I begin by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people, their elders past, present, and those who are emerging.
Can I also acknowledge any servicemen and women and veterans who may be joining us today either here or through the broadcast and can I simply say to you, thank you for your service.
A year ago I said: “How good is Australia” and “how good are Australians.”
And over the past year, Australians have proved this time and again.
We are an amazing country.
A view shared by all of my Government, I’m sure all of the parliament, my colleagues here with me today, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, my many colleagues, we believe this passionately.
Australians have stood up, Australians are proving once again that we are capable of doing extraordinary things, but in a very Australian way.
I am thankful for the many sacrifices Australians have made to get us to this point.
But I am also grateful at a personal level for the time taken by those to share their experiences directly with me during this crisis.
Almost 100,000 Australians have written to me in the past couple of months.
So many have suffered and they continue to hurt, right here and right now - lost jobs, reduced hours, seeing their family businesses shut, having to close those doors, or retirement incomes shrink. Loved ones kept apart.
It has been a time of great uncertainty as Australians have had to come to terms with the sudden and profound changes happening to their lives.
Greg is a chef with six kids in Sydney, he wrote to me about his business suffering from the restrictions, saying that everything he has worked for is at risk.
Sue from Jimbooma, told me that other than a first home owners grant, she had never received a cent from the government. JobKeeper has saved her business, she said, and she just wanted to say thank you.
Anthony, not the one you’re thinking of, but quite genuinely Anthony from Western Australia, he sent me his wedding photo. His wife of 50 years had just passed away. He said his wife “was the most caring person you could ever meet” and he was absolutely heartbroken that he couldn’t give her the send-off she deserved. Of all the things, of all the decisions we have taken, that was undoubtedly the hardest.
And I received an email from three children in Western Australia that completely floored me, heir father is terminally ill. They told me they understood their Dad’s funeral would have to be small. They wanted me to know they were ok with that - because it will help keep the hospitals available for other patients with cancers and diseases.
That’s incredible, our people are amazing.
And there was Rebhecca, a young woman, who is also terminally ill and sent me a handwritten letter, just wanting to let me know she was praying for me every day.
And then there’s Thai, from Traralgon and he wrote this “we just need someone to fire the starter’s gun on the economy. Someone to say, ‘on your marks, get set, go’.
I’ve got good news.
Today I want to talk about that recovery.
Because that is what millions of Australians are now relying on.
And there is reason to hope.
Australia is weathering this storm better than many and better than most. Indeed, together with a handful of nations we have led the world in this response.
Our response has followed a clear plan to save lives and save livelihoods, with strong and coordinated leadership across all governments, brought together through the innovation of the National Cabinet.
Firstly in that plan, fight the virus and save lives.
On the health front this has meant closing our borders early, imposing strict isolation and quarantine for returning Australians, introducing tough social distancing rules and reluctantly having to close business.
We built up our medical stockpiles of masks and medicines, we tripled the critical care capacity in our hospitals getting the respirators our hospitals need, and our testing regime led the world.
We built a health detective workforce to track and trace every case, now supported by the more than 6 million Australians who have downloaded the COVIDSafe App.
This decisive response has helped Australia to suppress the virus and avoid the scale of devastation, infection, and death seen in many other countries around the world.
We should not downplay this, this achievement and pretend like the risk never existed, or that our preparations or our precautions were unwarranted. Let me assure you, Australia, the risk was great and uncertain and it still is.
Countries like ours, developed sophisticated economies with strong health systems, have experienced death rates more than 100 times what we have experienced here in Australia.
The fact our worst case scenarios have not not been realised is cause for great relief, not apathy.
Second, we have bought ourselves precious time in our plan – not just to build up health system response capacity, but to put in place the economic lifelines needed to cushion the cruel economic blow of the virus.
JobKeeper, JobSeeker and our business cash flow measures, the stimulus payments to other beneficiaries and pensioners, have provided the vital economic bridge for so many businesses and workers.
There are more than 5 million Australians directly benefiting from these payments.
At a now anticipated direct cost of more than $150 billion in just six months, all borrowed, all of it, against future tax revenue. These supports can only be temporary.
It was William Green, the leader of the American Federation of Labour who said during the Great Depression in 1934: “we cannot indefinitely support one sixth of our population on money borrowed against future taxes”.
That was a Labour leader in the Great Depression.
With tangible success on the health front and economic lifelines now in place, we have now embarked on the next stage of our plan and that is to reopen our economy.
The National Cabinet’s three-step plan for a COVID safe Australia is now being implemented and great progress is being made. It is anticipated that all three steps will be completed across the country in time in July.
According to Treasury, this three-step plan will see some 850,000 jobs ultimately restored once the full impacts are realised in the months that follow.
Success in this current phase will certainly not be easy. It cannot be assumed as we go through this process. It will not be business as usual. Opening up will be harder than closing down.
We will all have to have to retrain, to live and work in a way that creates a sustainable COVIDSafe economy and society as you are indeed doing here today.
SafeWork Australia is providing the tools to help businesses and employees alike to make these changes.
All of us are in uncharted territory. There will be inconsistencies, there will be frustrations. There will be trial, there will be error.
During this time we can also sadly expect unemployment and underemployment to rise before it falls. Debt and deficits to rise sharply, as costs rise and revenues fall.
This will test our confidence and our resolve.
That is why the reopening of our economy must be followed by a concerted effort to create momentum and to rebuild confidence.
This will provide the platform to reset our economy for growth over the next three to five years, as Australia and the world emerges from this crisis.
The overwhelming priority of this reset will be to win the battle for jobs.
The Budget later this year, which the Treasurer will bring down, will play an important part in this reset.
The backdrop for that Budget will be one of the starkest our country has seen.
The most challenging domestic and global economic environment we have faced outside of wartime.
But we should remember that this event, these difficult times were not caused by economic failure, but a global health pandemic. The problem was not the economy.
And we should be encouraged that we have restored jobs and rebalanced our Budget before.
Prior to the COVID crisis, more than 1.5 million jobs had been created right across the country, as we had promised, and the Budget had been restored to balance from chronic deficits.
Our biggest gains were made by females in our workforce, who have been particularly impacted I should stress by this crisis. Female workforce participation rose to record levels and the gender pay gap fell to record lows.
So Australia, we have done this before and we can do it again, together.
Our confidence is building, with consumer confidence climbing back 80 per cent in the past eight weeks off the dramatic fall.
We must start though by working together, and this is where we start, by restoring the jobs that have been lost.
We need a JobMaker plan for a new generation of economic success, that can guarantee the essentials that Australians rely on.
As we reset for growth, our JobMaker plan will be guided by principles that we as Liberals and Nationals have always believed in, to secure Australia’s future and put people first in our economy.
Firstly, we will remain in Australia an outward-looking, open and sovereign trading economy.
We will not retreat into the downward spiral of protectionism. To the contrary, we will continue to be part of global supply chains that can deliver the prosperity we rely on to create jobs, support incomes and build businesses.
Our economic sovereignty will be achieved by ensuring our industries are highly competitive, resilient and able to succeed in a global market. Not by protectionism.
While a trading nation, we will never trade away our values or our future for short-term gain.
With trade, alliance and other partners we will work to establish and maintain the balance needed for peace and stability in our region that upon which everyone’s prosperity depends.
Secondly, is the principle of caring for country, a principle that indigenous Australians have practiced for tens of thousands of years.
It means responsible management and stewardship of what has been left to us, to sustainably manage that inheritance for current and future generations.
We must not borrow from generations in the future, from what we cannot return.
This is as true for our environmental, cultural and natural resources as it is for our economic and financial ones.
Governments therefore must live within their means, so we don’t impose impossible debt burdens on future generations that violates that important caring for country principle.
Thirdly, we must seek to leverage and build on our strengths.
An educated and highly-skilled workforce that supports not just a thriving and innovative services sector, but a modern, competitive and advanced manufacturing sector.
Resources and agricultural sectors that can both fuel and feed large global populations, including our own, and support vibrant rural and regional communities. I know the Deputy Prime Minister would agree thoroughly. A financial system that has proved to be one of the most stable and resilient in the world. World leading scientists, medical specialists, researchers and technologists. An emerging space sector. And so much more.
Fourthly, we must always ensure that there is the opportunity in Australia for those who have a go, to get a go.
This is our Australian way.
Access to essential services, incentive for effort, respect for the principles of mutual obligation. Ensuring equal opportunities for those in rural and regional communities to be the same as those in our cities and our suburbs.
All translated into policies that seek not to punish those who have success, but devise ways for others to achieve it.
And then there’s the fifth principle, what I like to call the Sir Peter Blake principle, I spoke to Jacinda Ardern this morning, doing what makes the boat go faster.
Now, my colleagues are very familiar with this principle. Many years ago I worked in New Zealand, where I looked after the Government’s then engagement with Team New Zealand 2000 America’s Cup Defence.
Team New Zealand, led by the late Sir Peter Blake, was competing in one of the richest sporting events in the world. The biggest sponsors, enormous global media investments, broadcast rights, high tech sport like you’ve never seen. You would think no expense spared by any team in that great quest.
But early on I learned the key to Team New Zealand’s success.
At one of our early meetings we met at their headquarters in Auckland, there was a fella called Alan Sefton who was their head of their corporate operations, and we sat on, around on rickety old chairs nd there was this scuffed up table, the office looked like it had been saved from demolition.
I noted the surroundings, and Alan responded by saying that in Team New Zealand you only ask one question - “What makes the boat go faster?”.
Those chairs wasn’t going to make any difference, nor their accommodations.
And their united and focussed effort brought a whole country together, not just the team. And they won and so can we.
This health and economic crisis has reminded us of just how much we depend on a strong and growing economy for our jobs, for our incomes, for our health and education services, our safety, our security, our social safety net of which we’re so proud.
To strengthen and grow our economy, the boats we need to go faster are the hundreds of thousands of small, and medium and large businesses that make up our economy and create the value upon which everything else depends.
Value created by establishing successful products and services, the ability to be able to sell them at a competitive and profitable price and into growing and sustainable markets. It’s economics 101.
That’s what happens in a sustainable and successful job making market economy.
Now, it is true that in the short term, demand stimulus by government can boost your economy. And that the Treasurer and I together with the Cabinet have supported this as an emergency response. But it must only be temporary.
At some point you’ve got to get your economy out of ICU.
You’ve got to get it off the medication before it becomes too accustomed to it.
We must enable our businesses to earn Australia’s way out of this crisis.
And that means focussing on the things that can make their businesses go faster.
The skilled labour businesses need to draw on, the affordable and reliable energy they need, the research and technology they can draw on and utilise, the investment capital and finance that they can access, the markets they can connect to, the economic infrastructure that supports and connects them, the amount of government regulation they must comply with, and the amount and the efficiency of the taxes they must pay, in particular whether such taxes encourage them to invest and to employ.
Now that is the change agenda of our JobMaking plan, to enable Australia to emerge from this crisis and set up Australia for economic success over the next three to five years.
Skills, industrial relations, energy and resources, higher education, research and science, open banking, the digital economy, trade, manufacturing, infrastructure and regional development, deregulation and federation reform, a tax system to support jobs and investment.
Now the challenges are enormous and you’ll be pleased to know I’m not going to go through all of those this afternoon. But wherever possible, I can assure you of this, I will seek to bring people together to define and achieve the change we need to in all of these areas.
And today I just want to focus on just two areas - skills and industrial relations.
I will address the many other components of our JobMaker plan in the weeks and months ahead, as we proceed to the Budget in October. A process that is one of patiently putting each brick in the wall.
This will occur simultaneously with managing the ongoing pandemic, let’s not lose sight of that, and addressing the right here, right now, needs of Australians who continue to be severely impacted.
So on skills, we need Australians better trained for the jobs businesses are looking to create because that’s important.
Off the back of the Joyce Review and my conversations with Premiers and Chief Ministers, and of course the Minister for Skills Michaelia Cash is here today, we can bring these matters to the fore in coming months in the name of creating jobs.
At a federal level, we are focusing on three key issues.
Firstly, the complexity of a system that is clunky and unresponsive to skills demands. Ask any business, they will tell you that.
The lack of clear information about what those skills needs are, now and into the future to guide training and funding, ask any student and their parents about what they think about the system and whether they are getting value out of it and they’ll tell you.
A funding system marred by inconsistencies and incoherence, with little accountability back to any results. Currently, the average timeframe to develop or update training products is 18 months, with a third taking over two years to update.
For prospective students, the large number of choices that they face for qualifications can be bewildering and overwhelming. Compounded by a lack of visibility over the quality of training providers and the employment outcomes for those courses.
There are over 1,400 qualifications on offer and almost 17,000 units of competency.
There is also substantial variation in fees for students depending on which state they are in.
For example, in 2019, a student undertaking Certificate III in Blinds, Awning and Security Screens received a subsidy of $3,726 in Queensland, $9,630 in New South Wales and no subsidy in Victoria unless the qualification is taken as an apprenticeship. Now, I’m not making any comment on each of the individual measures but there is a wide variety.
Subsidies for a Diploma of Nursing in 2017 varied between $19,963 in Western Australia and $8,218 in Queensland. And all of this is before the question surrounding the quality of that training is addressed.
No surprise then that state-subsidised students in Queensland incur VSL debts that are on average more than double that of NSW subsidised students.
It is no wonder that when faced with this complexity, many potential students default to the university system, even if their career could be best enhanced through vocational education. I want those trade and skills jobs to be aspired to, not looked down upon or seen as a second best option, it is a first best option.
To address this challenge, we have embarked on a series of Skills Organisation Pilots they are designed to give industry the opportunity to shape the training system to be more responsive to their skills needs and take responsibility for qualification development.
Industries defining the quals.
Three pilots have been established - in human services, digital technologies and mining - and they have already begun to show the benefits of this system. We need to move forward on many, many more.
The human services pilot was actually used to lead development of a national skill set to help boost the aged care and disability support workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery phase and this work was delivered much faster than under the old arrangements that were progressed under the previous VET schemes.
The National Skills Commission has been established under Adam Boyton’s leadership, and will now provide detailed labour market analysis, including an annual report each year setting out the skill needs of Australia, replacing those existing lists for apprenticeships and skilled migration.
This will be supplemented by the publication of closer to real time data on the labour market drawing on emerging data sets, such as single-touch payroll, to flag emerging skills shortages and other labour market trends and pressures.
The Commissioner’s analysis is what will also help, this is important, students with their career and training choices via the National Careers Institute (NCI), by giving them the most accurate and comprehensive data on where skills gaps and jobs are. Equipping employers, equipping employees, equipping students and their families.
Information from the National Skills Commission will be publicly available and should inform government and private investment in the system, including VET subsidies and a new national skills funding agreement.
All comes back to money. The current National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development between the states and the Commonwealth is fundamentally flawed and it has to change.
By law, the Commonwealth must hand over to the states and territories $1.5 billion every year in untied funding every year – with no end date and no questions asked.
The Commonwealth has no line of sight on how states use this funding.
The agreement has also been ineffective in maintaining state investment in these schemes.
VET funding across all jurisdictions with the exception of Tasmania – has fallen by 25 per cent on average over the past decade in real terms, on a working age per capita basis.
So it’s time to make some changes.
● Better linking funding to actual forward looking skills needs, based on what businesses need.
● Simplifying the system, reducing distortions and achieving greater consistency between jurisdictions, and between VET and universities.
● Increasing funding and transparency and performance monitoring. Taxpayers, students and employers should know where the money is going.
● And better coordinate the subsidies, loans and other sources of funding, we’ve got to make the valuable support that is provided is going where it needs to go.
Now, our national hospital agreement actually provides a good model for the changes that I would like to advance. Incorporating national efficient pricing and activity based funding models would be a real step forward.
And this is a system I’ve made very clear to Premiers and Chief Ministers that my Government would be prepared to invest more in, but throwing more money into a bad system doesn not get you results.
Now, on industrial relations. I’ve been genuinely heartened by the constructive approach of employers, employees, business groups and unions working together with the ACTU through this crisis to find practical solutions to keeping Australians in jobs.
We now need to turn that into cooperation to create even more jobs, especially during this all important recovery phase.
Our current system is not fit-for-purpose, especially given the scale of the jobs challenge that we now face as a nation.
Our industrial relations system has settled into a complacency of unions seeking marginal benefits and employers closing down risks, often by simply not employing anyone.
The system has lost sight of its purpose - to get the workplace settings right, so the enterprise, the business can succeed, so everybody can fairly benefit from their efforts and their contributions.
It is a system that has to date retreated to tribalism, conflict and ideological posturing.
No side of that debate has been immune from those maladies. This will need to change or more Australians will unnecessarily lose their jobs and more Australians will be kept out of jobs.
The first step is to get everyone back in the room. To bring people together. That’s our job. And in particular, that’s my job.
No one side has all the answers, employees or employers. Unions or employer organisations.
It is not beyond Australians to put aside differences to find cooperative solutions to specific problems, especially at a time like this.
The extent of the damage wrought by Covid-19 on the Australian economy, and the enormity of the challenge we now face to get Australians back into jobs, means the policy priorities for recovery will be different to those in place before this crisis.
We now have a shared opportunity to fix systemic problems and to realise gains as a matter of urgency to get more people back into work.
Now, beginning immediately, the Minister for Industrial Relations, the Attorney-General, Christian Porter will lead a new, time-bound, dedicated process bringing employers, industry groups, employee representatives and government to the table to chart a practical reform agenda, a job making agenda, for Australia’s industrial relations system.
The Minister will chair five working groups for discussion, negotiation and, hopefully, agreement to produce that JobMaker package in the following areas.
● Award simplification, what most small and medium sized businesses deal with with their employees every single day.
● Enterprise agreement making. We’ve got to get back to the basics.
● Casuals and fixed term employees, made even more prescient by recent changes through the Fair Work Commission.
● Compliance and enforcement. People should be paid properly and unions need to obviously do the right thing, as must employers.
● Greenfields agreements for new enterprises, where the new investment will go and the certainty is needed more so than ever.
Membership of each group will include employer and union representatives, as well as individuals chosen based on their demonstrated experience and expertise and that will include especially small businesses, rural and regional backgrounds, multicultural communities, women and families.
This process, as I said, will be time-bound and is expected to run through to September. We must make the most of this time we have and we must move quickly. It will become apparent very quickly if progress is to be made.
The working groups will either reach something approaching a consensus on issues or they won’t. But we’ve got to give it a go. Participation in the groups is being invited without prejudice to their positions.
Ultimately it will be though the Government that will take forward a job making agenda from this process.
The purpose is simple and honest, to explore, and hopefully find, a pathway to sensible, long-lasting reform with just one goal - make jobs.
To maximise the opportunity for a genuine course of negotiation, and compromise and cooperation that is vital to create jobs and chart an economic path back to what is mutually beneficial prosperity; in good faith we’ve decided that the government will not pursue a further vote in the Senate on its Ensuring Integrity Bill.
Not pursuing a further vote though, I hasten to caution, on this Bill, does not reflect any change or lack of commitment to the principle that lawful behaviour of registered organisations should be strictly required on all work sites in Australia.
The government maintains its complete lack of tolerance for the kinds of behaviour we have particularly seen from the CFMMEU on Australian construction sites in recent years. It’s not only illegal, it’s costing jobs.
Given how critical the construction sector will be to the task of rebuilding the Australian economy, the government remains committed to ensuring the law breaking stops. We are committed to ensuring that this happens in the simplest, fairest and most effective statutory form possible, which we will consider going forward.
But our first, the here and now priority, what we have to do right now, is to take this opportunity to work together through a genuine good faith process to get some real outcomes, to make the jobs that Australia needs.
Now in conclusion, businesses and workers are innovating their way through this crisis.
Doctors are now prescribing online like never before, many workers I suspect will continue to work from home where it works for them and their employer, cafes and pubs are plotting out safe distances for their customers to dine, distilleries are making hand sanitiser.
Now, many of these innovations will stay, some will change, and others will come along.
But our JobMaker agenda will harness and support that innovation and the partnerships that are now being created.
We will get Australians back to work. We will restore our nation’s finances. We will continue to guarantee the essential services that Australians rely on.
Because we have done it before and we will do it again, and we will do it together.
Together we are facing down this crisis as Australians and we are doing so as a successful, vibrant and liberal democracy. Open and transparent, just and fair, noble and compassionate, never willing to sacrifice the most vulnerable.
This is our greatest strength. How good is Australia!
Thank you very much.
The Hon. Scott Morrison MP
Q&A, NATIONAL PRESS CLUB
NATIONAL PRESS CLUB, ACT
TUESDAY 26 MAY 2020
SABRA LANE: Prime Minister, going to the last part of your speech there, it sounds like an accord version 2.0, if you like. Has the government already communicated to key groups like the Business Council, the Small Business Council, the ACTU, to say, "We'd like you to sit in a big circle, smoke the peace pipe, and get this thing done and dusted in the next four months"?
PRIME MINISTER: Yes, we have.
LANE: What's their response been?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’ll allow them to explain their own responses. I think one of the keys when you bring people together is you don't speak for them, you let them speak for themselves. We've booked the room, we've hired the hall, we've got the table ready. Whether the chairs will be as rickety as the ones I saw in Auckland a few years ago, I don't know. But our job is to bring people together and we've been doing that through this crisis. And though I've got to say, it's been one of the greatest privileges to work with people across the spectrum. The National Cabinet has been a great example of that, and I thank the premiers and chief ministers again for the good faith in which they've engaged. Sure, we haven't agreed all the time, but the relationships are stronger now than they have ever been, despite those disagreements. I hope to see something of that nature replicated in this process. But it's not for the government to stick their nose in here and start predefining what these outcomes are. We need people to get together and sort this stuff out. As I say, they've been caught in grooves for too long, and grooves going in parallel lines and not coming together. And that's why I'm hoping this process will achieve. It may succeed. It may fail. But I can assure you, we're going to give it everything we can and I'm very grateful of the engagements that I've had with the sectors that you've nominated. It's been in good faith and it's been honest, and it requires everybody to leave a bit aside. I acknowledge and respect that as well. I think the government has led by example in the announcements I have made today.
LANE: To my colleagues, I have a long list today, more than 20 journos. Please, one question per person in order to get through as many people as we can.
PRIME MINISTER: Andrew, and then Katharine.
LANE: Brett Mason.
BRETT MASON: Brett Mason from SBS. I'll be very quick. Given the warnings about the downward spiral of protectionism, what role do you see migration playing in Australia's economic recovery?
PRIME MINISTER: Oh, it's a very good question, Brett, and it's one of the concerning economic figures we have. And if you've got a job in the residential construction industry, and Michael Sukkar's here, and Josh I know have been working on some plans here. It's an issue that has been a key topic of discussion amongst the premiers and chief ministers and myself. We're looking at net overseas migration, I think, falling to about 34,000-odd I think, Josh, next year. When you think that, you know, it was the great Professor McDonald who set a figure of between about 160,000 and 210,000 as being what you need in this country to maintain a GDP per capita growth, then there's obviously a big gap there. Now, that's a short-term gap, but it's going to be one of the real impacts of this crisis, because our borders aren't opening up any time soon. Sure, we'll be working with the higher education sector, but I note 80 per cent of the international students that come to Australia are here. They're here. The way it's talked about, you'd think they weren't. But about 80 per cent are here. We'll work constructively with that sector. As I say, I was speaking with Prime Minister Ardern this mornin and we'll continue to have our discussions about the trans-Tasman safe travel zone, and it may well be that Sydneysiders can fly to Auckland before they can fly to Perth, or even the Gold Coast, for that matter. But I can assure you I won't be holding back on expanding the size of our markets for our goods and our services to wait for some other borders to clear.
LANE: Chris Uhlmann.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Prime Minister, you said - Chris Uhlmann, Nine News - you said you rejected protectionism. How important is the multilateral trading system to the world and given the United States seems to have abandoned it and China wants to change it, what role do you see for Australia in trying to make sure that system continues to work?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, the role we've been playing, Chris, as you'd know, I mean there's been a lot of difficulty in dealing with the appeals system in the WTO and we've actually worked together closely with China to actually pull together an alternative system that can get us around this current hurdle. So, Australia's for trade and so we'll work with people in the multilateral fora that are for that as well. I mean, in Europe, our focus is very much on the free trade agreement we're seeking to put in place with the European Union. And of course, the gun is fired, effectively, on the arrangement we're seeking with the United Kingdom. They'll be very important for Australia. But the global multilateral trading system rules are incredibly important for Australia and they have to work. So you'll continue to see us advocate for them, seek to reform them, and to work with those who want to achieve those same ends. And that's what you can expect. because we're an open trading nation and we always will be.
LANE: Rosie Lewis.
ROSIE LEWIS: Thanks for your address, Prime Minister. Rosie Lewis from The Australian. Just to expand on Chris's question, do you believe China has become a riskier country for Australian businesses to invest in, especially given recent actions taken against barley and beef?
PRIME MINISTER: I think that's a judgement Australian businesses can only make and, like any business, they have to weigh up the security of the markets in which they sell to and the risks that are associated with those and those risks will move, from time to time. They'll ebb and flow and we would like to see stable, reliable, dependable markets all the time for our products and services. But those are not decisions that governments make for businesses, be they primary producers and exporters or be they resources companies or industries or, indeed, service companies working in the aged care area on training or things like this.
I think one of the most exciting parts of the China Free Trade Agreement - China-Australia Free Trade Agreement - was the ability to actually sell aged care services into China. I've said that on many occasions before. But, you know, businesses have got to weigh up their own risks and make those assessments. Austrade can assist with those things on the ground. What I'm pleased to see - Mathias and Josh and I this morning reviewing those iron ore trading figures this morning and we're very reassured by what we're seeing on those patterns compared to what had been around in the past. Australia has a very bright trading future and businesses will make their judgements about how they participate in that.
LANE: Business does look to government, though, for guidance on travel. There is a website saying do not travel. If they want to do business with China, for example, they do look to you for clues.
PRIME MINISTER: And as I said, that sort of advice is applied by Austrade, in particular. But it's very unique and specific to the sector you're working in. There's not a general position that applies right across any one market. But we always work to ensure that those markets can be as viable and sustainable and profitable for our businesses as they can be. Ultimately, they'll make their own calls based on all of that advice, including what they hear from the government.
LANE: Andrew Probyn.
ANDREW PROBYN: PM, Andrew Probyn from the ABC. Katharine couldn't join us today so you’ve just got me. All the best to Katharine as well. One of the secrets, Prime Minister, of the accord in the '80s was that the Hawke government greased the wheels with a social wage - things like Medicare, superannuation, higher family payments, childcare payments too. When you come to the table on pushing for industrial relations reform, what are the sorts of things that you can offer the employees and the union movement?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, all of the things you've just talked about are all central features of our government services delivery. All of the things you've talked about. We have reformed childcare. We have increased the subsidies that are available, particularly to the most disadvantaged workers. We have got record funding for schools, record funding for hospitals. We do have a social security system which is the envy of the world. That is the product of the last 20 or 30 years and it's something, I think, we will have an absolute commitment to maintaining.
This is why I keep coming back to the point about the economy and what we've learnt about it during the course of this crisis. When you've had consistent economic growth for almost 30 years, it can be taken for granted. And as Treasurer, I used to warn about this as well. But I think no one has any doubt now that if you don't look after the growth in your economy, then you can't guarantee any of the things you've talked about. You can make big, bold promises about them, and you can talk about how important they are. But you can't fund them. And so that's why my point today has been that unless we focus on the success of that business that is going to employ someone, then there's nothing really to offer. Because there's no economy to offer it from. And so that's why we've got to get our priorities right. That's why we've got to get the order right. Now, if we can make that work on those supply-side reforms, as they're sort of known technically, then all of the things Andrew has just talked about will be able to be guaranteed. I can guarantee hospitals, schools, the aged pension, childcare, one of the world's most generous pharmaceutical benefits schemes, on the basis of a strong economy. And if you don't put businesses at the centre of that economy, you can't make that pledge.
LANE: Mark Riley.
MARK RILEY: Mark Riley from the Seven Network. Prime Minister, in your speech, you observed that the industrial relations culture in the country has been typified by tribalism, conflict, and ideological posturing. What's your message to those elements of your own party who might see this as an opportunity to finally neuter the trade union movement?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, that is not the objective of this process. That is not the government's policy and never has been. I think everybody's got to put their weapons down on this. Everyone does. And that's what I'm hoping for and that's what I'm seeking to achieve. And I think that's what Australians demand. And I think Australians will take a very dim view of anyone, or any group, or any organisation, that isn't prepared to come and sit down on this table and give it a go at the Prime Minister's and ministers' invitation.
LANE: Phil Coorey.
PHIL COOREY: G'day, PM. Phil Coorey from the AFR. On enterprise agreements, you said we've got to get back to basics. There's a general agreement amongst both sides of the argument on that, whether it's the labour movement or the business community. One of the villains that has been singled out by the business community is the Better Off Overall Test, which people say sort of violates the spirit of Keating's original no-worse-off test. Do you want to see the BOOT either removed or replaced with the original Keating model, or at least the industrial umpire given wider powers of discretion when interpreting agreements and applying the BOOT?
PRIME MINISTER: I want to see employers and employees sit down around a table and talk about those very issues and find a way forward, Phil. I'm not going to prescribe it for them. Because whatever they agree is more likely to be sustained and maintained into the future. But what I want them to focus on is an understanding that, if there's no business, there's no job. There's no income. There's nothing. And the success of the enterprise is what all those involved in it need to be committed to and in return for that commitment, there must be a sharing of the benefits and the success of that organisation back to employees, back to the shareholders in that business and those who are running it. And so, Phil, what I'm trying to do differently about this process is not run out there with an IR shopping list. I haven't seen that work in my political experience in the time I've been in the Parliament. All that's tended to do is force people away from the table, not draw them to it. So I think, you know, the issues you're talking about are obviously very important to business, and the concerns that employees have are also important to them. But we're only going to get through it if they can work this through. Now, sure, we'll take an, I think, active role in this process and try to take those discussions forward. But at the end of the day, I'm asking everyone to focus on getting that business back on track, making money, so they can pay employees and they can employ more of them. It's really that simple. Thanks, Phil.
LANE: David Crowe.
DAVID CROWE: Thank you, Sabra. Thank you, Prime Minister. David Crowe from the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. PM, every year, the Mitchell Institute does a study of spending or investment in skills and training. Now you've highlighted a reform plan there. But we have seen total investment in VET fall from, I think, $9.3 billion in 2013 to $7.7 billion in 2017. Now, that's total national investment, it’s not just the federal money. But you’ve set out your ambitions - in order to achieve them, do you need to commit more funding, and is money the problem here?
PRIME MINISTER: I don't think money's the only problem here, David, but you're not going to invest money in a dud system. That doesn't fix it either. And that's why I'm saying that we need to have this system more focused on what it's actually supposed to do, and that is that someone who's looking for training can get trained with skills that an employer might actually want. Now, that's not happening to the degree it needs to for our economy to grow again in the way it needs to. That's why I made it pretty clear - I'm very, very interested and very committed to investing more in a better system. And if we can achieve a better system, where we can have some confidence that the investment that we make turns out more people with more skills that businesses need, great. Because there's a return on that investment. And you rightly say that there has been that fall. Because, notwithstanding the fact that the Commonwealth is legally obliged to spend an indexed amount every year on skills - which is around $1.5 billion - that is not the case for the states and territories. And as I noted, we've seen that taper off. So the Commonwealth spending money, doesn't mean the states will. And so what - I mean, Jay Weatherill used to talk about, when he was Premier, he used to have this idea that skills education should actually transfer to the Commonwealth. That effectively, states should look after everyone from 0 to 18, and the Commonwealth looks after it from 18 onwards. That was a very interesting idea. I talked to Jay about it when he was Premier. But that's not what we're proposing because, like in the hospital system and the education system there is a partnership between the Commonwealth and the states in supporting and delivering these services. And I think the Australian people believe that is how it should be too. But I wouldn't say it's a very effective partnership at the moment. That's not, I think, necessarily a fault of the participants. But it is a fault of the design of the system we're working to. So, in faith, I hope we can redesign that system and it will see greater investment. But investment that goes somewhere.
LANE: Katina Curtis.
KATINA CURTIS: Katina Curtis from AAP. Thanks for your speech. You've talked a lot about the importance of getting people together in a room to come to an agreement. We have seen an example of that in the last few weeks with the universities and the union getting together in a room to come to an agreement that workers would take pay cuts in order to keep their jobs. But some individual universities aren't sticking to that agreement, and they've cut jobs instead. So, how can you guarantee that by bringing people together in these five working groups, that what is done, the deal that's done in the room will actually be stuck to, including in parliament?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, no one can give you guarantees on everything. The only way you're going to get the strength of an outcome through this process is if you engage in it seriously and in good faith and you seek to build the cooperation that is needed for these agreements to stick. That's true in any relationship. A business relationship, an employer/employee relationship, in any partnership. It's about the relationship you build. And what I'm saying is the relationships have got pretty sick. And they need a bit of counselling. And that's what this process, I hope, will do. It'll bring people together again, and they can rediscover why they're together in the first place. And that they depend on each other for their success and their shared success. And I think there has been a real disconnection along these lines. Employers have felt that their investments and their sacrifices and risks aren't always appreciated, and employees can often feel ripped off and feel like they're not getting a fair share of how the business is going. Well, you've got to start there. And let's see how we go from there.
LANE: Michelle Grattan.
MICHELLE GRATTAN: Michelle Grattan from The Conversation. Some issues inevitably have been pushed to the side during the pandemic crisis. So I just wondered if you could give us an update on a couple of those. Do you still aspire to have an Indigenous recognition referendum next year? And what's your timetable now on the religious freedom legislation and the anti-corruption body?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we haven't had the opportunity to revisit those latter two points because of the crisis, and it's not something the Cabinet has considered now for some time. And when we do, then we'll make any announcements that we might make on those matters. When it comes to the Indigenous recognition, what the Minister for Indigenous Australians has continued to do is conduct his process. The timetable for that will depend on when and if that sort of consensus is able to be achieved for it to be successful.
LANE: Kieran Gilbert.
KIERAN GILBERT: Prime Minister, close to a million workers have gone on the dole through the crisis. A lot of them because they didn't qualify for the JobKeeper, one of the parameters set by the government and Treasury. What's your message to them today as to why they're not getting JobKeeper, particularly when you've got a now a $60 billion mistake? What is your message to those people who otherwise might have received a bit more?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, first of all, I don't buy into the demonisation of JobSeeker. I don't. JobSeeker and JobKeeper - and it was actually the JobSeeker changes we announced first - we announced them as a priority. Because the JobSeeker measures is the ultimate social safety net for all of those who are affected. That is what is intended to catch everyone who finds themselves out of work. JobKeeper was designed for those who worked in businesses, who have full-time jobs, part-time jobs, or what were effectively full-time casual jobs. That's who it was designed for. It was not designed to pay the bills of state governments or local governments. That is their responsibility. Nor was it designed to pay the bills of foreign governments. And those policy designs were put in place and everyone who falls within those designs is getting JobKeeper. That's who is intended to get those payments. And JobSeeker was set at a commensurate level. Because, remember, JobSeeker is not the only benefit you get. JobSeeker, when you're on JobSeeker, you get access to a range of other benefits which includes rental assistance, Family Tax Benefit payments, and a whole range of other benefits and allowances and that has meant that those, in fact, on JobSeeker, in many cases may well be getting more than those on JobKeeper. So I don't accept the argument particularly put by the Labor Party that JobSeeker is some sort of second-best option for Australians.
I mean, the Labor Party like to accuse us often of saying that we demonise the former Newstart. Well, that's basically what they're doing now, by sending that message to Australians. My message to Australians and that of the Treasurer and the entire government is that we designed a system, through cashflow allowances for businesses, for JobSeeker, for JobKeeper, and the myriad of other payments and benefits, to get them through and that's what it is doing whether it's in any of those different programs. And it's been very successful in that 5 million Australians are benefiting. Now, you raise the point about the JobKeeper estimates. When JobKeeper was designed and first costed, the uncertainties were extreme. And it's always been my practice and, indeed, the Treasurer's, and I always like it when Treasury does it too, that they are cautious in their forecasting. It's been said to me, if you're going to miss the mark, it's better to miss the mark on the right side of the line. I can't say that about when the Labor Party was in government. They missed the mark often, and on the wrong side of the line. Forecast revenue, didn't turn up, spent it anyway. That's not what's happened here. What Treasury has done is made an estimate of what they thought could be the case. It was the worst-case scenario, effectively, that they were forecasting, estimating. We are now in what is their best-case scenario and that is something we should welcome. We acknowledge that over at the Tax Office there was a tracking mechanism that was put in place that wasn't leading to anyone getting a payment they shouldn't. Everyone that was entitled to that payment was getting that payment they should. But the tracking mechanism made it look like we were heading to the worst-case scenario. But, thankfully, we weren't. And I see this as a relief. And, as I said the other day out in Murrumbateman, if your builder comes to you when you're building your house and they say, "This is going to cost 350 grand or worse still 500 grand" and you go, "That's a lot of money I've got to borrow.” Then they come back to you and go, "I got that estimate off - it's actually going to cost you $350,000 or $250,000." I tell you what, you don't get disappointed with the news, and you don't borrow the rest of the money to put a heated swimming pool on the roof, I think as Barnaby recently said. You don't do that. So what we have done is acted responsibly. The estimates were provided to deliver a program that is doing its job. And for those for whom that program isn't designed to assist, JobSeeker is there for them, and they're getting that support at record levels.
LANE: Prime Minister your speech went a little bit over. Are you happy to take a couple more questions?
PRIME MINISTER: Always happy to.
LANE: Excellent. Clare Armstrong.
CLARE ARMSTRONG: Thank you Prime Minister, Clare Armstrong from the Daily Telegraph.
PRIME MINISTER: I have spent a lot of time with these guys over the last couple of months.
CLARE ARMSTRONG: You have flagged tax reform as another important part of the recovery agenda, states are now lining up with their ideas. New South Wales today flagged fringe benefit tax as an area that could be considered. What is your timeline for reviewing those established revenue mechanisms and broadly what do you see the burden that the state should be taking in this new era of consensus and collaboration?
PRIME MINISTER: Well I think their contribution so far has been great. Now of course they haven't been providing the same sort of fiscal supports to the economy like the Commonwealth has. I mean, Josh, we're some, I think we’re over $150 billion, they would be around about $30 billion - combined. So, the Commonwealth is certainly doing its share and five times over on those things but, of course, the states have significantly greater health expenditures, which we're meeting 50-50 when it comes to COVID and so on. So we have got a good partnership I think and a great example of this was when we took the decision at National Cabinet, a very important one, which was that incoming Australian returning residents and citizens would be quarantined in hotels. And the states immediately agreed that wherever they come in, that state would meet the bill. Knowing that New South Wales, in particular, was probably going to bear the biggest burden on that. But there wasn't a quibble about it. And the - I suppose the solidarity of that group was we just got to solve the problem. And I think the states and territories have been in very good faith as we have worked through this and it's been a privilege to work with them along those lines and I hope, and I will have more to say about this after we’ve had further discussions about it as a National Cabinet how that may translate into future arrangements for that body. And issues around tax will certainly, just like the skills issues I've identified today, will be important topics for them. But the way I think National Cabinet works best is it's got a mission, it has a purpose. It's just not a broad agenda of whatever happens to be thrown up by the various state bureaucracies or federal bureaucracies. It is actually designed to, in this case, manage the crisis. And the health and the economic impacts of that going forward, creating jobs, I think, is the issue that we've all got our minds now focused on.
Now on issues of tax that will come through that process, it will come through other channels that the Treasurer will work on. There is a Budget in October. But I would simply say that our focus, as I said in the speech, is on what generates investment and what creates jobs. You ask someone for their opinion on tax, and they can give you volumes. But I'm interested in the stuff that's going to create jobs and create investment. And I believe they are two, and if we can agree some ways forward there, I suspect more of it is at the federal level certainly on income tax. I don't mean specifically personal income tax. All those issues, I mean that's the mix. We know what the mix is. I'm not dropping bread crumbs there or anything like that, I'm just saying tax is big. It is a complicated issue. We will work our way through it.
LANE: Peter van Onselen.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Peter van Onselen for Network Ten. Prime Minister, so many Australians have lost their jobs or taken significant pay cuts to be able to try to help their businesses survive. You say we're all in this together, but you won't follow Jacinda Ardern's lead and take a temporary pay cut. You're the third highest paid world leader. Your Cabinet earns twice what the UK Cabinet does. I know the go to response is to point to the wage freeze for this year, but freezing an increase in the wage just isn't the same. Would you reconsider just to show all those Aussies doing it so tough that it's true - we really are all in this together?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, Peter, I have no plans to make any changes to those arrangements. We will follow the same practises that we're applying to public servants right across the board. We're not singling anyone out when it comes to those issues and I will just keep doing a good job. That's my plan and I will be accountable to Australians for that job.
LANE: Shalailah Medhora.
SHALAILAH MEDHORA: Shalailah Medhora from Triple J. Prime Minister, you have said we can't keep borrowing against future generations, but young people now are at the coalface of this crisis. Youth unemployment and underemployment is skyrocketing. Young people are overwhelmingly working casually, overwhelmingly dipping into their super to make ends meet. Unfortunately, there are predictions that this will lead to dire mental health impacts for young people going forward. So my question for you is - is it time for older Australians, who have benefited from some of the peak times and from the policies, such as franking credits, for example, to accept that they will need to take an economic hit now in order to protect their children and their grandchildren?
PRIME MINISTER: The answer to coming out of this crisis is not setting one group of Australians against another. All Australians are in this together. I remind you of that fellow Andrew who was married to his wife for 50 years and couldn't give her the send off that she wanted. I had another letter, one I didn't read out, from a daughter. She would have been in her probably 60s. And she didn't get to see her mum in the aged care facility before she died. To suggest that any one group is not feeling the impacts of this one way or the other and to set it up as some sort of generation conflict, I think, is very unconstructive. It's not the approach of my government. We've all got to do what we've got to do. And I agree, it is hitting young people much harder. That's why we have invested in additional services on mental health. The biggest beneficiary of the process I've outlined today, if employers and employees can come together and get this sorted, will be young people. They will be the biggest beneficiaries. The jobs that we will create will go first and most rapidly to young people. That is the most important thing I think we can do to help them.
LANE: Prime Minister, on that note, thank you. Everybody, please join me in thanking the Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. Thank you very much.