people are responsible for their rents, but there is a moratorium on evictions. We won't have anyone thrown out of their homes. That's very important. And there'll be further work that is being done by the treasurers on residential tenancies. But the commercial tenancies are what is very important at this point. And I should have stated before to add what I indicated earlier, the intention is there would be mediation available in the event that landlords and their retail commercial tenants were unable to reach an agreement. And I should also point out that if you are not a JobSeeker tenant, if you're just a tenant that hasn't had a reduction in their business turnover, then your leasing arrangements stand. You should be still paying your rent to the landlord. Those things haven't been suspended. These arrangements are designed to address particularly the small and medium sized tenancies. The larger retailers and the big landlords, they'll sort it out. They'll get together, they'll sort it out and they'll have arrangements because they know how much they both need each other to make both of their businesses work. But we want to make sure that smaller tenants have the protections they need to be able to sit down with their landlords. Many landlords are doing the right thing, talking to their tenants, understanding that they both need each other and coming to sensible arrangements that help them both get through. But there's unreasonableness that is happening from both landlords and tenants alike, landlords not taking the tenants calls and continuing to take the rent, tenants who are just threatening to throw the keys in their door and walk away from their leases. That's not the way we need to behave in this. What we need to do is have a code of behaviour which will be mandatory under state and territory laws that will get people into a room and get them to sort it out. And if people don't want to do that, well, they won't have those protections. Yep, Jen.

 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, not everyone is considerate or patient. Six months is a long time, six weeks is a long time. Are you worried people are going to start getting frustrated with these social distancing rules and start intentionally breaking them, particularly around Easter when they just want to go see their families? Apart from telling people to be patient and the state laws that are in place, what can be done? And one for Dr Murphy, if I can as well, do you believe the numbers that are coming out of China at the moment? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: I might let you go.

 

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Look, I think we... the only numbers I have total faith in are the Australian numbers, frankly, because we have the highest testing rate in the world. I think China is in a really difficult position. They did clamp down incredibly hard and they stopped transmission, but their population is not immune. They still have a lot of people in their population and they are obviously trying very hard to prevent second waves. I think they have been pretty transparent. But as I said, I'm only confident about our numbers. I'm certainly not confident that the numbers even out of the US are probably much higher than are being reported because nobody else in the world has been doing testing like we have. Nobody else in the world got on to all of those original cases out of Wuhan in January and contained them. That's why we are now dealing with what we know rather than a huge community transmission that happened all through February in countries like Italy and the US. We are on top of our cases but we still have a long way to go. 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Brendan. Patience must become the virtue of Australians over the next six months, at the very least. It is something we need to get very familiar with. It's something we've got to encourage each other in and it also is something the National Cabinet, all the states and territories I know are very conscious of, to ensure that we can keep these arrangements sustainably in place over the many months ahead. Where we think they can be eased, where we think they can be modified in their enforcement and how that's done, I know the state and territory premiers and chief ministers are listening very carefully to their communities. I have no doubt the police commissioners in each of the states or those who are responsible for the enforcement are listening carefully and exercising the appropriate discretion. I think we have to sort of give each other a bit of a break on ensuring how we're adjusting to this new normal. It’ll take a little while. But patience must become our virtue in Australia. That will save lives, it will save livelihoods. 

 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what is the Federal Government doing in terms of buildings that the Commonwealth owns? Will you be offering rent relief as well and setting an example as the Federal Government?

 

PRIME MINISTER: We intend to. The Commonwealth doesn't have too many retail tenancies that would fall into this category. They are predominantly held by state governments and it would be our expectation that we'd be acting as a model landlord in those arrangements. Yes, I think we should absolutely do that and I know the Treasurer and the Finance Minister will be ensuring that those arrangements are in place. I’m going to keep coming around. 

 

JOURNALIST: PM, two quick questions. One, would you consider any option of people using financial hardship rules to take any of their superannuation to help pay rent? And secondly, overnight the US recorded its biggest historical jump in unemployment in a week. They’re a bit of a lead indicator. Do you have any concerns that that might happen in Australia? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, first of all, on the issue of access to super, we've already set out our rules about accessing super, and that applies to those on JobSeeker and they can access $10,000 of their super before the end of this year and $10,000 next year. We haven't made any additional announcements on those issues and so obviously someone who was on JobSeeker, they are clearly in a position of financial distress and there are other broader rules that apply and the Commissioner will continue to exercise his discretion, as he always does on those issues. And on the second issue, on the level of unemployment, well, this is why we put JobKeeper in place. This is why this program is such an important program. This is why we've put $130 billion into supporting the jobs of potentially 6 million Australians so they can stay connected to their employer. This is going to save tens and tens and tens of thousands of jobs immediately, and hopefully millions more, as we go through the many difficult months ahead. Now, our scheme was designed for Australia. It is Australian made, for Australian circumstances. It's built for Australia, JobKeeper, and I think it'll work for Australia as well.

 

JOURNALIST: Just on you've got reports of people in Queensland…

 

PRIME MINISTER: Sorry, I couldn’t hear you.

 

JOURNALIST: You’ve got reports of people in Queensland having to go to the state administration tribunal on rental claims, that their landlords are saying the eviction moratorium you guys have introduced is not law. Do you have any comments on that? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: My comment to the landlords is do the right thing. Do the right thing. We're all in this together. Sit down with your tenant, the tenant that's been paying you rent, working in their business, week after week after week, respect each other's livelihoods and support each other's livelihoods wherever you can. This is going to be a tough time, whether you're a tenant, and I know there will be landlords that will feel it as well. Of course they will, and that's why the banks have got to do the right thing by them. This isn't about picking sides. It's about ensuring that Australians work together to solve a problem that they share together. It's not the tenant’s problem. It's not the landlord's problem. It's not the bank's problem. It's all of their problem. And so we need them all to work together to solve it. 

 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, are you aggrieved by the way Ruby Princess was handled? And also, you mentioned Chinese wet markets this morning. What do you think needs to be done about those?

 

PRIME MINISTER: The matters in relation to that vessel, I think, have been addressed by the New South Wales Premier, and we've just focused on meeting the next challenge and learning from the past ones and we will continue to do that. In relation to wet markets, I was asked about this this morning. It's not a matter that I've sought to raise. You asked me a question, I'll seek to give you an answer, and Alan Jones asked me about that this morning. Look, no doubt, and perhaps the Chief Medical Officer might want to comment as well, but these markets it is not the first time we've seen these types of viruses come out of these sorts of places. We don't have them here and there's good reason and I think this is a big challenge for the world into the future, the World Health Organisation and other international organisations. I think this is an area they can spend a bit of time and attention on because we can clearly see the great risks to the health and wellbeing of the rest of the world as a result of these types of places and facilities. Now, I'm not making any criticisms of anyone. I'm not making any cultural references or anything like that. I mean, there are all sorts of different countries and we all live different ways. But it is important that when you're handling these types of food supplies and how they are provided to the public and how they're treated, these things can be very dangerous, as we've seen. Did you want to say anything about that, Brendan?

 

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Zoonotic viruses, so viruses that spread from animals to humans, are our biggest risk and that's what we've seen with Covid-19. And clearly that risk is much greater when you have close contact between a lot of live animals and human beings. So it is a risk. It's been well identified. You know, other other viruses like SARS and MERS crossed from animal to human in the same way. So it's a very important issue and I think it's something, obviously, that the Chinese authorities have been very concerned about. 

 

PRIME MINISTER: But for now, we'll be focusing on what we need to do in Australia. We'll let other countries focus on what they need to focus on in their country. I'm speaking regularly to leaders around the world and trying to learn from their experiences and share our experiences with them. This is a very difficult challenge, as we all know, and we're fighting this war on two fronts. We're fighting the virus, put the pressure down on the virus to stop it or slow it's spread, to save lives and to ensure that we keep our economies running to support the livelihoods that Australians depend on. Thank you.

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